~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Time Travel: The New Triumph Scrambler

Time Machine: 2006 Triumph Scrambler 900

Continuing on with my current fascination for the new Triumph Scrambler 900 I was reading assorted motorcycle forums and a few people were commenting on the fact that the new Triumph is antiquated technology. "Who's it for?" "Sure to be lousy off road" "The high pipes look like a leg cooker" "Why not 100 horsepower??" They do miss the point entirely. Moreover they do not realize that the day will come when they will wax nostalgic for the present KTM 990 and BMW 1200 GS and younger riders will guffaw at the 2006 bikes' lack of mag-lev suspension and hydrogen fuel cell ceramic magnet motors. I can forgive the current generation though since they were probably not even born yet when real Triumph scramblers roamed the deserts and race tracks of America. They don't have any recollection, no personal tie to the history behind the look of the new Scrambler.

I decided to peruse the web a bit for info on desert sleds of yore and see what was out there. If you can't ride something you can always look at pictures and dream.

Popular Science, Nov. 1966

Along the way I found a page, "The Steve McQueen Desert Scrambles Page", put together by Pete Snidal a few years ago. It's taken from the pages of vintage November 1966 Popular Science Magazine and consists of an article by Steve McQueen giving his riding impressions of the great dirt bikes of the day including the Greeves and the big new Honda 450 twin. 
It's a fun read for motorcycle buffs and a great illustration of why the new Triumph Scrambler will be a big success. If you consider the time frame of the article and the relative ages then and now of guys like me, you can see how the Triumph legend and image is deeply ingrained in the minds of those of us who have been around a while.

McQueen's winner in the comparison? The Rickman Triumph, of course! Steve reckoned the new 2-stroke engine bikes were coming on strong though: "These two-strokes have a lot going for them, but frankly l'm too attached to four-strokes to be completely won over." Later on he'd race and win his share on a 2-stroke Husqvarna but I suspect it was the old thunder of a Triumph twin that he preferred. In his last years when he went wandering about on the highways it was on an old chopped Indian, not a modern bike.

Back to the the new Scrambler. Modernist naysayers aside, just imagine for a moment if it were still 1966 and this new Triumph comes out. The 1966 bike press and enthusiasts would be going absolutely nuts over a 900cc, 54HP street legal scrambler. They surely would be wondering "Does anyone actually NEED a 900cc off road bike?" "A 54 HP dirt bike just for trail riding??" "Crazy!!" "That's the kind of power race bikes make!!" "It has a DISC BRAKE!!"  The all conquering Triumph 900 Scrambler would be front page news in every motorcycle publication in the world and only REAL MEN need apply for this beast!

Fast forward to 2006: Now it's just a new/old nostalgia bike, over weight, under-suspended, and underpowered. "Who's the target market?" someone asked in a message I read today. Hmm...

I'll take a red and white one, please. I'm man enough for the beast and a lot of guys my age who weren't Steve McQueen in 1960-whatever (or could even afford a bike like his then) will want one too.  Now, where'd I put my old waxed cotten Belstaff jacket? (size 36)

Monday, February 06, 2006


Ajo, AZ train station
I had planned to ride down to Tombstone, AZ this past Sunday but decided on Ajo, AZ at the last minute. I plan a lot of my rides like that...change things at the last minute or perhaps not deciding on a destination or even a direction until the bike is rolling out of the driveway. I like the serendipity of it and the potential of the expected discovery when you arrive where you had not planned to be.

The road to Ajo is scenic in an Arizona wide open spaces sort of way. The scenery is not spectacular but the vastness of it is impressive and seems to draw a person out emotionally, making them more aware of the majesty that can be found in simple vistas if we just look.  My destination was worth riding to first for the ride, of course, and then for the charm of the little southwestern mining town.

Ajo Plaza from the sandwhich shop

Ajo, Arizona is a former copper mining town down very close to the Mexican border. It was a company town in every way, laid out by the first mine manager but with an eye to creating a living environment as family friendly as a southwestern border mining could be in 1900. The mine is closed now and the town is struggling to reinvent itself in some way or another. The evidence of the days of copper industry wealth are still apparent there though. The town is replete with interesting southwestern architecture and ornate buildings such as the Curly School, built by a big corporation trying to create a wonderful place for it's employees to live even if their work is tough and dangerous.

Church from the plaza

There is enough interesting architecture, blue skies, and magical southwestern sunlight that the town is a favorite spot now for artists and photographers. A visit with one of the locals while sitting in the plaza munching a sandwich revealed that there is a good deal more art culture there than one might expect and it was easy to see why. Gleaming whitewashed buildings and blue skies are always a winner when drawing, painting, or photographing. Much of the town away from the main plaza is pretty worn and frayed now but the residents, new and old, seem committed to making Ajo a fine place to live.

By the way, even though the town is off the beaten path a bit and there is only one sandwich shop open on the town plaza, the sandwich shop is a WiFi hotspot!  The senior citizens I chatted with were both sitting there with their laptops open and browsing the web while they ate. The sandwiches are good too.


Every small town seems to have it's local characters and the desert towns always have at least one grizzled old character out and about. When we first pulled into town we stopped in front of a little bakery / coffee shop to grab a snack.  I'd just gotten off the bike and was fiddling with my camera when Fred peddled up on his shaky old three wheeled bicycle. I looked up and said "howdy" and Fred howdied back. 

I wandered over to make some small talk with him, I think most seniors are always worthy of a little time spent talking with them. They've lived and seen a lot and you never know what stories you may hear or what honest hero you may be privileged to meet.  Fred didn't seem to be anyone special, just another old character out and about on a sunny day and sometimes a little friendliness can bring a spot of encouragement to a person.  Encouragement costs nothing and can be priceless sometimes. Fred's walker was strapped to the back of his bike and a small compass was pinned to his shirt along with a thermometer. I guess in Ajo it's good to know which way is north when you're out on your bicycle.

Fred eyed the Honda bike and asked "Whatcha ridin' there?" I replied "A Honda." He replied "Ha!" Cheapskate! Shoulda bought a Harley." I allowed with a chuckle as how I'd had a Harley once upon a time before they were fashionable but preferred the comfort of the Honda now. 

Fred set about telling me his view of things and the current events in his life. He was quick to mention his heart attack and also his lobotomy and how he still enjoyed good banter and word play. I didn't doubt him a bit.  Rather than bore him with talk of my cheapskate Honda we talked a bit about his old green bike, the problems with the brakes and the changes he'd made to improve their function. Always good to have the brakes functioning tip top when out on the road, ya know.

After a time I prepared to head on down the road and Fred said that the single wheel drive of his bicycle made it darned hard to get started on an uphill. He'd stopped part way into a gravel driveway and there was clearly not going to be enough torque in his old legs to get the trike rolling again without some help.  I can take a hint so I offered a push start which he accepted with genuine appreciation. I stepped around the back of the back of the bike and helped him get rolling again.  As Fred peddled off down the road I walked over to my cheapskate Honda, climbed on board, and hit the road too.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Different Drummer

In the world of unusual bikes the bike pictured above is definitely a stand out. Yup, it's a Yamaha Vmax done up as an adventure touring bike. Zowie. Can you say "roost!"?

There's a great message thread over on the Adventure Rider forum with great pictures of big, serious, slightly different off road bikes. The Vmax picture is borrowed from there.

I admit to a penchant for out-of-the-ordinary bikes, marching to the beat of a different oboe, and generally going my own way. When the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki 900 Z1 were the "in" road bikes I bought the BMW R90S. I bought a new Harley in 1986 before the H-D fad started. I got to enjoy the bike without the RUBs around (Didn't have to pay retail+ for the H-D, either).

Big 2-strokes always interested me. Why buy a Honda 450 or 500 when a Suzuki 500 twin 2-stroke is available? I had the 500 Titan and the GT550 triple from Suzuki. The Kawasaki 2-stroke triples were "in" so why go there? I admit to still wanting a Suzuki GT750 "water buffalo" now and again. Two years ago I'd set out to buy a Ducati, a bit out of the ordinary in a world of Japanese sport bikes and somehow wound up with an Aprilia Falco. The Falco morphed into the even less common Caponord. Ever since the Capo departed I've had the urge for another "big trailie" as the Brits call them. The first BMW GS bikes were great but now the new ones are tainted by being fashionable if not by exhorbidant price tags. Another Capo or a Triumph Tiger would be more fun.

In olden tymes when I raced motocross it was on Bultacos and Yamahas except for low budget stint a 100cc Honda trail bike that still had a working horn. I was fast on that little Honda (skinnier then too) and honest to gosh, I'd actually honk the horn at people when I passed them on the race course. Believe it or not there was a time when the 100cc class was a huge class in dirt racing and it was grown ups racing them, not kids. I recall someone (name escapes me at the moment) taking some over all wins in SoCal desert races a time or two on a 100cc Hodaka.

So I had experience with limited suspension travel and bone jarring rides and when I took a swing at vintage motocross back in the '90s when everyone was on Husqvarna and Maico, for me it was once again on a Bultaco. I'm not that smart I guess, just persistent and determined to do what interests me, not what's in.

I've kept in my collection of bike photos a picture or two of a really nice Yamaha 650 motocrosser I saw a few years back:

The idea of owning a slightly daft off road bike appeals to me. More than once I've browsed cycletrader.com for Yamaha 650's and airhead Beemers and thinking of doing something sillier than usual with my mad money. I confess to browsing older H-D Sportsters recently with the thought of building a "desert sled" out of one just for the fun of it. It's been done, of course. Way back when, I remember reading about a Sportster as a desert bike in Dirt Bike Magazine and a couple of masochists once rode a chopper (Triumph, I think) in the Mint 400. Some motorcycle folks do more than dream, some folks go beyond the usual unusual all the way to bizarre. I admire people like that.

I'm still pondering another big trailie and another Caponord would be a fine thing indeed but maybe something a bit more out of the ordinary would be more fun. In the mean time, imagine bounding through the brush on this BMW:


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