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vintage Triumph motorcycles can break your heart

Vintage Triumph Motorcycles Can Break Your Heart

Vintage Triumph motorcycles have to work pretty hard to break your heart, let’s face it.

They’re so beautiful, so iconic, that we can forgive a lot…
The occasional breakdown.
The chunks of skin taken off in a routine garage fix.
The unexpectedly large invoice from the bike mechanic.

But there are limits.

And our Triumph Bonneville T140E has finally gone too far.

When a vintage Triumph motorcycle finally breaks your heart, there’s no way forward in the relationship. It’s time to break it off once and for all, and put the pain behind you. But it takes a lot to get to that point. How much are you willing to take before you accept it’s time to call it a day?

Our Triumph Bonnie broke our hearts in 5 stages.

The 5 Stages of Vintage Triumph Motorcycle Heartbreak

Here’s how it happened.

Stage 1. Love At First Sight

The problem with buying a motorcycle is that it’s so incredibly emotional.
You see the machine and experience gut-wrenching desire.

This 1980 Triumph Bonneville T140E is stunning.
It’s a gorgeous shade of burnt orange, with beautiful retro lines.
It was restored by a good mechanic some years ago.

We had to have it, and it was the pride of the garage.
For a little while, anyway.

Triumph Bonneville love at first sight

Stage 2. The Honeymoon is Over

So we spent some time admiring and polishing this golden beauty.
And before long, reality started to set in.

For a start, the clutch was so heavy it was practically impossible to actually ride.
So Pat put a 7-plate kit into it, and that worked much better.

The master link on the chain had also been fitted backwards (an incredibly elementary error).

And we started to notice a series of issues, like:

  • A random mixture of imperial and metric nuts and bolts which didn’t always quite fit.
  • A ding in the gas tank paint, which constantly annoyed us.
    So I imported the right motorcycle paint from the UK, in the matching shade of Olympic Flame.
    Many layers later, it still doesn’t look right.
  • The airbox wasn’t quite sealing properly and needed surgery.
  • The carbs needed tuning and balancing, so we took it into our local bike shop for a run on the dyno, and a surprisingly expensive fix.
  • It still wasn’t running right, so we took it back again.

ding in the motorcycle gas tank

Hmmm, this gorgeous vintage Triumph motorcycle was starting to try our patience.

Stage 3. The British Bike Day Massacre

Surely such a pretty vintage Triumph motorcycle is the perfect bike to take to an annual event here in New Zealand: British Bike Day.

Yep, you might think so.

Every year, a local airfield is suddenly filled with British bikes old and new.
Parked randomly in the sunshine, it’s so much fun to wander in between the Nortons, BSAs, Triumphs, and sometimes even a Vincent.

But our golden Bonnie didn’t want to be part of it.
She sputtered and stopped several times on the way.

This is a little dangerous on a major highway with huge trucks roaring past inches away.
Pat was relieved to see our friend Bill roar past, double back and help shepherd him along the road to at least limp into the event.

When you come home from British Bike Day on a tow truck, it’s not a good day.
Large cracks were starting to form in this relationship.

So why wouldn’t it go?

Well, the alternator stator had disintegrated on the trip.
It was mangled into a metallic mush that smelled just like burned cookies.

mangled alternator stator

Stage 4. The Side Covers from Hell

As you may know, the side covers on many classic Triumph motorcycles are held on by ugly, primitive springs that are surprisingly sharp.
After you’ve stabbed yourself in the finger several times, you might think there’s a better way.

And there is.
If you’re willing to bleed just a little bit more through the wallet as well as your skin.

Pat discovered a much better option than the ugly springs.
We wanted to try replacing them with some black, shouldered bolts that sit flush with the side cover.
They were a much more elegant solution used on very late Meriden Triumphs from 1981-83.

But naturally, these tricky-to-find specialist bolts didn’t fit the existing holes in the side covers.

We both took a deep breath.
The bike was starting to move onto thin ice at this point.

We opened up the holes with a drill, and then made them bigger still with the Dremel.
Naturally, the Dremel slipped, and scratched across the complete face of one cover.

We both sighed loudly.
We cursed softly.

Two hours later both side covers at least have the right sized holes.

Let’s try attaching them, shall we?

The left hand one goes on fine.
A good sign, right?

Definitely not.

The right hand side has an internal bolt that has the wrong washer on it.
It won’t stay in place to connect with the external bolt.

No problem; we’ll just put an extra nut on it.

Sorted. It’s stable.
Just one step to go.

We just need to screw the external bolt through the custom drilled side cover hole.
Sounds simple.

But it’s stuck completely, and it will not budge.
It spins around and around, but will not go in, or come out.


I glance at Pat.
His eyes have darkened to a distressing shade of black.


RIGHT! he shouts in fury.
It’s a declaration of war that guarantees mayhem will follow.

He attacks the side cover with a claw hammer.

When that fails, he tries some savage leveraging with a large screwdriver, and an impressive string of particularly colourful profanity.
The bike rocks wildly on the stand; the neighbours close their windows.

And the side cover surrenders.

It cracks and snaps, and comes flying off, along with pieces of Pat’s skin and drops of his blood.

In a blind fury, he hurls it across the garage, taking out a hanging strip light in the process and smashing that side cover good.
It now looks like it’s been in a wreck and is clearly unusable.

Triumph Bonneville smashed side cover

Which leads us to the next step.

Writing the ad for selling this motorcycle.

Stage 5. Divorce Papers are Served

This relationship is officially over.

The bike needs to go.
I’ve drafted up the ad myself…

1980 Triumph Bonneville T140E

Very pretty golden Bonnie that is beautiful to look at, but certainly demon possessed.
Will shamelessly suck up as much time, money and imported parts as you have available.

Demands regular blood sacrifices (large chunks of skin are also acceptable).
No side covers due to “Garage Incident”.
Features an annoying collection of mismatched bolts from botched restoration 10 years ago.

Tank is pristine aside from drunken dart-related damage by previous owner.
The wife of the current owner tried to fix it with custom-blended paint from the UK and 700 careful layers which still don’t quite match, yet nearly caused a divorce.
Other marks on the tank include dried saliva due to current owner spitting on it in utter disgust.

$3.50 or near offer; Holy Water not included.

Vintage Triumph motorcycles have never made us this depressed before.

Luckily we have a couple more in the garage and we haven’t lost faith completely.
Well, not yet.


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    My stockist said that a blown stator/rotor is rare, if not unheard of. However, it happened to me on my dad’s ’73 Bonneville. Fortunately I had enough voltage left to get me back home 20 miles away. Replacing the units 20+ years ago, nothing amiss since.

      Interesting, Richard! Glad you made it home. The problem now is we don’t trust this bike anymore – it’s strange how you fall out of love with them sometimes, isn’t it!

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