executive impact

Two Wheels + Testosterone = Triumph

25 Comments
By Julian Ryall for BCCJ ACUMEN

Business is brisk for a firm that produces some of the most iconic works of two-wheeled engineering on the road. Nevertheless, Triumph Japan President David Blume OBE does wish that young Japanese would produce a little more testosterone.

“The average Japanese customer is in his thirties or forties; and there just aren’t so many of them,” said Blume, who has been in Japan since 1983. “You just don’t see as many bikes on the roads as you used to.”

It’s a generational thing; the baby-boomers grew up with bikes as an aspirational target; they were accessible, affordable and a boy’s thing, and the motorbike then was important.

“But that has changed”, said 62-year-old Blume, who had managed Jaguar-Land Rover Japan before being appointed to his current position last November. “There is better public transport now, more choices of other vehicles, people live in cities and there is simply not as much testosterone around as there used to be.”

And that’s a pity, because young people just do not realize the experience that they are missing out on, he points out.

The other group of people who buy these bikes are baby-boomers, now in their fifties and sixties. With more time on their hands and money to indulge their passions, they are rediscovering their youth.

Blume has similarly reconnected to his own youthful aspirations.

“My grandfather was a motorcycle enthusiast and he died when I was 16,” he said. “I can still remember scarcely having opened my mouth to announce I was getting a license so I could ride his bike — when my mother stopped me in my tracks to say that I needn’t worry because she had already sold it!”

This was in the mid-1960s, when Triumph Bonnevilles, BSA Rockets and Norton Commandos were kings of the roads, he adds with a degree of wistfulness.

After coming to Japan to take part in the European Commission Executive Training Programme in 1983, he met a group of bike enthusiasts and finally got his license and a bike so that he could tour across the country. But, after hanging up the helmet over 20 years ago, he never rode again. Until joining Triumph, that is.

“Product is obviously very important, it is the expression of the brand that we share with our customers and I wanted to understand the philosophy, the capabilities and the rational and emotional values the customer sees and feels in our products.

“So I decided to scratch the itch I had had since I was 16 years old. And I couldn’t resist the nostalgia, so I am riding a Bonneville T100, from our Modern Classics range.”

With its parallel twin 865cc engine, wire-spoked wheels, two-tone paint, “pea-shooter” silencers, and attention to detail—including fuel-injectors designed to resemble the carburettors of the day—the Bonneville T100 is truly a classic reborn.

It is also one in a surprisingly large and growing portfolio of machines: 22 in six genres.

“This is a 110-year-old brand that has been devoted to making motorcycles”, said Blume. “It starts there, with the history, the legend, the nostalgia, the fame, the glory. It’s the emotional fuel. An association with events, success and people, and it evolves into a range of high-tech, modern machines that evoke the heritage.

“The brand has terrific assets and we are privileged to be able to dip into that history for inspiration, and even to time-transport something like the iconic Bonneville into the new Triumph era”.

The Bonneville of the 1960s was the world’s fastest production bike of the day, forever linked with the motorcycle land speed record set at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Then there are the famous associations with Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and James Dean.

“Everyone remembers that shot of Steve McQueen leaping his bike over the barbed wire border fence in 'The Great Escape,'” said Blume. “And Steve, who was a serious amateur rider, did the stunt himself, riding his favorite Triumph, although obviously they couldn’t show that because he was meant to be in Germany.”

Triumph released a commemorative, limited edition replica of the McQueen bike this summer; it sold out in a matter of days.

The latest model to launch in this market is the Tiger Explorer, a 1,200cc adventure tourer equipped with one of Triumph’s powerful three-cylinder engines; shaft-drive and ride-by-wire electronics; wireless throttle; ABS and traction control; and even cruise control functions.

And while a certain U.S. brand might hog the limelight in Japan’s big-bike market, Blume has absolute confidence in British technology and Triumph’s wide range of products, pointing out that a Triumph is a real rider’s bike for someone who wants to stand out from the crowd.

“Take the Triumph Thunderbird cruiser, for example,” he said. “This is no slavish copy; it is born from Triumph’s philosophy of building great road bikes, so it is not just designed to ride in a straight line. It is a powerful cruiser with our parallel twin engine that also handles, corners and stops like a sports bike. People want alternatives and they want to be different; Triumph offers them a real choice.”

Originally based in Coventry, the firm can trace its roots back to when German immigrant Siegfried Bettman arrived in the city and started importing and selling bicycles. In 1886, the Triumph Cycle Company was born, building its first bicycle in 1889.

The firm branched out into motorcycles and, in 1902, put its first motorbike on the road. By 1907, production had been ramped up to 1,000 units at a new, purpose-built plant.

World War I was a boom period for the firm and, by the mid-1920s, Triumph was one of Britain’s leading manufacturers of both motorcycles and cars, turning out 30,000 motorbikes a year. But the Great Depression of the 1930s hit hard; the motorcycle and car units were separated.

With its production facilities badly damaged during World War II, the company shifted production to the West Midlands in 1942 and, once the conflict was over, was selling 70% of production abroad, including the Triumph Speed Twin and Triumph Tiger 100.

A decade after its debut, a Bonneville ridden by Malcolm Uphill won the Isle of Man Production TT at an average speed of 99.99 mph.

In the same year, Triumph controlled 50% of the US market for bikes over 500cc, but couldn’t keep up with technological advances, primarily by Japanese firms. This spelled the end of its domination of the roads. A series of buy-outs and failures followed, until the company finally went into receivership in 1983.

Motorcycle enthusiast and entrepreneur John Bloor bought the name and manufacturing rights and established Triumph Motorcycles (Hinckley) Ltd.

In the first five years, a mere 14 bikes were produced each week — although designers and engineers were quietly developing new prototype models and mastering production techniques.

Investing in all-new designs, state-of-the-art equipment and a new, purpose-built factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire, what Blume terms the “new Triumph” took the bike world by storm when the firm unveiled a completely new range of bikes in 1991, ranging from 750cc and 900cc three-cylinder units to 1,200cc four-cylinder bikes.

Triumph today produces 50,000 bikes a year, more than ever in its history, and is still growing and investing.

Triumph Japan was established in 2001 and, before dropping in the wake of the Lehman Shock in 2008, sales had grown continuously to 1,700 units a year. But they have almost recovered to that level, says Blume.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


25 Comments
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I had a Tiger 100 in the sixties; wish I still had it now.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

A pretty good article on an iconic British bike brand, which died a slow painful death in the face of the Japanese bike industry and modernisation until being rescued by John Bloor. However, Steve McQueen did not do the jump scene in The Great Escape. This was performed by Bud Ekins, a stunt man and close friend of Steve's. He also did the more dangerous stunts in the film Bullet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You will hear a Triumph bike coming long before you see it. It's sound and feel is very much unique to it.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

A girl with Triumph underwear riding a Triumph bike, that'll do.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Do they still leak oil everywhere?

And anyone wanting to get back on a bike would surely look at an HD as opposed to a Trumpet wouldnt they?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

That could be a great idea, Vesperto.

The big difference is the way the underwear company pronounces their brand name. Try running a search on "Torimpu"!!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ExportExpert

The HDs noise-to-speed ratio is disproportionate. Don't know the "Trumpet's" but the more noise it makes the faster it should be, not the other way around. But heck, i'm getting my license now on a GS500, what do i know... ;)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It's not all about speed vesperto.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Triumph don't understand the Japanese market, if they made scooters, they would sell a lot, young people ride a lot of those elongated scooters (straight out of akira :p)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They did once make a scooter, the Tigress. With a 250cc 4 stroke twin it was very fast in its day, certainly when compared with the Lambrettas and Vespas. In fact it was alleged to be too fast and was rumoured to be secretly detuned by the dealers under the guise of a recall. The BSA Sunbeam was the same machine differently badged.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I bought one in the 80's. It had the sound and acceleration of a tractor.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Very sexy bike! Kawasaki made W650, which I used to ride, by mimicking this.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Exportexpert, "Do they still leak oil everywhere?"

Not anymore. The oil leaks came from the 60s & 70s bikes. It did have the added benefit of helping preserve the bike though. The Thunderbird is a very different machine to a Harley, handles very differently, completely different engine character and doesn't need polishing half as much.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yeah, I had a W650, should have never sold it. Fun, light and sounded good.

I don't know why bikes aren't more popular (ok, rainy season aside) as lane splitting is the best way to get through traffic. But with the trains and the company bus I don't often even need a car. Unfortunately it's tough to put the kids on a bike.

Hmmm, maybe they should go after the single female market? Lose the testosterone and make a Hello Kitty Cycle?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The original Bonneville had a 650cc engine. Why does the newer engine need to be 200 ccs bigger when modern engines are more efficient than before?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

I bought one in the 80's. It had the sound and acceleration of a tractor.

What are you referring to? I expect that most people will wonder why you made this comment and what you are trying to achieve; a joke perhaps? Probably not as you will be the only person who finds it funny. Are you trying to impress us with your knowledge of bikes and tractors? No, that didn't work either.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

One possible alternative reason why the number of bike riders in Japan has decreased - Having to contend with the increase "drivers" driving idiotically dangerously.

I ride a Yamaha SR400 (Modelled on the old BSAs) here; it rides like a dog, but it's got character.

But, every time I ride in the city, I question why I bother. I encounter someone's negligence/stupidity seemingly every few hundred metres (pulling out on you, cutting you up, moving into my lane suddenly because they haven't bothered to check their blind-spot nor used their indicators, tailgating - sometimes in the wet - unbelievable). It completely takes the joy out of riding a bike.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yamaha SR400 is a good commuter bike.

My friend rode a SR500(single) and my Kawasaki Z440LTD (Twin cylinders) kept up easily. Japan only had the Z400 & Z500 both 4 inline.

Never head a problem here riding a bicycle or a Bike. But than I have been riding for nearly 30yrs daily, regardless of weather anything from 200cc to 1300cc.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Triumph are fun test-rode the Speed Triple and Speed Four.

But something is lacking from the classic triumph Bikes.

Ditto for Harley, Indian and many other makers they got too high-tech. I like to fix/adjust my Bike at the side of the road with a basic tool-kit.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have a Hinckley classic triple - Thunderbird 95. I love it. It has responsive power, wonderful handling and it has that classic British motorsports look even with a water cooled engine. I was so glad to hear that Triumph revitalized in the 90's and are now back on track with solid production lines. One thing I would like to see though is they maintain at least one flagship bike that has that classic look and feel. I would even suggest they stay with a carbureted engine for that model and put some growl in the pipes.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Triumph's and BSA (who purchased Triumph in 1951) were dominating the US market with over 60% of sales but where NEVER the fastest productions motorcycles. That was BMW in the 50s and 60s until the Honda 450 appeared (which topped that speed of the R69). And it was the Honda CB750 Four cylinder which sold in number of about 16 million which put so much pressure on the world industry of motorcycles that the British industry virtually ceased.

It is very pleasing that John Bloor rescued the Triumph name and adopted Japanese production processes from his visits to Honda (as did Harley-Davidson) and outsources many of their components from Japan since the quality of UK/USA machines had NEVER been up to any standard which could be said to approach reliability.

And in the 60s the UK twins hyped high performance, that they could not deliver. Even the Honda CB77 could reach 100 mph. But the Triumph 650 Bonneville, could not. The extremely low quality Lucas electric speedometers would ready 25 mph high to give an impression of speed that simply wasn't there. The superiority of the Japanese fours put that to shame.

The East Coast distribution facility for Triumph was near my home. I rode there and looked at their machines. They influenced my purchase of a motorcycle when I was 15. My choice was a Honda CB160. I quite liked the clean dignified styling, unlike the oil leaking and obviously nearly impossible to start UK/USA models.

Even before I had my own motorcycle I spent much time on the back (as a passenger) of a BMW R69, which was a fabulous machine, easy to start, clean and very fast. I was never a fan of twin cylinder motorcycles larger than 250cc other than the machines from BMW.

A few years later I became one of the first 300,000 people to buy a Honda CB750. I would buy one today if they were available. My favorite of these was the 1979 Silver model. I would also buy a CB350Four if it were available in good condition.

I do not think that motorcycles have any relevant existence in today's world. They kill 36 times more of their owners as compared to automobiles and pollute as much as dozens of automobiles. The pollution of Harley-Davidson's alone is so great it exceeds that of all the automobiles in the USA (on a per mile basis).

Motorcycles are also extremely inefficient for their size due to air drag and performance design. While a Honda Super Cub 50 can exceed 315 miles per gallon the oversized models sold today can barely reach 50mph. An efficiently designed motorcycle should achieve at least 150 mph (the Volkswagen 1 liter automobile does 285 mpg.).

Honda, BMW, and Triumph make clean running machines. Triumph is the only one making machines similar to the traditions of the 1950s. Nevertheless the motorcycle for Honda was a stepping stone to better things. The BMW is a high priced luxury machine, so only Triumph offers a classic style.

I have no affection for the old Triumphs. I am pleased that the new Triumph exists, but some of their machines are oversized and some are frankly ridiculous.

In the context that the Japanese are not very interested in motorcycles... I applaud them for being so. It is not due to a lack of testosterone. It is due to a higher level of intelligence and practicality.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I got to test-ride a lot of Bikes from an ariel square 4 to a vincent black shadow.

The Rikuo Bikes impressed (made under harley licence).

But still can't touch a modern japanese choppers(talking 30yrs now). Quick and nimble, same as I saw in the new triumphs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The W650 Meguro, later Kawasaki, was superior to the BSA 650 which it appeared to be a copy of, and was sold by BSA as their own product just before the UK government pulled the plug on their 8 million pounds a year losses.

Triumph/BSA complained to their government and wanted an import tariff on the CB750 because it sold retail for less than they could make their three cylinder 750 for.

The 1959 650cc Triumph Bonneville was noted for it's handling since it weighed only 398 lbs. and had 46 hp. The 1969 Honda CB750 weighed 550 lbs, handled better, costs less, topped 125 mph.

After Bettmann founded the UK based Triumph he also created a German one in Nuremburg. That company was rolled into Adler in the 50s and now makes office equipment.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's ME you are a lucky guy, my friend had an Ariel Square Four back in the 70's what an awesome machine, never ever seen another one.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I was fortunate to get to know and spend some time with Bud Ekins about 10 years ago. He was a man who lived in real life the image that McQueen progected in films. One of the great moments in my life.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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