Bookshelf: Two New Triumph Tomes

Celebrating the past and admiring vintage and new models are a part of the motorcycling experience, and two recent books on the iconic Triumph brand enable readers to do just that:

“Triumph Motorcycles in America” is a coffee table-style book jammed with pictures and historical data. Written by Lindsay Brooks and David Gaylin, it is comprehensive and colorful.

No book about Triumph history would be complete without mentioning the Prince of Darkness and “Triumph Motorcycles in America” notes how the Lucas electrical systems managed “to tarnish Triumph’s reputation” in the 1960s, and that’s putting it mildly.

How so many riders came to adore the British machines is open to conjecture, and famed moto-journalist Peter Egan speculates on whether “faulty genes or a harsh environment” played a role in the brand’s popularity in the book’s foreward.

While technical at times and filled with a staggering amount of minutia, “Triumph Motorcycles in America” is well-researched, informative and enjoyable as it unfurls history. A post-World War II push to establish the brand in the U.S. saw the company’s distributor, Johnson Motors, split the country in half and have two men on the road seeking dealers.

One of them, Peter Colman, “scoured the country with a $500-per-month expense account and a Mercury sedan that ‘leaked water like a sieve.’ Prospective dealers were typically hundreds of miles apart, and covering such massive territory required endless hours of driving,” the book reports.

In 1948, though, Colman and the other salesman, Johnson Motors sales manager Andy Anderson, crisscrossed the country and “visited nearly every established motorcycle dealer.” Harley-Davidson dealers were hostile and, in 1949, the Federal Trade Commission charged Harley-Davidson “with making exclusive-dealing contracts with its dealers and unlawfully enforcing them.”

It’s my suspicion that so many books of this nature get purchased by brand enthusiasts and then get put on the shelf without ever having been read. The hefty “Triumph Motorcycles in America,” which was published earlier this year with a retail price of $60, has the goods and style to warrant actually reading it.

“Triumph: The Art of the Motorcycle” takes a different, more artistic approach to the brand. It’s a high-gloss review of the many models that Triumph has built from 1902 to the present day.

Triumph CEO Nick Bloor provides the introduction. He notes that “the beauty of a Triumph motorcycle has always been about much more than just styling. The marriage of distinctive and beautiful flowing design, with performance and handling, has always been a key driver for what makes every Triumph special.”

What elevates “Triumph: The Art of the Motorcycle” from the ordinary is the photography and the elegant, crisp manner in which the many models are displayed within the covers. Many are long-hidden archival shots.

More than half of the book is devoted to the years since the resurrection of Triumph in 1983 by John Bloor, which will certainly please owners of recent models, such as the Bonneville T120 and Bonneville Bobber.

Written by Zef Enault and Michaël Levivier, “Triumph: The Art of the Motorcycle” was published in November and retails for $50. – By Bud Wilkinson

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Since 2010, RIDE-CT & RIDE-NewEngland has been reporting about motorcycling in New England and portions of New York.