Home Features Triumph 1914: Buying, fettling and riding a beast from the past

Triumph 1914: Buying, fettling and riding a beast from the past


My article on the Brough Superior Club’s diamond jubilee washout spurred a latent fascination in motorcycling among several readers. Paul said that with my background in motorcycling — having been a bike journalist for several years in my 20s — I should do more on the subject. 

  The 1914 Triumph in repose. Image Paul Gander
The 1914 Triumph in repose. Image Paul Gander

So I thought I would give you a little bit of entertainment on the topic of starting and riding a 1914 single-speed, clutchless, brakeless (well almost) 550cc Triumph “motor bicycle.” I realise this is a bit off-piste, but it’s fun all the same. On the veteran and vintage circuit, this Triumph is a common sight and I’ve often been tempted to buy one. I’ve always wondered just how easy or difficult they are to ride. Now I know. It’s a sobering thought that bikes like this were the mainstay of army communications during the First World War. 

I warn you, this is not for the faint of heart, so watch the video at your own risk. And if you want full chapter and verse on buying, fettling and riding a 104-year-old veteran bike, then read the full story here at Go-Faster.com written by Paul Gander.

To my shame, I confess that during my time as a road tester and feature writer on Motor Cycle, I never managed to get aboard a bike as old as this. Even the classic motorcycles I tried all had clutches and gears, and some semblance of working brakes. However, having read this article and watched the video, I don’t think I will be rushing out to buy a veteran two-wheeler.

If this little article has piqued your interest, have a look at Paul Gander’s review of his father’s motorcycling holiday in 1953. Some wonderful period shots here. And one of the bikes was the Brough Superior SS100.



  1. You just reminded me that I always wanted a Norton Comando around 1970 but my mother was horrified if I bought a motorcycle. So I purchased a car instead. I still love looking at classic bikes but I have dropped the dream of riding one. I recently saw a mint Norton.

    • Riding a motorcycle is something you have to get out of your system. I rode all the time for over 40 years but, in the end, concluded I’d had a food run and so I bought a Leica instead.

  2. I thought I was brave – and then I watched this – suspect I’m not as brave as I thought. Absolutely no way you would find me riding that for a weekend jaunt. That is just too scary.

    • Me too. I actually welcomed electric starters on motorbikes. The Japanese started it with the Honda Benlys and Dreams and the British manufacturers — BSA, Triumph, Velocette, Royal Enfield et al — though electric starters were sissy. But I could never jump start a bike, so I was happy.

  3. thanks for posting this mike, I hadn’t realised it was quite such hard work to use one of these things. It would appear to be a bicycle with a 550 cc motor attached to it, pretty scary !

    • Yes, up the mid-teens most motorbikes were "motor bicycles" and many had pedals. When clutches and gearboxes became more popular in the 1920s it was possible to dispense with the pedals. But a single-speed clutchless "motor bicycle" is not the faint hearted, I agree.


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