Brian Randall is crouching down for our photoshoot beside the Triumph Trident T160 he has owned since 1979.
“You lovely thing,” he says, gazing at the machine he brought back to life during the Covid lockdowns after more than 25 years off the road.
“It’s my pride and joy,” he says. “When it’s parked in the car port, I stop and look at it through the front door and think ‘aah, isn’t it wonderful?’
“A gorgeous looking bike”
“It’s a gorgeous looking bike. I love riding it, but I also love working on it.”
For years, the Triumph had gradually corroded after being kept in various garages or under a cover in the back garden while Brian got on with family life and work.
In late 2019, enough was enough and he thought ‘I need to start on this’.
“I started doing it in a desultory fashion, and then the lockdown came in,” he says. “I don’t think I thought ‘oh, there’s a lockdown, I’ll start the motorbike’, it was more ‘what am I going to do? I’ll start the motorbike’ and it just took off from there and escalated.
“I hate to say this, but I actually enjoyed lockdown. Me and my wife are serial volunteers, and everything came to a stop. She got on with researching her family heritage, and I was outside being busy on the motorbike. We were very lucky.”
Fast forward to April 2022 and the Trident was back on the road after a complete nut and bolt restoration.
“An almighty thrill”
“The first time I came to start it was very nerve wracking,” says Brian, 71. “On the first kick it fired but didn’t quite hold, and I got it going on the second kick. That gave me an almighty thrill.”
There was just one snag – Brian had to re-learn how to ride it and, in particular, the art of smooth gear changes.
“My previous car was an automatic, and my current one is electric,” he says, “so I’d forgotten about clutches!”
Brian’s biking life began when he was studying engineering at university in Bristol with a Honda C95, a 150cc twin with a pressed steel frame.
“I didn’t know anything about motorbikes, but I just wanted one,” he remembers. “I puttered around on that but it was in pretty rubbish condition and I had to do some work on it, and that got me involved in delving inside motorbikes.”
The Honda had to be scrapped when the bearings went, and his next bike wasn’t until a few years later, a Honda CB175 twin.
“It was fine, but not very powerful,” he adds. “I used to make a regular journey from home to work and there was a long, slow hill on the A38, and this bike would barely struggle up it.”
From underpowered Honda to Triumph Bonny
There were no such problems on Brian’s next bike, a Triumph Bonneville 750 bought when he was an engineer for the Royal Navy based in Plymouth.
“I can still remember the sensation of riding out to Plymouth on the A38 and I just wound it open and ‘woah’, it just whooshed me up the hill and I was hooked,” he remembers. “I had that for a few years and then I read a road test on a Trident in Bike magazine, and I remember thinking ‘oh that looks gorgeous, three cylinders…’”
And so in 1977 he bought a brand new Trident from Hastings Motorcycles. Sadly, the bike didn’t last long, disaster striking in April 1979.
“I was living just off the main road in Brighton, and I parked the bike up and locked it on a Friday night,” says Brian. “When I woke up the next morning it was gone. When I went to see the police they said it was probably in France by now. It was heart-breaking.”
As his only form of transport, he quickly needed a bike so bought a Honda CB 500/4, “which I hated”.
“It was in the middle of a fuel crisis, and I can remember going home to Minehead and running out of fuel,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it – it was even more thirsty than my Trident.”
The Honda was swiftly swapped for a Norton Dominator.
“It was a bit of a basket case, but I loved it,” he enthused.
A second Trident
Just four months after the Trident was stolen, Brian bought another one – second hand, the same age as the first.
“I bought this because I liked the first one so much, and the more I’ve tinkered with this one – particularly in this rebuild – the more I’ve realised there’s some pretty good engineering in it,” he says.
“Some people are very sniffy about British bikes, ‘they always leak oil and blah-di-blah’, ‘that’s only a Triumph 500 with an extra pot on it, nothing special’.
“Yet in the late ‘70’s racing Tridents won everything there was to win, and you can’t do that on a half-baked idea. It was a very decent bike that basically never had enough development time on it.”
The T160 was the then-struggling British company’s final attempt to keep up with the Japanese bikes, with a number of improvements over earlier models.
But production of the T160 lasted for just over a year, ending in early 1977 when the Norton-Villiers-Triumph company finally collapsed.
About 7,000 T160s were manufactured, but slow sales meant many weren’t sold and registered for the road until 1977.
A late Trident
Brian’s is a later bike, identifiable by its stainless steel mudguards and rubber-mounted footpegs, and further modifications have sprung up over the years as enthusiasts continued to improve their bikes.
“There are all sorts of mods you can do, and I did quite a few on there,” he says. “You can improve the clutch, put better oil pumps in, all sorts of things.”
The Trident was Brian’s daily transport, used for commuting, visiting his parents in Minehead, and a couple of trips to the Isle of Man TT.
“At the TT there’s an open day when you can ride round the circuit,” says Brian. “I’m a very wimpy rider – I’ll bottle out well before the bike will, which is the safest way of being, but I did discover on that Sunday ride I could ride faster than some other bikes.”
In 1982, Brian met his now-wife Barbara, the couple getting married in January the following year.
“She got used to riding on the back and I got used to having a heavier weight on the bike,” he says. “She was great on the bike and we went all sorts of places on it. In fact, in the September of the year we were married we took the bike, a tent and a couple of sleeping bags and not much else to France, with just a Michelin map and a campsite book from Smiths.
“That was a fabulous trip. There was very little traffic, really good roads and, because it was September, not much in the way of open campsites…”
Trident in semi-retirement
Not long after, with married life settling down and all the fetching and carrying of furniture and other ‘life’ stuff, the couple got a car and the Triumph was used less frequently – and even less when children Louise and Jeremy came along in 1985 and 1987.
“It wasn’t used much, just a bit of pleasure on my own,” says Brian. “There was one time we went to see my brother down in Bournemouth, Barbara with the kids in the car and me riding the motorbike.”
After 14 years working for Ricardo Engineering, Brian was offered a job in business development at Lotus Engineering, moving close to the company’s Norfolk base in 1994.
“I was starting the job on January 5, so I rode the bike up before Christmas in the pouring rain with salt around, and put it into the garage of a rented house,” he says.
“I was living on my own, and at the time I didn’t have the wherewithal to clean the bike down, which is something I regret.”
The Triumph lay idle for many years.
“I sprayed it with WD40 every now and again, and would think ‘that’s a project I’ll get on with when I retire’,” he says. “I put it round the back of the house under a cover, but over a puddle.”
After working for Tesla on their roadster, produced in collaboration with Lotus, Brian worked as a self-employed electric vehicle consultant until retiring in 2013.
With less time on his hands in retirement than anticipated, the Trident remained under its cover until 2018, when Brian sold the Dominator.
“I said to the Norton Owners Club chairman ‘I’ve got a Trident under there, I’ll show you’, and there on the handlebars was a wasp’s nest,” he says.
“He quickly decided to take his dog for a walk, and I stood back and watched, and actually there wasn’t that much activity, but there were still wasps in there.
“They are the most fantastic bit of engineering, but they’re not designed to be moved, and it just crumbled and left an awful stain all over the bike.
Danger: wasp nest
“I carefully covered the bike up again and put a sign on saying ‘danger wasp nest’, and thought ‘this is the ultimate deterrent for a motorbike thief!’”
Then came the first lockdown in March 2020, and work got underway on the bike in earnest.
“I started doing research on what bits to get and where I could get them from, and what I needed to do,” says Brian. “I was following the advice of a book I bought – take lots of photographs, and when you think you’ve taken lots of photographs, take lots more.
“I stripped it right down to the last nut and bolt, and sent them away to be zinc plated.”
Brian tried to keep as many original parts as possible, but such was the level of corrosion – partly thanks to the unwashed road salt and that puddle – some parts had to be replaced.
The wheel rims and spokes were in a terrible condition, so he replaced them with alloy rims and stainless spokes, while the exhaust system is now also stainless steel, and the rusty and immovable brake callipers were replaced by reconditioned units. The seat was reupholstered and re-covered.
Lustre Coatings re-painted the frame in two-part epoxy, and the tank in metallic red, gold and white.
Return of the shiny frame
“When I got this shiny frame back and I was starting to put the bike together, I was so paranoid,” laughs Brian. “I covered it in bits of old inner tube and things so I didn’t bang it, but inevitably the odd spanner hit it. There were no marks at all though, brilliant.”
On to the engine, the beating heart of this machine, and Brian was in for a couple of surprises.
“I was communicating on various issues on the Facebook Trident/Rocket 3 owners club (TROC) page, where there are people who have forgotten more than I’ll ever know,” he says.
“Somebody messaged me out of the blue, asking ‘are you the Brian Randall from B&E Randall’?”
He wasn’t, but it turned out Brian’s namesake ran an engineering company near Diss who could help him with his engine.
“I rang him up and said ‘I’ve got a motorbike and I want the engine working on, my name’s Brian Randall’. ‘Oh, hello!’” he laughs.
“I took them the crankshaft and the block, and I wanted them to check the bores in terms of scoring and wear and size.
“The bores were barrel shaped and oval, not ideal for oil consumption. I read somewhere there were bikes that came out of the factory with oval bores, which is why they were notorious for burning oil. Now, it burns very little oil, which is a result.”
With the bike back in one piece, Brian took it for a shakedown in October 2021, but wasn’t happy about some “funny noises”, so the primary drive came apart again.
On to April the following year, and a badly leaking oil cooler, cured in serendipitous fashion following another Facebook conversation.
“I managed to swap some old corroded wheel hubs that an owners club member wanted for a brand new oil cooler,” he says.
Another early run out was to see another Trident aficionado, Graham Small, in Cambridge.
“I wanted him to look at it because I had a few issues I’d been troubled about and I thought ‘he’ll know more than me’,” says Brian.
“It was a lovely day in April last year, and he said ‘I’ll give it a good run, I’ll probably be gone 40 minutes to an hour’.
“He made me a cup of coffee and gave me some magazines and I sat in the sun, and about 10 minutes later I heard him coming back – ‘oh dear, what’s gone wrong?’
“Best Trident I have ever ridden”
“He looked at me and said ‘now, what’s wrong with the bike?’ I said ‘I wanted you to look at so and so and so and so’ and he said ‘stop – what you’ve got here is the best Trident I have ever ridden. Take it home and tell yourself that you’ve done a bloody good job’. Wow.”
Since then, Brian hasn’t used the Triumph as often as he’d have liked, but there’s no danger of it sinking back into a state of disrepair.
“I’ve made a few journeys here and there, including to Cadwell Park with a little tent for an owners club meeting, which I really enjoyed,” he says.
“It was weeping oil, which I fixed over winter, and I can now say that the engine is pretty oil tight – at the moment.
“But I want to get out on it more. I have plans to do a couple of trips on it this summer.”
Although he enjoyed the restoration work, there are no plans to repeat it.
“I wouldn’t buy another bike and do the same thing,” he says. “I did it because it was my bike, I knew its history and I knew what I wanted to do with it.”
Stay in the family
As for the future, while neither of his grown-up children ride, Brian has hopes for his young grandson, Jude.
“We had a visit here from my daughter and her family last May, when Jude was two and a half,” he says.
“He’s got a little balance bike, and he brought that, and he’s always loved machinery, trains, buses, big diggers, and I thought ‘I think he’ll quite like grandpa’s big bike’.
“I sat him on it and he loved it. So maybe one day he will inherit it. I’d like it to stay in the family.”