You rarely see all-rounders these days. Modern motorcycles are finely honed and perfected for a single role, be it cutting edge sports machines with alloy beam frames, adventure bikes with long-travel suspension or laid back cruisers with relaxed ergonomics.
In the old days a motorcycle was expected to perform well in multiple roles: an economical commuter during the week; a commodious tourer for the holidays; even as a racer or trials machine at the weekend. By changing sprockets, handlebars and exhausts, sometimes the seat, gear ratios and tyres, or adding a fairing, the personality of the machine was easily altered. BSA and Ariel singles, and Triumph twins, were good examples of this versatility.
Perhaps inevitably then, the last true all-rounders were the Triumph 750 twins, produced as the twin carb T140 Bonneville and the single carb TR7 Tiger from 1973 to 1983. Distinguished only by their paintwork and the number of carburettors, the two variants are effectively a single model.
Even when new, the T140/TR7 offered a ‘classic’ experience, much like the final MGB sports cars. The UK specification with large fuel tank and flattish handlebars provided traditional styling while the US version with peanut tank and ‘chopper’ style handlebars captured the cruiser look.
Adding a fairing, luggage and more seat padding created the Police model used by many forces, from Merseyside to Nigeria, which was then made available to the public with a fancy paint job as the Executive tourer.
Stripped down and fitted with off-road tyres, the bikes were the mainstay of the army’s White Helmets display team right up until they were disbanded in 2017, decades after the bikes were originally manufactured. The team felt that nothing produced in the modern era gave the same combination of low-speed balance, throttle response, agility and general robustness; quite a compliment.
A limited run of grass-track racers for use in promotional races was built for Bulmers cider in late 1977, based very closely on standard T140s but with tuned engines and revised suspension geometry. In 1981, a TR7 Trail model even won the 750 class of the Rallye des Pyrenees. The Trail pre-dated today’s fashion for adventure bikes and was created from the TR7 base model with little more than a 21” front rim, high-level silencer, braced handlebars and plastic mudguards; it was nicknamed the ‘yellow peril’ at the factory.
On the race track, the 1960s glory days of the 650 Bonneville were echoed by the occasional success of the 750 twins. The 1978 Avon/Bike UK production championship was won by a T140, beating everything from Japan and Italy. Over in the USA, in 1982 a T140 TSS model, Triumph’s performance flagship with an 8-valve cylinder head, won its class at Daytona in the Battle of the Twins race, clocking 155mph in the process.
Away from factory efforts, an army of amateur enthusiasts worldwide has tweaked and customised the Triumph 750s to produce their own vision of the ideal machine. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever again see such a versatile motorcycle.