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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The past catches up.....


Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll tell you a story...

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there was little factory turning out motorcycles by the name of Triumph.  The engines were indeed a Triumph apart from a few idiosyncrasies and oil leaks, but the frames were anything but a Triumph of engineering and appeared to be constructed of rubber.  Owners who enjoyed a bit of spirited  riding had more than their share of brown-trouser moments with their bikes trying to buck them off at the most inopportune time.

The author on his evil-handling 1955 Triumph Tiger 100, circa 1967
Slim, plenty of hair - is that really me???

Those were the days of real innovation and one of the ways of overcoming crap handling (a technical term) was to stick a Triumph engine in a Norton featherbed frame to make a Triton.  Great-looking, superb handling and even today, they have a huge following among the cafe racer enthusiasts.  However, there was an article in a mid-1960's copy of the UK magazine, Motorcycle Mechanics about a chap who had shoehorned a Triumph twin into a small Ducati frame.  As an engineer in training, the concept of an ultra-lightweight bike with sublime handling really appealed and I never forgot that article by Mick Snaith - innovative engineering at its very best and almost certainly the first Tricati in the world!

In the early 1970's, I'd stopped competitive drag racing and remembering Mick's article again, set about putting the drag motor (minus supercharger) in a Ducati frame.  That story is HERE  in my blog.

Now a few days ago, one of those events happened which leaves you genuinely lost for words. A friend of Mick Snaith  had seen my post, told Mick and he'd taken the trouble to get in touch 44 years after the article was published - simply incredible!

This is what he wrote:

Hi Geoff
I was the guy that built the first Tricati that was featured in Motorcycle Mechanic,( July 1967 from memory). I’ve still got a copy somewhere.
I did the same as you and inverted the swinging arm to swop the drive over. As I was serving an apprenticeship in a power station at the time I was able to make nearly all my own bits to fit and adapt the Triumph engine which I also tuned to beyond T100 spec. The rear sprocket was the only custom bought part, I made all the rest from raw material, mostly aluminium alloys. I drilled holes in all the plates/ brackets as a lightening measure as this would reduce the weight and hence increase performance. The original bike had a purpose built oil tank in the saddle made from fibreglass kits. This used to get warm which was nice in winter. I built a MK11 with the engine oil in the frame after boxing in the top and front tubes join area to increase the volume.
I actually raced one at Cadwell Park in an open road bike class and did quite well, the performance was pretty good by 1967 standards as it would do over 120mph with terrific acceleration due to the low weight. The handling was typical Ducati again pretty good in 67.
Mick Snaith

As you might expect, I was so excited and felt pretty privileged too.  An exchange of emails followed and amazingly, Mick still had the original article which he scanned and sent.  I've reproduced it below to show what a brilliant idea it was and how well the whole job was executed.  This was way before the days of nipping down the the local bike shop and buying over the counter farkles, which really puts Mick's achievement in the context which it fully deserves.  It's really worth looking at this article in detail for the very fine engineering so (hopefully), I've attached them in large scale so they can be clicked on to enlarge, then clicked on again to enlarge even more.

The world's first Tricati


Engineering details

As an amusing aside, Mick tells me that one of the early suggestions he received for naming it was a "Dumph" but wisely called it a Tricati, therefore preventing it from sinking into the realm of smutty jokes!  He also has photos of his Mk 2 version lurking about somewhere and if these ever come to light, I'll post them up.

So what a wonderful conclusion to my original post in May last year and even more importantly, being able to give Mick the world-wide recognition he deserves through the internet, albeit over 40 years late.  I take my hat off to you Mick!

Addendum: 
A week after this post, I've had another delightful email from Mick with some notes and a photo of another development version of his Tricati in 1967.  In this version and given the tight space behind the engine, he has the oil tank in the seat hump, which was innovative in itself.  He writes:

"Hi Geoff,

We found a picture of my revised bike with oil tank in the saddle. Sadly the picture is not the sharpest on the right side ( my photography has improved a lot since then) but the scanner was good. I still think it looked great even now.  Seeing these old pics has reminded me of some of the design details.

I had fitted racing cams and then flattened the followers radius to give even more valve overlap. I ground and smoothed all the valve gear to allow for the quicker movement of rods and rockers, and minimise valve bounce

I had worked out the best tuned length for the exhaust and fitted reverse cone megaphone 'silencers' the effect was give a real kick to the acceleration, and noise, when the revs got up but admittedly it was a bit noisy for a road bike. I only got away with it because  in town it only had to be in gear at tickover and it was doing 30mph. My friend Paul reminded me I didn't get away with it at a race meeting where a scrutineer insisted it couldn't be road legal and would not believe it was standard on a Tricati!  Despite me telling him I rode it to work like that every day I had to race it with some silencers borrowed off a friend's bike, They had something called baffles in them which took the edge off the performance slightly but it still easily kept up with a 1000cc Vincent.  Those were the days."

Isn't it wonderful that we can share Mick's enthusiasm and craftsmanship decades further on and as he rightly says, it still looks great even now.

Mick's 1967 development Tricati

Mick's early Tricati, possibly at the Silverstone circuit

25 comments:

  1. What an amazing story, Geoff. Isn't the WWW great stuff to get back in touch with the past? I admire Mick's engineering skills, I wish I could do that (or had the dough to get it done...).

    And well, the gorgeous head of hair or dare I say mane! The girls must have been all over you ;-)

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  2. Sonja:
    Absolutely - the use of the internet at its very best! Actually, Mick getting in touch has made me a bit wistful....

    Oh you of the silken tongue!!! Actually, I was painfully shy at that age and am still a bit inclined in that direction. Or as my darling wife would say, "In your dreams, boy"! Nice to know where I stand....

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  3. An amazing story, a testament to the power of the net. Still always amazes me though how incrediable talented some people are. I thought the 'dump' comment was hilerious. Awesome stuff.

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  4. Hi Rog!
    Yep, isn't it a thrill to find people like Mick?

    "What sort of bike are you going to get next?" and the reply, "I think I'll go for a Dump" is a bit unfortunate and unlikely to catch on.

    Did you notice Mick's winklepicker shoes in his photo? I had several pairs like that and thought I was way cool **blush**

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  5. Geoff: Dont laugh Winklepickers came back in fashion a few years ago, i had a pair and they were fab. Just dig your old pair out and you will be back in fashion! I really am going to take you shoe shopping one day.....now that will get you out of your comfort zone.

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  6. Rog:
    Did they really? They talk about waiting 20 years and fashion goes full cycle!

    I'll have you know that I'm starting to scrub up fairly well under the eagle eyes of the two women in my life :-)

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  7. Geoff

    I hope that Triumph frames have improved!

    Great story and it's good to make something really good out of leftovers!

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  8. Nikos:
    They sure have - treat yourself to the Tiger 800 :-)

    Yep, it's heart-warming that such great people are around!

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  9. A tricati, i think mick was well ahead of his time.
    Just lucky it wasn't a big dump.

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  10. WOW. Does this make you even more famous? You know, when people like Mick Snaith are contacting you. Do we need to get your autograph before you move on to greener pastures?

    I am awfully glad they didn't go with Dumph, Tricati is much better.

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  11. Chillertek:
    Well ahead of his time and wise with his brand name too :-)

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Trobairitz:
    Oh ha de ha! We all know that the real reason is that because I'm an old fart and remember such things!

    You'll keep :-)

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  12. Geoff:

    isn't the internet great ! Imagine trying to find people by snail-mail. Are you charging for autographs yet ?

    Maybe he will make you one . . . the "last Tricati"

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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  13. Bob:
    Not you too - I think I'll avoid the Americas on one of our anniversary trips, sigh.... ;-)

    Now THAT would be nice :-)

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  14. Thank you for posting the scans. Back when I still had the energy and will for such projects, I wasn't into motorbikes. And I'm not sure this Internet thing will ever catch on...

    Richard

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  15. Richard:
    Old Farts of the World unite!!!!

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  16. Not every homebrew was to that order

    I remember reading one article along the lines of a 'Clubman remembers' of one rider boasting over a winter of his new ride, which to be fair was based on what he could afford.

    First race of the season he wheeled out a reverse Tri-ton (Nor-umph ?) Norton engine and Triumph frames . A real red headed step-child of a bike.

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  17. Young Dai:
    Yin and Yang I suppose! For every genius, there's someone at the other end of the scale. To be perfectly fair however, he got stuck in and had a go which is undoubtedly the most important thing of all!

    I'd imagine the resale value of his bike wasn't all that high, if indeed it survived...

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  18. An amazing story - I understand the 'crap handling' technical term, the rest I'm passing along to my Triumph, Norton, Ducati friends for full appreciative value.

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  19. VStarLady:
    Hahaha - a nice short adjective often paints exactly the right sort of mental image, doesn't it?

    It is indeed an amazing story and people like Mick genuinely enrich this world.

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  20. Bet you wish you still had that Triumph! (and maybe the hair - lol)
    What a cool story! Agreed. This whole internet thing is amazing.

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  21. Hi Lori,

    I'll settle for the hair thanks (and maybe a bit of youthful energy to go with it!

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  22. Hi Geoff
    I don't suppose you ( or Mick ) have any close ups of how the rear engine plates looked as I have a Tricati awaiting assembly ( probably next year ) ?
    The cycle parts are 250cc Daytona/Diana so same narrow case frame as Mick's, with the air filter housing on the right converted into an oil tank.
    It was built in the mid 60s and I acquired the bits years ago but when built it used the original Ducati rear engine mounts so the g/box sprocket is well below the swinging arm pivot so the inverted swinging arm has nice grooves machined by the chain. I've got the Mechanics article but can't see enough.
    There was another featured in a UK mag a few years ago and I contacted the owner but never got any details.

    cheers
    Phil
    philip.lou@talktalk.net

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  23. Hi Phil,
    Good to hear from a fellow enthusiast and best wishes for completing the project. They still look superb. I'm afraid I can't add much to what you've already seen. I remember making engine mount templates in cardboard to get a rough fit, then in thin alloy so that I could put the engine in place and approximately measure for stainless steel spacers to get the engine offset for chain alignment right. The plates proper were made for me by drag racer Alf Hagon. I have a photo of a Tricati using what looks like a Daytona frame as opposed to the Elite I used. I'll send that by email but I don't think it will add much.

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    Replies
    1. Hi,
      I was an Appy with mick at earley power station, I did a bit of work on that bike in the blacksmiths shop.

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    2. Hi Ross - great to hear of the connection. Just received your separate email and have replied accordingly.

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