The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Triumph Motorcycles: The Challenge of the 80s

I have a lot of passions that fuel my movement and my joy. I prefer to play as hard as I work, and one of my favorite toys is a GSXR 1000 crotch rocket. I have flirted with the Honda 954RR and the Yamaha R1. I have never transitioned into the cruisers because I still love to do tricks and stuff. However, my love for sports bikes does not mean that I can’t appreciate all the other types of bikes. One bike brand that I have an appreciation for that does not get a lot of press is Triumph. Triumph has been making bikes for a long time (since 1902) and the brand has experienced its ups and downs. When the company was pushed off its pedestal it fell hard and not many thought it would recover, but it did. While Triumph is back to making bikes that people love, it has not always been that way. Let’s look at the rise and fall of the company, as well as look at how they recovered, with a focus on the 1980s.

During the 1960s, the daredevil, Evil Knievel was amazing fans around the world with his remarkable life-threatening jumps. I even had an Evil Knievel action figure and rev-up motorcycle. The motorcycle that my toy was a replica of was the Triumph 650, the bike Evil Knievel chose to use when he attempted his jump over the fountains at Ceasar’s Palace.
Since then, the Triumph brand has experienced quite the evolution. While it is the fastest growing bike manufacturer in the United States today, that has not always been the case. Let’s take a quick look at how they created their resurgence.
As the Japanese motorcycle companies decided to engage the sport-bike industry, it created a ripple effect in the United States and in Italy, where the industry had been previously dominated. Triumph sales began to fall and the company experienced a noticeable decline in prominence. However, it was during the 1980s that the company sort of reinvented itself. While staying true to its roots, for the most part, the company offered a different version of the sports bike that did not appear in direct competition with the Japanese model. Following are some bikes that made the cut in the 80s.

The Triumph 750

The Triumph 750 is not an imposing bike when you look at it, but don’t let that fool you. At the time that the bike was being produced, it had a 5-speed standard transmission that was back by an adequate and robust 750cc engine. The sleek design not only added to the aesthetic appeal of the bike, but it also made it easy to handle. It was a great bike for beginners, but more seasoned riders did not shy away from it. While it did not have all of the extras like a fairing and ground effects kit (Japanese model), it still had great acceleration and it handled great.

The Triumph Bonneville

The Bonneville may very well be the motorcycle that helps save the business. When you speak with motorcycle enthusiast and mention the triumph brand, the Bonneville is the model that everyone speaks of when they talk about Triumph in the 80s. The Bike features a parallel twin four-stroke engine that had been manufactured over the course of four generations and a total of three distinct production runs. The Bonneville was not a completely new model, but the model introduced in the 80s was bolder and more expressive of what the company wanted to deliver to the world. You can see a hint of the Bonneville in some of the more contemporary models.

The Triumph T58-1 Hesketh

In 1983, Triumph made another bold statement with the release of the Hesketh, an eight-valve high-performance engine that was actually designed for police use. The Hesketh was one of the last moves made by the company as it was going through the liquidation process. Fortunately for the brand, these lean years was not the end. This struggle was actually a challenge for management to shift its marketing and branding approach, which the company did toward the end of the 80s through the 90s. The company now stands as the clear leader among American motorcycle manufacturers and there does not appear to be any signs of slowing down.


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