There might not be any TT this year (2020) due to the plague, but I still thought it might be time to revisit my epic trip to the TT two years ago, 2018, and re-live a motorcycle journey that took in a fair bit of Great Britain, Wales, Ireland and of course, the Isle of Man itself. I hope you enjoy the ride…
Triumph Factory Visitor Experience
After flying into London and being picked up by family friends we eventually made our way to Triumph’s global headquarters and primary manufacturing base at Hinckley. Situated roughly halfway between Leicester and Birmingham, Triumph HQ is surrounded by various other commerical buildings set amongst a large industrial complex known as Dodwells Road Industrial Estate.
After acquiring the rights to the Triumph brand after the company went bust in 1983, British property developer and construction magnate John Bloor set about rebuilding the company from the ground up. Bloor initiated the build of a modern factory on a ten acre site in Hinckley. The new generation of Triumph Motorcycles that started rolling out of the factory in 1991 have forever been coined ‘Hinckley Triumphs’, signalling the fact that these machines are the Triumphs of a new generation.
Early in 2002 a major fire destroyed the Hinckley plant just before the 100 year anniversary of the Triumph brand was to be celebrated. Being in the construction business allowed Bloor to rebuild at a pace that was quite astonishing. Six months after the destruction the factory was up and running again.
Four years later another more modern factory was commissioned into service and the following year yet another manufacturing premises joined the portfolio. That inventory now includes another manufacturing base in Thailand to further raise overall manufacturing capacity for the brand.
While visiting to pick up two brand new examples of Triumph’s Hinckley handiwork, top of the range Explorer XCa models in both 800cc and 1200cc variants, it provided the perfect opportunity to tour the factory while it was running in full production, and also to check out the recently launched ‘Triumph Factory Visitor Experience’.
Our cameras were not allowed inside the factory while it worked. EU regulations concerning the right to privacy of the workers etc being cited as the primary reason behind those restrictions, thus the above production line images are Triumph supplied.
Nonetheless it was an interesting insight that provided a great background of the manufacturing process in what is very much a state of the art facility. Customers can also book this workshop floor tour but you will need to do this well in advance, as they completely fill quite regularly. In fact, our tour was a private affair outside of the normal routine as all scheduled factory tour timeslots are booked out for the next three months!
While there is a 15-pound fee for the booked tour of the workshop floor, the all new and interactive Triumph Factory Visitor Experience is free of charge and open Wednesday through Sunday.
Unveiled in late February 2018 by Prince William, this new museum style experience is showcased across two levels in various exhibits. After entering via apaved ‘Walk of Fame’ style entrance you arrive at the handsomely decorated ‘1902 Cafe’.
As you would expect, refreshments are available for purchase and can be enjoyed amongst tasteful surroundings complete with a wall adorned by the various generations of Hinckley built engines alongside various other pieces of memorabilia. I really liked this touch.
From there you can wander through various exhibits that showcase the history of Triumph Motorcycles through all its ages. Many of the motorcycles are on loan from private collectors but all have one thing in common, they are pristine and amongst the best surviving examples of their respective breeds.
All are accompanied by explanatory placards detailing the machine. Many are also supported by striking multimedia and video productions projected on tastefully decorated walls.
In the aim of bringing people back again and again there will be different themes focussed on from time to time, ensuring the experience does not grow stale and predictable.
The current showcase during our visit was dubbed ‘Legends of Bonneville’ and featured a number of rare examples of a model that is one of the most famous in motorcycling and straddles a 60-year lineage.
Other interesting exhibits included a Triumph Speed Triple broken down into major components all mounted to a wall.
Another feature wall showed the six stages of casting and machining that go into forming the upper crankcase of a Triumph Street Triple.
Each step is explained along the way, from the sources of the parent materials through to the die-casting and powder coating techniques before moving on to the CNC machining.
The various electronic systems of the latest Tiger 1200 are also showcased on an otherwise bare frame as the mounting point for the various sensors and computers that help control everything from the engine management systems to ABS, traction control and the associated electronics for the TSAS semi-active suspension system.
Clay modelling techniques and examples are introduced in yet another exhibit area, thus the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience is not just about looking at motorcycles themselves, but also serves as an educational tool that should see school groups make use of the facility.
As far as eye candy went it was the 1909 TT Racer with all of its 3.5 horsepower generated from a 490 cc single that won my heart. While eminently beautiful in its simplicity, that would certainly be some sort of next level Triumph Experience to ride!
Of the modern generation I must admit that it surprises me just how well the Daytona T595 has aged. I was not completely enamoured with its styling back in its day of 1996, but there is certainly something that really pulls me towards to it now.
Despite the huge fan base behind the first generation of the Hinckley Speed Triples I think that perhaps it will instead be the T595 that becomes the most collectible Triumph of the modern era.
Triumph has long been popular in movie use and what is possibly the most valuable Triumph in existence today takes pride of place in its own exhibit. A recent ‘barn find’ was the actual 1962 TR6 Triumph Trophy ridden by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
Built back in the day by expert trials rider Ken Heanes and designed to, at first glance, look like a 1930s German military motorcycle. The bike was ridden by racer and stunt rider Bud Ekins to make that infamous 65-foot long and 12-foot high barbed wire fence jump that is perhaps the most iconic motorcycle stunt ever to make it on to the big screen.
Now fully restored and part of the extensive Dick Shepherd collection the value of the machine is estimated to reach into the many millions of whatever currency you care to use.
Amongst the upstairs exhibits there is also a Triumph shop to stock up on a wide range of Triumph branded merchandise.
The Triumph Factory Visitor Experience is a free walk-in affair open Wednesday through Sunday from 1000 to 1630 but Friday evenings sees the centre open until 1900. The doors are closed on Monday and Tuesdays but are open on Public Holidays.
Part Two of our trip sees us leave Hinckley and head south to Chinnor, the Oxfordshire village I left behind at age nine when emigrating to Australia with my family.
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