Heavy use and manufacture through two world wars led to a dramatic rise in the popularity of motorbikes across the world, and for much of the 1950’s, Britain was at the centre of production. It was considered by many to be one of biking’s greatest decades, when the motorbike model really took off.
Let’s take a fond look back at some of the most iconic and influential bikes of the decade.
Manufacturer – Triumph (UK)
Production – 1939-1940, 1946-73
Engine – 498cc
Features – telescopic front fork, spring hub rear suspension
A pioneer in its design and features, the Triumph Tiger 100 was a huge success for the company. In production for some 28 years, it saw some of its greatest success in the 50’s, including the first swinging-arm rear suspension model. The decade also saw the first full race-kitted model (the Tiger 100C), and the last of the pre-units with separate engine/gearbox designs, before it was reformatted in the ‘new unit’ style as the T100A in 1960.
It is fondly remembered as one of Triumph’s last industry leading bikes, before Japan really started to dominate the market, and is not so fondly remembered as the Bike that Bob Dylan crashed in 1966, leading to his 8 year tour hiatus.
Manufacturer – Honda
Production – 1958-present
Engine – 49-109cc
Features – Classified somewhere between scooter and motorbike
An underbone (step-through) motorcycle with a four stroke single cylinder engine, the Honda Super Cub is the most produced vehicle in motor history, with more than 60 million units produced in 50 countries world-wide since it began in the late 50’s. Inspired by the popularity of mopeds in Germany in, the Cub was developed as part of Honda’s long term expansion strategy to dominate markets and eliminate competitors.
Made famous by the ad slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, it has been compared to the Ford Model T, VW Beetle and the Jeep as an icon of the 20th century.
Speed twin 5T
Manufacturer – Triumph
Production – 1938-40, 1947-59
Engine – 498cc
Features – Innovative twin cylinder design
Among Triumph’s most successful models, the 5T was a 498cc OHV vertical twin in a lightweight frame, which set the standard for twin-line bike production in the UK, with most manufacturers following Triumph’s design. When it arrived on the market in 1938, it was competitively priced, reliable and powerful in comparison to its competitors. It’s twin cylinder engine’s pistons moved in unison, but firing on different strokes, making it almost as compact, lightweight and cheap to manufacturer as a single cylinder engine – it was this design that helped make the Speed Twin such an icon today.
The Speed Twin was largely responsible for Triumph’s survival after World War 2, and was the basis for twin cylinder designs across the world.
Finding, restoring and maintaining classic bikes like these can be a challenge, but online resources such as auction sites and communities have made the hobby of classic biking and restoration easier than ever.
There are thousands of enthusiasts looking to sell bikes and parts, and share advice and experience. Resources such as Classic-Motorbikes are there to help with parts and maintenance advice, and you can compare insurance policies and prices for classic motorbike insurance with Confused.com, to make sure your dream bike gets the right type of protection.
Do you agree with our top 3 motorbikes of the 50’s? Or do you think we’ve missed a bike from the list? Also, if you have any photos of the bikes mentioned above, please send them in so that we can use them on this article.