Mid-1960’s; one nineteen-year-old medical student aboard his T100 crossed vast Indian plains and climbed snow-capped Himalayan passes multiple times. Similar distance to riding from Delhi to London’s Ace Café; his name is Irfan Sheikh
Triumph in India
Motorcycle exports to the sub-continent were limited during the early 1950s and chassis 56009 would have arrived in India for one of two purposes. Either chosen for official duty as a Police outrider or most likely a rather indulgent purchase by a Maharaja or merchant. Arriving in 54, this motorcycle pre-empted the import ban of 1956, its post war upgrades from a pre-war design turned heads, especially in India. Fast forward a decade and one Delhi motorcycle dealer was ‘most proud’ to offer a 1956 Triumph Tiger T100, especially in a low mileage, pristine condition. It’s not unknown for a few miles to disappear from a bike’s history but this Triumph’s lack of use and immaculate appearance allowed two years of life to be wiped away with the aid of false paperwork.
The Vintage Motorcycle Club were able to date production to 6th August 1954 and research confirmed that the bike was first registered in Bombay and into the hands of a wealthy owner. After a couple of years, the T100 was sold on and received its second registration number APU 7269, the first two letters signify the State of Andhra Pradesh some 500 miles’ distance west from its previous east coast location. Obtained by a rather cunning Bombay dealer, the fuel tank had received the later models chrome plated Triumph monogram, 24 months of existence just vanished. The registration date implied it was one of the final batch of affordable imports, as duties applied after 1956 saw new Triumph’s face a 200% price increase; ensuring that most two-wheeled transport remained home grown. Registrations for 1956 (the false age of this Tiger) stood at 41k, but by 1963 when Irfan took possession the figure increased to 140k. Fast forward to 2002 and 37 million scooters and motorcycles covered the country; India holds the highest population of two-wheel transport in the world.
Mr Sheikh’s Must Have
Irfan admits to being totally smitten by this Tiger in July 1963. There were other options open to Indian bikers during this era when Enfield and Lambretta dominated the market place; AJS, BSA and Norton along with Triumph machines were coveted by the wealthy or officials. During the previous decades his mother had purchased a couple of properties, the rental from these had allowed young Irfan to continue his medical studies. His mother’s death contributed to a low point in Irfan’s life and thus the Tiger wasn’t just a means of transport, he hoped it could offer a fresh and exciting road towards his future. As Irfan explained ‘medical students have a reputation for being somewhat less than rational, the study of illness, death and dying is initially a bit of a shock to someone just out of their teens; any outlet is therefore essential and mine was the Tiger’.
His home base of Delhi enjoyed similar biking café culture to the one pursued on the North Circular Road, cruising the boulevards and young ladies riding pillion (side saddle avoiding Saree with chain combination). Expresso bars offered meeting venues for young bikers, a juke box played whilst they enjoyed a relatively new beverage to India; Coca-Cola. Irfan relished the chance to ride with friends but soon took to longer journeys, some through choice, many were a necessity. His studies took place in the valley of Kashmir some 550 miles from Delhi and the Himalaya’s stood in the way. Probate legalities from his mother’s estate ensured the Tiger earnt its keep; making the journey at least two and often three times a year, often to complete official paperwork.
My host explains in a ‘matter of fact’ fashion that in the 1960s the ‘roads’ travelled were little more than dirt tracks. Leaving Delhi just after sunrise at 744 feet above sea level it was 150 miles to the next town, refuel and onwards taking the Grand Trunk Road across the Plains of Punjab, the same distance again before a night stop under the stars in Jammu, at the foot of the mountains. This journey was rarely taken by private car and it was unheard of for motorcycles to attempt the mountain passes during the period; little more than a pony track the road that existed was primarily used by large trucks. The terrain was savage in places and even the military didn’t attempt such a feat on two wheels, so they would often stop and try to dissuade Irfan from attempting the climb. Pre-dawn starts for a 250-mile mountain crossing, up to 9300ft during the summer or through the Banihal Tunnel at 6600ft in the winter. The higher and shorter mountain pass is closed for 6 months of the year, impassable due to snow. How did he cope with the freezing temperatures on the winter runs I asked ‘to keep the cold at bay I would turn my tweed coat round so the opening was at the back’ came the logical reply! Irfan explained that bespoke biker jackets hadn’t reached Kashmir and suitable gloves were a rarity. Riding in extremes of forty degrees on the summer plains, contrasting with temperatures well below freezing at 9000ft were accepted but with such thin air, surely the bike suffered? ‘The Triumph never failed me once’ and that was a blessing, for there were no repair shops once into the mountains. The bike was checked over by his favoured mechanic in Delhi prior to each crossing and apart from an electrical fault causing light failure plus the odd puncture, Irfan rode his luck rather well over the three years. Dangers included ‘bullock carts’ which if coming towards you gave warning with the headlights reflecting from the animal’s eyes; if going in the same direction the lack of illumination gave our pilot some serious frights. During the summer Irfan revelled in the mountain crossing, with stunning views and the smell of pine filling the air, his parallel twin thumping away; where else would you want to be? During the winter the situation was reversed, although the tunnel remained open, it was prone to icing as water leaked through the roof onto the roadway. During a particularly harsh winter crossing, a crash inside the tunnel tore away one of the exhausts and after picking the wreckage from the frozen surface, on exiting the tunnel a sheet of black ice removed the other pipe and contributed to some severe bruising. Bandits were an ever-present threat that confronted travellers and when barriers blocked Irfan’s path the Triumph came to the rescue; dodging the barricades at high speed to avoid confrontation, our intrepid rider considers the situation could have been ‘sinister’. He also describes getting totally lost, stranded roadside or riding through floods during monsoon rains as just ‘part of the adventure’. Finally, it was the T100 that transported Irfan and his future wife (Suhaylah) during their courtship and provided plenty of happy memories for the couple but life was moving on and so were the newlyweds; to England.
Lost in a Wood Shed
As my host explained ‘I was born into the era of the British Raj and was brought up accordingly, my father was an officer in the British Army and therefore I was destined to make England my home’. Prior to moving overseas, the Triumph was passed on to Suhaylah’s brother for safe keeping; the year was 1970. When he then departed Kashmir, the T100 was ‘mechanically challenged’ and visually poor, pushed into the family’s damp wood shed it was forgotten. Later in 1977 the property was sold and Irfan returned to Kashmir to clear family items where he discovered the remains of his Triumph still in the wood shed. A decision was taken to ship the T100 along with the family’s furniture to Delhi where it was garaged until 1985. The belongings eventually saw the inside of a UK bound container and mixed in with antique chairs and cupboards were boxes of Triumph parts, a complete motorcycle’s worth. Customs showed little interest in boxes of oily bike parts and waved any duties, once they agreed, with its owner’s insistence ‘the Triumph was in fact coming home’.
Chasing the 54
With the help of a local motorcycle dealer the parts were refurbished and over the period of many months the T100 was gradually restored. The seized engine was rebuilt, rims chromed and restrung. On locating the original colour, hidden under several layers on the base of the tank, the correct hue was applied. The frame survived remarkably well and was returned to its former glory with a blast and powder coat. Although it was purchased as a 1956, the aim was to present the bike in its correct 54 specifications and that meant locating the period precise tank trimmings. With the T100 still able to boast matching numbers Irfan was determined to restore and not replace and two years later one completed Tiger enjoyed pride of place within his garage, but it wasn’t ridden for a further twelve years. The pilot, who had ridden thousands of miles across the vast swathes of India and ascended mountain ranges didn’t actually enjoy a UK licence; with retirement from General Practice, the opportunity arose to take the test in 2014.
The Triumph’s steepest climb nowadays takes in the views of Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill at around 400ft above sea level, it’s barely a bump for a motorbike that has operated happily at 9000ft. Irfan’s son is twenty years younger than the Tiger and often takes his chance to enjoy the ride, whilst grandson number two being 58 years younger, is happiest perched on its seat; Irfan hopes one day it will be his inheritance.
The exploits of Ted Simon (Jupiter’s Travels) confirmed the T100’s world covering abilities in 1973 but a decade earlier one unassuming medical student had already proved there was no stopping the Tiger from Kashmir.
Legacy – The T100 Tiger
The pre-war brochure proclaimed that by producing their all new multi cylinder Tiger 100, the earlier Tiger 90 singles had become obsolete in performance terms. The 498cc OHV with two gear driven camshafts offered seven more horsepower than its cousin the Speed Twin and was destined to lead the Coventry output for years. An enthusiast’s machine certainly, but war halted progress short term, returning in 1948 the Tiger had enjoyed many appreciated updates. Telescopic front forks replaced the girder type whilst its exhaust system lost its megaphone bulk plus a sprung hub became an option; offering some flexibility with lower maintenance for the rigid rear end. At this time the single saddle was replaced with the twin seat and the engine was improved with alloy head and barrel combination. Triumph had also noted their impressive motor became the darling of the home tuners and produced a Tiger 100 Racing Kit. The big change arrived in 1954 with the swing arm frame combined with its Latex foam filled ‘Vynide’ seating and rear shocks vastly improving comfort to compliment the performance; twin carbs an option and racing conversion parts remained available. The Tiger T100 was priced at slightly higher than its stablemates throughout the 1950s, the Thunderbird’s introductory price in 1950 was almost £195 compared to £185 for the 5T Speed Twin, and £198 for the Tiger 100. By 1956, a Speed Twin cost £217 whilst the 6T Thunderbird cost £227 but still out ahead was the Tiger 100 at £237. Extra performance came from a modified cylinder head in 1956 and three years later the engine combined with gearbox into a single unit. Lubrication via plunger pumps fed the internals and combined with fuelling from Amal plus a robust four speed gearbox, the Tiger 100 offered performance and reliability for decades. Whilst the Tiger branding survives today, the Edward Turner designed parallel twin saw thirty-four years powering Meriden machines.
Triumph Tiger Specification;
Engine: 498cc twin OHV 32bhp
Compression: 7.8 : 1
Carburettor: Amal Monobloc 276
Gearbox: Four speed R/H change
|29in / 73.7cm
5.0in / 12.7cm
telescopic fork, hydraulic damping
swing arm / Girling dampers
8″ SLS drum
7″ SLS drum
3.25″ X 19″ Dunlop
3.50″ X 19″ Dunlop
4 gal / 18 litres
375 lbs / 170 kg