A British Duo

Spotted among the herd at the Newcomb’s Ranch parking lot on California’s Route 2 through the Angeles Mountains on the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday was this classic British duo, the Triumph Bonneville and the Norton 850 Commando. The duo of British bikes seemed to be huddling together for protection or differentiation from the the rest of the herd of Japanese, Italian, and American motorcycles; the Yamahas, Hondas, Kawasakis, Ducatis, and Harleys.   

I like to frequently visit Newcomb’s ranch because I nearly always see a machine that is somewhat (or very) rare. The Triumph Bonneville is not that rare. I frequently see them in use here in southern California. The Bonneville was produced during two periods, 1959-1983 and 1985-1988 by Triumph Engineering at the plant in Meriden in the UK. In 2001 production was again resumed by Triumph Motorcycles in Hinckley. The newest versions are completely updated and re-engineered versions of the original design.

On that day the rare bike was the Commando, which was a huge hit for Norton at the time. Based on the 750 Commando (1969-1973), the 850 Commando was only produced between 1973 and 1975. Norton went into receivership in 1975, the year that an electric start system was added to the Commando. Control of the company swung back and forth and a small number of Commandos trickled out of the factory in 1976 and 1977. A handful of Commandos were finally sold as 1978 models.

In 1972, when I was temporarily living in southern Florida, I toyed briefly with the idea of buying either a Bonneville, Commando, or Harley Sportster. I had the wherewithal (cash) for any one of the three. But I mentally turned away from the British duo because of the notoriously untrustworthy British electrical systems and the experiences of a friend who had a Bonneville. That particular Triumph seemed to have a mind of it’s own, since the starter only worked at completely unpredictable times. I bought the Harley, which wasn’t much more mechanically reliable than the British choices, but the engine always started.   

Both photographs were made with a Yashica Electro 35 GSN on Kentmere 100 film. Two minutes after I made the first photograph, a rider rolled up the mountain road, then pulled into parking lot, searching for spot for his late-model Triumph. He cruised slowly through the lot, then parked his bike near the duo, on the other side of a Ducati.

When he dismounted, I asked him about his Bonneville. It was a 2003 model. “I have a little over 60,000 miles on it, now.” He explained. “And I haven’t had a single problem with it other than normal maintenance. It is surprising…” 

The herd.