Triumph: Iconic Motorcycles Which Were the Choice of Steve Mcqueen and James Bond
From James Bond to Mission Impossible to The Great Escape, chances are you have probably seen a Triumph motorcycle on the silver screen. Triumph’s most famous bikes are probably their iconic 1960s Bonneville range, but they make a wide range of classic, urban and adventure bikes, and also supply engines for racing bikes, with some models having even broken land-speed records.
Welcome to Third Angle, where we are uncovering the secrets behind the most famous motorbike in the history of film.
In 1962, Steve McQueen jumped the fence on a Triumph Bonneville in the film The Great Escape and history was made. But there is much more to this iconic motorcycle brand than just nostalgia. Triumph Motorcycles was founded in 1902 and they’re currently selling close to 100,000 bikes each year all the way around the world. While they’re probably best known for their classics range, particularly the 1960s Bonneville, they also sell adventure bikes and an urban range, and they’ve moved into motor racing by providing engines for the Moto 2 racing series. With Triumph models still regularly being featured in famous TV and movie series, including James Bond and Mission Impossible, the aesthetics of the bike are crucial to the brand. However, they also need to include all of the modern technological advances that consumers demand in contemporary motorcycles – all without compromising that sleek design they are best known for.
Triumph: a heritage company
Triumph has a very rich heritage which runs through the 1900’s, the 1910s, 30s, 40s and 50s. So much more technology that’s been added to motorcycles in the last 30-something years, it’s quite a memory piece to look at a bike from the past. There were hydraulic brakes, but there was no link braking and no ABS braking. Today’s bikes have got all this and more ¬–fuel injection, control systems, ride by wire, traction control and hill hold, and that’s not even touching on some of the more modern things such as infotainment, for example connectivity through Bluetooth to the rider’s phone.
A change in ownership
The very first prototypes for Triumph were made in 1901. Very much a conversion of a bicycle with an engine as opposed to what listeners now would recognize as a motorcycle, and probably was very much at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s with Marlon Brando, James Dean and characters like that who rode our bikes in films. In the 70s and into the early 80s things got much more difficult and the company actually went into administration, which is when the current owner, John Bloor, bought the company in 1983. Since that time, we’ve been based in Hinkley, and over the years we’ve grown from literally making no motorcycles through to within touching distance of 100,000 motorcycles a year.
Quality is paramount
“I think it would surprise a lot of listeners to hear just how much energy goes into every day here driving our quality standards,” says Chief Design Officer Geoff Hurst. “That’s quality on a range of measures from cosmetic quality to quality of assembly, through to quality of design, which is my responsibility. It’s driven really hard, and it is central to everything that we do across the business.” At the same time as driving quality, it’s important to Geoff and the team to do “what we’re here for”, which is to deliver a motorcycle that customers get extremely, extremely passionate about. Put simply, Triumph bikes are designed to put a smile on people’s faces. “That’s why people go out on a motorcycle,” said Geoff. “That’s their enjoyment. That’s their passion in life. We have to be very mindful that all of the engineering that we do delivers that, and not lose sight of the fact that it’s the customer’s perception of how we’ve designed something that really does matter.”
A racing history
There are many famous names synonymous with Triumph motorcycles – Bonneville, Tiger, Daytona – weaved throughout the history of the Triumph brand which were each making a quiet contribution to motorcycling, and the development of motorcycling, through to today and what modern riders expect. As well as successes in the Isle of Man TT, the company has had winners in the Daytona over in the US in the last few years. The brand is also associated with many land speed records over the years, with attempts in the 1950s and 1960s – which is where the name Bonneville first came into use within Triumph, following a well-reported land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US. One bike, ridden by Guy Martin, again at Bonneville in the US, is powered by two 2.3 litre rocket engines. Not like the motorcycles you’d see on the road.
Attention to detail needs a steady hand
The motorcycling industry is really, competitive. We have some extremely strong competition, and we have to be very committed to keep driving that little bit extra every time. One of the things that we are known for is the fit, finish and overall quality of our motorcycles. There are some incredible bits of detail that we put into the bikes. And we’re just going to keep doing that because that’s what makes Triumph. If you go on one of the factory tours, you can see some very, very skilled individuals in our paint shop who are hand painting the pinstripes on the fuel tanks. Now, personally, I drink too much coffee, I wouldn’t be able to do that. But they are incredibly skilled at the job. And it’s just one example of the attention to detail that makes our bikes sell.
Famous bikes from the silver screen
In the Triumph Visitor’s Centre in Hinkley, there’s quite a collection of motorcycles that have featured on screen, including possibly the most famous bike of all – the one ridden by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Found in a barn in Austria, it now takes centre stage, alongside bikes from Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park, and most recently James Bond, with Daniel Craig riding as James Bond. Triumph has even had appearances in Doctor Who. Geoff says, “I must admit that when we see our bikes appearing on the screen it’s a real buzz to see what we’ve worked on, and the guys in the design teams work incredibly hard and are incredibly passionate about the bikes that we produce. And so to see there in the footlights is a really good feeling and a really satisfying feeling.”
A personal story
“My first definite recollection of seeing a Triumph on the screen goes back to schoolboy days. Every Christmas in the UK, The Great Escape was always on the TV and there was this cool guy who was riding this bike, and what bike is it? It’s a Triumph,” recalls Geoff. “My first experience of riding a Triumph was in 1991. One of the first engineering roles I got was supporting our first development activities, trying to go out of our way to break bikes, effectively just doing back-to-back endurance races. So I was quite lucky to be able to do that. I have never been good enough to race a bike, but I certainly got to ride those bikes. And it was something very few other people in the world had done. So that was that was exciting. I still ride now, my current bike is a Tiger 900, which does everything that I could possibly want. It’s a great bike that just delivers a lot of enjoyment.”
How tech has influenced customer demand
Over recent years, it feels like there has been an accelerated trend to put more and more technology onto bikes. Customers are seeing technology appear in their cars, so they know about that technology and they’re expecting to be able to take that technology to display it on their bikes. This is driving things like infotainment, so people can connect their phones, a lot of rider assistance – so ABS brakes, linked brakes, cruise control, which is on some of our models now, traction control – there’s a huge amount now that is technology driven.
A passion for bikes – whether you ride or not
“We often get asked, ‘Does everybody who works here at Triumph love motorcycles?’” said Geoff. “There are a lot of motorcyclists –we wouldn’t be able to design bikes that ride and handle so well without people around us who do ride a lot of bikes – but we have an equal number of people who are passionate engineers, because what we do is challenging as an engineering concept, and so we get people who join us because they like the challenge – they get a real kick out of actually achieving something. We’ve got the cosmetics and we’ve got the functionality.”
An eye for detail
“On pretty much all our motorcycles, everything is on show. The attention to detail that we have to include right from the design stage, working with all of the manufacturing team, is not only how can we make this so it physically works but how can we make this so it looks amazing as well,” explained Geoff. “The attention to detail, the finishes, the polishing, the painting, keeping cables hidden away from obvious sight, it’s all part of what we take an amazing amount of pride in, and quite honestly it’s hard work but when you look at the finished bikes they do tend to make people go, ‘Wow,’ because they are just so well finished, and I’d like to say an obviously quality motorcycle.”
Triumph uses Windchill for its PLM
One of the tools to help the design team to achieve this is PTC’s Windchill software. The automotive market is ultra-competitive. Designing and engineering a motorcycle – or for that matter, any vehicle – from the ground up is a complex process that must keep pace with the ever-changing requirements of customers. That is changing dramatically around the world. Windchill is PTC’s flagship product lifecycle management, or PLM, solution. Windchill delivers a best practice change process strategy that enables all product development teams to instantly access all the necessary data to improve product quality, reduce product cost, minimize product inventory, and improve time to market by minimizing manufacturing downtime. That sounds like a lot, but that’s what PLM is all about.
What does this mean for Triumph
Windchill offers Triumph a well-defined and orderly process for how informal and formal changes to product design are proposed, evaluated, implemented, and documented. Triumph currently uses Windchill as a single comprehensive PLM system to support the entire design from early-stage product development with direct data access and links into Triumph’s enterprise resource planning, or ERP system, which is where the manufacturing gets done. It enables the company to deliver against their customer needs, product performance, distributed collaboration, and data from all different sources to put them ahead of the pack and stay in front of the market. Triumph is a fantastic brand for us to work with and with so much history. We look forward to working with them and helping them with their plans.
Huge thanks to Mark, and to Geoff for showing us around the Triumph offices and Visitor Centre.
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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Recording by Helen Lennard. Sound design and editing by Clarissa Maycock. And music by Rowan Bishop.
Geoff Hurst, Chief Design Officer at Triumph Motorcycles