Classic Experience: Life with a 1974 Triumph Trident T150

Editor-in-chief Richard Backus borrows a lovely original 1974 Triumph Trident T150. Here’s what it’s like to live with one.

Triumph Trident Engine

The engine spins up readily, and pulling away the first thing you notice is the Trident's ample power.

Photo By Richard Backus

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1974 Triumph Trident T150V 
Total production: 27,000 (approx./all years and versions)
Engine type: 741cc air-cooled OHV inline triple, 67mm x 70mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 60hp @ 7,250rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 125mph (est.)
Carburetion: Three 27mm Amal Concentric
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, coil and breaker points ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube steel cradle/57in (1,448mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual shock absorbers w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 10in (254mm) disc front, 7in (178mm) SLS drum rear
Tires: 4.1 x 19in front and rear
Weight (wet): 497lb (226kg)
Seat height: 31in (787mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.2gal (16ltr)/28-32mpg (observed)
Miles ridden for review: 200
Oil consumption: None
Price then/now: $1,930 (1973)/$3,500-$6,500

Sample parts prices 
Baxter Cycle 
Muffler set: $350 (U.K. made)
Air filter: $45
Points and condenser set: $30
Electronic ignition: Boyer, $150; Tri-Spark, $450
Front brake pads: $30
Valve cover gasket set: $4
Top end gasket set: $65

Factory service recommendations 
Oil change: Every 4,000 miles/filter and oil every 8,000 miles
Air filter: Clean/replace every 6,000 miles
Valve adjustment: Check every 3,000 miles
Spark plugs: Clean/adjust every 3,000 miles
Ignition timing: Check/adjust every 3,000 miles

In 1963, engineers at Triumph started developing a 750cc triple. In an era when twins reigned supreme it would have been a standout, a Superbike before there were Superbikes. Had it been pushed into production Triumph, then at the top of its game, would have been miles in front of the competition.

Triumph’s engineering heads Bert Hopwood and Doug Hele were often quoted as saying the 3-cylinder Trident could have gone into production as early as 1965. Unfortunately, it took until 1968 for the production Trident to hit these shores. In the meantime, Honda was busy developing the revolutionary CB750 Four, and when it was introduced just months after the Triumph, the Trident quickly became an also-ran.

And that’s really too bad, because the Trident is an excellent motorcycle and a classic example of what the British did best, which was extending existing platforms and technologies to their absolute limit. Triumph’s marketing hype aside, outside of its 3-cylinder configuration and dry, single-plate diaphragm clutch, there was nothing particularly novel about the Trident. In fact, the first prototype engine was basically a 500cc Speed Twin with an extra cylinder grafted on.

The Triumph Trident stayed in production for the better part of nine years. And while never the best-seller Triumph hoped for — and needed — the Trident made a name for itself on the road and track, where it consistently proved its winning capacity at venues like Daytona and the Isle of Man, where Les Williams’ “Slippery Sam” won its class five years running.

The motorcycle mags loved the Trident. Cycle said it went around the track “like it was on rails,” while Cycle Guide called it the fastest street machine they had ever tested, “bar none.” Unfortunately, American riders did not love it as much, in large part because of the slab-sided toaster styling of the original models. Triumph finally got the look right for 1971, ditching the “ray gun” mufflers and giving the Trident a proper Bonneville-style gas tank, but by then the market was evolving even faster and Triumph’s products were looking even older than before.

Then and now

Early Tridents suffered from reliability issues ranging from oil leaks to mushroomed valve stems, plus valve guide and transmission gear wear. High oil consumption was often noted, and testers and owners alike complained of a hard-to-adjust clutch. Even so, Cycle praised the clutch in a 1972 test where the editors launched their bike down the drag strip 21 speed-shifting times with nary a missed shift. For all its foibles, the Trident was strong as an ox.

By the time they built our feature bike, a 1974 Triumph Trident T150V (“V” for 5-speed, introduced in 1972), Triumph had things pretty much right. Electric start was still waiting in the wings (that would come in 1975, with the T160), but the Trident now had a disc front brake, traditional styling, and most of its reliability issues, save for the occasional oil leak, addressed. And it was still fast. A Cycle shootout of 1973 Superbikes put it third out of six in lap times and the quarter-mile, behind Kawasaki’s fearsome 750 2-stroke triple and new 903cc Z1 four but ahead of Norton’s 750 Commando, Ducati’s 750 GT, Harley-Davidson’s 1000 Sportster and Honda’s CB750.

Sharp-eyed readers might recognize our feature bike as belonging to tech Q & A editor Keith Fellenstein. A nice survivor in original condition, it’s been in Keith’s garage since 2007, and, judging by his affection for the Trident, it won’t leave anytime soon. “I can’t see selling it,” Keith says. “I don’t know what else I’d want to own more than the Trident.” Proof of his long-term intentions lies in a T160 inner clutch case sitting on a shelf; together with a T160 clutch basket he can add an electric starter if he tires of having to prod the kickstarter.

Swing a leg over the Trident and you settle into familiar territory, with relatively high handlebars giving an easy reach from the forward sloping seat. Switch gear is standard Lucas, and the view across the tank reminds you of a Bonneville of the same period. Turn the key, “tickle” the carbs and Keith’s Triumph Trident 150 fires to life with a surprisingly easy jump on the kickstarter. Credit goes to an aftermarket Tri-Spark ignition replacing the stock — and troublesome — trio of points, making this a one-kick bike. Proper carb synchronization is critical to a good running Trident, and Keith has the carbs nicely dialed in, the bike settling into a steady idle after only a short warm-up.

Shifting is on the right (left hand shift came with the T160), one down and four up. Period reports gave the Trident’s gearbox mixed reviews, but the one in Keith’s bike shifts nicely, with an easy catch into first gear and smooth shifting across the board. In 200-plus miles of riding I never missed a shift and it never hung up on me at a stop.

The engine spins up readily, and pulling away the first thing you notice is the Trident’s ample power. While period reports complained of lackluster urge below 3,000rpm, Keith’s bike pulls strongly from idle. Around town it’s easy to ride, its nicely weighted steering aided by a slim profile that makes the bike feel smaller than it is. It feels civil, not raucous.

That is until you get out on the road. Twist the throttle hard and the Triumph Trident T150 sheds any pretense of civility. The revs climb quickly and easily — much faster than a Bonneville twin — and the exhaust, even with stock cans, emits a lovely, slightly muffled howl. Things really start to happen above 5,000rpm, and from there to 7,500rpm it fairly flies. Period testers claimed you could rev the triple to 8,500rpm without concern thanks to the Trident’s near bulletproof bottom end, and speeds of 120mph-plus were easily reached. In the 80mph range the Trident is sure and steady, although engine vibes start to intrude above 5,500rpm.

High-speed handling is excellent, if not quite in the same league as a contemporary Norton Commando. Keith likes the Trident’s seating position, but for my tastes the bars are too high and too far back. A 2-inch rise versus the 6-inch rise of the stock bars would push your weight farther over the front end and, in my opinion, make the Trident a much nicer high-speed machine. The downside to fast riding is abysmal gas mileage: We saw a low of 28mpg and a high of 32mpg, by all accounts normal for the model.

The suspension is period-typical, with limited travel front and rear and a fairly hard ride. Yet it’s not unduly harsh, and the front end feels planted most of the time. One place where the Trident pulls up short is in the braking department. The single front disc feels wooden and disconnected. And while the rear drum bites well enough, it’s the front brake that really matters, and this one just doesn’t deliver the sort of confidence you’d like from a bike that’s so easy to ride fast.

At around 500 pounds fully fueled it’s not exactly light, but it’s well proportioned and feels lower than it actually is. A nicely weighted clutch, smooth-shifting transmission and highly tractable engine let you dial in your favorite speed with ease. The Triumph Trident 150 is comfortable, fast and, properly set up, quite reliable, qualities that are often at odds in a vintage Superbike.

Parts are surprisingly easy to source, and there’s a healthy community of knowledgeable enthusiasts ready to share information. The Trident’s strong bones have made it a perennial favorite for racers (in 2008, Tom Mellor took his streamlined Trident to a record breaking 180.317mph at the Salt Flats), and Trident fans like Randy Baxter at Baxter Cycle in Marne, Iowa, are still developing the bike. Randy expects to have a new dual-carb conversion — complete with new manifold — available by the time you read this.

One has to wonder how Triumph’s fortunes would have fared if the Trident had gone into production in 1965-1966. Even if Honda could have trimmed its development time with the CB750, the Trident would have owned the Superbike market for at least two or three years. MC 

Learn about the last franchised Triumph dealer and his passion for Triumph Tridents in Insider’s View: Randy Baxter on Triumph Tridents.