Motorcycle Poll: Which British Twin Would You Buy?

| 11/24/2010 10:55:50 AM

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Which British Twin would you buy?

When Triumph introduced the Bonneville 650 back in 1959, it set a new standard for a sporting British Twin and for the next 12 years was the symbol of British motorcycle might. BSA followed suit in 1962 when it introduced the unit construction A65 650 Star twin, the forerunner of BSA’s go-faster Rocket, Lightning, Hornet and others. Not to be outdone, Norton introduced the 750 Atlas the same year, hoping to trump its rivals in cubic capacity. The Atlas ultimately led to the iconic Commando of 1969-1975. All three spawned a generation of great British sport bikes. So the question is, if you could buy just one, which would it be?


12/16/2010 2:24:34 PM

I voted for the Triumph Bonneville for three reasons. (1) I've owned four Nortons, a '71 750, a '73 850, a '72 Dunstall 810 & a '75 850 Mk.III electric start & I still have the '73. I don't need to add to the Norton experience... unless it's with a new 961. (2) I also had a '66 BSA A65 Thunderbolt & a '61 A10 Super Road Rocket. I thought the A10 a much better bike than the A65, so I wouldn't do that again either. (3) I had two Triumph 500 twins, a '59 & a '63 & I currently have an '07 Hinkley Bonneville T-100, but I've never had a 60s Triumph 650. So, I would love to have a '68-'70 T120 Bonneville. Those were the years when everything came together: power, handling, braking and styling. I wouldn't say no to a '64 to '67 either or to a TR6 from any of those years.

marj inman
12/8/2010 7:09:14 PM

have 71 triumph that i got in 1984 or so (my mind is not what it used to be) and have been riding ever since. also had a norton 74 commando which was like the beautiful boy or girl friend that you can't resist, but costs money every time you take them out the door - of course i still miss it. and a bsa belonging to a friend caught fire and burned up in front of my house about 35 years ago. so have to go with triumph - comfortable, dependable, cool.

12/2/2010 11:57:36 PM

A tough choice! My dad rode BSAs so I have a soft spot for them, however that's how I learned all my curse words :-) Triumphs are the apotheosis of British cool, but I voted for the Norton. My dream bike, however, would be a Triton.

11/30/2010 6:13:37 PM

Although I think the Bonneville is the classic personification of the word motorcycle I would have to choose the Norton Commando again as I did back in 1969. I still have my 750 Fastback and it runs just as strong as ever. It is a time capsule and makes me feel 21 again every time I get on it. Well....maybe not at the end of my last 2,000 mile road trip. Long live the classics!

rick hall
11/29/2010 10:55:52 AM

I'd get the Commando, love the look and the smoother running. Overall, I'm a Japanese bike guy but when I finish my '81 Kawasaki GPz550 project, I'll have a lot of time on my hands so I'd have time to keep a Brit bike on the road.

beverly collins
11/29/2010 9:09:12 AM

Love the Triumphs but if I could only have one it would be the Commnder

terry b
11/28/2010 8:18:36 PM

I voted for the Norton. From primary school I wanted a Triumph but then out came the Norton Commando. From the first time I saw one I loved it. Liked the A10 BSA but not the look of the later "unit" models. I have a "metric BSA" (1966 Kwaka 650), a 1972 Bonnie, a 1972 K2 (836)Honda and a 2010 T100 Bonnie (wanted the wire wheels). Kwaka is very heavy at low speed but love the engine feel and performance when moving. Honda is very heavy and too tall for my short legs but fantastic performance and good handling when moving. 2010 Bonnie is great all round. Low enough for good control, great engine and virtually maintenance free but the most fun is the 72 Bonnie. Light, responsive, good handling and vibrates like a real bike. Bought the 72 Bonnie because I could not afford a Commando at the time. Maybe one day I will.

david wimprine
11/28/2010 7:40:16 PM

Always liked the BSA the best still have a 1971 BSA Thunder Bolt that is my next project bike to completely restore an looking for an books on restoring the old BSA already have parts located from two great co.

john sarver
11/27/2010 9:05:39 PM

I'd buy a bonneville------Oh wait I already have one.

ken tripkos
11/27/2010 10:57:24 AM

Norton Commando hands down...I rode a 1974 Cafe'd out 850 Commando from Kansas to Alaska and back with out so much as a single part vibrating off or one major mechanical problem. Try that with any of the other verticle twins on the list, the Bonnie and the BSA are beautiful bikes but the isolactic mount system on the Nortons put them in a class by themselves. That trip was done back in 1989 and the editor of Motorcycle Classics (Richard Backus) was suppose to have gone on that trip with me (also riding a Norton) but because of some lame excuse about a woman in California he cancelled at the last minute and I made the trip solo. That trip could have been made into a movie but thats an entirely different story for perhaps another time...And we all know what happended to Backus, he went on to become Editor and Chief of one really fine Bike Magazine! Thank You Richard. K Tripkos

11/26/2010 11:31:50 PM

I rode a John Player Special in late 70's. Loved it's freight train power feel. But another m/c guy warned me against it so I bought a Suzuki GS 750 instead. Guess you have to like wrenching on 'em as well as riding them to enjoy British bikes. Darrell.

ed picazo
11/26/2010 11:28:00 PM

Since 1971 I have owned a BSA. First a 1957 A10 650 Rocket(put it together from pieces in cardboard boxes, and rode it from ID to KY), then a 1971 A70 (A65 factory stroker - 750 cc) which I still own and ride to work (it's on rebuild #3). Although I like the Norton (but not svelte enough) and the Triumph (a tad too angular), and of course the Vincents - not listed, I find that the BSA has a style that suits me well and an unnoticed durability that eventually will be recognized at large (like Pontiac to Chevrolet?). With a balanced crank/piston assembly (low-compression pistons from a T-120 to tame the autoignition from the swill that passes as today's motor fuel), and modern Dunlop tyres (510 size on the rear puts down a decent patch), this A70 can probably go side-by-side with any Norton or Triumph. I don't know about head-to-head, though. You must know that I ride frequently: my license plate reads "BZRGZR."

mark p. white
11/26/2010 8:37:35 PM

i chose the Norton because I had the honor to buy a Norton 850 Commando brand new in 1971, 1972 or ?. it shook like crazy at a stop light but once underway it smoothed out and was nimble and very, very fast. Now I own a 2000 Harley Sportster. And I am pleased with my current motorcycle but my wife hates it. Too bad, so sad.

phillip mitchell
11/26/2010 7:59:28 PM

I LOVED my '66 & '68 Bonnies, but i think the most beautiful of the 60's Brit bikes was the BSA Lightning, chrome & candy red tank, etc. I also admired the last Norton Atlas's (If u kept them under 5K rpm. Above that, they shook apart.) 'Also had a '71 BSA T-bolt (tall frame, Euro version), very nice. The Beezers seemed to be a tad smoother than the Triumphs, given the oversquare bore & stroke. I'd love to have a restored '66-'69 Lightning with a Thunderbolt head fitted with a 32mm Mikuni, & digital ignition. That would be sweet!

michael omspach
11/26/2010 3:19:38 PM

Although all of the listed bikes were excellent,I would have to choose the BSA since I was very familiar with the engine and how to make it run fast. I never will forget all of the work I did to install a Judson supercharger on it. Eighty-five horsepower was quite a jolt back in the day.

11/26/2010 12:26:33 PM

This list is totally incomplete,as a Triumph guy,it has to be the 6T Thunderbird,not the bonnie that I'd pick,but give me a G-12 CSR Matchless,Royal Enfield Interceptor,maybe the 700 Sabre Silk,I mean y'all know there were more than Three bike manufacters over in Britian,dont you?Get with the program,why dont you?

11/26/2010 10:53:06 AM

I've always been a Triumph guy and I voted for the Bonnie on this one BUT...that is because the Norton Atlas was not listed. I couldn't bring myself to vote for the Commando. The Atlas has the Featherbed frame and the engine is awesome. I have a '67 Atlas and it is so reliable, corners beautifully and seems so much faster that other like years British twins (maybe it's because I twist the throttle longer). Ton-up.

11/26/2010 10:52:44 AM

I've always been a Triumph guy and I voted for the Bonnie on this one BUT...that is because the Norton Atlas was not listed. I couldn't bring myself to vote for the Commando. The Atlas has the Featherbed frame and the engine is awesome. I have a '67 Atlas and it is so reliable, corners beautifully and seems so much faster that other like years British twins (maybe it's because I twist the throttle longer). Ton-up.

rich andres
11/26/2010 8:08:59 AM

The first Cycle magazine I bought had a Norton 750 Interstate ad on the first page. I fell in love with the bike (and the model). I traded my first bike, a Honda CL350, in for a 1973 850 Interstate. While I have had Hondas and Yamahas which have clearly been better motorcycles, the Norton remains my favorite bike of all time. I have been watching Nortons on e-bay and plan to bid on one in the near future. I am also anticipating the arrival of the new 2010 Commando into the U.S.

11/26/2010 2:06:25 AM

I'd be happy with any of the three in the list, but would choose the Triumph if I had to pick one. Anyway I think the list is incomplete without the Royal Enfield Interceptor ... no doubt other people have opinions about other omissions ;-)

jim shaw
11/26/2010 12:32:32 AM

I bought a 1966 BSA Lightning new when I was in High School and I still have it. It was the Superbike of its time,faster than the Triumph Bonneville. I've done 117 on mine riding double down the Long Beach Fwy according to the Mercedes I was racing with. I now also own a Norton Commando I've owned since 1975 and a 1971 Lightning. The one I've always wanted but have never owned is a Royal Enfield Intercepter.

11/25/2010 9:03:14 PM

I have to go with the BSA I was a BSA Dealer back in the 60"s I am old enough (DOB 1930) to remember the UK being the cycle center of the World, so any and all of the motorcycles of the 30, 40, 50, and 60"s are the best there is (or was) Mighty subjective I suppose!!!!

arvinder singh grewal
11/25/2010 8:39:47 PM

hi, i love norton becouse as working with vintage bikes for last 38 years have feel the difference in power in nortons some thing special extra power for initial picup and speed against other british bikes. best regards arvinder

steve (al) titus
11/25/2010 7:23:08 PM

Well, let's see...I had an 850 Commando a few years back, which was great on the road, but because of a bad hip joint I can't kick over the big bikes anymore. My first "real" cycle about 1957 was a 650 Triumph bobber in a 500 springhub frame and while it leaked oil it lodged in my soul and I keep looking for it's reincarnation... My present stable should answer any questions: 2000 Triumph Tiger for the road. 2001 Kawa W650 (the best modern Bonnie) for general riding. 1971 Triumph Daytona (I can kick a 500 twin)because it's beautiful. Never wanted a BSA, heard too many negatives. Possible exception, a Hurricane which as you know has a BSA triple in it.

11/25/2010 6:43:19 PM

Hi Guys Love the nortons, but i think the commando,s had the up swept pipes and the universial tires. Hell of a bike.

11/25/2010 6:28:45 PM

I've owned a Triumph Bonnie,a 500, and a Trident. Of those,I prefer the Trident, but that's not an option. I presently own a 71 A65 Lightning. As previously mentioned, the bottom end scares me. Oil pressure keeps going down as the bike is ridden. I've heard this is common even with a freshly built bottom end. Also, even the Trident was happier tooling around town below 4000rpm. If you want a relaxed putt around town, BSA is not the bike for you. I've lusted after a Commando since I first saw one at the age of 14. Alas, I have only ridden one on test rides after tuneups at the shop where I worked in the 90's. Not nearly long enough to get the full experience. I voted for my lust, the Commando.

11/25/2010 5:54:27 PM

I've driven Triumphs for years. I'm 66 and presently ride a 1998 thunderbird which I love but would still like to have another bonnie from the sixties. In 1984 I bought a 62 Bonnie and never had a problem with it. Then in 1966 I let it go to buy a 66 Bonnie. If I ever left home without the tool kit I would be sorry. I'm not a wrencher so needless to say the bike was never quite right. I still dream of the 62 after all those years. My vote would be for the Triumph but I have nothing to compare it to. Would love to ride a Norton.

11/25/2010 5:14:33 PM

Growing up as a kid I had a BSA 441 "dirt bike", in college a T140 Bonnie, and now I have a Triumph America, so it would be BSA's turn. I always liked the chrome tanks.

steve chancey
11/25/2010 5:01:00 PM

At 62 years old,I remember when several of my buddies' older brothers and a few other guys in our community rode Brit bikes in the late 50s-early 60s.I wasn't old enough to ride(and motorcycles weren't even mentioned in our home)but I can still remember when these "Fonzies" would throw a leg over and kick these magical machines to life! I was absolutly mesmerized!I would stop whatever I was doing and watch until they were out of sight and listen until that beautiful sound was gone.I just knew that one day I would have one.Since the Bonneville is,at least to me,"the King of Cool",that would be my choice.It is ironic that,though I currently own about 15 motorcycles,I still don't own a vintage Bonnie!? I did own a '05 Bonnie cafe for a time but sold it.I am still saving a space in my stable for one.Maybe soon!Steve Chancey(Fossil)

andrew mattos
11/25/2010 4:23:53 PM

I've owned all three over the years and would give my nod to the Norton for a daily rider. That said the Triumph has better looks. If the T 140 Triumph had been an option I would have selected that model. The 5 speed trans and disc brake making it a better choice.

danny walker
11/25/2010 4:22:48 PM

Unfortunately I've never owned any of those wonderful machines. All I've got is a '51 Vincent Blackshadow. Does that count as one of the great twins? Cheers, Danny

dana shifflett
11/25/2010 3:12:16 PM

These are all twin carb models; of them, I'd take the Norton, though I'd prefer the Interstate. With rearsets. And clubmans. If any of these were single-carb models (T-bolt, TR6, etc), it would have my vote automatically. A 40 inch twin with a single carb is a great all-rounder, and superior I think to the twin-carb variants. But that's not the choice we're given, so I'll take the Commando and try to mount a single SU.

rich dubarton
11/25/2010 2:30:15 PM

In 1959 I bought a Matchless 500cc Single,they also built a twin.My favorite was the Royal Enfield Interceptor TT (750cc twin). I bought a Triumph TR6(650cc Twin single carb.)when I got out of the USMC in 1969.I've moved on to mostly BMW's since then but I've owned and ridden so many I will not try to list them. Rich

11/25/2010 2:11:50 PM

The BSA you should have featured against the Bonnie is the Rocket Gold Star, it was faster and a lot better looking bike than the A65 Ian

robert wilmott
11/25/2010 1:58:44 PM

All three bikes are wonderfully iconic, but I've always favorted Nortons. I had a '67 Atlas and 2 750 Commando Roadsters. I installed genuine "Dunstall Decibel Silencers" on the Atlas and one of the Commandos- talk about a lovely crisp exaust note! Ah, I wish I still had a Commando...

terence danner
11/25/2010 11:37:14 AM

I currently own all three and I have to say the Norton is the class leader.

tony collins
11/25/2010 10:48:28 AM

I sold them all new and second hand in the early seventies from a dealership just around the corner from the BSA Small Heath factory. The Norton was the finer product, main bearing sagas not withstanding, and the styling and finish (certainly on the later ones) hard to fault (for the period). The Triumph was always more iconic, but some of them could leak for England and build quality was erratic to say the least. They also attracted the great unwashed who just 'wanted a Bonny' diluting their appeal for me. I don't know whether it was the proximity of the factory but we used to get some really good BSA's but they never attracted the same attention. I would regularly ride all three of these on the same day and the Commando (if properly set up) was a class above. But, when push comes to shove I would ride home on a grey frame 1971 BSA A65 Firebird Scrambler because she was the girl that no-one much fancied but I thought was a goddess. There's no accounting for taste!

vincent bozzone
11/25/2010 10:42:30 AM

I owned a Bonneville in the 60s which I bought as part of a package bike and tour of Europe offered by Edison Dye. It was a three week tour of Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and England ending at the Isle of Mann TT races. At that point, bikes were crated and shipped home. Crossing the Apls was a bit harrowing. It was May and still snow on the roads. The screws on the pressure plate came loose so the clutch slipped, and of course there wasn't a Triumph dealer in sight all across Eurpoe. It was a memorable trip. As I recall it cost somewhere in the $2500 range which included air fare, hotels, the bike, some meals, and the cost of crating and shipping the bike home. The bike was later stolen off the street in NYC. The engine number DU20607. If you see it, let me know so I can get it back. Thanks, Vince

11/25/2010 10:37:29 AM

In 1964 I climbed on an '63 Norton Atlas, went once around the horn, paid the guy $500, and never got off...Still have it, just did a complete tune up with all Whitworth and British Standard Fine bolts, and screws, and still will continue to ride for the duration...I'm 60 now, live in the mountains, and need to go lock the gate, roll one up, and wish everyone a Happy Holiday 2010... La Veta Pass Colorado....

dan slife
11/25/2010 10:26:04 AM

I've always had my favorite bikes in the 60's and 70's. Afterall, what flowerchild would say anything different. The very came out then from my 64 Bonneville I had for 6 months to the 67 Binny I have own now for over 10 years. it's all original and runs great. There is probably not a bad one in the bunch.

sven sanburg_2
11/25/2010 10:11:48 AM

For me I always evealuate bikes by several standards, handling, speed, and value for your dollar. Unlike alot of classic bike owners, I ride all of my classics hard and often. The BSA is a far better value than either of the other two. I like the later OIF models as they tend to be better handlers and are easier to buy and to self service. With that said, a late model T100R Daytona, will dust them all if the road goes any where but straight and will run even when things are really wrong in the mechanics.

bill getty
11/25/2010 10:06:24 AM

I own over 70 British bikes and have been in the British bike biz from 1970. I love the Commando 850, still have the one I bought new in 74. I love the T120 also and have a few of those, various years. However if I had to have only one british bike it would have to be my 1979 Euro spec. T140D special. Bought new in 1980 at Irv Seaver Motorcycles, Santa Ana has served me well. The Norton has 130,000 miles while the Triumph has 89,000+ both with the original bottom ends and even primary chains. The Norton still has the original headlamp bulb! Then again my 54 T110 is so very pretty. Ah choices!

peter e. palermo
11/25/2010 10:01:22 AM

I currently own a 1969 BSA Thunderbolt ( my first bike purchased in 1974 and kept all these years ) and a 1968 Triumph Trophy TR6C. I restored the BSA in 2008, and just finished restoring the Triumph last month. Although I like both bikes, nothing turns heads and receives thumbs up like the BSA Thunderbolt's Chrome Tank ! You also don't see as many BSA's around here as you do Triumphs. Although both bikes are great, I am partial to the BSA, since I have ridden it for 36 years, and have only ridden the Triumph for two months ! There is no music sweeter to the ears than the sound of a British Parallel Twin !!! My vote goes to BSA !!!!!!!!!!!!

stephen white
11/25/2010 9:57:13 AM

I owned two bonnevilles a 1977 I bought new and a 1979 that I bought second hand they were both great bikes.I loved their handling and that great triumph look.I'm sorry I ever let them go especially the one I bought new.I drive a harley now but I can honestly say except for the power of the Harley I liked the triumphs better.I didn't even mind kicking it over,there was something cool about that.If you had to kick it over more than twice to start it then there was something wrong with it.They were very reliable.My only complaint was they always leaked a little oil and it would of been nice to have a little bigger gas tank.I'm thinking about buying a new one,but I hate the ones that look like jap bikes.They kind of ruined the mystique about them.

craig mckay
11/25/2010 9:52:43 AM

I have owned both, a 1966 Triumph Bonneville and a 1972 Norton Commando. The Bonnie in 1967 and the Commando new in 1972. I have just completed a two year restoration of a 1971 Commando fastback. I loved the Bonnie , but the Commando is my favorite. I also own a 2007 Bonnie black which is a very very good bike. Turn the key and ride. Cudos to Triumph for reengineering a fine British classic. Craig

11/25/2010 9:52:11 AM

Having had both BSAs and Triumphs and, for a short time a Norton Interstate, I would love to have any for old times sake. I literally lived on an A65 for years and rebuilt it several times as was expected in those days. However I would go for the Norton because of its attempt to dampen that vibration although as I remember its maintenance costs were higher.

11/25/2010 9:44:04 AM

Being a child of the sixties, I'd be blessed to own any of the Limey bikes mentioned in the article and in the comments but I'll have to go with the "Snortin'" Norton. Why? My first bike was an Atlas and my third was a Commando. Good Lord in Heaven, those were the days!

11/25/2010 9:31:28 AM

I’ve had my share of British Bikes but never a Triumph – Nice looking and great kudos for coming back from the brink but it all boils down to the “smile factor” like cars. The iconic E-type is the single most standout car of the era and what the E-Type is to cars the Norton is to motorcycles hands down. The lines cannot be beaten, the sound magnificent, the idiosyncrasies wonderful and when you get it right there is something ethereal that everyone that sees it knows deep down that it’s the winner. It was always my dream to have a Norton and I recently fully restored a 1971 Roadster which even now in the depths of winter puts a huge smile on my face every time I go in the garage. Driving it is equally satisfying and knowing that no matter where you go or what bullet bike is parked outside a café, when you park your Norton everyone OOOOhs and Aaaahs looking at it. It’s the clear winner hands down.

phil sasak
11/25/2010 9:10:27 AM

I own two of them, a Triumph TR6R and a BSA A65. The Triumph has the better designed bottom-end, and, once properly set up, will probably never need to come apart again. The BSA, with it's plain timing-side bearing, is finicky to set up properly. And, with wear, oil pressure will suffer, along with the big-end bearings of the connecting rods. That said, the cylinder head of the BSA is more oil tight, with the pushrods riding in an internal passage within the head - with no pushrod tubes to (attempt to) seal, as on the Triumph. The gearing on the BSA leaves something to be desired also... with the fatter pistons and shorter stroke, the BSA makes it's horsepower at a higher rpm than the Triumph. I get "pinking" on mine when I try and accelerate from too low of an rpm. The Triumph seems to almost dare me to try and make it pre-ignite... I just can't seem to get it to do it. At nearly any throttle, I can crank it open, and it will gladly zip away with no protest! And the gearing is logical and spread evenly over the power band (mine is a four-speed). I think Norton's look great, and I would love to have one... but the garage can't hold anymore. But, if I HAD to sell one of them... I'd have to sell the BSA and keep the Triumph.

11/25/2010 9:00:57 AM

Got to go with the Norton. The raw power tamed by the isoelastic mounts. I have driven or owned all the above, and nothing compares to a Norton Commando with true Dunstall exhaust. I own a MKIII, and just writing about it makes me want to fire it up and go on a ride. I prefer riding my Norton to the modern bikes I own. The sound and the torque makes the Norton my choice, even over my VStrom, a great bike, but it reminds me of a washing machine on steriods when comparing it to a Norton.

11/25/2010 8:28:21 AM

I owned and operated a british motorcycle repair shop from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. I have personally owned several of each make but by far more Triumphs. I currently own 3 of the modern Triumphs and really love the brand. However if given the choice of these vintage Tri, BSA, or Norton bikes I would go with the Norton. The Norton Commando always seemed to be a cut above any twin the other 2 brands had. I must admit though that the Commando is the only Norton I am interested in where there are several models of BSA and Triumph that I would like to have again.

11/25/2010 8:27:28 AM

The Lightening Rocket was the first motorcycle I actually fell in love with. I would go to Rathburn BSA in El Paso and just sit and stare at them for hours. And of course the Vellocettes are breath-taking. But, the the Classic British Motorcycle genre reached its peak with the Norton Commando and it gets my vote.

kevin lemire
11/25/2010 8:23:43 AM

I have had 3 Bonneville 650's, probably my favorite, two Norton twins, and the one you don't mention - a Royal Enfield Interceptor 750. My brain is definately stuck in the 60's when it comes to motorcycles.

stan truskot
11/25/2010 7:56:20 AM

I'm 60 years old and have the 69 Bonnie Bought new . The styling and history and even movie stars that choose this bike is rich in history . The unique sound is always a bessing to hear , as all the britt bikes are equally beautifull in their own right . Mine can be heard at you tube juaguar1 . Stan from Ohio

allen wood
11/25/2010 7:54:11 AM

I like the Triumph as it has many memories. They are light, which made it easy to push home alot back in the 70s. The looks and styling are top shelf.. Thats why I bought the retro 2009 T100 and have put over 23K trouble free miles in 11 months.. Triumphs are great bikes.

monte miller
11/25/2010 7:35:15 AM

All three would be welcome in my shop but as I sorta grew up on Triumph, motorcycle-wise, I've got to go with the Bonny.

robert tremblay
11/25/2010 7:14:57 AM

They're all nice. But in my personnal opinion, the Bonneville is truly the icone of all british bikes.

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