The 1960 Triumph T20s Tiger Cub

Tiger Cubs were often bought by teenagers to get to school and after-school jobs during the week and for offroad fun on weekends.

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by Nick Cedar

Engine: 199cc 4-stroke air-cooled single cylinder, 63mm x 64mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 14.5hp @ 6,500rpm (factory claim)

Top speed: 74mph (period test)

Carburetion: Amal Monobloc

Transmission: 4-speed, right-foot shift

Electrics: 6-volt Lucas energy transfer system

Frame/wheelbase: single downtube cradle frame/49in (1,245mm)

Suspension:Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear, adjustable for preload

Brakes: 5.5in (140mm) SLS drum front and rear

Tires: 3 x 19in front and back

Weight (dry): 205lb (93kg)

Fuel capacity: 3gal Imp (3.6gal US)

Price now: $3,000-$7,500

Once upon a time, an enterprising kid could get a paper route. This was, of course, back when everyone read newspapers. The impetus for the paper route was, for many kids, the opportunity to acquire enough money to purchase something that was beyond the family budget. For a lot of kids, the dream was a special baseball mitt. For Bob Gott, age 13, it was a 199cc Triumph T20S Tiger Cub.

Bob grew up in a motorcycling family. One of his early memories is of his father, riding him around on the tank of his Harley 45. Bob had older brothers, and all of them had Triumphs. One brother bought a T110 from a Harley dealership (don’t tell anyone). Bob, of course, wanted a Triumph just like his brothers had.

Terrier, then Tiger Cub

Shortly after World War II, Edward Turner, head honcho at Triumph, designed a bike for the Bobs of the world. The Triumph Terrier, debuting in 1952, was a torquey little 149cc overhead valve 4-stroke. For its time, it was peppy and reliable — similar to the bigger Triumphs. It was also styled just like the bigger Triumphs and had a low seat, just right for a teenager learning to ride. Unfortunately, the Terrier was a little on the slow side. The next year, the Triumph booth at the motorcycle shows featured a Terrier with a larger engine: the 199cc Tiger Cub, with 25% more power. Modern features included telescopic forks, unit construction of the engine, an almost square bore and stroke, and a plunger frame. The 6-volt electrical system was charged via an alternator. The cylinder head was aluminum, the barrel was cast iron and lubrication was dry sump. Power was delivered through a 4-speed foot shift transmission. The carburetor on the first Cubs was an Amal. Triumph used a Zenith carburetor on some versions of the Cub for a few years in the 1950’s and early Sixties, then went back to Amal.

The Tiger Cub was popular, both in Great Britain and the U.S. Between 1953 and 1969, the end of production, Triumph built and sold 113,671 Tiger Cubs and Terriers. In England, the Cub was often owned by adults who needed a economical way to get to work. Cubs get about 100 miles per (Imperial) gallon, an important consideration, given then-low prevailing wages.

In the U.S., Cubs were often bought by teenagers to get to school and after-school jobs during the week and for offroad fun on weekends. People often think that the American motorcycle market in the Fifties was all about big bore machinery. However, the post-World War II years were the heyday of the Harley 125, Cushman and Mustang. For example, in 1952, Harley sold 5,554 FL Panheads — and 4,576 125cc 2-strokes. High school parking lots used to be full of these small machines. For a while, Triumph manufactured a “J” model of the Cub with a carburetor restrictor. Younger kids could ride these legally in several states. In order to cater to the teen market, U.S.-spec Tiger Cubs often came in brighter colors that British-spec Cubs.

Back to Bob

Bob’s father worked as a bus driver, and his regular route was back and forth from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 250 miles away — which just happened to be where the nearest Triumph dealer was. Eventually Bob saved enough to buy the Tiger Cub of his dreams, and Pop brought the little single back in the luggage compartment of the bus. It was snowing at the time, and the bus station, housed in a large building, was deserted. Bob put 12 miles on his new bike, running around inside the bus station, before Father dragged his excited offspring home to dinner.

The bike that Bob’s father brought home was a 1960 T20S. In 1960, the Tiger Cub came in two different versions. The T20 road machine had headlights, a battery, slim telescopic forks and a small “bathtub” rear enclosure.

The bathtub rear enclosure was a mainstay of late Fifties and early Sixties Triumphs, and a particular pet project of Edward Turner. America was Triumph’s biggest market and most Americans hated the bathtubs.

It was common practice for U.S. dealers to remove the bathtub from each Triumph as soon as possible after the Triumph was removed from its crate. Eventually, Turner gave up on the idea.

The T20S was the sport version of the Cub, with a higher compression ratio, slimmer fenders, fatter forks, bigger wheels, and a Monobloc carburetor. The 6-volt ignition was via Lucas energy transfer, and there were no lights. Bob and Father cobbled together a working headlight and taillight so Bob could ride the Tiger Cub to school.

By 1960, the Tiger Cub had a swingarm frame (introduced in 1957). Despite seven years of development, it still had a few quirks. The engine was supported by a plain bearing on the right end. If the rider was in a hurry to get going and revved the engine before it had an opportunity to warm up, the crankshaft could be destroyed in 100 miles. Frame rigidity was supplied by a braced tank; if the owner decided to replace the tank with one from a different bike, the frame could break. The points housing was behind the cylinder barrel — not too easy to see with average garage lighting.

Triumph finally decided to correct the design flaws in the early 1960’s. 1961 saw a better oil pump. A new bottom end for the 1962 model year fixed the earlier crankshaft problems. The points were moved to the end of the crankshaft in 1963.

On road and off

The early Sixties were good years for Triumphs in general, but buyers were starting to move to the small Hondas for offroad use and away from Cubs. Triumph’s Western States sales manager, Don Brown, was on a camping trip with buddies, when he noticed a lot of people riding Honda Trail 90’s. The Hondas did OK on the flats, but they couldn’t climb hills like the Triumph could. Brown sold Edward Turner on the idea of a trail model Tiger Cub, and, when Turner hesitated, guaranteed that he would take 400 of these bikes. When the trail T20 arrived on this side of the pond in 1964, advertised as the Mountain Cub, U.S. Triumph dealers sold every one they could get.

At this point, Triumph lost its way. Edward Turner retired, and Bill Johnson, the founder of the Johnson Motors Western states Triumph distributorship, died. Triumph management passed to corporate types who were more interested in paying out dividends to shareholders and big salaries to the folks on top than providing a quality product to dealers and riders. The Japanese manufacturers were selling bikes with 12-volt electrics, oil-tight cases, and electric starters, and the British manufacturers would not put enough money into their facilities to match these technological advances. Triumph started to lose market share. The last Tiger Cubs were built in 1969 with frames and other parts from BSA, Triumph’s parent company.

The Little Triumph lives on

While all this was going on, Bob Gott rode his Tiger Cub to school. He rode it around on weekends. He thinks he may have turned the odometer over. One of his brothers tried to make a racer out of the little machine. Brother rebuilt the engine, tried to port the intake, bored out the cylinder, put in an oversized piston and found a racing Amal carburetor with a separate float chamber. Eventually Bob finished school and went to work as an air conditioning installer. Life took him in different directions. The little Tiger Cub sat in the back of the garage for many years.

Meanwhile, Trace St. Germain was also working a paper route and saving up money so he could buy his own first bike. The two ex-paper delivery boys met when Bob installed the air conditioning unit in the business Trace used to work at. Trace now restores motorcycles, in addition to working for the National Hot Rod Association drag racing program. Bob, now retired, decided he would like to get his Tiger Cub going again. He got in touch with Trace.

Bob may not have been aware of the fact that his Tiger Cub was becoming too valuable to sit in the garage under a tarp. After many years of being a common, inexpensive but outdated small motorcycle, Tiger Cubs have become trendy, and prices are rising. “This is an easy to live with classy lightweight with good handling, decent brakes, and enduring good looks. Hinckley Triumph may be missing a trick by not introducing a modern Cub of their own,” says SUMP magazine, a British publication.

Trace went and got the bike (it was easy to move, as the little beastie weighs 205 pounds dry). “It was a little on the rough side.” He normally restores big bore Japanese motorcycles, and learning to work on British machinery was a bit of a learning curve. Trace, nothing if not meticulous, got to work on locating parts and information. “I probably spent more time on the computer than working on the bike.”

Trace’s modus operandi is to take a new restoration project apart, assess the components and locate replacements for items that can’t be repaired while he is cleaning and repairing the reclaimable parts. A major concern was getting a new cylinder and piston to replace the trashed originals. “I tried to get original parts. Luckily, I stumbled on a good cylinder and piston.” Another thing Trace located was the old Brit Bike network, composed of knowledgeable people who are happy to help a fellow enthusiast. “Baxter Cycle in Iowa found me the right carburetor, and when I got it, it was completely tuned up — all I had to do was install it. The bike idled like a kitten, right off the bat.”

Period reproduction wiring (made for British automobiles) was located to replace the minimal wiring harness on the Cub, which originally came with no lights. Luckily, the 6-volt Lucas energy transfer system still worked — replacements are not easy to find. Accurate reproduction rear shocks were found in England — without, unfortunately, the tool to adjust them. Trace has a pretty good idea of the dimensions of the adjuster and plans to make one.

Normally, Trace does his own valve jobs. However, faced with an unfamiliar machine with few spare parts available if something went wrong, he opted to send the top end to Frank Brewer in Panorama City, California. “I was just not comfortable with this one.” Brian Jennings repainted the tank and Eric Rayes did the pinstriping.

Trace did rebuild the seat, a job he has done many times on prior restorations. “I carefully removed the cover, then glued a new piece of foam to the seat pan. I sanded the foam to get the right shape, then put the cover back on. This Cub came with the dual seat, but I’d like to put the solo seat on it. It would look really good.” Another item Trace does well is turning brake drums — he has the equipment and experience. “I didn’t have to turn that much. The Tiger Cub drums are pretty stout.”

After a year of work, the Cub was done. Finishing a ground up restoration in only a year is actually pretty fast, but this is not Trace’s first rodeo and he knows what he is doing. The first thing to do, of course, once the bike was back together, was take it for a ride. The Cub has no lights and, since it is offroad only, no license plate. It isn’t legal to ride on the street, but Trace decided he could ride it on the side streets near his house without attracting flashing lights. “I took off down the street. The bike is very torquey, pulls right off the line. It was challenging to remember where the brake was. The Cub brakes on the left and shifts on the right, like all British bikes of that era. I was running out of street, so I tried to shift down and ended up locking up the brakes. I’d love to get it out in the dirt.”

Dirt has to wait until Bob Gott picks up the bike. He is about as excited as the 13-year-old Bob was, waiting for Dad to come back from Albuquerque with his new Cub. MC

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