1976 Triumph TR7RV Tiger
Top speed: 112mph (period test)
Engine: 744cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 76mm x 82mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio, 47hp @ 6,700rpm (claimed)
Weight (w/half tank fuel): 425lb (193kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.5gal (13.2ltr)/40-50mpg
Price then/now: $1,795 (approx.)/$6,000-$10,000
Larry Orlick is best known in his local motorcycle circle as a Ducati fanatic, since he at one point cornered the market on single-cylinder 450 Ducatis. In actuality, he has owned a lot of different makes. “I’ve owned a lot of Brit bikes,” Larry says. “I owned two 500 Triumphs, two Bonnevilles and a few BSAs. In fact, I previously owned a 1975 Triumph Tiger. It was a good-looking, fast bike. I sold it so I could buy a BMW, quit my job and go touring around the U.S. and Central America.”
Larry was on the road for a year and a half, and when he got back he found a job and got married. Some years went by. He still had the BMW, and while he claims he wasn’t looking for another bike, “In a moment of weakness, I succumbed,” he says. The object of affection? Another Triumph Tiger, a bike he refers to as his Garage Queen.
By some measures, Larry is lucky that Triumph survived long enough to build his bike. By the early 1970s Triumph was almost dead, bloodied by an astoundingly clueless management and a widening cultural divide between American and English motorcyclists. But it hadn’t always been that way.
As the Fifties dawned, Triumph recognized that bigger, faster bikes had greater appeal in the American market. In 1949, Triumph introduced the 650 Thunderbird vertical twin. A faster version, the T110, was introduced in 1954. A beefed-up bottom end supported higher compression and a larger carburetor, and a new swingarm frame improved handling. Although Triumph boss Ed Turner was adverse to racing, both American dealer and customer demand led Triumph to build production racers like the T100C, TR5/R and T100RS, all based on Triumph’s smaller 500cc vertical twin. Triumphs quickly became a mainstay in road racing, flat track racing and desert racing. Triumph racing stars included Buddy Elmore, Chuck Joyner, Eddie Mulder, Ed Kretz, Jr. and the one and only Gary Nixon.
In 1959 Triumph hit a home run with the 650cc twin-carb T120 Bonneville. Prior to the T120, all Triumph 650s used a single carburetor, although a splayed twin-port head became available in early 1958 as a dealer-installed option. The T120 was an updated version of the T110 with the splayed port head installed by the factory, a one-piece forged crankshaft and a higher compression ratio.
Yet there continued to be an enthusiast market for the single-carb 650 twin, so Triumph continued to offer the 650 in single-carb tune, marketing various models under the TR6 designation, including the TR6R Tiger. Although a little down on horsepower, it was smooth and easier to tune and remained a solid offering in Triumph’s U.S. lineup throughout the Sixties.
In 1970, BSA-Triumph’s research and development unit at Umberslade Hall took over design and engineering — and pushed Triumph off a cliff. The “Umberslade” frame, which used the frame as the oil reservoir, appeared in 1971. There were multiple problems with the frame, setting back production for months. When it was finally introduced, riders complained of its seat height, 4 inches higher than the old frame. Reckless spending and unrealistic sales predictions caused the closing of Umberslade Hall in 1972 and the failure of BSA, Triumph’s sister brand.
The Meriden factory re-redesigned the Triumph twin in 1972. A new frame lowered the saddle height and the ungainly 1971 tank was replaced with a sleeker and prettier one. In 1973, a cylinder bore increase took displacement to 750cc, compression was lowered to 8.25:1 and the primary chain was upgraded from a single-row to a three-row. The rocker boxes were redesigned to leak less oil and a 5-speed gearbox became standard. Now identified as the TR7RV, the single-carb Tiger continued on.
Cycle tested the Tiger 750 and liked what they rode. The disc brake was described as “one of motorcycling’s best,” and although the suspension was stiff, it contributed to “handling you can bet your life on.” Top speed was about equal to the Bonneville, and Cycle was actually able to get a slightly better quarter-mile time out of their Tiger than Cycle World did from their same year Bonneville; 13.51 seconds for the Tiger versus 13.65 seconds for the Bonneville.
Despite best efforts on the part of the Meriden factory, Triumph’s parent corporation continued to bleed red ink. The British government, hoping to salvage what was left of its motorcycle industry, engineered a merger between Norton Villiers, headed by Dennis Poore, and Triumph. Poore planned to close the Meriden factory and move Triumph to BSA’s old Birmingham plant. In response, in 1973 the Meriden workers barricaded the doors and stopped work. The British government threw up its hands and refused further assistance, but did help with the transfer of Meriden to a worker’s collective.
Bonnevilles and Tigers didn’t return to production until late 1975. Per U.S. DOT regulations, Triumphs now shifted on the left and braked on the right, but the old vertical twin still leaked oil and vibrated. The Meriden co-op knew its products needed upgrading, yet with no money for new machinery and tooling they were limited in the developments they could undertake. The co-op soldiered on and the single-carb Tiger stayed in production alongside the dual-carb Bonneville through to the end of production at Meriden. Despite heroic efforts, the co-op failed in 1983.
Although the Triumph brand was eventually relaunched by businessman John Bloor, original “Meriden” Triumphs maintained their value for many. Brit bike faithful all over the world continued to champion their 360-degree vertical twins even though some, like Larry Orlick, strayed from the fold, but eventually returned.
A year and a half ago, Larry, not having had a British bike for years, was feeling a slight lack in his life. Despite repeated announcements that he was not in the market and was perfectly happy with his BMW, he would still idly look at Craigslist from time to time for another Triumph, but it had to be a Tiger. And then one day there it was. “I wanted a 5-speed Tiger, the single-carb model; disc brake front and rear, left shift, and I was looking right at it. Not only that, it was priced reasonably,” Larry says.
He bought it, and shortly thereafter, Larry wrote to a friend that he had “some upgrades to do (tires), a few minor electrical gremlins, directionals to put back on, some fluids to change (in the forks) and some minor carburetor adjustments to sort, but her bones are very good.” The glitches were sorted out in a few weeks, and Larry’s Garage Queen was on the road. “It’s my pleasant evening bike. My longest ride on it was 170 miles. It’s fun, nimble, and handles well. It’s a back-road bike.”
The Garage Queen is not stock. “I have all the stock parts, but they don’t look as nice.” The side covers on the bike are old-style, one-piece covers. The stock side covers for 1976 are two-piece. Larry says the Tiger logo vibrates off the stock covers or cracks. The mufflers are close to the stock items, but are actually an aftermarket replacement for Nortons. “They don’t leak, and don’t interfere with the kickstart.”
Triumphs, and especially single-carb Triumphs, have always had a reputation for easy starting, and this Tiger is no exception. However, like other Sixties and Seventies British motorcycles, you have to free up the clutch by pulling in the hand lever and kicking through several times until there is no resistance.
“You tickle the carb, break the clutch, kick twice slowly with the ignition off, turn on the key and kick. It lights right up, hot or cold, and idles nicely,” Larry says.
For Larry, maintaining the Tiger includes keeping it presentable, shining up all the chrome and the paint. “I use auto polish, like Meguiars,” Larry explains. “It’s a mild polish, with no abrasives. The paint is good.”
Mechanicals haven’t been much of an issue. “The tach and speedo do work and so does the electrical system,” Larry says. “I can turn the ignition off and the lights will still remain on. One time I ran down the battery — operator error — but it was easy to bump start the bike. The lights are adequate enough for night riding.”
Based on his prior Triumph experience, Larry suggests changing the oil every 1,500-2,000 miles. He also mixes 20-percent full synthetic oil for engine longevity. Ignition points get replaced “when it needs it — about 2,000-3,000 miles.” Cleaning the points and adjusting them to specification on a regular basis keeps the bike running at its best.
The single Amal carb has not had to be adjusted since Larry bought the bike: He raised the idle a little and left it alone after that.
The slow-speed handling is very good. “It’s a very torquey motor. It may be geared a little taller than stock, with one tooth larger on the countershaft. It is light and nimble on tight roads. In fact, it is easier to ride on tight roads than my 650 Honda dual sport. The brakes are fine — I can skid both tires, but don’t make a habit of doing that. In general, I ride this bike pretty conservatively,” Larry says.
The mirrors are, he admits, “a little buzzy — there is a slight vibration you can feel. At higher highway speeds, it gets increasingly buzzy. At 60 to 65, it’s perfectly fine.” Larry has put only 1,800 miles on this bike so far.
“I don’t do long days on this bike,” he says, adding, “but the vibration is OK for its era. I am used to Brit bikes and their foibles. My Garage Queen makes me feel good. It is something I have wanted for a long time, and I wasn’t even looking for it!” MC