Triumph Troubles Q and A

Readers ask Keith about problems surrounding their Triumph motorcycles.

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by Roland Brown

Oil choices

Q: Hi Keith, my pre-unit Triumph restoration is nearing completion, including a complete engine overhaul. Should I use a certain type of engine oil for the break in, and what weight and type after that? Thanks.

Smitty in Ohio

A: My personal opinion is that break-in oil is a thing of the past. My method is to buy a decent brand of non-synthetic oil in the manufacturer’s recommended viscosity and take it for a ride. Get it good and warm and drain it into a clean container. Inspect it carefully for any major debris. Minor whiskers of magnetic and non-magnetic metal are to be expected as new sliding and rotating surfaces get acquainted. If it passes inspection you can put the oil back in the tank and repeat the inspection at 100 miles. Replace the oil after that inspection and continue riding with regular oil changes. If you’re inclined to use synthetic oil, I’d wait until you’ve got about 500 miles on the bike. By then the rings should be bedded in.

Battery woes

Q: Hi Keith, I am wondering if you might be able to help me. My bike sat outside since last fall. I removed the battery and took it inside, charged it and put it back in the bike today. Now all of the sudden I have no power at the ignition switch, no neutral light, no horn and no signals. The battery tests at 12 volts. The bike was working fine before I quit riding it last fall, and it only has 8k miles on it and it is in great shape. I would really appreciate any ideas. Thanks.

Rick Conn/via email

A: I barely had time to read this when the follow-up popped in my inbox. “Never mind Keith, I found it. Simple but frustrating. A double wire off the positive battery terminal, black going to solenoid, and red going into female spade boot connector… the red wire was corroded, thanks anyway!” I was just going to say that sitting out all winter had probably let some corrosion grow in a connector or two. I’m glad you fixed the problem. It might be worth going to your local auto parts store and buying one of those small packets of dielectric grease used on battery terminals. Apply it to those spade connectors.

Oil leaks

Q: Hi Keith, my 1969 Triumph leaks oil badly, and I can’t figure out where from. Here is the story. I bought this in 2015. It ran great, never leaked and was a joy. After a while, I noticed power was dropping and oil was leaking from the head. Sure enough, it had a blown head gasket. I took it to my local shop for repair. It was bad. The valve guides came out in my hand and the cylinders were scored badly. Time for a top end job. It ended up getting honed with new rings, valves, and guides. This is when the oil leak started. It now leaves a good size puddle under the bike and the underside gets coated with oil. We replaced the high gear seal, and sprocket and the crank seal twice. We replaced the shaft as well. Nothing has changed. The one change someone made at some point was to remove the breather tube on the fender and move the breather over top of the chain by the tool box. I am wondering if the crankcase is being pressurized. Could this be a possibility? If so, how could we determine that? I am reluctant to take it back to the shop again as all we are doing is spending money on labor with no results. Any thoughts?

Joe Preston/via email

A: Since all this started after the top end job, the first thing that comes to mind is bad sealing in the pushrod tubes. I could be a number of things there, from selecting the wrong thickness seals at the top and bottom, to a cut or misplaced seal, usually at the top. I’d clean it up and degrease everything and then start it and run it stationary for a few minutes. Running it on the road will only result in oil being blown far away from where it leaks out. If that doesn’t show you a source, you can clean it up again and dust the suspected areas with baby powder. That will show small leaks at the source fairly well.

Sticky clutch

Q: I have read some of the issues in your column regarding Triumph T150s, so I thought you might answer another one. I have a 1973 T150 that I bought some time ago and just stored for several years. I recently removed the small primary case inspection cover to try to see why the clutch lever was so stiff. Sometime later it seems the engine oil is leaking out by the pull rod. At first I thought maybe it was gearbox oil, but it is engine oil. Is this caused by wet sumping? I have not done anything to the clutch other than pull the inspection cover. Thanks for your help.

Steve Cantrell/via email

A: This is indeed caused by wet sumping. The crankcase and primary case of the Tridents are not sealed from each other and are supposed to be self leveling over time. Ordinarily when you open up the primary for any work, once done you add about 150ml of oil to essentially prime the primary and over time the engine oil will flow in and out of the case as needed. When the bike sits for an extended period of time, oil can leak past the anti-sump valve in the crankcase and fill the case. That excess oil will then leak over to the primary and flood it as you’ve found. You’ll need to drain the primary and the crankcase and refill the oil tank to the proper level before running the bike.

Email questions and feedback to or write:
Keith’s Garage, Motorcycle Classics, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609

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