The Second Life of the Big British Twin? Some Conflicting Signals from the Current Market

James J. Ward


It has been a half century since the death of the large-displacement British parallel twin was proclaimed by a not entirely sympathetic motorcycling press, as one venerable factory after another closed its gates and the industry ceded the future to the seemingly all-conquering multiples coming from the East.[1] Like many obituaries, this one was somewhat inaccurate and somewhat premature. When the death knell supposedly tolled, 750cc Bonnevilles were still being made at the Triumph Meriden works. In 1973, in defiance of a company shutdown, a workers’ collective took over production of the Bonneville and—with the support of Harold Wilson’s Labour government—kept the works going for ten more years. From 1985 to 1988, motorcycle entrepreneur Les Harris, operating under a license granted by real estate developer John Bloor, who had bought the rights to the Triumph name, manufactured another 1,250 Bonnevilles in the old plant. The Norton Commando, in its 750 and 850cc iterations, remained in production—if having to use several different facilities across southern England—until 1977.[2] And, over a sixty-five year period beginning in 1966, Kawasaki has made its contribution to the effort, first with its 650cc twin WI, based on the BSA A65, and then with the Bonneville-homage W800, neither of which were marketed in North America. Suspended in 2016, production of the W800 resumed in 2019; both road and café-racer models are now available in the U.S.[3] But is there more life left in the big British twin than the availability of a well-designed Japanese look-alike alone may suggest? New models coming on the market, from the never wholly absent names of Triumph, Norton, and Royal Enfield, might answer that question. Or they might not.

Bonneville T100 – Bud Ekins Special Edition [Fig.1]

“Good Times, Bad Times, You Know I Had My Share”

The W800 is not the only bright spot in a Covid-19 darkened motorcycling universe for enthusiasts looking for contemporary reiterations of such hard-charging British twins as the Bonneville, the Commando, and BSA’s Lightning and Spitfire. Since the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, John Bloor’s “new” Triumph—now thirty years old—has seemed to go from strength to strength, with only an occasional misstep. Annual sales grew to 65,000 units, and the Hinckley-based company projected an eventual doubling of that number, using production and assembly facilities in Thailand and Brazil and targeting the rapidly expanding Asian market.[4] The Covid pandemic quashed these expectations, with the company reporting a 20 percent decline in global sales in the first four months of 2020, consistent with the drop-off experienced industry-wide for the same period. Losses were registered across the board, including in the all-important European and North American markets. Still, Triumph remains the best-selling European brand in the U.S. in the mid- to large-displacement categories.[5] Yet despite the introduction of a third generation of its Tiger 800 “adventure” bike in 2018, Triumph does not seem that well positioned to take advantage of the Covid-related upsurge in sales of off-road machines that offer an attractive alternative to the “stay-at-home” mandate that has crashed other sectors of the automotive market.[6] On a brighter note, the company’s latest entry into the so-called “retro” category, the Thruxton RS, has garnered praise both for its enhanced performance over previous Thruxton models (especially its more freewheeling engine characteristics) and its correction of minor faults that buyers had noted. In its report on the Thruxton RS, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure lauded the bike’s “iconic and classic styling,” while observing, if a bit archly, that the model “fits a niche within a niche within a niche.”[7] There is no question that the Bonneville has been a hit since its introduction in 2001; nor can the popularity of the model be entirely explained by its recall powers for aging Baby Boomers who earned their motorcycle chops on the original T120s of the 1960s.[8] Recent estimates place Triumph’s “classic” models—the Bonneville, the Street Twin, and the Thruxton—at 60 percent of the brand’s total sales in the U.S., an impressive figure in light of the long-standing market success of the three-cylinder Street Triple; some dealerships put the figure at closer to 75 percent of their sales.[9]

With its broad range of models, the success of the Bonneville in its several variations, and most recently an agreement with Indian manufacturer Bajaj to field a series of 250 to 500cc models, Triumph ought to be able to manage the dislocations brought by the Covid pandemic including its long-term social and economic consequences.[10] The Bonneville and the Thruxton, however, will have to offer more than nostalgic appeal and an association with the historic markers of the original company’s past, which exercise little draw with the younger generations of riders. This is especially the case in the U.S., where both Indian and Harley-Davidson are putting thoroughly modern yet “classic” appearing mid-range models on the market, but also globally with Royal Enfield moving aggressively to capitalize on its “Brit-bike” legacy. At the same time, the move by the Japanese and European manufacturers, and by Harley and Indian, into electric power may limit how far Triumph can go with its reliance on its proven two- and three-cylinder carbon-fueled engines. In 2019 Triumph CEO Nick Bloor committed the company to a research project that could result in the addition of one or more electric-powered models to the traditional gas-fueled line-up. While some skeptics saw this announcement as a “too-little, too-late” ploy, participation in the project by the engineering arm of the multi-time champion Williams Formula 1 team lends credibility to the effort.[11] Admittedly, Williams has been among the F1 also rans for the last two decades, but every current grand prix competitor has ample experience adapting electric technology to its sporting effort, so the collaboration may pay off. Still, incorporating battery power into the architecture of the Bonneville and the Thruxton, while technically and stylistically feasible, will require more ingenuity than camouflaging fuel injectors to look like carburetors, as was the case when the Hinckley company first put its “modern classic” line on the market twenty years ago.

“Shapes of Things Before My Eyes”

And speaking of Royal Enfield…. Challenged to shake its reputation for poor quality, poor reliability, and poor performance, ten years ago Royal Enfield decided to step up its game by introducing a fuel-injected all-aluminum engine for its trademark 350 and 500cc single-cylinder Bullet range; after all, the original British-design engines dated to the 1930s. Using unit construction for the first time, and with a five-speed gearbox and an electric starter, the “new” Enfield singles are about as modern as so deliberately retro-styled a motorcycle can be. Since it still employs a pushrod engine that relies on air cooling, the Bullet’s look, especially from a slight distance, differs little from that of the workaday singles that were manufactured for a half century in the industrial Midlands of England.[12] In 2019 Royal Enfield took the next logical step by introducing a 650cc parallel twin called the Continental GT—causing a bit of befuddlement among old-timers who remembered the original 250cc Continental café racer that was popular in the 1960s with would-be “ton-up” boys who couldn’t quite afford a Bonneville or a Gold Star. Targeted primarily to the U.K. and the U.S., according to an advance write-up in Cycle World, the Continental GT uses a newly designed 646cc single-overhead-cam eight-valve engine firing at a vibration-dampening 270 degrees (as does the Bonneville), fitted into a twin-downtube cradle frame that recalls the British roadsters of the 1960s. The engine is modestly tuned, with a claimed 47 bhp at 7,250 rpm, hardly enough to power 450 pounds of machine past contemporary Japanese and Italian road burners. This is not the purpose of the big Enfield, however. Instead it is being marketed for its classic style—those pleasing proportions of tank, engine, and rear gear, even if the drive side engine case curiously replicates the timing side cover that distinguished the Enfield twins of the ’50s and ’60s—and its trim and paintwork that look like they can stand up to the elements. A U.S. retail price between $6,000 and 7,000, depending on colors and options, along with a three-year warranty and roadside assistance, certainly does not hurt.[13]

Royal Enfield then dropped another shoe by resurrecting the name of the old top-of-the-line big twin, the 750cc Interceptor, for a touring-oriented version of the new 650. Branded the INT650 for the U.S. market, the new Interceptor produces five less bhp than its more sporting mate, offers a less demanding riding position, and carries a slightly larger fuel tank. The original Interceptor, introduced in 1962, laid claim to fame with its 736cc engine, matching the Norton Atlas (also introduced in 1962) and a decade ahead of the Triumph T140 Bonneville (1973) in the race for cubic inches that were so prized in the North American market. Scorned at the time by self-appointed cognoscenti as another piece of “agricultural machinery,” the Interceptor—especially in its Series II iteration (1968-69)—has become a desirable item on the old bike market and commands increasing respect from collectors “in the know.”[14] Like the Velocette Venom after that esteemed Birmingham company closed, the Interceptor gained a brief afterlife when American motorcycle magazine publisher Floyd Clymer marketed a small number under the Indian brand he had acquired. These in turn were followed by another 130 or so Interceptors built, using engines originally ordered by Clymer, by the Rickman Brothers who mounted them in a Metisse-styled frame. According to press releases by the India-based company, the new Interceptor is aimed at the mid-displacement range of “classic” bikes in the U.S., filling in a gap that—at the moment—neither Triumph nor Harley-Davidson has fully occupied.[15]

Royal Enfield had already signaled its ambitions for North America in 2015 by setting up a headquarters office in Milwaukee, within blocks of the Harley-Davidson Museum. While selecting Milwaukee for its headquarters may have been mainly for symbolic purposes, plans at the time called for supporting 100 dealerships in Canada and the U.S. In the U.K., more or less simultaneously, the Indian company boosted its street credibility by opening a £3.5 million technical center in Leicestershire in the Midlands. Much of the development work on the 650 twins would be finalized there; and sales of the 350 and 500cc Bullets have been encouraging now that long-standing quality-control issues appear to have been addressed.[16] Yet even before the Covid-19 virus struck, there were some speed bumps. In January 2020 Royal Enfield’s North American president Rod Copes, who had signed on in 2014 after a twenty-year career with Harley-Davidson, announced his departure with little explanation. This followed the exit, in 2016 and again for unspecified reasons, of Pierre Terblanche who had supplied his vaunted design skills to Ducati, Moto Guzzi, and Stuart Garner’s Norton before joining the Enfield company.[17]  Still, there is nothing exclusive to Royal Enfield’s American operation about a top leadership shake-up. At the start of 2020 Enfield’s Milwaukee neighbor, Harley-Davidson, announced that CEO Matt Levatich—who had tangled with Donald Trump over tariff policy—was stepping down, to be succeeded by German businessman Jochen Seitz. Seitz promptly introduced a five-year “Hardwire” restructuring plan aimed at focusing the company’s efforts on its leading markets in North America, Europe, and Asia. Confronting sales for the second quarter of 2020 down almost 30 percent worldwide, Seitz’s announcement had a certain logic to it, even if it copies market strategies laid out by both Royal Enfield and Triumph.[18]

Like almost all other automotive manufacturers, Royal Enfield has been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. In the first half of 2020 global sales dropped by over 40 percent, with the largest decline experienced in the Indian home market, where vehicle sales were on the downturn even before the virus erupted. Sales in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. have held up better, although the numbers involved are modest compared to those of the Japanese manufacturers.[19]

On a more positive note, in Britain in the first half of 2020 the 650 Interceptor has been edging out both Honda and BMW for the highest sales in the mid-displacement category of so-called “naked” bikes; and mid-year sales reports in the U.S. indicate a similarly strong performance for the big twins, although once more the absolute numbers are small.[20] So, does Royal Enfield have a winner with its 650 twins, one that can carry the make to sales figures in the U.S. the 1960s Interceptor was never able to achieve? The answer hinges on demographics, economics, and changing life-style choices that, prior to Covid-19, had been hinted at but were nowhere close to being confirmed. With a historic name, a skillfully conceived marketing strategy (borrowing heavily from Harley-Davidson), and a pricing calculus notably below its intended competitors, the answer may be an affirmative one.[21] The first indicators are encouraging, but as recent history shows nothing is guaranteed when it comes to bringing a once-venerated motorcycle back to life in today’s world.

“Dear Mister Fantasy, Play Us a Tune, Something to Make Us All Happy”

Case in point, the Norton Commando. No British motorcycle company boasts a prouder racing history than does Norton, with 43 TT victories to its name (starting with the twin-cylinder class in the first ever Tourist Trophy race in 1907); and it is probably safe to say that no British motorcycle has been so keenly longed for to make its reappearance than the Commando, winner of five straight “Machine of the Year” awards from Motorcycle News (1968-72).[22] With a total production run of 50 to 55,000 bikes—twice the number of the BSA/Triumph 750cc triples—there are plenty of Commandos still on the road, and they are well served by a small network of parts suppliers who have engaged in a not always friendly rivalry over the use of the Norton name. With its rakish looks, vibration-canceling “isolastic” engine-mounting system, and impressive competition record (funded by John Player Tobacco), the Commando can lay claim to the title of “the last great British twin.”[23] Following the collapse of Norton-Villiers-Triumph in 1978, the Norton brand has been through so many acquisitions, exchanges, and reinventions so as to seem Byzantine even by the standards of the British motorcycle industry; the ownership history of Indian is easier to follow. By 2003, motorcycle restorer and hotrodder Kenny Dreer, working out of Oregon, managed to assemble the outstanding rights to the Norton name. Supported by a small group of investors, most of whose money went to pay lawyers’ fees, Dreer founded Norton Motorsports (also referred to as Norton Motorcycles). Dreer already had a prototype 952cc “new” Commando under development, based on the last 850cc versions of the original, and over the next few years his Oregon shop manufactured a small run of purpose-built machines, enlarged to 961cc, which caught the attention of the U.S. cycle magazines. But the funding ran out, and in 2006 Dreer discontinued production. Another seeming dead end in the effort to bring back the Commando.[24]

In October 2008 the British motorcycling community learned that Norton motorcycles were again going to be manufactured on their home soil. Businessman and stock trader Stuart Garner, already co-owner of respected frame builder Spondon Engineering, had purchased rights to the Norton name—along with the existing stock of 961 Commando prototypes—from Kenny Dreer’s company and was planning to begin production in the U.K. within a year. Clearly John Bloor’s success in reviving the Triumph brand offered an example, and Garner boasted a record of international transactions—particularly with the Chinese—from his previous fireworks businesses, implying a broad-based supply of components. Things looked good, at least at the start, and the prospect of seeing the famed Norton logo back on British roads, enticed the press, motorcycle and otherwise, to accept Garner’s ambitious projections. Initially setting up shop in a small facility at the Donington Park race circuit in Leicestershire, the Norton company put two of its new Commandos on display at the International Motorcycle Show in Birmingham in November 2009, one a sport model and the other a café-racer version. Both looked to be spot-on ringers for the Dreer prototypes, although Stuart Garner claimed that virtually every component had been re-engineered. Priced at £11,995 and £13,495 respectively ($15,700 and $17,675, with a U.S. distributor already lined up), 2,000 orders were reportedly taken, evidence if nothing else of the pull of the Commando name for the motorcycling public.[25]

The new Commando looked the part, with its black-and-gold paint option, forward tilt to the two-barrel engine (and familiar timing case), and pair of upswept peashooter exhausts. The first rider’s tests were enthusiastic—befitting the Commando’s pedigree—but detected problems that should have been identified and corrected before the bike’s release. Even with its 270-degree firing order, the big twin produced a surprising level of vibration; oil leaks quickly became evident; and for a claimed 80-bhp straight-line performance seemed lacking. The Combat-engined 750cc Commandos of the early ’70s, notorious for their overstressed bearings, turned in better numbers.[26] These were faults that could be corrected by engineering or by quality control in the assembly process; post-production testing would have done the same, but apparently few if any finished bikes got a ride-about at the Donington works. More serious were the shipment and delivery issues that soon began to manifest themselves. Having paid partial or in some case full price deposits, which quickly crept well over £20,000 ($30,000 and up), buyers complained of repeatedly postponed delivery dates. Inquiries to the company offices, and some direct visits there, resulted in stories about delays in the delivery of components—which were almost entirely supposed to be made in the U.K.—or other even less satisfactory explanations. Demands for refunds of deposits seem to have produced no better results. In the meantime, Stuart Garner acquired the 25-acre Donington Hall Estate, including both a grand eighteenth-century manor house and a 45,000 square-foot office building previously used by one of Britain’s airlines, the latter intended to accommodate Norton’s design offices and production facilities.[27]

The charismatic value of the Norton name, or—just as likely—Stuart Garner’s skill as a salesman, was further revealed when it became known that the British government had invested almost £5 million (approximately $7.5 million) in the re-founded company. A production target of 1,000 bikes a year, and the promise of several hundred new jobs at the Donington factory, had apparently done the trick. Figures published at the end of 2019 showed that, in addition to over £650,000 owed to the Santander Bank in a government-backed loan, Norton was £300,000 in arrears in taxes (an earlier total had exceeded £600,000) and owed at least as much in payments due on the various Donington Hall properties. Even more damning were reports that suggested a scheme to defraud over 200 private investors who had transferred their pensions into accounts controlled by Norton, some of which were now repayable but whose owners had been forced to begin legal proceedings to reclaim their money. In January 2020 the British papers reported that Norton had been placed under administration, the equivalent of Chapter 11 in the U.S. The Donington works were shut down, concrete blocks prevented access, and as many motorcycles as could be found, complete and unfinished, were in impound.[28] Subsequent accounts only made things worse. Customers’ bikes in for warranty work had been cannibalized for parts to finish new bikes due for delivery; only a few dozen workers were employed when the works were closed; precious capital had been diverted to support Stuart Garner’s lifestyle and maintain his collection of Aston Martin sportscars. Inevitably, the specter of John DeLorean’s effort to build his namesake gull-winged automobiles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, with the attendant scandals, reared its head.[29]

To explain the failure of his company, Garner cited the uncertainties of Brexit, the vagaries of global trade and tariffs, and the government’s tax policy. Industry veterans, some of whom had initially signed on with Garner and then left, pointed to inadequate capitalization, lack of development and testing, and poor shop-floor management.[30] More telling were the charges of pension fraud, for which Garner was summoned to court; and failed to appear. When, in April 2020, the numbers were totaled up, Norton was found to owe £14.5 million (over $18 million) to its various creditors; the additional millions Garner owed to aggrieved pensioners represented a separate liability.[31] Demonstrating the residual strength of the Norton name, over 100 offers to purchase the rights (and assume the debts) were submitted to the receiver, two or three dozen of them deemed to be serious. There was some speculation that the Triumph company, with its headquarters only twenty miles away, might take over Norton, which—while unfounded—tweaked memories of the reverse process fifty years earlier. Announcement soon followed that TVS Motor Company, India’s third-largest motorcycle manufacturer, was buying Norton for £16 million (just under $20 million). Primarily a producer of mopeds and scooters, TVS had earlier partnered with BMW to market a 300cc single-cylinder sport bike, the first two-wheeler to carry the Munich company’s name made outside Europe. According to TVS executives, production of the Commando would be resumed in England, and further development of the 650cc Atlas twin, introduced in road and street-scrambler versions in 2019, would also continue.[32] The Indian company’s intention, evidently, is to use Norton to compete with Royal Enfield, Triumph, and Harley-Davidson in its home market and on the global stage. Stalwarts of Britain’s motorcycling legacy could only note that another venerated name has passed into Indian ownership.[33]

“She Would Never Say Where She Came From. Yesterday Don’t Matter If It’s Gone”

So, is there still life left in the Commando? When the first prototype for the 961 was shown twenty years ago, there was general agreement that it possessed the potential for a powerful restatement of the iconic model, and the Donington-made version generated consistent interest, as reflected in the steady stream of orders even as many went unfulfilled. Matters of maladministration and worse put aside, the bike’s performance and reliability issues can no doubt be addressed, especially if the resources of TVS are brought to bear. But will Norton still be a British motorcycle? For that matter, should today’s Triumph be considered a British motorcycle? With the success of the Bonneville line, Triumph has celebrated its Britishness, while at the same time concentrating more and more of its production in Thailand, with that country’s easy proximity to its parts suppliers in Taiwan. The announcement in early 2020 that all Triumph production would be shifted to Thailand generated no small measure of blowback in the U.K., where buyers were already used to paying the high prices necessitated by the duties charged on what were essentially imported bikes.[34] Admittedly, British motorcyclists have more than once displayed a willful buy-in to the less-than-complete truths their favorite companies purveyed, for example the badge-engineering practices of AMC which until its demise sold the exact same motorcycles under the AJS and Matchless names, even maintaining separate dealers’ networks. And there were not that many purists who groused that Ariel’s 650cc Huntmasters were built with BSA A10 running gear. Few as they were, it was probably the same purists who lamented that late-series BSA twins, with their oil-in-frames and slab-sided styling, stretched a lineage that reached back to the Rocket Gold Star and the Lightning Rocket to the breaking point. At the end of the run, in the early 1970s, parts were being swapped from model to model and make to make. Whatever got a bike into the showroom or, more likely, shipped to a dealer in North America was self-justifying; and savvy buyers who knew that the game was over put up with any number of indignities if it meant they could get their hands on one of the last pieces of British iron they expected to see.

It is not sourcing and branding that will determine if the big British parallel twin, or its evolutionary descendants wherever they are being made, has any kind of future. Far more serious are the extrinsic forces over which the companies mentioned in this article have, at best, limited control. First, market demographics, that is, the categories of buyers for whom classic-styled, historic-branded, contemporary-equipped motorcycles exert an appeal. While these constitute more than “a niche within a niche…,” there are limits to their elasticity, especially in light of the economic uncertainties—not only in Europe and North America, but in Asia as well—that show little signs of abating any time soon. Not least is the fact that Triumph and Royal Enfield are effectively competing with each other, with the latter beginning to bite into Bonneville sales now that it is aggressively marketing the 650 twins, and at substantially lower prices. Norton was never really in this game, given that the 961 Commando is essentially a bespoke bike, while the Atlas twins have yet to make their case. The Covid pandemic has tightened the field, both in terms of disposable income and by discouraging large-scale in-person promotional events. Video journalist Stuart Fillingham addressed this subject in April 2020 and gave the edge—cautiously —to Norton once ownership claims on the Atlas and 961 engines by Chinese companies can be sorted out. Fillingham had little quarrel with Royal Enfield’s success in breaching the mid-displacement range but saw the brand’s Achilles’ heel in its historically sketchy distributor and dealership network. Perhaps surprisingly, Fillingham found Triumph’s future to be the most precarious, due to what he sees as its overdependence on the Bonneville line and a shaky financial situation that could leave it vulnerable to yet another Asian takeover.[35]

When motorcycling emerges from the down time enforced by the Covid pandemic, we should expect to see a sales recovery by these three historic makes—assuming TVS makes good on its promises regarding Norton. There are still enough buyers, certainly in the U.K. and the U.S., who will want to own a motorcycle that in name, style, and public image refers back to the charge they got the first time they saw Peter O’Toole throttling hard on his Brough SS100 in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or Steve McQueen (actually Bud Ekins) jumping the barbed wire on a Wehrmacht-disguised Triumph TR6 in The Great Escape (1963). Granted, neither of those escapades ended well, but that hardly counted. And the linkage is still there, no matter how attenuated it has become.[36] Twenty or thirty years from now, will a Triumph or a Norton still enjoy the same cachet? Will a 2020 Bonneville Thruxton or Royal Enfield Interceptor command a comparable price to what their 1960s predecessors are attracting in today’s auction markets? Perhaps more important, do these motorcycles even have a future in the face of the factors that are already reshaping the transportation industry? Any discussion of the future of motorcycling now includes alternative power systems, whether hybrid, electric, or hydrogen-fueled; self-directed or autonomous steering; connectivity (“smart bikes”) and adaptability to traffic control systems, and not only in urban settings; and modular or pod designs that mimic the home-away-from-home experience found in more and more four-wheeled vehicles.[37] As these elements assert themselves inside the motorcycle industry, not to mention among the general public, a look-alike Triumph Bonneville or Norton Commando twenty or thirty years out becomes increasingly difficult to imagine. So while the big British twin may have embarked on its second life, wagering on a third life is almost certainly a negative-odds proposition. Or, in plainer English, get one now while there are still some to get.


Subheadings in this article are from, respectively, Led Zeppelin, “Good Times, Bad Times” (1969); The Jeff Beck Group, “Shapes of Things” (1968); Traffic, “Mr. Fantasy” (1967); and The Rolling Stones, “Ruby Tuesday” (1966). £ to $ equivalencies are given at then current exchange rates.

[1] As readers of this journal know, the story has been told, with a wealth of documentation, by Steve Koerner in The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry (Lancaster: Crucible Books, 2012).

[2] See the retrospective tour of the Commando’s post-1973 production locations by Ben Miller, “Time Machine,” Classic Bike, September 2010, pp. 46-52.

[3] To the delight of at least some enthusiasts. See, e.g., Ben Purvis, “2020 Kawasaki W800 First Look,” Cycle World, October 25, 2019, at

[4] Statista Research Department, “Global Sales Volume of Triumph Motorcycles 2008-2019,” March 23, 2020, at

[5] “Triumph Motorcycles Laying Off 400 Workers While YTD April Global Sales Fell 22%,” MotorCyclesData, June 7, 2020, at; Jensen Bealer, “Triumph Motorcycles Initiates Massive Job Layoff Worldwide,” Asphalt & Rubber, June 3, 2020, at

[6] David Swarts, “U.S. Motorcycle Sales Boom amid Pandemic,” RW Roadracing World and Motorcycle Technology, July 3, 2020, at

[7] Dave Manning, “The New King of Retro,” Motorcycle Sport & Leisure, March 2020, pp. 18-23.

[8] See, e.g., “Triumph Bonneville 900 (2000 – On) Review,” Motorcycle News, August 16, 2019, at

[9] Margie Siegal, “OEM Update: Triumph Motorcycles,” MPN Motorcycle & Powersports News, March 23, 2020, at; additional information from several Triumph dealers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, August 2020.

[10] Ollie Barstow, “Full Steam Ahead for First Triumph-Bajaj Model to Launch in 2022,” VisorDown, June 2, 2020, at

[11] Kyle Hyatt, “Triumph and Williams Are Teaming up on Future Electric Motorcycles,” Road/Show, May 15, 2019, at; Ben Purvis, “Triumph Motorcycles Begins Development of E-Bike,” Cycle World, May 20, 2019, at

[12] Andrew Johnson, “Royal Enfield: The Most Unlikely Success Story of Motor Manufacturing in Recent History,” August 27, 2018,, at

[13] Kent Kenitsugu, “2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 First Ride,” Cycle World, November 19, 2018, at; Stuart Fillingham, “The Royal Enfield Interceptor Is a Rust Bucket! Fact or Fiction?” April 28, 2020, at

[14] See, e.g., Robert Smith, “England’s Forgotten Twin: 1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor,” Motorcycle Classics, May/June 2008, at; Gez Kane, “Royal Enfield’s Crowning Glory,” Classic Bike, June 2020, pp. 38-43.

[15] Kent Kenitsugu, “2019 Royal Enfield INT650 First Ride,” Cycle World, November 26, 2018, at The news that 2020 would be the last year of production for the 350 and 500cc Bullet seems to confirm that the Indian company is betting big time on the success of the new twins, especially in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S.

[16] Ian Strachan, “Leicestershire at Heart of Global Expansion Plans for Indian Motorbike Giant Royal Enfield,” LeicestershireLive, December 1, 2017, at

[17] Ujjwal Dey, “Rod Copes Quits as Royal Enfield North American President,” BikerNet Blog, January 9, 2020, at

[18] Bill Roberson, “Jochen Seitz Takes Command as CEO at Harley-Davidson: What Might Help Turn Things Around?” Forbes, May 12, 2020, at; Dennis Chung, “From ‘More Roads’ to ‘Rewire’—Where Does Harley-Davidson Go from Here?”, June 22, 2020, at

[19] “Royal Enfield: 2020 Sales Are Falling 44 Percent,” MotorCyclesData, July 1, 2020, at Among the world’s top economies, India has registered the steepest decline in 2020, two-and-a-half times that of the U.S. Sameer Yasir and Jeffrey Gettleman, “India’s Economy Shrank Nearly 24% Last Quarter,” The New York Times, September 2, 2020, pp. B1, B5.

[20] Sameer Contractor, “Royal Enfield Interceptor Is UK’s Best-Selling Motorcycle for June 2020,” carandbike (New Delhi), July 30, 2020, at; Aime Szymanski, “Covid-19 Can’t Stop Royal Enfield’s U.S. Momentum,”MPN Motorcycle & Powersports News, June 30, 2020, at

[21] Dirk Edge, “Royal Enfield 650s in the Flesh: These Could Be the Sleeper Bikes Hitting the U.S. Market Next Year,” Motorcycle Daily, November 19, 2018, at Given the market success of the big Enfields, it was not long before specialist suppliers began offering performance enhancements. John Nutting, “Enfield of Dreams,” Classic Motorcycle Mechanics, September 2020, pp. 44-50.

[22] Although other sources cite a lesser number of overall wins, the total of 43 is provided in the authoritative history by Stuart Barker, TT Century: One Hundred Years of the Tourist Trophy (London: Century Random House, 2007). Full details of Norton’s illustrious competition history can be read in Mick Walker, Norton: The Racing Story (Ramsbury: The Crowood Press, 2002).

[23] Steve Wilson, “Best of the Bunch,” The Classic Motorcycle, March 2013, pp. 39-45. See also the 50-page special feature “50 Years of the Commando” in Classic Bike, April 2018, pp. 37-87, with much the same assessment.

[24] This is an admittedly brief summary of Dreer’s career as custodian of the Norton name. For further details, see Mark Hoyer, “The Real Commandos—Special Feature,” Cycle World, September 9, 2010, at; Mark Hoyer, “The American Era of Norton Motorcycles,” Cycle World, April 22, 2016, at

[25] Representative of the early press coverage, see Ian Kerr, “Stuart Garner, the New Face of Norton Motorcycles,” Motorcycle Classics, September/October 2009, at; Gary Inman, “The Man Who Bought the Brand—CW Interview,” Cycle World, September 9, 2010, at For a first-hand account of ordering a Commando at the 2009 Birmingham show, see the interview with Simon Jefferies, “Nice Bike, Mister,” Classic Bike, June 2010, pp. 8-9. For an early heads-up on troubles to come, see Mick Duckworth, “Norton: What’s Happening?” Classic Bike, July 2011, p. 11.

[26] E.g., Rod Ker, “Norton Commando 961 Review,” The Telegraph, November 5, 2010, at Things didn’t improve over time. See Mark Hoyer, “2015 Norton Commando 961 Sport Review,” Cycle World, April 21, 2016, at

[27] “Norton Motorcycles Relocating World Headquarters, Manufacturing Facilities to Donington Hall,” RW: Roadracing World and Motorcycle Technology, March 13, 2013, at Given the focus of this article, Stuart Garner’s other involvements—setting an unofficial speed record with a rotary-engined Norton race bike at Bonneville in 2009, bringing a Norton team back to the TT races on the Isle of Man, building a handful of super-expensive 2000cc V-4 superbikes—are excluded here. So too are Garner’s business interests in real estate, the hospitality industry, and financial consulting. For a fuller profile, see “Norton Motorcycles—A Great UK Manufacturing Recovery Story,” Director Magazine, November 9, 2015, at

[28] Simon Goodley, “Taken for a Ride: How Norton Motorcycles Collapsed amidst Acrimony and Scandal,” The Guardian, January 30, 2020, at

[29] See, e.g., Nick Berkeley, “Norton 2020: Eyes Wide Shut,” BIKERGLORY, February 18, 2020, at

[30] See the interviews by John Hogan with Stuart Tiller, one of the founding partners at Spondon Engineering, and Steve Murray, a major investor and for a time Norton’s director of marketing and operations, in “Norton Motorcycles—Was It a Fraud from the Start?” SuperBike Magazine, February 17, 2020, at and March 5, 2020, at

[31] Ben Purvis, “Norton: What Went Wrong and What Happens Now” Cycle World, April 16, 2020, at; Ben Purvis, “Former Norton CEO Must Repay Missing Pension Millions,” Cycle World, June 26, 2020, at

[32] Andrew Cherney, “Norton Motorcycles Acquired by TVS Motor,” Motorcycle Cruiser, April 22, 2020, at; Dan Sutherland, “New Norton Interim CEO Reveals Future Ambitions for TVS-Backed Resurrection,” Motorcycle News, July 1, 2020, at The new Atlas models are given a pre-receivership thumbs-up by Alan Cathcart, “Twin Twins: 2020 Norton Atlas 650 Nomad and Ranger Road Test,” Motorcycle Classics, March/April 2020, pp. 23-28.

[33] In addition to Royal Enfield, Jaguar, and Land Rover, the rights to BSA are also held by an Indian company, Mahindra. To date, no plans to revive BSA as a motorcycle marque have been announced.

[34] See the YouTube video posted by Stuart Fillingham, “Triumph Motorcycles in Trouble? The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back,” June 4, 2020, which generated over 1,300 responses, at

[35] Stuart Fillingham, “Norton, Royal Enfield, and Triumph: Survival of the Fittest?” April 24, 2020, at On the matter of Chinese ownership of the Norton engines, see Alf Gasparro, “Why Did Norton Motorcycles Sell 961 Engine Rights to China?” Revelator Alf, July 9, 2020, at

[36] E.g., the continuing fascination with McQueen’s motorcycle jump, well more than sixty years after the fact. See Phillip Tooth, “The True Story behind The Great Escape Jump,” Classic Bike, January 2020, pp. 28-33. And, of course, in 2012 Triumph did market a Steve McQueen Special Edition T100, capped at 1,100 examples.

[37] If the Japanese manufacturers can be taken as an early indicator, electric power may not represent the future primary power source for motorcycles, as is currently assumed. See  Simon Hancocks, “Japanese Scientists Turn Water and Light into Fuel,” VisorDown, June 18, 2020, at

Image Attributions
[Fig.1] Promotional image of a Bonneville T100 – Bud Ekins Special Edition. Source: Triumph Motorcycles Website.

James J. Ward is Professor of History at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA. His degrees are from Middlebury College and New York University. His enthusiasm for British motorcycles began when he over-wintered in a fraternity house room with a DBD34 Gold Star and became permanent with the subsequent acquisition of a Velocette Thruxton (in the days when British singles were being given away). Both were relinquished many years ago, at prices that are painful to contemplate given what these classics now command in the marketplace. The old adage once more, “if I only knew then…”

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  1. Excellent, thoughtful and detailed article. Thank you.

    The continued success of Ferrari, Brough and Vincent in the historic market, the success of Van Gogh. and Renascence masters, and currently exhibition of Artemesia Gentleschi, suggest that some works of art outlast their generation.

    That seems to be true of the large capacity British bikes. It’s unfortunate that the parallel twin was chosen, rather than persisting with the inline Vee twin, for bad reasons of ease of packaging in existing singles frames, and the failure of Turner to cool the rear cylinders of his Square Four. For that. reason, it may be that projects like the Irving Vincent may succeed and replace the vibrators in future markets, but ars really is longa than vita brevis, as Hippocrates said. That doesn’t quite fit with what he meant, but it will do to make the point that succeeding generations go on to value, for example Hildegard of Bingen, long after the context of their work has gone. So with the Vinnie and Commando and sublime Short Wheel Base and Colombo’s engine.

  2. The best British twin has always been the Kawasaki, originally inspired by the BSA A10 in the sixties, and now the W series. The W series looks better than the current Triumph, which as the above photo shows is not lean but bloated and lumpy. Turner made the bikes lithe and light, and pretty reliable in the context of the time. But as has been so often pointed out, by the mid sixties the Brits were already in the process of the long fail that couldn’t be remedied by nice chrome and hand striping.

  3. So much for Harley-Davidson’s ambitions to establish a foothold in the Indian market:

    The interesting twist will be if Royal Enfield establishes itself in the U.S. market, in part by winning away H-D riders looking for something different and something less expensive. Maybe it is all tariffs and trade policy and currency valuations. Or maybe not.

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