Saturday, June 15, 2024
HomeNEWSA tribute to Bob Trigg

A tribute to Bob Trigg

Bob Trigg, who died in February, was a modest yet far-sighted engineer who, having worked for BSA, Ariel, and BMC, helped give the kiss-of-life to a famous British motorcycle brand in 1967.

Twelve years later he moved to one of the Japanese giants, where his skills made a major contribution to their global success, writes Mike Jackson. Bob was the antithesis of self-promotion; you are forgiven if you’ve not heard of him but, for many years, he was right at the coalface of motorcycle design.

Prior to Bob’s death, around 2009, Mike Jackson wrote a profile. Here is an abridged version:


Bob grew up in the Birmingham area, joining BSA at 16 as a five-year apprentice, along with another motorbike-mad youngster, Jeff Smith. Bob first rode aged eight and, after joining the Solihull Club seven years later, competed in trials on a Bantam and, when funds allowed, on a peppier version in scrambles. 

After settling at Small Heath he upgraded to working on BSA’s famous Gold Star. “Gosh, they were heavy bikes!” He laughs today at the memory for, at 74, he retains his slim build. Starting as one of Beeza’s post boys he served time in many departments, finally arriving in engine development under boffin cum racer Roland Pike, a gifted character whose expertise he already admired.

It is fashionable nowadays to criticise AMC at Plumstead, BSA at Small Heath, Villiers Engineering in Wolverhampton, and so on, but for all their faults those dark satanic mills nurtured countless well-rounded, middle management personnel, capable of first class workmanship; Bob Trigg is a shining example of that! 

Bob found himself working on pre-unit high-performance twins, which, after he had left Small Heath, emerged as the 650cc Rocket Gold Star, yet another of today’s highly coveted BSAs. The Goldie phase-out also triggered Pike’s departure to work for Jaguar in USA and, in an unusual move, saw Bob move to Ariel – BSA’s autonomous subsidiary – where chief designer Val Page [whose sound designs are too often overshadowed by those of Edward Turner] had nearly finished the twin cylinder 250cc Leader/Arrow series. By British standards they were ground-breaking machines; a courageous break with Ariel’s range of traditional four-strokes. 

Reflecting on those times Bob confirms that Ariel was a very happy environment, despite that Selly Oak was dependant on the decisions emanating from BSA’s boardroom. Possessed by now of an excellent drawing board reputation he worked on the new two-stroke twins, as well as some other interesting prototypes, including a 350cc variant, and a 600cc lay-down 4-cylinder derivative. Neither came to fruition, due to BSA’s strangulation of Ariel in 1966. 

As a clean-cut young exec, Bob … was depressed by BSA’s increasingly malign influence, Bob “went across town” to BMC in 1963. Once inside Britain’s last major auto manufacturer, he admits he was not the happiest bunny; luckily though, from schooldays, he’d stayed friends with Peter Inchley, now working in R & D at Villiers. Peter introduced him to Dr Stefan Bauer, at which point it’s tempting to write…and the rest is history.

Bob clicked with Bauer, the deep-thinking scientist Dennis Poore had hired to head the technical side of newly formed Norton Villiers. Bob valued Bauer’s vision.  “Just because he wasn’t a motorbike enthusiast didn’t mean he didn’t know what was required!” A hastily assembled team from Villiers, together with some key AMC personnel from Plumstead, somehow got the firm’s new 750cc Commando Fastback designed, developed, and tested – in weeks rather than months – for its international launch at the 1967 Earls Court Show.

Yes, there were quality problems in early production, due mainly to the antique tooling they were forced to use, but, at that time, any large capacity vertical twin that didn’t vibrate was a revolution! The Commando kept Norton in business for a further eight years, scooping MCN’s Machine of the Year five years in succession.

The Roadster, which first appeared 18 months later at the Brighton Show, is surely one of the most handsome machines of all times!  That a number of Norton’s detail features were “lifted” by other manufacturers makes Bob smile; he takes it as a compliment.

Following the merger of Norton and Triumph in 1973, his next challenge was to incorporate an electric start on the Commando, now grown to 828cc, as well as repositioning the foot controls on opposite sides. Triumph’s stolid Trident required similar changes, plus a major re-style, resulting in the far more exciting T160. Technically minded readers will recall its typical Trigg trademark; i.e. a sloped engine. He also specified a sloping engine for AJS’s super little Stormer scrambler [on which your scribe finished all bar one of 30+ USA desert races…some 40 years ago].  A sloped engine – which is a Trigg trademark – often improves the appearance of a bike, for it usually produces a more simpatico side view.

Alas, in 1975, thanks to the unions, the government, and the company’s own mistakes, NVT was in deep trouble. No matter what fresh designs were urgently required the likelihood of them ever appearing was shrinking by the day. After reducing from 2000 employees to just two-dozen, NVT relocated to Shenstone.  Here, Bob rapidly masterminded the Easy Rider; a much under-rated moped, fitted with a Morini 2-speed engine. His next idea was that he and his tiny team should sell their design expertise to other m/c manufacturers.  Poore approved the wheeze, and the first effort was a styling brief from Yamaha’s European HQ in Holland for a sporty lightweight twin cylinder ‘stroker’.

You can imagine the delight of the Japanese when Bob presented them with what, fundamentally, morphed into the LC! 

It wasn’t really a surprise when Paul Butler – then working on product planning at Yamaha – suggested that Bob join it permanently. Although he was busy knocking Norton’s long delayed rotary into shape, there was very little significant hardware in NVT’s pipeline beyond that, so Bob promised Poore he’d finish the rotary before moving to Yamaha.

From 1979 onwards there followed a quarter century relationship with the Yamaha giant, either assisting with or taking the responsibility for countless new motorcycles, plus several consumer products.

Trigg’s fertile brain was flat out throughout the 1980s; Yamaha’s smooth-running FJ1100 was a typical manifestation, progressing via the FZ750 to the FZR1000. He is understandably proud of the 20-valve Genesis series and, later, how well the lateral-framed Delta Box concept was received. In his own words Yamaha’s range had now become “homogenous”’.

What a fascinating career.







Product News

Telly king Cole back on the box

Shed and Buried is back for a sixth series this summer, with Henry Cole, Allen Millyard and friends back in action, reviving vintage bikes,...