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Bonneville Bobber: Signed by the Artist Earl

Gnarly Triumph Chopper from San Pedro, Califa

Photos and Text by Paul De Gall
6/11/2010 3:07:41 AM

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A Pause for a Bit of Brit History…

As probably the mostly widely recognized English motorcycle, it helped to have a great name. Triumph motorcycles got that down right in 1886 when the company’s founder, a German immigrant to London, one Siegfried Bettman came up with the name change and began building bicycles. By 1902 he was hanging motors (Belgian made) in the spindly frames and producing motor-cycles from new headquarters in Coventry. Three years later, Triumph was making its own 100% motorcycles. Then they latched onto another famous moniker… Bonneville, the Triumph Bonneville now an icon even for non- riders, and as they say the rest is history.


By 1915, in the midst of WWI, they built some 30,000 bikes for the Allies as iron war horses. In 1923 the company sold both cars and bikes under Triumph, but the bike part of the company was bought by Ariel in 1936. WWII comes along and production spiked to over 50,000 machines for the war effort. Motorcycle milestones followed one after the other, the Thunderbird in 1950 (Brando riding one in the 1953 classic “The Wild One”).

marlon - bob t.

It was 1958, a year after Sputnik, that the Bonneville was debuted and it was one of some 48,000 Triumphs produced in the banner year 1969. Some 20 years of economic troubles, corporate wheeling dealing and politics resulted in the company going under in 1983. The new owner, John Bloor, revived the company in 1990 building a new factory in Hinckley with a whole species of Triumph unveiled in 1992. They would enter the US market in 1995 followed by a re-launch of the famous Bonneville in 2000. Over the next several years the company prospered thanks to high quality machines that attract a whole new generation of riders.


But for many the 1950s and 1960s Triumphs are the crème de la crème, the epitome of classic British vertical twins, the most desired being1966-70 dual carbed Bonnevilles. The homage to the ‘60s bobber chopper seen here is the creation of a Brit bike fan named Earl Kane his enterprise called “Cycle Art by Earle” and located in San Pedro, CA.


Earl built his first bike at the age of eight back in 1953. He used a 26-inch bicycle frame, spun on a pair of 20-inch wheels then bolted in a cast-iron single cylinder 1 ½ hp Briggs & Stratton motor he transplanted from an old Maytag washing machine. “It was direct drive and didn't have a clutch so you had to peddle the bike to get the motor started and when you came to a stop sign or a red light either you went through or had to turn the engine off. The first modification was to make the belt longer, add a spring loaded pulley (and reinvent the slip clutch).” Earl has been building and modifying bikes ever since with a special inclination to British bikes and in particular the Triumph twin.


“My first big bike build was a 1937 Indian Scout that I bobbed when I got out of the Navy,” says Earl. “While I’ve done cars and boats and now I’m back to bikes and fabricating custom alloy parts for them.”

Since Earl‘s been building bikes and custom parts since 1964 he was there when this Trumpet was new as the gnarly hardtail is built around a 1964 Bonnie powertrain placed in a TR-6 frame with an aftermarket hardtail rear-end mated to an equally classic Ceriani front end. The rear wheel is a Harley 16- inch wheel laced to a Triumph hub and that rear spinner knock- off was transplanted from a 1950’s Hildebrand sprint car. A 19- inch wheel upfront wears an 8-inch ’69 Triumph twin-leading shoe brake assembly. “The front brake works great but with the back break it helps to drag your feet,” laughs Earl. His own handiwork can be seen in the deeply and dramatically finned oil tank he designed and fabricated to match the original Webco 1960s finned primary cover. He also made the velocity stacks and the chain tensioner as well as the chromed steel pan seat. It’s doubled up with a liner underneath and those pads contain gel foam under leather. Earl says that with the combination of the springs, taken from a Stingray bicycle, it makes for a fairly comfortable ride even with the hardtail design.

Famous bike feature shot in the rain.

Spark is advanced via an original 1970s ARD mag so the bike runs batteryless with no unsightly switches to clutter up the bars. You’ll notice a very trick kickstart lever, Earl’s signature piece found on all his bikes. “The first one I whittled out of metal then had a bunch made by water-jetting.” Earl says the bike is usually a first-kick thanks to the mag. When the bike fires up, the headlight comes on and that headlight is a 1950s Appleton auto spotlight. “I use a lot of 1940-50s Appelton spotlights. They just make a beautiful motorcycle headlight.”

Asked how it felt to ride the bike, Earl says, “From bar to bar and to the beach it’s fine. It’s not exactly a cushy freeway bike, but I’m 62 and it doesn’t beat me up.”


While he specializes in Triumphs, he also works with BSA’s and the occasional Norton. His price range for building one of his gnarly bobbers runs $7500-15,000. If you bring all your own parts that could drop to as low as $5K. Can’t beat that.


His work has garnered attention including the Outstanding Detail Motorcycle Award this year at the prestigious 58th Annual Grand National Roadster Show. You can check out his other bikes (and some cool vintage sprint car photos) on his web site www.earlsbikes.net or you can call him at 310-218-2979.

"I'll race ya for pink, Earl," Betty said. "Whatta ya say?"

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