Kenny Brown, the “Wild Man” of motorcycle trick-riding is seen here tearing it up on a Triumph.
Or rebellious riders, I should say. Thanks to the The Jockey Journal for these amazing pics of the “Wild Man” in action. Seen above and below, “Wild Man” Kenny Brown toured the country in the ’60s putting on one man shows at Drag Strips with his incredible stunts– always on his trusty Triumph.
The British built bikes, like Triumphs, were coveted by American riders for their lighter weight– and for what some considered better handling than the American built bikes at the time. By the 1950s, more Triumphs were sold here in the U.S. than any other country hands down. Triumph had their own version of the badass big bike, and it’s the stuff of legends– the Triumph Thunderbird.
Kenny Brown favored performing his unique brand of motorcycle trickery on a trusty Triumph.
When Triumph released their 650cc vertical-twin Thunderbird in 1950– their racing legacy was off and running. Right away Triumph became the bike of choice for many serious riders– again because of its lightweight, speed and maneuverability on the track and off-road. They soon cemented themselves as an iconic motorcycle brand in the U.S., setting new standards for the rapidly growing sport.
The Triumph Bonneville bike has been an undeniable legend for over 50 years. It’s namesake is a tribute to Johnny Allen’s 193mph World Record run at the Bonneville Salt Flats back in 1955 in a normally aspirated 650cc Triumph powered streamliner called “The Devil’s Arrow”. 1956 brought an unofficial record at Bonneville for another Stormy Mangum-Jack Wilson-Johnny Allen streamliner, ”The Texas Cee-Gar”. Yup, these were Texas boys, and darn proud. They’d tell ya that Triumphs were made in Great Britain– made better in Texas! Obviously the Bonneville’s impact on racing was huge. It was an immensely critical building block for many motorcycle land speed world records and attempts.
Up ’til 1953, all Triumph Thunderbirds were blue. Americans wanted them in black, though, so the factory complied, creating a tougher-looking, U.S. only version known as the Blackbird.
Racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah held huge advantages– but there were also huge consequences to be paid if something went wrong at those speeds. If you remember Rollie Free, you know that back in the day, riders would strip down to just the essentials– fitted bathing suit, sneakers, goggles and helmet, in efforts to combat wind resistance and gain critical speed. Back around 1953, 18-year-old Tommy Smith was doing just that for a speed record attempt aboard a Triumph Thunderbird. The Triumph started to wobble, and disaster struck– he lost control of the bike at around 130 mph. Poor little Tommy ended-up with one catastrophic case of road rash that took two years to recover from. Since then, racers have been required to wear leathers on high speed rides at Bonneville.
Arguably the biggest boost for Triumph motorcycles came from Marlon Brando’s 1954 movie “The Wild One.” Riding his own 1950 Thunderbird, Brando played Johnny, leader of the Black Rebels MC in the film that arguably started the biker-flick genre.
James Dean is often knocked for attempting to emulate Marlon Brando by hopping on the motorcycle bandwagon– but that’s just not true. Dean had ben riding since he was a kid back in Indiana farm country. His first bike was a Czech built CZ (ceska zbrojowka or Czechoslovakian weapon factory in English). In 1948 the first series of CZ 350 cc’s appeared in the frame used by the 250 cc. The motor had flat pistons, reverse flow and a capacity of 358 cc. The top speed was underwhelming by today’s standards– 65 mph. When he later bought a new Triumph, Dean sold this bike back to the dealer.
James Dean on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause”, was a well-known Triumph TR5 Trophy rider, but pictured here he’s astride an old Austrian-made “Puch”. These bikes were sold in the U.S. through Sears Roebuck back in the day.
Triumph’s Bonneville celebrated its 50th birthday in 2008, and celebrate it did– releasing two unique one-off designs for the Bonneville each created in a unique collaboration between Ewan McGregor and Belstaff.
According to Triumph– The Bonneville still remains an indisputable icon – a symbol of rebellion and individuality – and still inspires loyalty and emotion in everyone that rides it. Today’s Bonneville is an agile, honest roadster – perfect for getting around town in style or blatting around back lanes.
Marlon Brando astride a British Matchless twin cylinder motorcycle– its ‘M’ logo badge is actually upside-down to resemble a ‘W’, which makes sense since it belonged to stunt rider “Wally” Allbright.
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