But any enthusiast with foresight knew, even back then, these bikes told a compelling emotional story flush with timeless design elements and an engaging man-machine interface. And within the massive spectrum of classic British two-wheelers there were bikes like the Vincent Black Shadow, the Norton Commando and the Triumph X75 Hurricane. I appreciate all legendary British motorcycles, but I personally loved the Triumph X75 Hurricane.
On July 15th, 1992 I bought a 1991 Ducati 851 Superbike. This was my second Ducati, after selling my 1987 Ducati Paso a few days earlier. I had graduated from CU Boulder a couple months earlier and couldn’t normally afford a near-new Italian motorcycle, but I sold the Paso for $4,600 (a nice profit after buying it for $3,200) and the same dealer in Fort Collins, Colorado, offered me this bike for $8,700. A 1991 Ducati 851 Superbike cost over $12,000 new, and only a couple hundred were imported to the U.S. Getting a year-old 851, with 1,800 miles on the odometer, for $8,700 seemed like a deal I couldn’t pass up.
These Ducatis had an impressive spec sheet for the era. In 1991 there were only about four bikes offering fuel injection, two were Ducatis and two were BMWs. The 851 Superbike’s 90-degree V-twin also featured four valves per cylinder and water cooling. Horsepower was rated at 93 and weight was about 460 pounds. The Ducati 851 Superbike’s technology and performance was a big step up from my 1975 Triumph Trident and 1987 Ducati Paso. It’s capabilities on Colorado’s twisting mountain roads were, quite honestly, above my skill level at the time, though I slowly expanded my riding prowess. It’s red paint and Italian styling were also quite exotic in 1990s Colorado.
In 1990 I was in college at the University of Colorado at Boulder. My personal fleet consisted of two muscle cars and one vintage British motorcycle. At that point I had zero experience with Italian motorcycles, but I’d always been fascinated by Ducatis and MV Agustas. In November of 1990 I had an opportunity to buy a 1987 Ducati Paso from a BMW motorcycle dealer in Fort Collins. I remembered when the bike was new a few years earlier and this Ducati Paso was being offered at what seemed like a low price — $3,200.
I went and looked at it, took it for a short test drive, then bought it and drove it back from Fort Collins to my apartment in Boulder. One issue I spotted immediately was an orange tint to what was supposed to a be deep red paint. The dealer told me the bike was originally from Alabama and was kept outside. He said the paint had faded from the sun exposure. I later discovered rust throughout the clutch system that had to be drained and cleaned to get it to work properly (presumably also from sitting out in humid Alabama). I had the local Suzuki shop in Boulder perform the work, which they completed without issue.
The first bike I’ll be featuring on Two-Wheel Tuesday is a 1975 Triumph T160 Trident. This was the last year of the vintage Triumph three-cylinder motorcycles that started production in 1968. I’ve actually owned two of these motorcycles, one when I was still in Colorado and one after I moved to California. They were identical, right down to color (both had the purple-and-white gas tank). The Triumph T160 Trident was a fabulous ending to a tragic story.
In its final year the Triumph T160 Trident finally offered a 5-speed transmission, front and rear disc brakes and an electric starter. It was fully competitive with the Honda CB750, the Japanese motorcycle that essentially killed the British bike industry. Unfortunately, the Honda offered all those features years before the Trident, and by the time the T160 arrived its parent company was already in dire financial straits. The Triumph Trident T160 is the epitome of too little, too late. A few hundred stragglers were produced in 1976, dubbed Triumph Cardinals and sold to Saudi Arabia to serve as police bikes, before Triumph halted all production of its three-cylinder motorcycles.
At a recent press event I used a bandana on my head after driving on the track with a helmet. Normally I would wear a traditional hat in that situation, but I didn’t have one with me. The only head covering in my bag was a bandana, which I’ve used to protect my scalp from sun and wind for over 30 years. I usually wear something over my head after wearing a helmet, both to protect my scalp from the elements and to protect my appearance from helmet hair.
However, this was the first time I’d worn a bandana at a press event, and it sent the other automotive journalists into quite a tizzy. “Dude, when are we gonna start rappin’?” “Yo man, where’s the smack down?” “Karl? I didn’t recognize you! You need to get a tattoo now.” Get a tattoo?…
Anyway, these and several similar comments were made in good fun, though it reminded me I’ve been doing the corporate thing so long none of my current industry colleagues have an awareness of my motorcycling past — and all the “hooligan-ism” that goes along with it.