Triumph Tiger 90

Riding Impressions

A 1964 Tiger 90. (Note: The cylinder on the original machine was painted silver.). John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com

 The Tiger 90 was an unusual machine. It was not a touring motorcycle, nor a sports bike, but it did have capabilities to do most things well. Compared to current motorcycles, the overall performance was excellent, with a top speed of around 90 mph and a fuel consumption of 80 mpg. However, it must be remembered that motorcycles in the 60s were not subject to today’s emission control standards.

The Tiger 90 started out as the 1957 Tiger 21 (21 being in recognition of the company’s 21st anniversary and not the purely coincidental size of the engine).

The T21 was resplendent in the bathtub bodywork. Unfortunately for Triumph, this style of enclosed motorcycles was not popular and it wasn’t long before dealers (especially in the US) started to remove the rear body panels to fit standard fenders.  Sales were reasonable for the Tiger (760 in the first year) but it was never going to be a large volume seller in the US with its long straight highway system more suited to large capacity cruisers such as the Harley Davidsons. In total some 30 examples were imported to the US, few of which have survived. (The machine featured here is a 1964 UK model.)

The appearance and styling of the Tiger 90, which made its debut in 1963, is reminiscent of its bigger brother the Bonneville; in fact the Tiger 90 is often referred to as “the baby bonnie.” The first of the Tiger 90s (1963) had the bikini rear bodywork, but this was ditched in favor of more classic styling the following year.

Riding the Tiger 90

Riding the Tiger 90 immediately reveals its family’s lineage with an engine that pulls strongly from the bottom but leaves the rider in no doubt that this is a vertical twin with lots of vibration.

Starting the Tiger 90 is easy, typically requiring a single kick on the right side mounted lever to get it running.

From cold it helps to tickle the carb a little to ensure plenty of fuel in the float chamber, but when the bike is warm, it is best to leave the fuel tap off and apply about a third of the throttle before attempting to start it. (Note: As with many older machines with a wet clutch, it is best to free the clutch before attempting to put the bike into first gear.)

Once under way, the Triumph is eager to get going up to the legal limits in most countries. The free revving engine encourages the rider to buzz it up to the rev limit in each gear; the only limiting factor is the amount of vibrations the rider is willing to endure!

The control positions and layout is conventional Triumph of the time with a right foot gear change. But the Triumph is a relatively small machine with a seat height of just under 31” (785-mm) which can make this bike seem cramped for riders over 5’-10” (178 cm). For smaller riders it is an ideal middleweight classic.

The four-speed gearbox is typical of the period and requires a firm selection, however finding neutral is easy on the Tiger 90. The bike feels under geared which gives the bike good acceleration but promotes high revs. The factory selection of gearing for this bike seems strange considering the Triumph will cleanly pull from very low revs.

Handling

The steel frame is pinned and brazed and comprises a single top tube with castings for the headstock and rear engine support which also incorporates the swing arm pivot. The rear suspension and seat are supported with a bolt on sub frame. The 1964 frame had a headstock brace which replaced the previous design in which the steel fuel tank was  used for a support (needless to say, this resulted in a number of leaking fuel tanks!).

With a modest 64.5 degree fork angle, the steering on the Triumph is relatively slow, and best suited to long fast corners. Unfortunately, the early rear dampers were softly damped to give a comfortable ride, which sometimes (depending on the rider’s weight) promoted a wobble.

The forks are hydraulically damped and work well, as does the Triumph mechanical steering damper.

The Tiger 90 uses single leading shoe 7” diameter brakes both front and rear which, once bedded in, offer reasonable stopping power.

For a small motorcycle with good performance (particularly the fuel consumption), with styling that any classic owner would be proud of, the baby bonnie takes some beating.

The original machines were offered with a number of optional extras including pillion footrests, a prop stand, QD (Quick Draw) rear wheel and a tachometer. Original price for the 1964 Tiger 90 was £274.20 ($452). Current value is between $5,000 and $7,000.

Further reading:

Californian Road Trip on a Tiger 90

Triumph 'C' Series Oil System

Triumph Motorcycles (History)