Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Wednesday, March 12, 2014


           You may have read some of this stuff in a previous blog and may have seen the two photos I included too, but it may not be redundant for newer readers.  And this article is a little different slant on the Triumph brand.
     As a teenager, I was fascinated by Triumph motorcycles.  I remember reading catalogues from Triumph Ltd in England and staring at the beauty of those classic motorcycles. 

            In the Fifties and Sixties the Triumph motorcycle was the ultimate symbol of cool, outshining even Harley-Davidson as the postwar epitome of style, freedom and rebellion. 

            Triumph has had a recent resurgence, thanks in part to Tom Cruise riding one in “Mission Impossible” and Evel Knievel flying his Triumph Bonneville over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace.  

            I was at the tail end of my twenties in 1969 when I bought my first Triumph motorcycle. I bought it in Denmark

            I had just sold West Coast Publications, a publishing company I owned in my twenties, and I had a few bucks.  The guy who handled the printing for my company and I decided to travel Europe on motorcycles.   A meeting place, date, and time were set.   

            I flew into Frankfurt and took trains and ferries up to Denmark.  There was a method to my madness.  I chose Denmark because their sales tax was 100% at that time, but it didn’t apply to exports.  Consequently, I bought a new1969 Triumph 650 in Copenhagen for half price - the sales tax of 100% was deducted since I planned to export the bike to the states.  Bad deal for the Danes, but great for an “exporter.”

            After a quick trip to Sweden, I headed down to southern Germany, where I was scheduled to meet up with my friend at the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  

            I waited and drank good German beer for hours at the Hofbrauhaus, but, alas, my friend didn’t show up.  Months later I learned that he had discovered a warm bed, heated by an German girl.  He chose his ride. Who could blame him?  All I knew was that he didn't show up in Munich, so I hit the road alone.

            I traveled through nine countries on that great Triumph 650 experiencing a variety of interesting cultures as well as a variety of adversities. Week after endless week, rain or shine, I rode over cobble stone roads, through the beauty of the Alps, along the rugged coast of the former Yugoslavia, and through the beautiful green hills of Salzburg in Austria where the "Sound of Music" was filmed. But the ugly contrast of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany was shocking and one of the most depressing things I have ever seen.  But back to bikes...

            Steve McQueen actually made the Triumph name.  He owned dozens of them.  He raced a TR6 and did his own stunts in the movie, “The Great Escape.”  Who can forget the scene where he jumps the fence on that bike?

            Triumph marketed a line of clothing highlighting their association with celebrities strongly connected with the Triumph marque such as Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan, James Dean, Elvis Presley and particularly, Steve McQueen,
           Here are a few of the famous people who rode Triumphs:  Marlon Brando rode a Triumph Thunderbird 650 in his movie, “The Wild One.”  James Dean rode a Triumph TR5 Trophy. You may not believe this, but Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets, all owned Triumphs. Clint Eastwood rode a Triumph Bonneville.  Of all people, Bob Dylan rode a Triumph Tiger and crashed it ending up in the hospital.  Even Elvis was a Triumph guy, riding a Bonneville T120. 

            Many others either rode Triumphs or at least posed for photographs on Triumphs.  The long list includes Ann-Margret,  Anthony Quinn,  Henry Winkler (The Fonz),  Warren Beatty,  Jean Claude Van Damme,  Tom Cruise,  Carrie Anne Moss in “The Matrix,”  George Clooney,  Sonny Bono,  Ewan McGregor (an avid rider),  Paul McCartney,  Prince Harry,  Hugh Laurie, star of “House” on TV,  Jay Leno,  Antonio Banderas.   Even Rita Heyworth was photographed perched on a Triumph, but I can’t picture her leaning into a curve on two wheels.

            It’s been roughly 45 years since my first Triumph and I still have two in my garage, including my old classic 1969 Triumph 650 and a 2005 Triumph Speedmaster.  I’m probably too old to be riding around on two wheels, but until I need training wheels, I’m going to smell the pine trees, feel the wind, and absorb the scenery of the Sierra Nevada range from the back of a Triumph motorcycle.  I’ll wait until tomorrow to grow up. What's the rush...?

 Triumph photos I'm sure you have seen before.

Some time in 1969 and somewhere in Yugoslavia on the 650

Over 4 decades later with my new Speedmaster


  1. Hi Ralph, I recently became a follower of your blog and have to say, you take me back a lot of years! I dated Gail, "the girl next door" to your house in high school. My best recollection of you was your monstrous, muscular arms...I had never seen bigger arms. You were in the class a year behind me. But on to important things, Triumph motorcycles. After two years at UC Berkely, then UCSF Dental School, of course I needed transportation and so bought a used BSA 650. Had to trade it for four wheels when I went in to the Navy. As soon as I returned to Los Gatos/Saratoga and bought a dental practice I bought my Triumph 500. Removing everything I could, putting on upswept pipes, it became my key to freedom in the dirt. Fire roads all around northern California were the best places to get lost. Many bikes later, it was still one of my favorites. Thanks for your great blogs. Jim Powers, Los Gatos High class of '57.

    1. Hi Jim. Man, it's great to hear from you. One correction though, we were in the same class, '57. That was the best class to ever go through Los Gatos High.
      Gayle Treese is a wonderful lady. I still have contact with her from time to time.
      You mention a BSA 650. Those were great bikes. I had a BSA MX 500 and I too was running those trails and doing some hill climbing, including one hill that broke my ankle, but nothing was more fun.
      I know that you were a dentist for many years. Did you ever have a dirt bike rider who liked hill climbing, but got too far over the front bar and knocked his teeth out? I'll bet you've had at least one.
      Thanks for your comment, Jim. It's great to hear from you.

  2. Hi Ralph.
    I agree, Triumphs are great motorcycles. I never owned one, but have ridden a couple. My last was a Triumph 650 Trophy. I almost lost that one because I never could get use to the brake being on the left and the shifter on the right. I found myself in a situation where I had to stop rather quickly, so I tromped down with my right foot and slammed that sucker into low gear. Things were a littl hairy, but thankfully I didn't lose. That ended my Triumph riding. When I was seventeen I bought a 1947 Harley 62 from Dennis Giordono for 100 dollars. I rode the heck out of it, sold it to Jay White, who rode it over the bank on Hwy seventeen. Bent the front wheel all to heck and cracked the cylinder. He didn't get hurt, and managed somehow to get it back on the road it into Los Gatos, running on one cylinder and a bent wheel.My next bike was a 1947 Harley 45. That was a fun bile. I've had a few bikes over the years, my last one being a Yamaha 360 Enduro which I bought n 1973. That was a lot of fun. I finally gave it t my son who still has it. The last bike I rode was my sons' girlfriends Harley 1200. I think that was the size. Anyway, I felt a little too squirrely and haven't been on one since then. That was about 4 years ago. I would love to have one more bike, but I'm at the age where I break too easily.

    1. Bob - You're right! I can't tell you the number of times I've hit the gears when I meant the break and vice versa. My '69 has the gears on the right and the break on the left, while my 2005 is the opposite. I have to always remind myself which bike I'm riding. I remember dirt riding on borrowed bikes where I almost crashed a few times because of that difference. I also agree that we break easily now, so I'm cautious. Deer jumping out on the highway are the greatest danger up here.