Californian Road Trip on a Tiger 90

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Some classic motorcycle owners use their bikes for daily commuting, others for rides in the countryside at the weekends. Then some ship their bikes 3500 miles to another continent for a road trip!

Back in 2010, a group of twenty classic motorcycle friends in the UK’s Triumph Owners Club hatched a plan to visit the United States. Having done their research, they agreed that one rider, Martyn Kerwin , must travel ahead of the group to meet the bikes on arrival.

California was chosen as the destination and Los Angeles as the port to ship to.

To speed things up at Customs, Martyn was given power of attorney and arrived in LA five days ahead of the others. This ensured the bikes entered the US without any problems and that they were waiting for the intrepid riders when they flew in.

Shipping Container

To make the trip affordable, the group pooled funds and bought a shipping container which averaged out at £200 ($300) per rider, but included tie-down straps and cradles to support the bikes. The container left Liverpool, England in February heading for LA (after stops in places such as Hamburg in Germany, New Jersey in the US, and the Panama cannel). The shipping costs averaged £500 ($750) per bike. To comply with shipping regulations, the bikes had to be clean, drained of fuel and have the batteries disconnected.

One of the riders was Justin James, better known as the Tiger 90 man. Justin has a limousine business in the UK, but his hobby is everything to do with the Tiger 90.

Having developed a fondness for the “baby bonnie” after acquiring a 1966 version, Justin started to research the model. Eventually, Justin started a web site dedicated to the Tiger 90 which has a wealth of information for anyone researching Triumphs. Justin joined the group with his Tiger 90 to California for what would turn out to be a 3146 mile road trip!

“My destination intentions were to ride to the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Death Valley, and anywhere else that looked interesting along the way. I calculated on 3000 miles and did it all in 12 days (3146 Miles) some days we managed 360 miles,” said Justin.

Reliable Triumphs

Riding any big mileage on a classic can show up reliability problems, but the Triumphs in general and the Tiger 90 in particular have proven to be extremely reliable machines when serviced properly. Luckily for Justin, the only problem he encountered happened as soon as his bike came out of the transportation container when the bike developed a flat battery. However, after finding a battery specialist in down town LA., it turned out to be a faulty alternator. Remarkably, after a few phone calls to motorcycle dealers in the San Pedro area, Justin found the part on the shelf of Century Motorcycles.

Besides having the part, the owner let Justin use Century’s workshop to replace the alternator! Kudos to Century Motorcycles.

With the Tiger 90 back to its regular reliable self, Justin set off to explore California and parts of Nevada. When asked which roads were his favourites, Justin doesn’t hesitate in replying “The Monument Valley area.” Not only did he ride some of the smaller roads, where straight stretches were no more than 300 yards long before another series of sweeping bends, he also did a 20-mile off-road excursion! Basic off-road riding is not a problem for the Tiger 90 as they were ISDT (International Six Day Trial) winners from 1963 through to 1966.

Overall, the trip proved to be very rewarding with few problems. The only issue the group encountered was finding accommodation. In Europe, where they do most of their riding, the villages and small towns tend to be closer together with the result that accommodation is not hard to find. On more than one occasion, they found it was necessary to double back and head for a motel they had passed.

Last words to Justin:

“Everywhere I went there was a lot of interest in the bike, especially from older guys who had owned Triumphs in the 50’s and 60’s. They were amazed that I would even think of a trip like this on such an old bike.”

“Any regrets?”

“Regrets? . . .None at all.”

Further reading:

Tiger 90 Riding Impressions 

Indian Chief Road Trip

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