The Triumph TR6 Trophy is the motorcycle for which the term “Desert Sled” was coined back in the 1960s as a way to describe the bike’s popularity amongst the desert racing crowd in Southern California.

The TR6 Trophy shown here was recently rebuilt and lightly restored in Sydney, Australia into a period-correct desert sled with just the right modern touches to make it more reliable than the original and better suited to regular daily use.

Fast Facts – The Triumph TR6 Trophy

  • The Triumph TR6 Trophy was first introduced in 1956 as a part of Triumph’s range of parallel-twin motorcycles. Designed primarily for the American market, it was powered by an air-cooled overhead valve, parallel twin engine with a displacement of 649cc and it was largely intended to appeal to the off-road and desert racing communities.
  • Throughout its production run, from 1956 to 1973, the TR6 received various updates, including improved suspension, a stronger frame, and a unit construction engine (where the engine and gearbox are a single casing) introduced in 1963.
  • The most famous TR6 owner was undoubtably Steve McQueen, who raced his extensively under the pseudonym Harvey Mushman to hide his true identity. He also raced it in the International Six Day Trials (ISDT) on the American team – this event was a form of off-road motorcycle Olympics and TR6s riders won a number of gold medals over the years.
  • McQueen so liked the model that a 1961 Triumph TR6 Trophy was used, in German military disguise, as the bike used in the famous border fence jump scene in the 1963 film “The Great Escape.”
  • The lightly customized Triumph TR6 Trophy you see here was built by Steve, AKA Greasy Knuckles, an experienced builder who has worked with both Deus Ex Machina and Sabotage Motorcycles in Sydney. It’s now being offered for sale to the highest bidder on Collecting Cars.

Meet Steve – AKA Greasy Knuckles

Steve, AKA “Greasy Knuckles” is an industrial designer and qualified mechanic who has worked in custom motorcycle shops as a mechanic and custom builder. He does his own builds under the name Fossick Moto and contracts his skills out under Greasy Knuckles.

Triumph TR6 Trophy Desert Sled 15

Image DescriptionThe TR6 Trophy uses a very similar engine to the Triumph Tiger T110 but with a single carburetor, the “Delta” alloy cylinder head, and an 8.5:1 compression ratio.

Steve has worked at Deus Ex Machina in Sydney with Jeremy Tagand and now works at Sabotage Motorcycles with Giles Colliver and Andreas Dorr. If he is not building or working on motorcycles he’s racing vintage dirt track with The Jerkyls on a 1974 Honda CR250 Elsinore powered flat track framer.

A 1967 Triumph TR6 Trophy Desert Sled By Greasy Knuckles

The following was written by Steve Wong, the builder of this custom 1967 Triumph TR6 Trophy.

I bought it from an 80 year old guy that has been building Triumph choppers his whole life. It was in his back garden under a tarp. Some major parts were missing but the motor looked solid and the ‘69 frame and front end was in great condition.

The motorcycle I wanted to build was a street legal desert sled style racer. The Desert Sled is a specific type of motorcycle that was popular in the 1960s for desert racing and has since become a classic.

I started by stripping the bike down to the motor and frame so I could determine what could stay and what needed to go. To be honest this build was mostly restoring with a bit of customising.

All the “old man” stuff went. The large painted fenders, narrow bars, large switch blocks, enormous taillight, plate holder, pea shooter exhaust and massive head light.

Triumph TR6 Trophy Desert Sled 2

Image DescriptionDesert sleds were typically fitted with exhausts like this – open pipes with no muffler that existed up high to keep them out of the way of rocks and other debris. As a result, many riders carried life-long burn scars on their left legs.

I also upgraded the electrical system with a modern regulator/rectifier which also deletes the zener diode, and added a wiring harness for new Kellermann Atto indicators (as they didn’t have indicators from the factory) and new micro switch blocks.

The rims were too far gone so I replaced them with new ones and stainless steel spokes, while at the same time vapour blasted and painted the hubs. I also replaced all the wheel bearings.

To give the bike a more mx stance the rear shocks were given a 30mm lift. Pretty much every old triumph I’ve worked on, people neglect to change the chain/sprockets and related oil seals. In particular the gearbox seal behind the drive sprocket. This is a common reason for leaking triumphs.

I also included an oil catch can for the breather to reduce any pesky drops of oil. The clutch got an overhaul with new clutch friction and pressure plates, pushrod, clutch springs and cable. The brakes also got the same treatment with new shoes and cables.

I much prefer the TR6 Trophy carb set up with the single carb, it is easier to tune and visually neater. This carb only needed some TLC with an ultra sonic bath and a rebuild kit.

For the controls I went for new stock levers and new micro switch blocks and Desert sled handlebars with the distinctive curved cross-bar.

The tank had a great colour scheme which I kept and added a hand painted racing number, the inside of the tank was sealed to prevent any rust. I also changed out the tank rack to a throttle cable strap, this enables the throttle cable to run over the top of the tank for quick changes, just like they did in the 1960’s.

Triumph TR6 Trophy Desert Sled 9

Image DescriptionThis bike was rebuilt by Greasy Knuckles, a custom motorcycle builder who has worked at both Deus Ex Machina and Sabotage Motorcyles, and it’s now being offered for sale.

Overall, it turned out to be a fresh 1967 Triumph Trophy with a few tweaks that knocked-out the old man stuff and gave it a racier appeal.

The bike is now being offered for sale out of Sydney, Australia by Steve on the Collecting Cars platform. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

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Images courtesy of Orange Keith

Published by Ben Branch -