It’s not often you get to look around the Triumph factory in Hinkley – I should know, I’ve called and asked more than once. They just don’t usually do tours, I guess downtime equals lost production. But on the weekend of the Triumph Live event outside the heritage centre in Gaydon, that’s just what Triumph did. We bought our tickets for the event early and, out of the blue, we got an invitation for a tour of the Hinkley factory on the Friday afternoon before the event. Fantastic.
So down we rode, not knowing what to expect – and certainly not expecting to be able to access the whole factory with staff there, chilled out and helpful, to answer any questions.
We parked up among the descended masses of Triumphs and wandered over to an open gate in the side of the factory building. There we found happy, smiling employees showing us where to bung our gear and giving us a quick word about what we’ll see – then we were off into the despatch bay.
It was incredible to see row upon row of completed bikes, bagged and boxed and stacked on racking ready for despatch. And spares too – a massive row of 675 front and rear wheel rims – we picked them up. They were incredibly light for the power and stresses they have to handle. And fair play to the Triumph staff – as long as we kept to the routes they’d taped off, then they were happy for us to take as many photos as we wanted and handle gear that was laying around. Big thumbs up there.
Check out some of the labels on the boxes – wouldn’t mind one of those turning up on Christmas day morning!
The despatch and warehousing area took up two large storerooms. After walking through an area with some Daytona 675 engines and a few part-built bikes for us to look over, we entered the production area proper, the first part which was full of milling machines, polishers and ovens where they finish off the crankshafts, crankcases and cylinder blocks.
To be quite honest, we didn’t really expect to see this level of engineering being done in house. These days much of this sort of engineering is done off-site at fabrication plants with the parts being pulled together in an assembly plant. But here in Hinkley, the cast components are brought in and finished on site before being moved to the assembly line. We saw milling machines and polishing machines and a massive oven where 16 different types of cranks are baked. We also saw Rocket 3 and Thunderbird Storm cylinder heads in various stages of machining. As you can see from the pictures, Triumph laid on some displays of the various components for us to gawp at. I thought my Rocket III cylinders were big enough – until I saw the Thunderbird storm pots. They were ginormous.
And so we moved on to the best bit – the assembly line. There seemed to be four models being fettled when we went round – the Rocket 3, Thunderbird Storm, Tiger and (I think) a Street Triple. First off we just saw the engines – massive great lumps on a conveyor belt. Huge racks of components all labelled and stored in bins, trugs and shelves. Box after box of camshafts and racks of Rocket rear ends. For a Triumph lover, it was heaven.
Moving round a bit and engines and frames met and became recognisable bikes – Rockets and Thunderbirds in the earlier stages then Tigers and (I think) Street Triples. From conveyor belt for assembling frames and engines, they’re then winched onto an overhead system that holds the bikes at person height so the rest of the bike can be added – wiring, forks, wheels, tanks etc. etc. It all looked incredibly organised – and clean and tidy – but then I guess that’s what all production lines are like these days. I know I was lucky enough to visit the McLaren F1 factory down in Woking a couple of years ago and I was flabberghasted by how spotlessly clean their workshops were – white everything and literally not a drop of oil or tinciest speck of dust (that Ron Dennis must be a dream to live with – ‘Nah just leave it love, we’ll tidy up in the morning ;-)).
From there, we moved on to the the quality control area. You didn’t get much of a sense of what was going on there because there were a load of very shiny and very finished bikes hanging around ready to be put through their paces. There were one or two with labels on them mentioning faults and tweaks that needed to be made, so I guess their process is working and they’re picking up any problems before they leave the door.
All of which culminated in the bizarre spectacle of a bike on a bench ready to be bagged and boxed. They also have to partially dismantle some bikes for shipping, depending on where they’re being sent to. Apparently countries like Brazil put a hefty duty on complete machines being imported, so they have to be shipped over as kits, to be reassembled on delivery and avoid the import duty. Others, like the Rocket in the picture above, have to have bars, wheels and other sticky-out bits to be taken off and packaged separately so they’re a decent size to be boxed.
So there you have it. It was cock-on of Triumph to open their gates to us all – free of charge – and be so chilled about us wandering round, snapping, videoing and generally causing a nuisance. On the other hand, it’s great PR – what with that and the marvellous Triumph Live event, where even James Toseland’s band was excellent (even for two very cynical Yorkshiremen who were tanked up and very much looking forward to deriding him mercilessly for half an hour!)
Nope, it left me and my Ducati-riding bro with nothing but thanks for Triumph – and astonishment at the great job they’re doing to keep this fantastic brand and range of motorcycles going. Being in my forties, I remember the closure of the Meriden plant and I guess motorcycles were always something that were manufactured abroad. So it’s great to be able to go around a British motorcycle factory that, to me, make some of the best and most outlandish motorcycles available (I like outlandish) and to see British bikes being born.
Thanks Triumph and good luck to ya!
To finish, here are some video snippets I shot on the tour. Kinda bring it to life a little (but sorry about my mumblings over the top!) – and there’s one or two more on the YouTube channel.