Triumph TR6 Tiger Desert Sled

Triumph TR6 Desert Sled

The Triumph TR6 is one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time. Built from 1956 to 1973, the “desert sled” carved its name into history competing in — and winning — major off-road races like the Catalina Grand Prix, Big Bear Run, AMA Scrambles and Cross Country Championship, and the International Six Day Trials. A favorite of Steve McQueen, the bike starred in The Great Escape, disguised as a WWII-era BMW R75, and legendary stuntman and racer Bud Ekins jumped a TR6 over the fence in the movie’s most famous scene. The TR6 launched a whole genre of desert sleds that continue to be built, imitated, modernized, and otherwise interpreted to this day.

Steve McQueen TR6 Desert Sled
Photo by Cal West, June 1964 edition of Cycle World Magazine. Found via Selvedge Yard.

Today, we have a very special example of the breed — a 1972 Triumph TR6 Tiger 650 — brought to us by one of our favorite photographers, Nic Millan. Nic was kind enough to interview the owner, Jerry, about the bike. No surprise that Steve McQueen’s desert sled was the inspiration for this build, which was resurrected from the pear orchard of a local motorcycling legend and transformed into a 60s-style desert sled/scrambler.

Triumph TR6 Desert Sled:   Builder Interview

Triumph TR6 Tiger Desert Sled

(Interview conducted by Nic Millan.  Highlights by us.)

Please tell me about yourself and your history with motorcycles.

Like many kids I had a few old bikes growing up. In my 20’s I stopped riding bikes and started racing sports cars and raising kids. Always missed bikes, so on the way home from dropping my youngest off at college, I picked up an old CB350. This opened the flood gates to buying cooler and cooler “broken” bikes to fix up. I worked my way through a few old Hondas and kept my eye out for my next projects.

Triumph Tiger Desert Sled

What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

1972 Triumph TR6 tiger 650

Why was this bike built?

When I got back into bikes, a vintage Triumph was always at the top of my wish list.

What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

Two words, Steve McQueen. When you think of vintage Triumphs or anything cool for that matter he is the first person that comes to mind. The Desert Sled was made famous by him and Bud Ekins.

Triumph TR6 Scrambler Pipes

What custom work was done to the bike?

This bike was found in a pear orchard and was pretty much a frame and motor. Some friends of mine put it together and turned it into a running bike. I came along and decided the world did not need another pristine restoration. I had intended to do a full disassembly, powder coat the frame, polish up everything etc. I decided the scratches rock chips cobbled together parts were much more in keeping with the true Desert Sled mentality. First I basically removed all the 72’ parts I could and sourced 60’s parts from my friends parts bins. Rebuilt the forks, added some progressive springs. Simplified all the controls and electronics to just a toggle switch for the headlight. Fabricated mounts and installed high pipes with period correct “snuff-or-nots.” Bobbed the rear fender and replaced the front with an old school aluminum fork brace. Then added some Shinko trials tires and a saddle bag I got from a tack shop.

Triumph Desert Sled Pipes

How would you classify this bike?

60’s Desert Sled / Scrambler

Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

The fact that the bike was found in a local motorcycle legend’s field (Floyd Young) and was saved and put together with a bunch of free or cheap parts from friends. Using as many used parts I could find and leaving some age on them makes the bike feel more genuine to me.

Triumph TR6 Desert Sled Scrambler

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  1. A bike from the age when bikes-made-of-steel were ridden by men-made-of-iron! I like it a lot!
    Yes, I’m old enough to remember the “snuff or nots”. I’d forgotten about them for 45 years until I read this post.

  2. Make it real and put a coal shovel bash pan under the engine…check out the one on Steve’s bike.

  3. Lovely bike.
    I have a similar project. How can I get in touch with owner ?
    Thanks !

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