From Chopper to Desert Sled…
The Triumph TR5 Trophy debuted in 1949 as a 500cc off-road/trials version of the Speed Twin. Interestingly enough, the aluminum barrels and heads came from a generator the company had supplied to the War Department during WWII, while the “Trophy” name was a reference to the ISDT (International Six Days Trials), in which Triumph would regularly earn the manufacturers team trophy. The bike would be built until 1958, after which time Triumph switched to unit construction — thus, the TR5 Trophy is known as a pre-unit Triumph. Famous owners included none other than James Dean and the Fonz.
Enter Phil Lalemant of Blitzkrieg Machines, located in southwest France. Phil grew up in a household full of two-wheeled machines and was always attracted to old stuff, collecting everything from old clothes to fridges, radios, and shavers. So it should come as no surprise that those passions would intersect in a machine like the 1955 TR5 Trophy you see here.
Phil bought the bike nearly a decade ago out of California. He maintains that he’s not much of a mechanic, but fortunately he has talented friends like Alvaro at Cycledelic Garage always willing to lend a hand when needed — a big help when it comes to old British bikes. Originally they modified the bike as a chopper and kept it that way for eight or nine years.
However, influenced by Southern California desert sled maestros like Meatball (@hellonwheelsmc), Mike Davis (@mikedavis70), and Hayden Roberts (@helloengine), Phil decided to transform the bike into a mild ‘sled. While it might not have a front fender, bash plate, or reinforced fork of a performance-oriented build, it’s still great fun to rip on the street and forests around his home. Even better, Phil can switch the bike back to its old chopper look in about two hours in his garage — best of both worlds!
Below, we get the full details on this TR5 Trophy ‘sled, along with some lovely photos from An Lalemant (@anlalemant)!
Triumph TR5 Desert Sled: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Since I was a kid I have always been attracted by old stuff, I especially like the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I used to collect old clothes, radios, fridges, TV’s , shavers, whatever looked cool to me. I just liked the aesthetics of those times. When most of my friends had posters of Samantha Fox in their bedrooms I had posters of Marylin Monroe and Rita Hayworth, haha!
I used to ride my dad’s ‘64 Lambretta to school after he passed away and I told my mom you didn’t need a license for it. She didn’t know and never really checked if it was true. I guess she trusted me on two wheels.
We always had bikes around the house: mopeds, Lambretta, my brother’s early Honda CR, a couple XR 250’s and 600’s. I never had a license but always rode those things in the fields around the house. I guess that’s where it all started. I have never been into modern bikes though. I had a HD dyna FXDX for a while but sold it to buy a Panhead instead.
I have a small garage at my house but I am the worst mechanic, I only do minor stuff and change the “cosmetics” of my bikes. Luckily I have very talented friends…
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Triumph Trophy TR5 1955.
• Why was this bike built?
It’s just a personal project. I bought this bike almost 10 years ago in California, it was very badly listed on Ebay. My friend Dimitri Coste pointed it out to me as he knew I was looking for a pre unit. I jumped on the occasion and shipped it back to France where I live.
It’s gone through two main phases over the years: previously a 60’s chopper for about 8 or 9 years and since last spring this desert sled version. They both reflect the styles I really liked.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wouldn’t consider it a build as most of it is just swapping parts around. I have watched a ton of old desert sled pictures and added my own twist to it with what I had on hand and what my friend Alvaro at Cycledelic Garage in Santander – Spain had in his workshop. He’s my Brit bike guru, haha!
When it comes to influences, I have always liked looking at people like Meatball, from @hellonwheelsmc, Mike Davis (@mikedavis70), and more recently @helloengine. These guys make some mean looking bikes.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Again, I want to insist on the fact that I am far from being a builder! The beauty of this bike is that I can change the look completely in two hours with a few parts I have in my garage. No major fabrication came into play on this one. And whatever I couldn’t handle was always done by my good friend Alvaro @cycledelicgarage.
But it’s also very far from being stock. It’s got:
-TT bates seat,
-Bates style headlight,
-18 inch WM2 front wheel instead of the original 20 inch.
-Western type handle bars,
-Dual exhaust instead of the 2 in 1 and a few other bits and pieces.
-Old Wassel tank with a cheap decal
And other bits and pieces…
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Not really. Never crossed my mind at the time I got it. Sometimes my friend Alvaro and myself refer to it as “the chameleon” as it changes from desert sled to chopper in less than 2 hours.
• How would you classify this bike?
A “mild desert sled”, since it is not a “performance” desert sled . It doesn’t have the flat aluminium front mud guard, the skid plate, fork reinforcement… But I definitely ride it in the forests around my house though.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I am just always stoked when the general line of a bike is right. It’s like in anything else, less is more. Don’t overdo things. It’s easy to screw up by wanting to make something too fancy.
What I am proud of is that it’s a great runner, haha!
Follow the Builder
- Personal Insta: @phil_lalemant
- “Bike-only” Insta: @blitzkrieg_machines
- Photographer: An Lalemant, @anlalemant