Joey Yedowitz builds a period-correct ‘sled down to the nuts, bolts, and washers…
The Triumph TR6C was the 1960s version of the company’s single-carb, high-pipe 650 scrambler. Not only did it perform the most iconic motorcycle stunt scene in cinema history — the jump at the end of The Great Escape — the TR6C was just the ticket if you wanted a competition-oriented bike that could blast across the Mojave desert on the weekend and ride to work on Monday, making it one of the most popular entries for events like the Greenhorn Enduro and Barstow to Vegas run.
The 649cc unit-construction straight-twin put out about 45 horsepower, and Cycle World raved about the bike in a period test:
“‘It’s such fantastic fun to ride,’ said the report, ‘with more hair on its chest than King Kong.'” —Motorcycle Classics
Our new friend Joe Yedowitz of Queens, NY has spent the last seven years working on vintage bikes, with the past five years focused primarily on vintage British iron. Though they aren’t his day job, bikes take up most of his free time outside of work:
“Most of the stuff I do is stock work, not really restoring trailer queen bikes, but getting good running stock bikes or period customs in roadworthy shape and back out there.”
Last year, he picked up the bones of a matching-numbers 1968 Triumph TR6C — frame, motor, and rear wheel — from a good friend and mentor of his, Hugh Mackie of Sixth Street Specials — a shop that’s been focused on vintage British bikes since 1986. Joe’s idea was to build the most period-correct Triumph desert sled he could– one that would look like a true survivor from the era, retaining as much patina, authenticity, and character as possible:
“I’ve also really gotten into period stuff, and wanted to do one 100% correct to the best of my ability, which is what the goal was with this bike.”
While there are plenty of repop parts available for vintage Triumphs, opting to use original and period-correct parts brought a whole new challenge to the project. Joe tore down and rebuilt the motor to stock spec, then outfitted the bike with taller/stiffer rear shocks and a stock C-model front end. After many hours and months of searching, he was able to track down an arsenal of parts like you’d find on a 1960s desert racer: original Bates cross country seat, Webco spark plug caddy/fork brace/air cleaner/tappet inspection covers, homemade bash guard, and even a NOS throttle donut designed to keep the rider’s hand from blistering.
“Aside from some replaced engine internals, tires/tubes, drive chain, cables, and wiring, this bike is 100% period correct down to the nuts, bolts, and washers. I have dug through enough garages and called enough people for ‘period fork tube drain bolts’ to say I have done the best I can with this.”
What’s more, Joe’s deep research into the ‘sleds of the era means this one isn’t just a sum of bolted-on parts — it has all the subtle trimmings of a true desert racer: side-fill oil tank, spare chain link stored on the lever to stage the brake closer and be kept there as a spare, crankcase breather tube doubling as a chain oiler, and Bates folding foot pegs modified to fit onto stock 650 Triumph pegs.
To top it off, Joe even managed to get his hands on an authentic AMA District 37 number plate:
“At some point, this plate was actually used in desert racing, which is pretty cool.”
Below, we get the full story straight from Joe, as well as more gorgeous photos from Alex Ortiz Instagram (@ay.ohhh).
TR6C Desert Sled: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Joe Yedowitz. I have spent the last seven years working on vintage motorcycles, with the last five years focused on vintage British bikes. I will keep this part short — this isn’t my day job, but vintage bikes take up most of my free time outside of work. I have a small workshop in Queens, NY that I share with a close friend.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
Matching numbers 1968 Triumph TR6C, stock frame and motor. I picked the bones (frame, motor, rear wheel) up off of a good friend and mentor of mine Hugh Mackie, the owner of Sixth Street Specials in the Lower East Side about a year ago. They specialize in vintage British motorcycles and have been keeping them on the road since 1986. Everyone in that shop has helped me out more times than I can count over the years, always pointing me in the right direction with these bikes.
• Why was this bike built?
To be honest, I built this bike for myself to spend more time dirt biking but it has sat all through this year unused. It has the opportunity to go out West and I think a bike like this will be at home over there and ridden a lot more, which I’m okay with. There aren’t a lot of deserts on the East Coast. Most of the stuff I do is stock work, not really restoring trailer queen bikes, but getting good running stock bikes or period customs in roadworthy shape and back out there.
As far as a putting together a custom goes, I don’t think many styles do a Triumph justice quite like a dirt bike, especially a desert sled. This style has had a comeback in popularity over the last few years, which is cool because in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s it was a big part of the history of the brand. I’ve also really gotten into period stuff, and wanted to do one 100% correct to the best of my ability, which is what the goal was with this bike.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The concept was a survivor desert sled, but not put up wet. I wanted it to ride like it would new in the 60s. A lot of internet research on these is how I pieced this bike together, looking at old builds and new, reading up on bits of info that are out there, and kind of piecing together what I could find, what I liked, and what I had laying around.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Aside from some replaced engine internals, tires/tubes, drive chain, cables, and wiring, this bike is 100% period correct down to the nuts, bolts, and washers. I have dug through enough garages and called enough people for “period fork tube drain bolts” to say I have done the best I can with this. It was built with the intention of preserving as much patina and originality as possible, which is seen in the original 1966 petrol tank “Alaskan White and Grenadier Red” paint and the rest of the bike’s components.
The motor was taken down to the crank and rebuilt back up stock. Suspension is a stock C model front end rebuilt, with taller and stiffer shocks on the rear. The bike has all of the parts which would be found on a 60’s desert racer.
This includes an original Bates cross country seat, Webco spark plug caddy, Webco aluminum fork brace, Webco Air cleaner (manufactured by Torque Industries back in the 1960s in North Hollywood, essential to cope with dust in the desert), homemade period bash guard, Webco tappet inspection covers, MCM high open pipes, NOS throttle donut (prevents hand from blistering) and a lightweight alloy rear fender.
A lot of small tweaks for desert racing are seen through the bike such as a side fill oil tank, chain link as a spare and to stage the brake lever closer on the controls, crankcase breather tube that serves as a chain oiler, and Bates folding foot pegs modified to fit onto stock 650 Triumph pegs. There is a Continental TKC80 on the rear, and a Shinko SR241 on the front of the bike for off road with a period look.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Light and torquey, I set the gearing up to that which would be found on a TT special. It has a lot of go right off the line, which is nice compared to riding a normal vintage street bike. The pullback on the top tree along with the entire geometry of a 60’s Triumph frame is my personal favorite; I think it feels and handles a lot better than most modern-day motorcycles.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The little details which most people might not pick up on are kind of my favorite. The number plate for instance, although minor in the grand scheme of things, is kind of my favorite piece on the bike. I tried a few things, a one-off “Bud Ekins” replica, old MX plates, and then on the internet saw someone with an old AMA District 37 number plate on a bike they put together.
This is a group that would run desert racing in CA back in the day. I tried to source one but no one had one they would part with. After enough digging around, this one was found — it came from someone whose father used to run District 37 races. After talking to him about the bike, he wound up mailing me an old plate and some NOS decals which make this plate up. So, at some point, this plate was actually used in desert racing, which is pretty cool.
Great job. I’ve got the bug for an old desert racer myself; but fear I’ve come to the party too late to pick up a starter at a reasonable (and for me that means cheap!) price. I would definitely go the same way i.e. preserving any dinks and patina its picked up along the way. Well done.
My dad used to ride 500 Expert back in his day racing Triumphs. He was the President of the Checkers Motorcycle Club back in around 65 I think.
He finished the 73 Barstow to Vegas aboard a Triumph and ended up 3rd 500 Expert. He just turned 88 and would love to have a Triumph again but they’re kinda hard to find.
You did an excellent job rebuilding this back to a vintage racer.
When I was a kid, my dad who rode a Greeves 250 , and I was riding a Hodaka Ace 90 and we had a friend who rode a Triumph 650 desert sled. We would head out to the hills around 3 Rocks out side of Tranquility,CA. I just remember the sound that Triumph made when he got on the gas. It was like an earthquake attached to an atom bomb. Those were the days. I’m 68 now and remember those times with fond memories.