Triumph’s Dapper Bonnie is Harris Tweed’s first venture into motorcycle culture, but is the collaboration of two classic British brands that much of a surprise?
Crofting families who created the woollen twills that kept Scotland’s Outer Hebrides’ cold at bay for generations could have had little idea their product would one day command a unique place in motorcycle history. Their innate skill at hand-weaving pure virgin wool into Harris Tweed, a name synonymous with unmatched quality and unquestionable provenance, was first honed in the 18th century.
Between 1903 and 1906, the tweed-making industry was growing dramatically and in Lewis, new spinning mills popped up to meet growing demand. The same, it seems, was happening 500 miles south but with the advent of motorcycles. A year later, in 1907, Triumph had established a reputation for high-quality motorcycles, selling 1,000 just two years after producing its first.
Over time we gain experience
Brian Wilson, Harris Tweed Hebrides Chairman, sees parallels between Triumph and Harris Tweed. “Triumph’s evolution has a definite synergy with our own. Businesses like ours evolve over time and we constantly gain experience in the best way to do things, which inevitably means we continue to do them better and better.”
The parallels between the two companies are plain. Both are widely regarded as the pinnacle of craftsmanship, quality and design in their respective fields. For Triumph, read Steve McQueen, Ryan Reynolds and, whisper it quietly, even English royalty. For Harris, think David Beckham, 007 and, again, English royalty.
From Everest to Hollywood
By the middle of the 20th century, the Clo Mor (Gaelic for big cloth) had secured its status as a timeless classic textile, as worn by George Mallory on his ill-fated trip to Mount Everest in 1924.
Such is the importance of the name and the brand there was even an act of Parliament passed in 1993 stating that, for a garment to be called Harris Tweed it had to be hand-woven by islanders and made from virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.
Anyone can manufacture a story… in our cases, we don’t have to
Just as Harris Tweed is now indelibly woven into the culture and geography of the Isle of Lewis, Hinckley in Leicestershire is a Mecca for Triumph riders.
‘Place’, insists Brian, is crucially important as a foundation for greatness: “The Outer Hebrides and Hinckley are known for what they produce and that heritage is crucial to the handing down of skills, the integrity of the process and the strength of the narratives. Anyone can manufacture a story, but in both of our cases, we don’t have to.”
“The luxury and complexity of the processes involved in making Harris Tweed and a Triumph have a lot in common. Both are handmade by experienced people, passionate about what they do and both rely on knowledge and innovation built up over generations.”
Experienced and passionate people
The same families involved in creating the twills in the 1800s and before are still involved today, with all Harris Tweed hand-woven on treadle looms by skilled artisans using a meticulous process designed to ensure perfection… just like the attention to detail and ‘check and recheck’ philosophy still very much in evidence at Hinckley.
Equally, it’s the ability to move with the times and adapt a tried-and-tested concept to the changing world that has set the two businesses apart from other manufacturers. Triumph’s beautiful classic bikes now boast the latest technology and Harris Tweed has aligned itself with designers and clothing labels to produce new classics.
That’s why the one-off Dapper Bonnie works so well. The copper-colour tank, blacked-out engine and copper decals are perfectly complemented by the traditional woven fabric.
Brian explains: “We’ve just had a biker jacket produced by Schott and a pair of Converse trainers, but the product is also perfect for laptop covers, accessories and women’s fashion. Home interiors are another big growth market.
“The crofters who started our journey and the visionaries who designed Triumph’s first bikes would probably be astonished if they saw how we’re working together today but would be delighted that the same integrity still applies.”