There are many different stories regarding how cafe racers came into being, but cafe racers are indisputably one of the first widely customised style of motorcycle. Rockers modified their British iron to reflect their individual style, but more importantly to build themselves a motorcycle that was as agile and as aerodynamic as possible, so that they could flash along twisting leafy country lanes and the newly built arterial motorways at the coveted average speed of 100mph. A Dave Degens’ Dresda Triton is arguably the world’s first super bike.
In 1961 Dave Degans’ Dresda Autos started to build and popularise hybrid Triton motorcycles. Dave was one of the first to see the potential of fitting a Triumph engine into a Norton featherbed frame, but although his creations were an instant success, it was only the beginning of what would turn out to be a very long and convoluted road. The world got a bit of a wake up call in 1965, when Dave and Rex Butcher used one of their specially prepared, (de-tuned for greater reliability) Tritons to win the very demanding 24-hour Barcelona Endurance Race. This was the springboard event that made the sixties a very interesting time for Dave. In 1967 a link was forged with the Rickman brothers to produce the Dresda Metisse, using the brothers Rickman frame and a tuned Triumph engine for road racing. Dave then went on to ride an Aermacchi for Syd Lawson and from this partnership, the Dresda Triton frame was born.
Throughout the next decade Dave worked on other projects, but in the 1970’s a classic revival saw an increased demand for Triton motorcycles, so Dresda reappeared and Dave Degans used the Tritons that he built to successfully campaign in classic racing events. As featherbed frames became harder and harder to find, his highly developed Dresda frame has been used for the majority of later Tritons. A man who has always kept an open mind, Dave went on to develop Dresda race frames for other engines such as Suzuki and Honda as the Japanese multi cylinder power plants began to leave the Triumph twin behind on the racetrack and the road.
One thing is clear, Dave Degans is a survivor, it is now more than fifty years since he began racing, then building, hybrid motorcycles, and he is still thriving today. I believe that this is true due to the fact that Dave was prepared to change with the times. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s Dave predominantly moved away from his legendary Triumph engine based specials to build and race Japanese powered Dresdas; he was successful too, winning many endurance races, then came the amazing revival of classic British powered hybrids such as the Triton. Word spread fast that the classic Dresda Triton was available again, and Dave has never looked back since.
Today, Dresda produce road and racing Tritons for customers around the globe, Dave’s custom specification Triton motorcycles come with 500cc, 650cc or 750cc unit and pre-unit engines coupled with the lightweight Dresda chassis. Having good front braking capabilities is incredibly important for a race motorcycle, so Dave developed an awesome double sided four leading shoe front brake. The ten and a quarter inch drum is reputed to be no heavier than a set of discs and callipers, and is actuated by twin cables. If you look over a Dresda Triton you will soon see that Dave likes to use parts that are race proven on his road bikes.
The unusual looking clip-on handlebars, which are known as Swan neck handlebars came from Tommaselli, and give this Dresda a wonderfully comfortable riding position. I could not believe how light this bike felt, it made my 1954 650cc Pre-unit Triumph feel like a sack of lead. Sat astride the bike, the Smiths clocks are easy to read mounted above the headlight on a simple aluminium facia. The 150mph marked on the clock is more than a little optimistic, but this bike is more than capable of passing the 100mph mark. I tried to buy a Dresda Triton in the mid 1980s, but could not raise the required sum of cash in time, a pity, as I had been drooling over Dresda Tritons for almost a decade by that point. Dave has built the 500cc Triumph engine that is slotted into this Triton using a lightened and balanced crankshaft, lightweight valves, bathtub shaped combustion chambers, and a set of twin 32mm Amal concentric carburettors. Timing is a Degens speciality, in this case a Boyer Bransden electronic ignition unit triggers a Nippon Denso double-ended coil. The one-off heavily modified clutch is another Degens speciality. Dave has also used his extensive tuning knowledge to modify the oil ways to produce substantially better oil flow to help keep the motor cool even under extreme duress.
While this Triton comes with some iconic parts such as an alloy fuel tank, clip-on handlebars and rear-sets that are typical fodder found on cafe racers and Tritons in particular, it is also blessed with some parts that were a revelation to me; this is the first Triton I have ever seen that comes with a primary belt drive for example, and another part that caused me to raise an eyebrow was the lightweight stainless steel exhaust system that has been coupled with carbon fibre mufflers. The Tiger 100 engine is hauled to a rapid stop by an awesome double sided, four leading shoe front brake and a conical rear hub. The stylish lightweight front wheel has been built with an Akront alloy rim and stainless steel spokes, the ten and a quarter drum brake at its centre is a modified part that is still available for purchase from Dave Degens, should you wish to modify your own café racer.
The Dresda frame, (which is made from Accles and Pollock T45 tubing rather than Reynolds 531 because of its greater elasticity) and Dresda box section swingarm were a further revelation; they gave this little Triton a taught chassis that inspired confidence through even the tightest of bends. The Tiger engine spooled up to speed far faster than any Triumph I have ever owned, a trait that is certainly needed if your cafe racer is to be taken seriously. The centrally mounted oil tank helps to give the bike a beautiful centre of gravity, as does the riding position. All in all, I was amazed that a bike that started its life in 1963 could be so much fun to ride, I have Dave Degens to thank for that! Long may his enthusiasm for classic machinery flourish and his talents remain in high demand. If you are in the market for such a motorcycle, Dave is currently building 500cc, 650cc and 750cc unit and pre-unit Tritons.
Thanks to Cotswold Classics for the loan of this motorcycle, without whose help I would not have been able to produce this article. www.cotswold-classics.co.uk They had this stunner for sale at £8,500 and ship worldwide. Sadly, I’m still not in a suitable financial position to buy a Dresda cafe racer for myself. One day, one day…
Written April 2010 by Steve Kelly Photography