Munson Flyer

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
March 1 2008

Munson Flyer's Rebuilt Triumph T120 BonnevilleThere’s something really satisfying in seeing a classic piece of British Iron re-purposed in a whole new manner. Take this sweet little flat-track style homemade bobber for instance, with an extremely clean Triumph T120 powerplant used as the main focus. Surrounding this gem of an engine is one mans idea of a motorcycle he could only envision in his mind. No drawing board or even a napkin with rudimentary scribbles on it. Beginning with the basics of a few lengths of steel pipe, an engine on the workbench and a bunch of parts collected over the years at swap meets, including a basket full of old Triumph parts. Even with all the above mentioned items, this bike began with a different starting point.

All things created usually begin with a vision, but the physical starting point is almost always a major component of the finished product. Usually, in the case of a motorcycle, that starting point might be the frame or the engine, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be one of the more obscure items. Sometimes it could be a token piece of sentimental value to the bike’s owner or an item that the builder has made and it’s just waiting to be used.

In the case of the Munson Flyer, that starting point was the seat. It seems this seat was to be originally mounted on another bike that Wesley McRadu built, but “it just didn’t suit the bike”. No matter. Wesley promised the guy who stitched the two-tone ostrich skin seat that he would use it as the basis of another project. This is that project.

Wesley has had a sweet spot for English motorcycles since the sixties and seventies – but he’ll admit he’s a Hot Rodder first and foremost, being involved with fast custom cars since he was around sixteen years old. After working in the automotive trade in one way or another all his life, Wesley is now fully retired and prefers to hang out in his well-equipped shop and work on his current project of chopping and channeling a Model ‘A’ Coupe, but once in a while he needs a break. “Building a hot rod is a huge job, I do the whole thing myself and sometimes there might be a hundred feet of welding when repositioning a firewall or channeling a floor or chopping a roof, and you just need to separate yourself from it for a few hours. You get so close to it, you can’t see what you are doing anymore,” Wesley said. “This is where a project bike comes in handy. They don’t take much room in the corner of the shop and it’s enough to get your mind off the car but still stay busy.”

Two years ago Wesley found a Triumph basket case at a swap meet “for a few dollars”. Shortly afterwards he bought a 1969 Triumph Bonneville T120 engine from John Ohland at Motor Parts Incorporated in Edmonton, AB. The engine, which came with Morgo 750 big bore barrels and racing cams, was then sent to noted Brit engine builder Geoff Abbott in Calgary for a complete overhaul from the crank bearings up.

Photo of a rebuilt T120 BonnevilleMeanwhile, Wesley had purchased an H-D style steering neck from Perry Cooper at Phantom Frames and bought a Donnie Smith single-shock girder front-end that would mount directly to the headstock. Using the headstock and front-end as his initial guide, he began bending up some welding rods in the shape he wanted as the frame for this flat track style bike. He welded a hook onto a tractor-trailer wheel, to hold one end of the pipe and used the radius of the wheel as his pipe bender. Good friend and fellow hot rod junky, Mark Blundell, helped Wesley bend the heavy-walled seamless pipe to match the shaped welding rods. Wesley readily admits that while the penetration is good, he’s not the cleanest welder, but he purposely didn’t smooth out the frame welds so his homemade frame wouldn’t be mistaken for an off-the-shelf purchase.

Next on the agenda was to cut the spokes out of the original Triumph basket case rear wheel and polish the hub and outer rim, have it chromed and restring the wheel with new spokes. With spacers made and an H-D wheel mounted to the girder front fork and Triumph rear wheel fitted to the frame, it was time to begin making the bike come to life. Using many of the swap meet parts he’d collected over the years, a few new pieces and, of course, lots of hand-made parts. “After I finished welding the tank, I made three trips to Calgary Radiator to check for leaks. The first two times there were a few air bubbles but I got it sealed up the third time.”

“The taillight is the right hand brake light from a 1929 Model ‘A’ Ford. It was the right hand brake light that illuminates the word STOP. The oil tank is an old Flat Head V8 oil cooler that I gutted and modified and the handle bar controls are from a Honda Goldwing,” Wesley commented. “They’re small and they use a one inch bar so they fit the H-D handlebar. I just dipped them in paint remover, polished them and rebuilt them. The rear fender is part of a 1936 Ford spare tire ring.”

“I ordered the pipes from British Cycle Supply in Wolfville, NS. Triumph TTs in North America only came with both pipes on the same side but they told me if I was willing to wait for three or four months, they could get me the double sided pipes that came on the TTs in England,” Wesley said smiling. “These are the pipes I wanted and three or four months was nothing, of course I waited for them.”

Close up photo of the T120 BonnevilleComing toward the end of the build, Wesley once again enlisted the services of his friend, ‘the zany Englishman’, Mark Blundell. “He understands the positive ground system but I wanted it to be a conventional negative ground so I could understand it better so we converted it to a 12-volt negative ground system using a Boyer Branston electronic ignition.”

“Landon Scott is a young apprentice painter who asked if he could do the paintwork and I didn’t have a problem with that. He first laid down the Mercedes metallic gold and then the black on top,” Wesley said. “Then it was off to Bruce ‘Von’ Ander for the pin striping and the name on the tank.”

When the job got started, Wesley didn’t have a name in mind, in fact he never gave any thought to it at all until a friend asked him what he was going to call it. Wesley thought for a minute and said, out of nowhere, the ‘Munson Flyer’. Thurman Munson was Wesley’s favourite ball player and was the first team captain of the NY Yankees after Lou Gehrig, some 30 odd-years prior. Then Wesley smiled and said with a tone of amazement in his voice, “My friend was at a sports memorabilia auction and up on the auction block came two Thurman Munson baseball cards, so he bid on them and got them. He brought them over and gave them to me so I made them part of my display sign”.

The simplest things in life are sometimes the best. “The ignition knife switch is probably my favourite part on the bike. It came on a porcelain block but I didn’t think it would stand the vibration so I carved a piece of Rosewood as an exact match of the porcelain and mounted the knife switch on it. It reminds me of a telegraph switch from the cowboy days or a Frankenstein movie when the big life-giving switch gets thrown. ‘It’s Alive,’” Wesley said as he animated throwing the big switch.

Regardless of how this bike began; whether it was the seat, Wesley’s vision of a board track style bobber, the modified oil cooler, the knife switch or any other unique part, it stands out as one very cool Triumph-powered custom. MMM


Owner: Wesley McRadu
Make: 1969 Triumph
Model: T-120 Bonneville
Builder: Owner
Time: 2 Years
Name of Bike: Munson Flyer

Year: 1969
Builder: Geoff Abbott
Displacement: 750cc
Cases: Stock
Heads: Stock
Barrels: Morgo Big Bore
Carburetor: Two Amal 930’s
Air Cleaner: Velocity Stacks
Ignition: Boyer Branston Electronic
Exhaust: English TT Pipe/Cocktail Shakers

Year: 1969
Builder: Geoff Abbott
Type: 4-speed
Case: Stock
Clutch: Stock
Primary Drive: Stock

Builder: Owner and Mark Blundell
Type: Track race style
Rake: 37°
Shocks: Hard Tail

Front End
Builder: Donnie Smith Inc.
Type: Girder
Triple Trees: Donnie Smith Inc.

Front: Size/Manufacturer:
21” Harley-Davidson
Tire Make: Avon
Rear: Size/Manufacturer: 18” Triumph
Tire Make: Maxxis
Painting: Landon Scott – Metallic Gold/Black, airbrush
Bruce ‘Von’ Ander – lettering and pinstriping

Powder Coating: Top Gun Coatings

Electrical: Mark Blundell

Gas Tank: Hand built by Owner
Oil Tank: Flathead V-8 Beehive
Rear-1936 Ford Spare Tire Ring
Seat: Two-tone Ostrich
Handlebars: H-D Sportster
Headlight: Bates – Dechromed and painted
Taillight: 1929 Model ‘A’ Ford


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