Saturday, September 23, 2023 ✦ Noon to 7pm

Pre-Unit Chopper

Words: Kurt Diserio - Photos: Alexa Diserio
  • 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit 650
    Built by Jeff Wichman
  • Shown at Glory Daze 2021
  • Published in Pittsburgh Moto - Issue No. 11
  • Sometimes fate has your back and offers you an opportunity you didn’t plan for. Sometimes that opportunity looks like a rusty old box of parts and a whole lot of work.

    The Triumph project you see here was born from a situation like this. Pittsburgh’s Jeff Wichman stumbled onto the beginnings of this 1952 Pre-Unit when his friend decided to sell all of his belongings and travel the world indefinitely. After endless research and some challenges along the way, Wichman was able to bring new life to a motorcycle that had been sitting in pieces for quite some time. The combination of problem-solving and creative thinking is a skill that needs to be exercised from time to time, and what better test than a classic Triumph? I talked with the builder about the process and story behind the bike.

    Where did this motorcycle build start?
    Jeff Wichman: I originally got the bike from a friend of mine. He and his wife wanted to travel to Venezuela on motorcycles, so they bought a pair of Suzuki DR650 street and trail bikes. He was selling all of his stuff so they didn’t have to move it. To get some extra money for the trip, he asked if I wanted to buy an old Triumph that was sitting in their basement for twenty-five years or so. They had this frame, the engine, and some odds and ends. I cobbled the parts together and built this bike out of those pieces.

    Very interesting backstory. Was the couple able to do the trip?
    JW: They rode from Pittsburgh to Venezuela and back. After that, they went from here to the Arctic Circle and back, all around the continent of Africa, and now they’re living in Slovenia.
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    What was the timeline and how did the build process go?
    JW: I got it done in early 2020. Triumphs are difficult to build because anything you need takes four weeks to get, so you almost have to build two bikes at once in order to occupy your mind. This probably took a year and a half to finish. It was really a big research project for me after getting a box of parts and not knowing where everything goes.

    As far as the process, it was a rusty mess at the start. I got three big Rubbermaid totes and the frame. The engine was stuck, so I had to beat the pistons out of it. There’s a guy down off of Route 79 with a shop called JRD Cycles who sells a lot of old Triumph parts. I had him do the engine and transmission work. He has a history of racing flat track, so when he puts something together, it’s correct.

    Wicked Stitch in Sewickley did the seat. For the paint, Lucky Strike Designs did the tank, and Palermo Auto Body painted the frame and some small pieces. It was nice to meet local guys who would help me out.

    One neat part that can get overlooked is the billet aluminum rear fender mount that’s hidden under the frame. I fabbed up an idea, and a local machinist did that and the little spring mounts for me.

    Did you have a past with motorcycles that led you in this direction?
    JW: I’ve been into motorcycle racing and used to race carts and the GNCC series. I raced SuperMoto for a little bit, too. I got hurt a lot, so I started doing this as a side project. I’d love to build hot rods, but the garage is too small. Motorcycles fit the space well, so I figured I’d try it when this just kind of fell into my lap.
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Was there anything interesting you learned during the build?
    JW: One cool part about this was when I was rifling through the parts and found old receipts from 1970. The guy I bought it from had originally purchased it from a widow, and the man that passed away was in the process of building an Easyrider style chopper years ago. Unfortunately, he must have passed away before he could finish it. I’m still finding receipts from Butler Cycle for things like $1.50 cables. Some of the parts on this were from this original owner, like the clutch cover and exhaust pipes. It was pretty cool to find the old receipts, especially when you can’t even get a candy bar for the price he was getting some parts for back then.

    Were there any challenges worth mentioning?
    JW: I had to make the front headlight mount about five times until I got what I wanted. I also had to make the rear fender brackets a couple of times. I don’t have the fancy equipment, so I constructed the mount for the speedometer using straight stock that was twisted for rigidity. It’s like that on all of the mounts, just pieces of straight stock that I twisted and bent into place. Really, all I had was a MIG welder, a grinder, and a drill.

    Any plans for another Triumph build?
    JW: I have another Pre-Unit but with a swingarm frame. I’ll probably make it a slightly more modern street tracker look that I could use as a daily rider – a different style than this. At least that’s the idea. I think eventually I’d like to build my own frame, but I’m not to that point just yet.
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
    Glory Daze Motorcycle Show Pittsburgh Wichman 1952 Triumph Pre-Unit Chopper
  • 1952 TRIUMPH PRE-UNIT 650
  • Built by JEFF WICHMAN
  • Originally published by PITTSBURGH MOTO
  • Words by KURT DISERIO
  • Photos by ALEXA DISERIO
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