Dodging ULEZ, vehicle tax and more with my old Triumph

My T140v Triumph Bonneville enjoys Vehicle of Historical Interest status, which means it's exempt from ULEZ, vehicle tax and more

Dodging ULEZ, vehicle tax and more with my old Triumph

When my motorcycle-loving grandad cashed in his chips, he left me enough wedge to fulfil a lifelong dream (if you can call aged 21 ‘lifelong’) in the purchase of a US-spec T140v Triumph Bonneville. Getting hold of one in the early 90s wasn’t as simple as it sounds, so I had one shipped over from Ohio and got it registered in the UK.

To be honest, it was a bit of a mess, the brown glitter flake tank and neglected brightwork made it look a bit like an iridescent turd but, despite the generic leaks, it was love at first kick and I vowed to never, ever let her go. But as time went on, it was obvious that the Triumph wasn’t really up for day-to-day use despite luxuries such as a new wiring loom c/o Steve at Baron’s Speed Shop, Mikuni carbs and eventually managing to keep more of the oil inside than out. So, alongside my Triumph, a succession of more modern bikes came and went until a couple of winters ago I decided to re-think the situation.

Having never had the luxury of owning a garage (I live in East London, innit) I’ve always had to park my bikes in various alfresco locations within sight of my dwellings. But leaving an old British bike outside under covers, however waterproof they claim to be, isn’t a good idea. I decided that I’d store the Bonnie at my folks in leafy suburbia and periodically commute on my 1998 Honda Fireblade where I’d exchange my Japanese weapon for a more sedate burble over the Surrey Downs, weather permitting of course.

I figured I could save some coin too. A bike garaged at a postcode not associated with random killing would reduce my premium, as would putting her on SORN for a few of the colder months. But the best thing of all would be to declare my bike, at over forty years old, a Vehicle of Historical Interest (VHI) and therefore make it exempt from road tax, the MOT and the bloody ULEZ.

The problem was that the bike was a US import and wasn’t UK-registered until it was imported in the early 90s: as far as the UK Gov was concerned, the paperwork didn’t stipulate it had been, and I quote, "built or first registered more than 40 years ago". In short, not entitled to its VHI.

Then dad came to the rescue, being a classic biker himself (fun fact: Steve Parrish bought his old Panther) he’d done some digging before discovering that the nice people at The Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC) would, for a non-members fee of £150.00, confirm the correct data of its manufacture and get it correctly classed as a VHI. A few weeks later I was forever spared annual road tax, the subsequent MOT and was free to pollute central London as loudly as I wanted, 24 hours a day.

So, how do you jump on the VHI bandwagon? Well, so long as the motorcycle in question is officially 40 years old and I quote (again) ‘no ‘substantial changes’ have been made to the vehicle in the last 30 years, for example replacing the chassis, body, axles or engine to change the way the vehicle works,’ you could be cruising around town as described above. Or not, as the case may be.

Look, I love my 70s Triumph but it’s a bit of a nail. It requires constant attention, the patience of a saint and more than a bit of technical know-how and/or a handy dad. If you want one, you’ll already know why and good luck to you.

As for everyone else, you may be surprised to learn that 1983 puts you within reach of Yamaha’s seminal 350LC or Suzuki’s insane RG250 Gamma, Kawasaki’s GPZ750 Turbo is for the taking (wait a year and GPZ900R is up for grabs too) as is Yamaha’s bulletproof XJ600 and, if you’re up for some muscle, how about Honda’s CB1100F? I’m not going to list every single bike manufactured on or before 1983, but if you’re up for cheaper insurance, no more tax or MOT and getting one over on the Mayor of London, you know what to do.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning if you’re being forced to pay 18 quid a day to ride in central London, Riverside Motorcycles in Bow might be able to help. My ‘Blade, on paper, didn’t meet the ULEZ requirements, though some bikes have the potential to be tuned into permissibility. Unfortunately, after a spot of fettling, it was decided that the only way the Honda would pass would be to spend £350 (or 19.4 trips) and have a catalytic converter
fitted which, reader, is precisely what I did. Join me.