In recent weeks, the power of TMO to influence manufacturers has been demonstrated a number of times. Harley-Davidson took my advice and released the Iron 1200 Sportster, Indian took my advice and hired the guy responsible for the BMW R nineT. It’s obvious I am the clear-sighted genius the industry needs to pull itself out of its current slump.
PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:
– Let’s Tell Harley-Davidson What to Do
– Let’s Tell Indian Motorcycle What to Do
– Let’s Tell Yamaha What to Do
In addition to offering advice to Indian and Harley, my “Let’s Tell xx What to Do” series of articles has also imparted wisdom to Yamaha, who recently appointed me as honorary CEO to express its gratitude. That sentence may be full of lies, but let’s not get mired in the minutiae of truth. This time around, I’d like to focus my boundless sagacity on the dealings of the UK’s largest motorcycle manufacturer: Triumph.
Considering I never shut up about the Triumph Tiger Explorer I bought last year, you might guess I’m a little partial to the 116-year-old brand. And you would be guessing correctly. Many of the key points in my return to motorcycling a number of years ago were inspired by Triumph products. Despite its flaws, I swooned for the previous-generation Bonneville, and I still often wonder what my life would now be like if I had gotten that job in Bristol and rode a Speedmaster to work each day (NOTE: Yes, I am aware there are a lot of bad links in my old stories. I’m working to fix them; I am but one man).
Not to mention the family connections. My father-in-law rode a smoking, roaring old Bonneville when he was in college. When my wife was a young girl, she collected stickers of Bonnevilles and the like. And our stories aren’t unique; there are a lot of people out there – especially in Britain – possessing some sort of positive memory related to the brand.
‘Since 2014 or so, Triumph has been delivering hit after hit’
In very recent years (ie, in the last five), Triumph has been doing a fantastic job of building upon that good faith by dramatically improving the quality of its products. The current Bonneville T100, for example, is so immeasurably better than its previous iteration that it’s somewhat difficult to believe they both came from the same company. The new Tiger 1200, too, is quite simply a different motorcycle from the first-generation Tiger Explorer that inspired its aesthetics.
READ MORE: 2017 Triumph Bonneville T100 – Ride Review
Since 2014 or so, Triumph has been delivering hit after hit. So, my very first piece of advice to Triumph is quite simply: don’t stop. Keep paying attention to the little things. Keep working to provide reliable, high-quality machines. However, there’s always room for improvement, and with the company presently going through an evolution phase – in which it is adding TFT screens and making moderate performance tweaks but not actually delivering dramatically new or different models – there are some rumblings of concern that it may have run out of ideas.
Live the American Dream
To that end, I think it’s worth Triumph’s time and effort to focus a solid amount of attention on its largest single market, the United States. I feel Triumph should completely overhaul its heavyweight cruisers to better compete against the great machines coming from Harley and Indian at the moment. What Triumph has right now was able to outgun a twin-cammed Harley of 10 years ago, but things have moved on. Current Triumph heavyweights look outdated, have comparatively low-quality fit and finish, and no longer really wow in terms of performance.
Yes, the US market has hit a slump – one that’s unlikely to recover if Herr Trump’s trade wars come to fruition – and Americans’ tastes appear to be changing somewhat in terms of what kind of bike they prefer, but cruisers are still important and will remain so for quite a long time. Meanwhile, whereas Japanese and other European brands don’t necessarily have the “heritage” veritas that’s often important to a cruiser rider, Triumph most certainly does. It shouldn’t throw that away.
Meanwhile, Back in Europe…
I’d also like to see Triumph throw some weight behind an overhaul of the Triumph Tiger Sport. The Tiger Sport is one of my all-time favorite bikes, but for many years it’s been a “Oh, we also make this” sort of model. I often joke that Triumph only continues to make it because a number of company employees love it so much that to discontinue the model would damage company-employee relations.
But with the sport tourer market having evolved to consist more of adventure-inspired bikes than comfy sportbikes, Triumph is well-positioned to capitalize. There are two directions it can choose. The first is to use the recently overhauled Speed Triple platform, producing a relatively light, nimble, and fast continent-crossing machine – you know, a Tiger Sport that’s kinda like the Tiger Sport that already exists. I’m inclined to believe this is already in the cards and we may see it unveiled around the time of Intermot (first week of October).
In that scenario, I figure the bike will have a TFT screen and the engine tweaked to produce something around 140 hp. Expect that handlebar joystick thingy, as well as LED everything, and keyless whahoozits. Improved paint and various fixings would go a long way to vindicating the inevitably higher price tag. An electronically adjustable screen, integrated panniers, and heated grips as standard would also not go amiss.
The second, probably less likely, direction could be toward something bigger. Triumph could take the advice I gave in my recent Tiger 1200 review and abandon the pretense of off-roadability on that bike, making it far more road-focused. No need to resurrect the recently departed Trophy SE if you don’t want to (although, with BMW planning to update its R 1200 RT soon, Triumph may want to reconsider), but sportier fairing, aerodynamic panniers, and a 17-inch front wheel could help to re-envision the Tiger Sport. It also wouldn’t hurt if Triumph could find a way to get more oomph out of that 1215cc powerplant, perhaps pushing things toward 160 hp or so.
Related to all this, if Triumph really feels the adventure craze has legs (personally, I question whether the craze is burning – or has already burnt – itself out), it should go all-in with a true world-crossing version of the Tiger 800. Follow Honda‘s lead in its development of the Africa Twin Adventure Sports model and make a machine that can be chucked down tiny trails in the Carpathian mountains. Go crazy and don’t even use an inline triple for this particular model – rely instead on the grunt of one of the parallel twin engines used in the Bonneville line-up
Speaking of which, this suggestion is a little bit left field but I really do feel it could work: create a Bonneville touring model. This is not just a matter of throwing some bags on a Bonnie and calling it a day, but put the effort in to create a genuine touring-focused old-school-inspired modern classic. I’d draw inspiration from the look of a 1970s BMW R 90 S and go from there. Touring bikes have grown so impossibly large over the years, I feel many riders would take to the idea of a machine that harkens back to a less-intense time, whilst still delivering most of the modern amenities we’ve come to expect.
Lastly, I’d like to see Triumph continue to work on its dealership experience. Over the past few years, the company has been quietly improving things on every level and that has produced some fantastic examples, like Triumph Glasgow. I’m pretty happy with my local guys, Bevan Triumph, as well. However, I’ve heard tales from elsewhere (*cough* southwest England *cough*) that suggest there’s still quite a lot of work to be done.
Apparently – I don’t personally know, but have been told – this is also a real issue for folks in the United States where Triumphs are more often than not sold in dealerships in which the bikes compete for floor space not only with multiple other brands but also four-wheelers, snowmobiles, boats, and so on. That cheapens the feel of the brand and makes it difficult to convince someone they’re getting the premium bike that its price tag implies.