In some ways, what Triumph has done with its Bonneville-based “Modern Classic” range is pretty clever: bike by bike, it has slowly removed almost every excuse you could ever come up with for not owning one. Gone are the days of a model range that fills every possible nook, cranny, and niche; now, at least as far as Triumph is concerned, it’s about one platform doing it all.
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Does Sir or Madam want something that looks like it’ll go off road? Street Scrambler. Properly off road? Scrambler 1200. Something cool, perhaps as a second bike? Bobber. Oh, you need to carry a pillion, too? Speedmaster. Commute? Street Twin. Creaky knees? Bonneville T100. Lawyer? T120. Café racer to park outside a coffee shop during the warmer months? There are two of those. And so it goes on and on. It’s a bit like that Henry Ford quote: you can have any bike you want as long as it’s one with Bonneville genes.
“I don’t want a Thruxton but I want to go fast” was possibly the very last excuse that had to be removed. Hence, Triumph has built the Speed Twin for 2019: a Bonneville-based naked roadster.
Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s a Thruxton with standard ‘bars or a Street Twin on steroids. Triumph positioned it more as the latter rather than the former, but, interestingly, struggled to tell me the difference between a customer who struts into a Triumph dealership and rides out on a Thruxton, and one who rides out on a Speed Twin. I think, after much chin scratching, I’d boil the difference down to this: someone who cares about their image probably buys a Thruxton. Someone who really, really likes riding motorbikes for the sake of riding motorbikes probably buys the Speed Twin.
As expected, Triumph trumpeted on about this new bike’s relation to the 1938 Speed Twin. But the 2019 Speed Twin is not nearly as much of a revolution as its forefather because it’s mostly comprised of stuff we’ve already seen. It’s got the 1200cc liquid-cooled parallel twin from the Thruxton/Bonneville T120/Scrambler 1200/Bobber/Speedmaster, and comes with the “Thruxton tune” meaning high power and high torque: 97 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 83 pound-feet of torque (112 Nm) at 4,950 rpm. Where it differs from the Thruxton is Triumph has given it all of the engine mods made to the Scrambler 1200.
A magnesium cam cover, mass optimised cases, and a lightened crank and clutch assembly, plus other fettling, drops 2.5 kilograms out of the engine. The frame, too, has been lightened, as from the headstock down to under the engine where the exhaust catalyst sits, the otherwise steel tubes have been replaced with aluminium. The lightweight wheels, fork bodies and brake setup help shave another 3 kg from the front end. All in all, it’s 10 kg lighter than a Thruxton, and 7 kg lighter than a Thruxton R (dry weight is 196 kg claimed). Impressive stuff.
In person, it’s a nice machine to be around. It looks fairly muscular, and it’s got a bit of a hunch going on, rear up, front down, and you can see that line carried by the tank. That tank, by the way, has hand-painted coachlines, and the rest of the bike, too, is the of usual exemplary quality we’re used to. There’s brushed aluminium everywhere, including the mud guards, which are particularly nice. The line which runs from the airbox, across the cylinder head and down-and-round with the exhausts is pleasing to the eye. I’m not a fan of the black mufflers, nor the randomly chromed rear shock units (nothing else on the bike is chromed), but the “3D” dials are things of beauty.
Levers are adjustable as standard, and the four-pot, four-pad axially mounted Brembos have a matching Brembo master cylinder. Those bar-end mirrors are standard too, and all the lights are LED-powered units. The seven-spoke alloy wheels are gorgeous (and drop straight into a Thruxton). Cables? Braided of course. And naturally there’s all the usual electronic stuff you’d expect: riding modes, switchable ABS and TC, a fly-by-wire throttle and a USB charging port under the seat (but no room to actually store a phone). Everywhere you look there are nice touches – the grey painted cam cover, the stitching and detailing on the seat, the decals, Monza fuel cap and the smoked brake fluid reservoirs. It doesn’t have a “built to a price” feel at all, and dare I say it, I think the £10,500 “starting from” price is definitely reasonable.
‘It’s a bit like that Henry Ford quote: you can have any bike you want as long as it’s one with Bonneville genes.’
The clever part is that while the Speed Twin looks aggressive and hooligan-esque, once you’re sat on the thing the seating position doesn’t feel anywhere as pointy as your eyes have led you to expect. The ‘bars, like on the Street Twin, feel quite narrow, and sit you nicely upright, but upon inspecting the spec sheet, width is basically the same as on the Speed Triple, so I think the narrow feeling is something to do with the bar-end mirrors giving a sense of restricting hand movement on the grips. Footpegs are positioned somewhat sportily. They’re a bit further forward and a tad lower than on the Thruxton (if you care, ~40 millimeters further forward, and 4 mm lower), but definitely nowhere near as relaxed as, say, the ergonomics of a Bonneville. The seat’s an approachable 807 mm in height, and it’s got some sort of fancy ‘air channel’ inside it for comfort (not cooling); it’s definitely a nice place to park your buttocks. And just like the seat on the Street Twin, it’s made of some fancy materials that will withstand buckets, sponges and detergents.
Triumph has quite blatantly set itself up to deliver an “R” version of this bike next year. Perhaps. I can see USD forks with radial callipers, Öhlins forks, cornering ABS and TC, and maybe a tad more power. Not that this model is particularly lacking, mind. The conventional, 41mm non-adjustable forks are made by Kayaba, as are the rear shock units (preload adjustable), and it already comes on decently sticky rubber: Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIIs. I think the rear end would look a tad more bad-ass if it was a 180/55 tyre rather than a 160/60, but Triumph is erring on the side of handling, I guess. The front tyre is as you’d expect: 120/70. Colours? Three sets: black, red, or silver/grey. Silver or red will cost you an extra £300.
Everything’s where you’d expect it to be: throttle on the right, clutch on the left. I somewhat thought Triumph might’ve added cruise control, but alas, no. It’s not even an option; add it to the R version, I guess. The dials somehow manage to pack in absolutely everything under the sun: fuel range, two trips, engine mode (Rain, Road, Sport), gear position, odometer, fuel level, average and current MPG, this week’s winning lottery numbers, a clock, and tyre pressure monitoring (if fitted) – all of which is navigated with a single “info” button on the left switch cluster. The riding mode switch is also on the left, and – hurrah – there’s no keyless ignition system in sight. Interestingly, the fuel cap can’t be left unlocked like it can on the Street Twin, and while we’re on that subject, the tank capacity is 14.5 liters (3.8 US gallons, 3.1 real gallons).
Triumph claim the Speed Twin weighs 196 kg dry, so let’s assume about 215 kg fully fuelled and ready to go. That’s quite light, and when it’s moving the weight is obviously carried quite low down, and all that weight-shaving work no doubt helps matters, too.
A Speed Twin in Spain Stays Away From the Plain
Triumph chose Mallorca, the biggest of the Balearic Islands, to show off the Speed Twin, and the weather was typically sunny and warm. As usual, we had a handful of miles to get out of the way on A-road equivalents before turning off into the mountains – ample time and distance to attempt to tune into the Speed Twin’s outlook on life. Immediate impressions upon clicking into first gear and riding away behind ex-BSB rider Pete “Pesky” Ward were good. The clutch is light (it’s one of those “torque assist” jobbies, which makes for a light pull and offers some degree of slip) and the gearbox silky smooth. I set out in Road mode, which was livelier than I was expecting. The engine is the star of this particular show and that much was clear after as little as a mile; it was case of, “I want to pick up pace and go,” not “Hey, let’s kick back and look at the scenery.” Good stuff, especially as Sport mode was yet to be played with. The exhaust note is grunty and deep; I can’t fathom how they get it through noise regs.
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On fast, straight roads it’ll thrum along at 70 mph in sixth gear at 4,000 rpm. It’ll do that all day long, but Pete had other plans. Indicators flicked on and we were now headed toward twistier roads. It doesn’t take long to work out that just one finger’s enough to get anything you need out of the brakes, and the initial bite is strong, but not too strong. Some of the bike’s 200-odd kilos remind you of their presence when you really tug on the lever into a slightly misjudged corner or emergency stop, but then something else hits you: the suspension is set up pretty firmly. In other words, it’s meant to be ridden in anger. And that we did. The roads were now of the type where if you get it wrong and need a Plan B, it had better be a really good Plan B. The Speed Twin tips into corners nicely and rockets out of the other side in almost any gear, because there’s power absolutely everywhere in the rev range.
What’s awesome, though, is just how good the engine is. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be a lumpy, asthmatic thing, I had kept expectations low. There’s a bit of your brain that does the maths and comes out with: “big twin, won’t wan’t to rev much, short shift to keep it happy.” Wrong. It’s lively – really, really lively – and the more your rev it the more power comes out of it, right to the very top before it eventually bumping into the (very) soft rev limiter. Sport mode kicks it up another notch and the delivery’s even more aggressive.
Ride it Like a Dickhead
On these roads I was mostly hanging onto third gear, occasionally clicking into fourth on longer stretches between the endless hairpin corners, and using second in and out of the turns. If you switch traction control off, the bike will do lovely little power wheelies given enough right-wrist encouragement. I didn’t scrape the pegs once, and I don’t recall anyone else commenting about ground clearance. The weight balance, which is slightly front-biased (by 2 percent), makes the front end feel good and planted no matter what type of corner you’re railing through. I’ve no complaints about the forks – nor the shocks, actually – and the Pirelli rubber’s great, too.
Anyway, you get the idea, the Speed Twin definitely passes the “ride it like a dickhead” test, and it’s eminently clear this is not a bike dressed up to look aggressive, it definitely *is* aggressive and wants to be ridden like there’s no tomorrow. But that’s also where it falls down a tad. Having had all that weight stripped from the engine’s internals, the throttle connection’s a little snatchy at slow speed, and that’s not something I’ve ever had to say about a Triumph in the past decade. I found myself feathering the clutch somewhat on tight hairpin corners and even around roundabouts. But that’s the price you pay for an engine this big that wants to rev its chest-lumps off. A price worth paying? Yeah, probably.
Triumph claim that the 14.5-liter tank will carry enough juice to go 180 miles. They’re probably right if you intend to sit behind a lorry on a motorway, riding the draft in 6th gear. In practise, riding it like I did, the fuel light will come on at 81 miles, and the range indicator will tell you you’ve got 25 miles to go. I suspect that on a more normalish (ie, more law-abiding) run it’ll do ~125 miles before the fuel light comes on, and run out at 150 or so.
The Speed Twin’s competitors? Kawasaki’s Z900RS and a couple of those Boxer twins, I reckon. I can’t speak much to those as, frankly, I’ve not ridden any of them (d’oh), but I have spent time poking around them. As mentioned, the Speed Twin doesn’t feel like it’s built to a price, but its competitors do, somewhat.
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My verdict? I like it. A lot. I like riding it and I like looking at it: Triumph know how to build a bike that looks good and rides way better than the looks would have you believe. It does exactly what it says on the t(w)in. The other thing I like so much is it isn’t a bike you have to adjust to and spend weeks with before you finally “get it.” The Speed Twin wants to go fast, and will reward a quick, competent rider within a handful of miles. You shouldn’t buy a Speed Twin to commute around town on, though; get a Street Twin or something else for that instead. As much as I hate the word “bikers” (because what does that really mean?) the Speed Twin’s a bike for “bikers.” Highly recommended, assuming, that is, you don’t want to wait for the R version…
Rider: Jake Barnes
Height: 5 feet 9 inches