If you owned a Triumph Speed Twin 81 years ago you were in a very elite league – the first British parallel twin in mass production, and a design that would be imitated by almost the entire industry.
Triumph Speed Twin Yamaha FJR1300AE
Now, all those years later, the Speed Twin is back as the latest member of the modern 1200cc Bonneville range that includes the T120 at one end and the Thruxton R at the other. And in the middle is where it sits, almost. You see, the Speed Twin, while sharing its DNA with its siblings, is considerably different, with around 80 bespoke parts, and it has to be said, the best of the lot.
Why? For starters, it’s 10kg lighter, and that kind of weight loss is not to be sniffed at because it has been achieved by careful attention to design detail from front to back, and in the middle. To take the last point first, the crankshaft is an incredible 2.5kg lighter, so it gets on with the job quicker. A magnesium cam cover and a lighter clutch cover further bring down the net figure. At the front end, a completely new 7-spoke cast wheel design, coupled with top-spec Brembo twin disc brakes with ABS shave another 2.9 kg, and its rear counterpart lops off a further 1.6kg. Even the front down tubes of the frame, which bolt into place top and bottom, are alloy tubing, not steel, painted black to blend in with the rest of the frame. The swinging arm is alloy, and identical to that on the Thruxton.
With the engine in the same specification as the Thruxton as far as power and torque curves are concerned, the lower weight results in a more spirited performance as well as a more sophisticated ride, which is especially noticeable once you leave the stop-start of the city. There are three engine modes; Rain, Road and Sport, and although peak power is identical, the throttle response is progressively more aggressive in each mode via the engine mapping which simply whips open the throttle bodies quicker. You really notice this in Sport mode, which I used for the open roads stuff, and around town, Road is a better, smoother option. There is also switchable Traction Control, and of course, ABS. The noise comes out via a pair of reverse cone megaphone silencers, which despite being designed to conform to Euro 5 specs, emit a glorious growl, especially when stirred. Of course, it’s not the growl from the original 360 degree crank, but a mock-vee twin growl thanks to the 270 degree firing intervals. However if you’d prefer a different style of music, there’s a Vance & Hines exhaust system listed as one of the 80-plus optional extras. Other options include a quilted seat, knee pads for the tank (now there’s a real throwback), machined footrests and a sump guard.
The wheelbase has been increased 15mm and although the seat height is the same at 807mm, the seat itself is 10mm thicker, with the footrests set further forward an a little lower. I found the riding position ideal – a carefully thought out relationship between the fairly flat (tapered alloy) handlebars, seat and footrests that doesn’t put too much weight on
“The lower weight results in a more spirited performance as well as a more sophisticated ride.... especially noticeable once you leave the stop-start of the city.”
wrists and allows you to crouch slightly forwards. And the lower weight comes vividly into play once you start flicking the Speed Twin around – it changes direction beautifully. I found the KYB rear shocks, which look a little unusual and are adjustable only for spring pre-load, to be fine, but I thought the front end was too soft, and a goodly proportion of the travel (sag) is taken up simply with the rider aboard. Still, I am sure this could be remedied by playing around with the viscosity of the fluid in the nonadjustable 41mm KYB fork tubes.
A pair of traditional looking instruments sit up front, and in the section of each below the sweep of the needle is all the information coming from the computer, although it’s a bit hard to read on the run. It’s hard to fault the finish, which is exceptional, and there’s a choice of three colour options – Red, Silver or Black – although sadly, not the distinctive Amaranth Red of the original ’38 model. That would have been nice. According to the factory information, look and style headed comfort and handling in the requirements, and there has been careful attention paid in achieving that aim, even down to the Monza style fuel cap, which actually just shrouds a screw-in plug that hides underneath and requires the ignition key to remove. The only aspect of the styling that didn’t really grab me was the abruptly curtailed rear mudguard. I think it would look better with a longer guard, but none of my contemporaries agreed so I guess I lose that one.
My 300km ride included everything from the notorious Melbourne city traffic (where the feather light Torqueassist clutch was much appreciated) to the near deserted mid week country roads to Healesville, including the motorcycling favourite Black Spur and on to Lake Mountain, and the Speed twin handled it all with aplomb. The robust torque and willingness to rev made the twisty bits a breeze, mindful of the speed limit on this favourite haunt of both riders and police alike. Only once did I think I’d bitten off more than I could chew when I charged into a blind corner that was way tighter than anticipated, but the stupendous Brembo brakes, ABS and a bit of Body English brushed that brief exciting moment aside with ease. Overall, the Speed Twin, positioned in marketing terms as in the middle of the other 1200 twins, is in my opinion by far the best of the whole very impressive bunch.
Jon Munn’s superb original Speed Twin. Can’t I have a 2019 model in Amaranth Red, please?
ABOVE Visually reminiscent of the original Smiths clocks, the new Speed twin dials have a host of information which is displayed via the handlebar-mounted scroll button. ABOVE CENTRE Bar end mirrors actually work well, unlike the old British ones that usually managed to vibrate upside down after a few miles. TOP RIGHT The Speed Twin’s stumpy rear end and KYB shocks. RIGHT Super stoppers. 4-piston Brembos on 305mm discs.