Triumph’s range of retro twins use quality ingredients that are well prepared and simply presented. Much like the British breakfast staple. We took nine of them (the bikes) for a ride to Jacks Hill Cafe. Sauce anyone?
Triumph’s retro-ish twins (that’s nine bikes) impress across the board.
UP AHEAD, FRAMED by the ape hanger bars of the Bobber I’m riding, is a Triumph dream. Eight other Hinckley twins, ranging from the T120 you see below to the all-new Speedmaster, are swooping between summer hedgerows, heading for brunch at the Jacks Hill Cafe. From two engines – 900 and 1200cc – Triumph have created a diverse range that made up 46% of all their sales last year, and from the Bobber’s saddle it’s hard for an old giffer not to get dewy-eyed at the achievement. When the Hinckley Triumphs arrived in 1990, John Bloor made a decision to steer clear of Bonnevilles, for fear of tainting the new bikes with a leave-you-by-the-roadside, oil-leaking reputation. And now we have this – nine different Bonnies, each selling by the boatload both here and abroad. But exactly how big are the differences between them? Or are they, as sceptics would have it, all versions of the same thing with a couple of engines and a variety of different handlebars? A day getting lost in Northamptonshire’s finest back-roads with a disparate group of testers, and a couple of Triumph personnel, should provide answers. But first, time for a spot of brunch…
The granddaddy: Bonneville T120
We’ve only ridden 35 miles down the A5 from Triumph’s factory to Jacks Hill Cafe but that’s enough for Pete Boast to form an opinion of the T120. Boastie spent the previous weekend lapping Spa Francorchamps on a GSX-R750, getting on the podium with team-mate Guy Martin in a classic endurance race, so there’s a risk that the centrepiece of Triumph’s modern classic range won’t set his slacks on fire. But no, he’s impressed: ‘What surprised me is how good the brakes are. I’ve ridden Thruxtons before, but not a Bonnie and although it’s got twin discs I wasn’t expecting it to stop as well as this does. The riding position is fine up to about 80mph and then you’re really just holding on rather than riding it. But below that it’s great, I really enjoyed it.’ The fact that the T120 can charm a racer within minutes isn’t that surprising. The latest 1200cc parallel twin – introduced in 2016 – is a lusciously torquey device, that hauls with syrupy ease
from 2000rpm and feels decidedly sprightly by 3000rpm. There’s power at the top end – at almost 80bhp, the T120’s engine tune is second only to the Thruxton R’s peak – but that’s not where most road riders will live. The midrange is a far more interesting place to spend an afternoon, rolling out of every corner on a rumbling swell of torque. In a way, the cleverest thing about the T120’s engine is what you can’t actually see – the radiator for the watercooling is unobtrusive, there are no unsightly hoses (all the water channels are in the cylinder block) and all the ride-by-wire electronic gubbins is hidden away. True to form, Boastie has yet to appreciate the aesthetic genius. ‘The only thing that annoyed me was the gearing – the gap between second and third is so big if you feel third is labouring a bit and you change down, second then feels like it’s revving too hard. I wanted closer ratios. That’s not to say it won’t pull high gears, because it will, but if you want to be ready to accelerate at 30 or 40mph I was never sure what gear to be in. ‘But I would consider having one of these – I could see myself using it as everyday transport. Obviously it would struggle on hard rides because the suspension is soft and the 18in front wheel makes the steering a bit slow, but for everything else it would be lovely.’
Don’t mock until you’ve tried them: Bobber and Bobber Black
There’s an element of subterfuge to all these bikes, radiating olde worlde charm yet packing ride-by-wire throttles and cutting edge engine design. But the Bobbers take this deception to the next level. With a silhouette of a bobbed (ie rear chopped down) post war classic, they even appear to have a solid rear end, so you’d expect them to handle with all the sophistication of a turnip. Yet the bespoke chassis works so well that on a smooth road they handle just as competently as the rest of the range – which is saying something. And the engine is a tweaked variant of the T120’s 1200cc unit that has more torque in the midrange and a throttle response that’s as aggressive as a Thruxton R in Sport mode. They even have two modes – Road and Rain.
‘I wanted to stop and get beaten up by a giant monkey’
After riding the standard Bobber (this has a 19in front wheel, a single front disc, and 43mm forks – the Bobber Black gets a 16in front, two discs and 47mm Showas), Dave Martin (Triumph-owning Bike reader) is impressed, but wary. ‘The seat is comfortable, it’s a pleasant shape, but a bloke my size can’t move around on it, so it gets quite uncomfortable quite quickly. The pegs feel like they should be further forward too (that’s an accessory option) so you could lean back and relax. At the moment they’re tucked up underneath you. It’s powerful enough though – I was at the back of the convoy leaving Jacks Hill and had to go some to catch up and it really shifts.’ Dave’s got a point about practicality – the Bobbers’ tractor seat limits range, as does the nine litre tank, and the optional ape-hanger bars fitted to our otherwise standard Bobber don’t help either. Standing in a layby somewhere in Northamptonshire (we spent much of the afternoon pleasantly lost), art editor Paul Lang is having no truck with such practicalities. ‘I’m shocked to say this, but the Bobber with ape-hangers is my favourite so far. Maybe I’m going through some motorcycling midlife crisis. I felt fantastic riding it. When we were all in a group I wanted to stop off in a village, start a fight and get beaten up by Clint Eastwood and a giant monkey, and then ride out of there. [For readers under 45, this is a reference to the film Any Which Way But Loose, starring Clint, a chopper gang and an orangutan called Clyde]. Maybe I’ve been suckered into a biking cliché but as a sportsbike fan and lover of fast nakeds, I really enjoyed both Bobbers.’ Dave is nodding, having just got off the Bobber Black. ‘The last time I rode anything like this was in the early ’60s. I even had the moustache to go with it. It’s a fun bike though – the throttle is so responsive after something mild like the T100 – you hit a bump, your wrist jolts and you’re up the road with a bark.’
Out Harleying Harley: The Speedmaster
This is the latest variant on the Bobber and feels nothing like them. Where the Bobbers are firmly suspended – too hard for comfort when we accidently head down a farm track doing a
passable impression of an enduro stage – the Speedmaster is plush. Where the throttle response on the Bobbers is hair-trigger sharp, the Speedmaster is almost as chilled as the T100. Grant Evans, who usually rides a T120, found the Speedmaster changed the way he rode: ‘The riding position is so relaxed it makes you feel that way – you sit there and chill, feeling the engine rumble away between your ankles. I was imagining myself cruising down an interstate in California – apart from when we went down that farm track.’ Boastie was next on the Speedmaster and had a few problems acclimatising: ‘It took me a while to get used to the footrests because they’re so far forward. And the handlebars… as soon as you’re doing about 60mph you have to hold on because it feels like it’s going to blow your hands off the bars. It’s not my kind of bike, but I can see the appeal – that engine has so much torque.’ The forward-control pegs caused problems for Langy too because he’s closer to the ground than proper humans. ‘It’s a lovely smooth motorcycle but I found the pegs too far away for my legs – it was a stretch. I love the handlebars though. When you really go for it your hands start pulling off the bars and you get that same thrill of hanging on for grim death on a roller coaster.’
The café racers: Street Cup and Thruxton R
We photographed these together because they’re both café racers, but there are more contrasts than similarities when you ride them. The Thruxton R is in the outer orbit of planet Bonneville, its engine tuned for power, track-quality suspension set-up for corners not comfort and a price that reflects exclusive componentry. Looking forward from the back of our twin convoy, you can spot the Thruxton rider a mile off – he’s the one who looks like he’s joined the wrong ride-out, hunched over the bars while everyone else sits bolt upright. When we hit the occasional main road, the rest of us are sitting up, pottering along, enjoying the sunshine and the bark of exhausts while Thruxton R man looks like he’s conserving energy for his qualifying lap. The Street Cup has the cafe racer look, but the riding position is nowhere near as aggressive as the Thruxton R’s.
Miles Perkins (Triumph’s marketing director) is most taken with the R’s 1200cc engine, which at 96bhp makes 17bhp more than anything else here, and close to twice the Street Cup’s 54bhp: ‘It’s just lovely – get the R into Sport mode and off you go, it rolls on from medium revs so nicely. I’ve not ridden one for a while and I’d forgotten about the view over the front end with the polished yoke… it’s so classy.’ But for much of the afternoon, the Thruxton is not the bike to be on. After yet another break to swap bikes, we turn onto an archetypal British B-road which squirms maniacally in no particular direction, its sole purpose being the entertainment of motorcyclists rather than going anywhere. While everyone else is having a ball, I’m tolerating it on the Thruxton R. Its suspension is too firm, there’s no room to let the engine off the leash and the speeds are so low my wrists are beginning to ache. The Street Cup, on the other hand, is in its element, with supple suspension taking care of the bumps and a mild racing crouch encouraging the rider to get his head down and go for it. ‘Next to something like a T120, the Street Cup has an aggressive look but it’s actually not at all intimidating to ride,’ says Langy. ‘And it feels so lively considering it’s got the smaller engine – you can use all that torque to keep up with the Thruxton R down roads like this, no problem.’ Dave Bent, who has done 4000 miles on his own Thruxton R, could also see the appeal of the Street Cup, but was more aware of its limitations: ‘It’s such an easy to ride bike – your feet touch the floor easily, the front brake is good, and the suspension is very soft and forgiving compared with the Thruxton R. Mind you, everything tends to feel soft compared with that. Compared with my Thruxton it lacks power and torque because it’s a 900 versus a 1200, and I’m surprised that it only has five gears. I kept going for a sixth… but it wasn’t there. It feels like an ideal step up from a smaller bike.’
‘Next to something like a T120, the Street Cup has an aggressive look but it’s actually not at all intimidating to ride’
Team humble: T100, Street Twin and Street Scrambler
By midafternoon we’re somewhere in Warwickshire and need to head back to the factory. With 20 miles of deserted B-roads and the occasional swoopy A-road thrown in before we hit the congestion south of Rugby it’s time for one last thrash. You might think the T100 would be overwhelmed by the task, but far from it. The T120’s baby brother feels like it’s been set up for these country lanes – the narrow tyres make it feel nimble, the wide bars make it easy to chuck about and the soft suspension floats over bumps without getting too out of shape. Like the Street Twin, Street Scrambler and Street Cup, it’s a bike that experienced riders can relish pushing to its limits without having the casualty department on standby. Obviously with only 54bhp and a chunky 213kg to haul about, the T100 is ultimately not that fast, but you only notice that when the roads open up. Along the tangle of B-roads we’ve been riding, it’s a giggle. ‘You say it feels set up for these roads,’ says Miles as we chat at some temporary traffic lights protecting a mysterious unmanned hole, ‘and it is. These are Triumph’s test roads round here – this is the kind of place our chassis guys will be running around. And though the T100s and Streets have lower power, the engine design is just as advanced as the bigger twins. The work
‘The 900 and 1200 twins are the most advanced engines in the Triumph range’
that went into them to incorporate the cooling and the ride-by-wire throttle and to get all that torque between 2500-4500rpm where most people ride, without completely killing the top end… that’s difficult. You could easily argue that the 900 and 1200 twins are the most advanced engines in the Triumph range.’ The Street Scrambler shares the same engine as the T100 but Triumph have worked hard to give it a distinct feel. Handlebars are higher and wider, the seat is taller, pegs are further forward, there’s a 19in front wheel, more suspension travel and uprated front brakes. There are plenty of off-roady extras too to finish the job – sump guard, chunky tank pads, large clawed footpegs with removable rubber inserts and a chunky brake pedal. Of all the bikes here it’s the one that’s easiest to sneer at though – you could argue it’s a fat bloke who’s squeezed into his son’s motocross outfit in a laughable attempt to get down with the kids. But it’s hard to maintain that attitude from the saddle as the Scrambler charges down B-roads, its longer travel suspension rendering potholes irrelevant and its extra seat height making the lanky lads feel more comfortable and giving everyone a better chance of seeing over hedgerows. And it handles – the Metzeler Tourance tyres work well up to peg-scraping lean angles and those wide bars make it hilariously easy to throw about. ‘I was towards the back of the group when I was on this,’ says Langy, ‘and I could see John and Boastie at the front pushing on, having a laugh and I really wanted to shove past one of the slower guys and get involved. It eggs you on.’ If anything though, it’s the Street Twin that’s the most surprising bike here. As the cheapest motorcycle Triumph make, it’s lacking frills – there are no riding modes, no suspension adjustments and no polished yokes. But it shares all the entertaining, easy-to-ride attributes of the T100, is 15kg lighter and still gets traction control and ABS. Parked next to something like the Street Scrambler it might look plain, but that’s not how it feels to ride. ‘I thought I’d feel a bigger difference between the 900s and 1200s,’ says Langy. ‘Obviously there is one, but it’s not night and day. And the Street Twin has been the biggest surprise for me. It’s so smooth and easy that I was thinking about my riding rather than what gear I was in. The suspension is supple and it holds its line beautifully. If someone was wavering and test rode one of those, they’d buy it.’
Traditionally, this is the point at which a finickity road tester picks holes in the bikes. But this test is different. It’s very odd, because after the ride there was an unnerving absence of negativity among the testers. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, each bike has a tractable, characterful engine, entertaining handling and decent brakes. They’re good road bikes. And secondly, every one is a charmer. Even the most hard-bitted testers came back smiling after every ride, whether because of the thudding speed of the Thruxton R, or the happy-go-lucky vibe of the Street Twin. No doubt some will still write off Triumph’s twins as faux classics designed by a marketing department, and if so we’d like to issue a challenge: ride one and try not to smile.
TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE T120Price £10,350 otr Engine 1200cc Power 79.4bhp @ 6550rpm Torque 77.4 lb.ft @ 3100rpm Dry weight 224kg Wheelbase 1450mm Rake/trail 25.5°/105.2mm Front brake 2x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper
Langy on the Bobber: enjoying his midlife crisisTRIUMPH BOBBERPrice £10,650 otr Engine 1200cc Power 76bhp @ 6100rpm Torque 78 lb.ft @ 4000rpm Dry weight 228kg Wheelbase 1510mm Rake/trail 25.4°/92mm Front brake 2x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper
TRIUMPH BOBBER BLACKBobber Black: the sporty Bobber Price £11,650 otr Engine 1200cc Power 76bhp @ 6100rpm Torque 78 lb.ft @ 4000rpm Dry weight 237.5kg Wheelbase 1510mm Rake/ trail 25.4°/92mm Front brake 2x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliperTRIUMPH SPEEDMASTERNew Speedmaster: impressed with its comfort Price £11,650 otr Engine 1200cc Power 76bhp @ 6100rpm Torque 78 lb.ft @ 4000rpm Dry weight 245.5kg Wheelbase 1510mm Rake/ trail 25.3°/91.4mm Front brake 2x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper
TRIUMPH STREET CUPPrice £8800 otr Engine 900cc Power 54bhp @ 5900rpm Torque 59 lb.ft @ 3230rpm Dry weight 200kg Wheelbase 1435mm Rake/trail 24.3°/98.7mm Front brake 1x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper Racer Boastie at home on the Street Cup
Thruxton R: by far the most extreme bike hereTRIUMPH THRUXTON RPrice £12,250 otr Engine 1200cc Power 96bhp @ 6750rpm Torque 82.6 lb.ft @ 4950rpm Dry weight 203kg Wheelbase 1415mm Rake/trail 22.8°/92mm Front brake 2x 310mm disc, 4-pot caliper
TRIUMPH STREET TWINPrice £7800 otr Engine 900cc Power 54bhp @ 5900rpm Torque 59 lb.ft @ 3230rpm Dry weight 198kg Wheelbase 1415mm Rake/trail 25.1°/102.4mm Front brake 1x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper Best value bike here? Street Twin is the leading contender T100: a surprising joy to thrash down B-roadsTRIUMPH BONNEVILLE T100Price £8750 otr Engine 900cc Power 54bhp @ 5900rpm Torque 59 lb.ft @ 3230rpm Dry weight 213kg Wheelbase 1450mm Rake/trail 25.5°/104mm Front brake 1x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper
If you’re 6 4in the Scrambler makes senseTRIUMPH STREET SCRAMBLERPrice £9000 otr Engine 900cc Power 54bhp @ 5900rpm Torque 59 lb.ft @ 3230rpm Dry weight 206kg Wheelbase 1445mm Rake/trail 25.6°/109mm Front brake 1x 310mm disc, 2-pot caliper