Saturday, 2 April 2016

Never has so much been owed to so few…

As I thundered along a quiet road in the hilly countryside between Barcelona and Tarragona, those first few words of one of Winston Churchill’s most famous quotes ran through my mind and appeared to apply perfectly to Triumph’s new Street Twin, the first bike available in Hinckley’s redesigned-from-the-ground-up Bonneville range.

The Editor keeping good company - the bike's a corker, too

I mean let’s face it, 54 bhp from a 900cc motor sounds pretty puny on paper, doesn’t it? Such a paltry power output suggests sluggish acceleration, a laughable top speed and a life of extreme boredom for the bike’s hapless owner, particularly when the previous Hinckley twin offered at least a half-dozen more horses, right? Wrong. The power figure is backed up by a whopping maximum torque figure of 80 Nm at a ridiculously low 3,230 rpm; Triumph further claim that there is 22% more power all through the midrange. And while I can’t verify the exactitude of that figure, my advanced seat-of-the-pants telemetry system confirms the presence of a stonking midrange that’s meaty and juicy, like a good steak. The torque and muscular midrange combine to provide a surprisingly zippy and satisfying riding experience, whether you’re bounding from one set of traffic lights to the next in town or bombarding through narrow country roads. But more of that, anon; first let’s take a quick walk around the bike.
"When the big hand points to..."
The first thing that strikes the eye in the Speed Twin is how small and compact it is. Its equivalent in Triumph’s previous Bonneville range, the SE, looks positively gargantuan in comparison. The new machine is lower, with a seat height of 750mm, which makes it ideal for novice and short-statured riders: being able to put both feet flat on the ground when sitting on the bike is reassuring, even more so as the bike instantly feels much lighter than previous Bonnies, with a claimed dry weight of 198kg. However, tall riders might be at a disadvantage; I’m no giant, not by a long chalk, but for the first few miles I had the impression that I was riding one of these pit-bike contraptions. [Read on]

Although it looks very similar to that of previous Bonnevilles, the steel cradle frame is (like everything else on the bike) brand-new, and houses a water- and air-cooled vertical SOHC twin with a 270º crankshaft. Outwardly the motor looks even more “retro” than the previous powerplant, mainly thanks to its engine covers that closely mimic those of the Bonnevilles of the late Sixties and early Seventies, right down to the points cover on the alternator case. One good point is that the radiator isn’t the eyesore one might have expected it to be; in fact you hardly really notice it, which is helped by the fact that the coolant hoses are craftily hidden from view. The motor is coiffed by a petrol tank that retains the look of those on previous Bonnies, although it’s smaller, with a capacity of only 12 litres. Despite being down on capacity, however, you still have a range of well over 200km, thanks to a more refined and efficient fuel injection and engine management system, with a ride-by-wire throttle.
Now with added ABS
Once you’re sitting on the bike, you’re greeted by a large speedometer flanked by four idiot lights (left indicator and high beam, right indicator and neutral light) and featuring a large, easy to read LCD screen that’s backlit in a pleasant whitish colour. The information displayed on this screen is controlled by a button on the left-hand switchgear pod; it includes a fuel gauge, gear indicator, odometer, two partial tripmeters, real-time fuel consumption, total fuel consumption, distance to refuelling, traction control (which you can switch off or on by holding the button down for a couple of seconds) and clock. The speedo dial also features various other idiot lights, including ABS, traction control (when it’s disengaged), oil pressure and engine management. I’m disappointed that the screen doesn’t include a rev counter function, though. All the controls fall easily to hand, although riders with small hands might find it difficult to activate the hazard lights without inadvertently giving the throttle a twist; I ended up resorting to activating the switch by reaching over with my left hand, which may be a bit daunting for novice riders.

Another thing I noticed on the wide and fairly flat dirt-track styled handlebars were the mirrors. While they might look very nice, I spent both days of my road test faffing about with them at every possible occasion, but never quite managed to get them set up as I wanted. If this bike were mine, I’d think about replacing them either with the bar-end mirrors of the new Speed Triple or those from the new Explorer.

Peek-a-boo! Hunter and Uma liked the suspension. So did we.

Our bike was equipped with the “Brat Tracker” inspiration pack, which features LED indicators, an aluminium sump guard, different ‘bar grips, a mudguard eliminator kit with integrated rear light, a flat “bench” seat and, last but not least, a pair of homologated Vance & Hines silencers. The kit retails for 1,600 € (£1,245). I wasn’t overly impressed by the rear mudguard eliminator kit: it looks a bit too plasticky and doesn’t really suit the lines of the bike. The Vance & Hines end-cans, on the other hand, are a must-have accessory - they look good and sound even better.

And so, once I had walked round the bike a couple of times and had a close look at all the bells and whistles, I decided it was time to take the bike for a ride.

When I thumbed the engine into life I was greeted by a muted burble from the aforementioned exhausts. I instantly recognised the syncopated beat of a vertical twin with a 270º firing order. It reminded me of something but at first I couldn’t identify it. Negotiating the Friday evening traffic in the centre of Barcelona allowed me to appreciate the wonderfully light clutch and precise gearbox action, as well as the Street Twin’s nimble handling. I spent most of the time in second gear, with occasional forays into third when the traffic opened up a little, but the motor didn’t complain - in town riding, second gear takes you well past the 60kph mark, but also lets you crawl around at bicycle pace (at one point I came to a halt at an intersection and was able to ride of from a standstill in 2nd, without any undue knocking from the engine, or jerkiness in the transmission), which makes the bike as easy to live with as a scooter in an urban environment.

Once out of Barcelona’s urban sprawl, my route back to the Thruxtonian base led me to the motorway, which was somewhat less pleasant. Although the Street Twin isn’t a sluggish bike, the very upright riding position means that you start getting pushed backwards on the bike as you reach the ton, particularly on the flat Wrenchmonkees-inspired seat, which is upholstered in a very slippery faux-leather. At least it kept me to the speed limit…

The seat is stylish if a bit slippery and uncomfortable after a while

After the photoshoot on the Saturday, my last day with the Street Twin saw me taking to the twisty, narrow roads in the hills between Barcelona and Tarragona, to see if the bike could cut the mustard on a - ahem! - spirited Sunday ride. And indeed, the bike revealed its Mr Hyde facet. Finally, I was able to put a name to what the burbling exhaust note made me think of - a Ducati. I suppose that’s normal, given the 270º crank, which replicates the syncopated beat of the Italian “L-twin” motor. Unlike the previous Bonneville motor, which was built around a 360º crankshaft (making it a parallel twin) and which when fitted with the 270º crank became rather gutless and lazy, this new 900cc powerplant was designed around a 270º crankshaft right from the off, and as a result has character and liveliness.

Once again, the featherlight clutch action and precise gearbox came into their own, making short-shifting up the ‘box pretty much hassle-free. The clutch even handled savage downshifts without locking up the rear wheel. Although I went all the way up the ‘box, the torquey and elastic nature of the engine means that on twisty roads you can maintain fair progress by just using second, third and fourth all day. One thing is did notice was the relative lack of engine braking compared to the previous Hinckley twin. In traffic, particularly, this led to a few breathless moments!

The Speed Twin’s frame also showed that it could cut it as a backroad scratcher; the bike flicks precisely through series of curves with ease and allows you to ride much more aggressively than the previous Bonneville frame, which showed a tendency to get its knickers in a twist if ridden like a hooley. The agility of the Speed twin’s frame is aided by the lightweight and attractive cast multispoke wheels (18 inch front; 17 inch rear), shod by specifically-designed Pirelli Phantom Sportcomp tyres (100/90 front; 150/70 rear). Despite their old-fashioned look, these tyres offer very good grip, even when caned hard with the traction control switched off. I was also pleasantly surprised by the suspension; although primarily designed for the sedate pace of town riding, they perform admirably when the bike is ridden hard and fast, although ripples and undulations on the road surface can eventually cause the rear shocks to pump and make the bike wallow a bit, however the bike never lost its composure. The front end also performed well, without any excessive diving under heavy and late braking. The brakes, although being similar to those on previous Bonnies (310mm disc/two-piston floating calliper front; 255mm disc/two-piston floating calliper rear) are more than satisfactory, having less weight to stop, and provide a fair amount of feel. They are equipped with permanent ABS, but at no point did I manage to set it off.


Despite its name, Triumph’s new Street Twin is more than just a stylish urban commuter tool, or a summertime bar-hopper. Thanks to its lively motor and sweet-handling frame, it is also a great and amusing bike to ride fast on twisty B-roads, with the rumble of the must-have Vance & Hines exhausts bouncing off the hedgerows. The Street Twin’s nearest competitor, Harley-Davidson’s 883 Iron just cannot hold a candle to it; the British bike easily outperforms and out-handles the Harley. Of course, it does have its drawbacks. Some people might find the front end too plasticky for their liking (the headlight bowl and the speedo housing are plastic). Personally I developed a firm dislike of the rear-view mirrors, as the only things I managed to see in them were my shoulders. I’d also like to see Triumph offering the Brat-tracker bench seat with slightly grippier upholstery, to avoid sliding along the seat under heavy braking. I would appreciate a rev-counter function on the speedo display and a better-positioned hazard lights button that would make it easy to press while moving (when filtering, for example) That said, Triumph have made a great little bike and, at 8,800 € (£7,350 in the UK), I think they’re going to sell like the proverbial hot cakes.

We liked:
- The light clutch
- The low weight
- The torquey engine
- Relaxed riding position
- Manoeuverability
- Exhaust note

We didn't like:
- The mirrors
- No rev counter
- The hazard light button is badly placed
- The plasticky mudguard eliminator
- Still no storage space under the seat 

All photos: © Rui Catalao for The Thruxtonian

Our thanks to Maikel at Italo Motor for lending us the new Street Twin.

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