Cast your mind back. Way back. Back to a time when blogs like Pipeburn were nothing more than a twinkle in their creator’s eye. Back before you’d see cafe racers running around the streets and filling up Youtube videos. Now you’re in the mid noughties. The more lucky ones amongst us had already seen the online images showing the amazing creations that were coming out of Japanese bike shops. If you were smitten with these bikes like us and you wanted to get yourself something similar without spending two years in a cold, greasy garage, you had exactly two factory bikes to choose from. Namely the super expensive Ducati Sport Classic and the much more reasonable (and much more British) Triumph Thruxton 900. While the Thruxton reviews at the time weren’t exactly glowing, I think it’s fair to say that the sportsbike-obsessed journos of the day kind of missed the point. Because here was a bike that was ten years ahead of the cafe racer curve and very ripe for the picking. Now it’s ten years later, and Hinckley have gone and done what everyone was hoping for. They’ve dropped a brand new Thruxton model. Too late to be great, or an instant classic? You’re about to find out.
In a refreshing change from the usual public road riding that most non-sportsbike launches entail, the always entertaining Triumph Australia marketing department rolled the dice this time. While public roads would be ridden on day two, day one would focus on a real, live racetrack. Flying into Eastern Australia’s amusingly named Albury-Wodonga (twin cities that straddle the mighty Murray River on the border of New South Wales and Victoria), I was ushered by WWII Zeppelin (OK – it was a minibus) to a small track just outside of town called the ‘Wodonga TAFE Driver Training Complex’.
Now while the name doesn’t exactly inspire mental pictures of glorious racing victories and protective leathers drenched in the finest French champagne, it did prove to be a good little track for the not-so-little Thruxtons to spin their pistons around. Flat as a tack and very curvy with a barely-there straight, we were to be let loose at the place with a full complement of both Thruxton and Thruxton Rs to choose from. For an entire day. I don’t mind if I do.
That we were shown the bikes in the first instance at a race track is no common journalistic bribery. For those not down with Triumph history like I am (shines nails on shirt), the name derives from a famous Southern British track (and ex-RAF and USAAF WWII airfield) located near a village of the same name in Hampshire. Triumph took all three places in the track’s ‘Thruxton 500’ race of 1969, and the knock-on effect this had within the company and the cafe racer scene in general was quite substantial. But enough of this misty-eyed nonsense. Walking through the parc ferme and towards the bikes, I laid eyes on the company’s newest metal. Here was the bike that Triumph are pinning much of their ‘brand flagship’ hopes on. As with all of the company’s 2016 new releases, the bike bears almost no mechanical resemblance to the previous model Thruxton.
So, what’s it got? First and foremost is the all-new 1200cc donk. A ‘High Power’ variant (as opposed to the T120’s ‘High Torque’ tune) in the new powerplant lineup, the factory stats say that it’s chucking down around 73kW (or 97 hp) at 6750rpm and 112Nm (or 82ft-lbs) or torque at 4950rpm. Behind that you’ll find a wet ‘assist’ (not slipper) clutch and a six speed ‘box. The compression is at a decent 11.0:1. Interestingly, there’s a mix of shocks at play. Up front you’ll find 43mm Showa Big Piston units, while out back there’s Ohlins twins with piggybacked reservoirs. The front brakes are Brembo floaters with 310mm discs and a matching Brembo master cylinder up top, which is usually a sign that the manufacturers are interested in the brake’s feel and performance, and not just having the brand bragging rights.
There’s also 17″ wheels front and back shod with Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsas (120/70 up front and 160/60 at the rear). The tank holds 14.5 litres of go and the dry weight sits at 203 kg, or about 213 wet. If you choose to go with the cheaper, non ‘R’ model, you’ll miss out on all of the nice tyre, brake and shock goodies along with a bunch of cool decorative touches. Although it’s important to note that the engines are all the same, whether you choose the ‘R’ or not.
Visually, the bikes are impressive things to behold. The beautifully executed fairings and the top shelf suspension components are the first things to pop you in the eyes. Then you clock the metal strap running down the length of the tank, and the slick ‘Triumph’ lettering on its side. Then the sheer mass of quality detailing and well thought out touches brings the thing home. And while the bike has every right to be a little bit ‘heritage’ like its T120 cousin, there’s a distinct air of modernity to the bike. Tank badging is decidedly contemporary, and the bike’s overall finish seems slick and matte rather than all chrome-y and old school. The gas cap has been given a nifty flip-up ‘Monza’ cap, but the coolness of this is a little tarnished by the inclusion of a black plastic surface underneath. Maybe there’s an better option in the Triumph parts catalogue? Here’s hoping.
Despite this, the bike’s use of plastics is minimal at best; limited to the guards and the painted seat cowl, it saves weight without killing the premium feel. And it’s this ‘feel’ that belies Triumph’s intentions with the new model. The more sleek, speedy, nose-down stance of the bikes along with its much cleaner lines and lack of visual clutter scream premium speed machine. And where as the old Thruxton seemed to be more of a ‘Bonneville with a cafe racer seat on it’, this new bike stands clear of the rest of the range. It’s happy to be its own machine, and seems to revel in its uniqueness.
On the Track
With brand new one-piece leathers donned and our camel toes all pointed to and laughed at, it was time to get a little crazy. Safety instruction were given and then promptly forgotten. Then we got the thumbs-up for us to kick the things over (the engines that is, not the bikes), so we all hustled and bustled to get dibs on our favourite machines. Truth be told, it was mostly about planting your butt cakes on an ‘R’ model, as there wasn’t a bad looker amongst them all.
[superquote] “Sadly, it wasn’t until I was waggling the rear Pirelli in the air that I realised just how bad an idea it was”[/superquote]
Once sparked to life, the bike’s throaty pipes now started to play their metallic noise music. With most of the bikes fitted with the optional Vance & Hines stainless slip-ons, it was a damn lovely sound to hear. While not ludicrous, there’s a guttural edge to them that serves to let passers-by and other riders alike know that there’s bite to this bark. Put simply, if you’ve got the cash you’d be bonkers if you didn’t shell out a little extra for these.
And out into the rush I go. Sadly, it wasn’t until I was waggling the rear Pirelli in the air that I realised just how bad an idea it was to test the brakes for the first time while screaming head-long into the track’s hairpin first turn. Planning? Forethought? Pfft! That crap’s for guys who think before they act. Me on the other hand… well, you get the picture. By the time I’d managed to get my heart back down out of my throat and the bike around the bend, I’d learnt that the brakes on the Thruxton R are super capable while not being shy to slow the show down. That and the fact that the leathers I was wearing were poop-proof.
As you’d expect, riding the ‘Rux like your garden-variety sewing machine sportsbike is quickly revealed as exactly the wrong thing to do. The sportsbike fad has trained many of us to expect sky-high power peaks and triple digit speeds in first gear. Mercifully this is a trend that Triumph, along with many of the other manufacturers, are now bucking. The incessant rev limiter bounces for the first lap or so eventually get through to me. The torque on supply here and the bike’s gearing means it’s happier to dance around the asphalt in second and third while in the middle of the rev range than the usual ultrasonic annoyances that many sport bikes insist on delivering. By about 7 grand, the party’s over, but the fun (and the usable torque) that you’ve had getting there means that you’re more than happy to go again.
On my first break back in the pits, I pull up and raise my left boot to pop the kickstand down. And there was nothing. ‘Ah! Paddock stands!’ I thought to myself, nonsensically. But no, it turns out that the bike’s kickstand hides itself almost completely underneath the exhaust when retracted. Of course, once you find the thing and deploy it a few times, the fun and games are over, but it’s one of those things that begs the question, ‘didn’t anyone test this?’ Returning to the track, it’s clear that what we have here is a continuous set of corners broken up by a short straight that leads into a hairpin left. You are constantly turning with nothing but an 8 second respite before it all starts again. This fact comes to the fore when full bellies and rising corner speeds mean that more than a few of us are driven (or ridden) to wooziness. I note down a new idea for a theme park ride called ‘Crazy Cycles’ that involves spinning passengers around on bikes like they are riding in a washing machine.
[superquote] “Comically spoiling a photo-op by rolling past us on an electric skateboard while mooning”[/superquote]
Sitting track-side at the end of the day, I jot down some notes while watching Dean, our photographer, comically spoiling a killer sunset photo-op by casually rolling past us on an electric skateboard while mooning. It’s clear that Triumph had chosen the track due to its emphasis on handling and cornering. The brief suspicion that I fostered as to why such a small tight track was chosen (not so fast in a straight line, maybe?) was banished. No, it’s not a top-end screamer. But nonetheless, the bike had excelled itself and it was more than willing to continue upping the corner speeds and lean angles long after my skills had run out. The bike’s track shtick wasn’t just posturing, either. This is a machine that has been created as a capable track tool and, as I was about to see, a more than decent road bike to boot.
On the road
So after a decidedly low-key night at the best ‘modern executive’ hotel Albury had to offer, I awoke to more fine spring weather and the prospect of a 7-hour jaunt around the scenic vistas to the south and east. Taking in a mix of rolling hills, lakes, twisties and straighter roads, it lacked the ‘taking your life in your own hands’ thrills that Triumph has offered up in the past. But after a large serving of track-based thrills the previous day and a clear understanding what the bike could do when backed into a corner, the prospect of a more relaxed day free wheelin’ around some of north Victoria’s finest roadage was not something I was going to knock back.
The fact that good track bikes are often uncomfortable, angry explosions on the road should be news to exactly none of us. If you’ve ever had the wrist-snapping, leg cramping opportunity to ride something built to eat lap times and tried to eat miles with it instead, you’ll know what I mean. And although it wasn’t a surprise to the riders on the day, the fact that the bike was striking a decent balance between track day hoopla and road riding comfort was lost on no one. So while seven or so hours in the saddle was probably more than enough for most posteriors, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, either.
The Thruxton ‘box clicked through its sets of cogs with aplomb. The fuelling was slick and well sorted. The brakes that had performed so well on track were now just as happy to draw things to a halt at road speeds. The on-road aptitude that the bike displayed was impressive. After the track, I was beginning to think that my senses had been deep fried to the point of not noticing all of the little things I knew I should be. Turns out that the Thruxton is just so well sorted for road riding that it almost seems like it’s not trying. And while I still have a little bee in my crash-proof bonnet about these latest bunch of Triumph’s forgetting ride settings and screen displays between rides, I think I’ve mellowed somewhat after repeated rides.
So with this, and the Murray River’s constant calming presence throughout the day, a decidedly comfortable vibe descended on the afternoon. While some of the riders, enticed by the scenery, pondered a move to this part of the world, I used the time to think. I began to ponder just where this new Thruxton incarnation sat in the overall scheme of things. As already mentioned, it’s a bike that Triumph clearly sees as important – both as a brand flagship and as a sales winner. Sure, you can go to town on a Trophy SE or a Rocket III with all the heated and flashing bits and bobs if you really want to make their Sales Manager happy, but there’s scant Triumph brand history in 300 kilo luxo-barge.
It now becomes clear to me that this bike is to Triumph as the R nineT is to BMW. There’s clearly some physical parallels between the two as well; the premium shocks, the retro racer looks and the surprisingly similar price tags. The fact that both bikes also serve up a good dose of ‘brand’ while also trying to move things forward is no coincidence either. The Triumph soldiers present at the launch were more than happy to name BMW’s ‘Ninety’ as the main target the new Thruxton has in its sights. Having ridden both bikes recently, it’s also clear to me that you’d be silly to buy one without riding the other.
Then there’s the bike’s unintentional competitors. Through whispered words and cupped hands, certain stories regarding new Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer owners are shared. We’re told that these owners, after riding the new Thruxton, were rather shocked to find that their A$45,000 outlays had landed them a bike that was easily outclassed by a machine costing less than half of theirs. Of course, talk like this is rife at events like these. But for us to even entertain the notion of a Thruxton whooping a Commando’s bum speaks volumes as to what this bike is capable of.
So what is the price, then? I’m pretty sure that in most countries, it’s going to be a little on the ‘ouchy’ side of the empty wallet versus full wallet equation. Like the nineT, it’s about three to four grand above your comfort zone. But what bike that rides on Ohlins and stops with Brembos isn’t? And, as with the BMW and it’s budget brothers, you can always put on your Captain Sensible hat and opt for the non ‘R’ version.
It’s interesting to note that when I’m talking about the suspension, I’m saying “Ohlins” and not “Showa.” After realising that they’d gone with a different brand of shocks front and back, I quizzed one or two of the company’s boffins as to why this may be. “The Showa forks were just better in the tests,” was their reply. Now while I have no doubts as to the impressive capabilities of the Showa units, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ohlins were originally to be fitted both front and back but were ruled out due to their cost. After all, they’ve got them front and back on the 675R, have they not? This is, of course, mere conjecture. And pointless conjecture at that, as deconstructing a set-up as capable and lush as this would be like picking apart a Beatles’ song for shits and giggles. It just works.
Enjoying a cleansing ale back in the hotel after two solid days of two-wheeled British fun, I switched of my habitually overactive brain and stared into the middle distance. There, incongruously placed in the hotel’s trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy foyer was another Thruxton. “Bless those Triumph boys,” I thought. “They really do put in the effort, don’t they?” Then I looked again. It was a non-R version in a metallic green with a matching fairing and liberal amounts of optional extras. And then it clicked. This is a really good-looking bike. Now I wouldn’t (and didn’t) say that about the T120. And while I’m gagging for a proper ride on the new Bobber, again wouldn’t call it supermodel material either. But right there and then, in that light and at that angle, I got it.
Believe it or not, I actually found this review a little intimidating to write. This wasn’t because I felt that the bike was beyond me or that I didn’t get where it was coming from, but simply because I realised in the days and weeks after riding it that the bike was just so damn hard to fault. Unlike our recent Moto Guzzi V9 experience, which proved to be flawed but loveable, this bike came at me like terminator Arnie came at Sarah Connor. Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to find any chinks in its armour. Sure, the kickstand thing was annoying and there’s those forgotten display settings. But in the end, these were nothing but minor annoyances in what turned out to be a damn good ride.
It’s no secret to anyone with half a brain and an internet connection that Triumph are on song at the moment. With the sheer number of new bikes they’ve been releasing of late and their ability to bust moves like their Bobber and this new Thruxton, expecting a dud new bike from them would be like expecting Kayne to drop and album full of crap Wiggles covers. So let’s be clear, this is a hell of a bike. And one that I’m embarrassed to say is very hard to find fault with.
If you’ve looked at the T120 and found yourself wanting something a little more exciting, then this is the bike for you. If you’ve ridden the Yamaha XSR900 and feel that it’s a little too high tech, then you should also try the Thruxton. And, most controversially, if you’re smitten with BMW’s R nineT, do yourself a favour and try this bike before you buy. While the two bikes are neck and neck in a lot of respects, I reckon the Thrux just might have the edge on the nineT with its better brakes, handling and overall character.
Yes, it’s a cliché for a reviewer to say that they were so smitten with the bike they’re reviewing that they’ve decided to buy one for themselves. And no, I won’t drop a clanger like that in your collective laps. But what I will say is that I’m a big fan of the nineT and I have been waiting with bated breath to see their 2016 EICMA reveals before considering my next purchase. The Scrambler looks like it’s a great bike and the new R nineT Racer incarnation pushes many of my buttons. Repeatedly. But then along comes this new Thruxton with the looks, poise and personality to make my decision nigh on impossible. It’s that damn good. Thanks for nothing, Triumph. And thanks for everything, too.
– Superlative handling and brakes
– Torquey, charismatic engine
– Quality build with great attention to detail
– Drool-worthy good looks
– Disappearing sidestand
– Display and ride settings not saved
– A touch pricey
The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, we feel it’s best to mention that Triumph Australia paid for our trip to Albury to see their new bikes and also shouted us a few beers afterwards. Rest assured that if the bikes weren’t up to scratch, we’d have no problems in saying just that, and that we will always endeavour to give you guys the best reviews possible without fear or favour; British Bike Makers bearing track days included.