Recently released to the world’s press at the Ace Cafe in London, it would be easy to look at the new Triumph Thruxton as just another retro motorcycle to hit the market, or simply a chance for Triumph to capitalize on the glory days of the British motorcycle industry when British iron ruled the roads. But after spending some time riding around the English countryside, I found the Triumph Thruxton to be a lot more than just a simple fashion statement.
By the time I was old enough to take any interest in motorcycles, the British motorcycle industry’s decline was in fast-forward. It was a time of social change: Unemployment was rife, punk rock was an outraged reaction, and the street fighter was emerging. Developed more out of financial need than a sense of style, crashed motorcycles were repaired with homemade parts instead of high-priced original equipment. A cult was born—a cult that owed a lot more to the past than any of us spotty youths realized at the time.
Still wearing black leather jackets and blue jeans, we were a direct result of the motorcycle boom that hit England in the late ’50s and early ’60s. With most of us in diapers at that time, we missed the advent of the “Ton-up Boys” and rock ‘n’ roll, but the legacy lived on. It was still a badge of honor to hit 100mph, and we were still viewed by society as some sort of fringe element. The style of bikes we rode also paid direct homage to the bare bones cafe-racers of that era. We viewed ourselves as radicals; the bearded ones must have been yawning. Now that passion—so intrinsically rooted in the glory of Britain’s motorcycle past—has surfaced yet again with the Triumph Thruxton.
Borrowing heavily from the philosophy of the ’50s, and unashamedly capitalizing on the nostalgia, Triumph has created a factory cafe-racer using their popular Bonneville as a platform. Introduced in 2001, the 790cc parallel air-cooled twin was designed to emulate the late ’60s Meriden 650 Bonneville. Starting with the engine, power and torque have been conventionally increased by the use of larger pistons to give the engine a displacement of 865cc. New camshafts hold the valves open longer, and more gas enters the cylinders through the rejetted carburetors. Careful attention was also paid to the exhaust system. Tuned to be more pleasing on the ears, it now features a pair of very attractive upswept silencers.
Next, Triumph turned their attention to handling and brakes, making some significant changes to the rolling chassis. An 18-inch front wheel replaces the Bonneville’s 19-incher for quicker steering, the rear suspension is now longer and the net result of the changes is a shorter 1,477mm wheelbase. In true cafe style, the brakes have also been upgraded. A larger 320mm floating disc up front uses the Bonneville’s two-piston caliper with softer pads for more grip. The rear two-piston caliper and 255mm disc are taken straight from the Bonneville without change.
Low-set clip-ons, attached to the beefed-up conventional 41mm forks and rear-set foot pegs, complete the racer’s crouch. The removable rear cover contributes to the solo seat look, and trimmed fenders complement the style. Switch gear is all standard fare—the ignition key is on the left hand side of the single chrome headlight, and from the rider’s vantage point, the dual clocks are the only objects in view.
Hit the starter button and the engine jumps eagerly to life. A little choke is needed, but the 180-degree twin soon settles into a rhythmic idle. Shift into the first of the five gears, drop the light clutch and off you go. The ride position is all sport, and acceleration pleasantly brisk with no steps in the power band. Steering input is light, and hustling the 450-pound Thruxton through the narrow lanes of England required little effort. Dealing with often-uneven road surface, the suspension was compliant, keeping the rubber in constant contact with the road. The brakes easily scrub off speed for upcoming corners, though some twisting is felt from the front end if used really hard. Those who are accustomed to modern sport bikes will feel the brakes are a little lacking, however for the sort of spirited riding the Thruxton will invite, they are certainly more than adequate.
The following day, I campaigned the bike along the motorway into London. Following a long line of traffic in the fast lane, the speedometer needle easily stayed between 80 and 90 mph for the entire journey. Tucked in behind the clocks, crouched low on the bars with my feet tucked up on the rear-set footpegs, I felt myself slipping back—back to a less complicated time, when all a young man needed was his trusty motorcycle roaring beneath him and the open road ahead. Providing a solid link to this past, the Triumph Thruxton proudly flaunts its illustrious history, while enjoying the benefits of being a thoroughly modern machine.