2019 Triumph Speed Twin Test:
Riding In Mallorca
In the wonderful world of culinary confections, few treats are more readily welcomed than apple pie and vanilla ice cream. From the hardest of hearts to the most youthfully exuberant, these sweets have become intertwined with western culture, and I suspect they are ushered into homes with greater excitement than some distant relatives—the in-laws may not be your favorite, but at least they brought pie.
These two comfort foods rest at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The apple pie—an apple filled, cinnamon-laden, flaky-crusted baked good, most stereotypically served warm. Vanilla ice cream—a frozen dairy delicacy, often used as a tasty reprieve from the dog days of summer. Individually, their strengths are indisputable. Loved and revered, the list of positive qualities is unassailable.
The same observations can be made of the Triumph Bonneville T120 and the Thruxton. These two machines are pillars for the British marque, with clearly defined paths. The T120 is a practical, sensible, standard motorcycle in the most traditional sense, while the Thruxton was originally built for speed and maintains those sensibilities today.
The history is foggy at best. Some say apple pie and vanilla ice cream is an American invention; others claim it was the English. I find the latter claim to be dubious based on their dark history with matters of the fork and knife, but I digress. At some point, some beautiful human took a slice of warm apple pie and applied a scoop of vanilla ice cream, creating an institution more magnificent than the sum of its parts known as Pie à la Mode.
It probably defied kitchen convention and those with puritanical perspectives might have gasped, clutched pearls, or proclaimed that the end was neigh, but this marriage of the antithetical is the story of the 2019 Triumph Bonneville Speed Twin.
On paper, the 2019 Triumph Speed Twin is a simple proposition—one cup of T120, one cup of Thruxton, mix in countless labor-intensive hours of engineering, bake for a couple of years and voilà! The Speed Twin emerges from the Hinckley oven with many motorcyclists licking their chops.
That is a gross oversimplification of motorcycle development. However, Triumph’s bold claim of combing the T120’s comfort and the sportiness of the Thruxton has met reservation. I’ve seen do-it-all retro motorcycles leave quite the burn on the motorcycling community before. Ah, but like Pie à la Mode, the Speed Twin works.
I held my reservations all the way to Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Peppered with windmills across the largely agrarian spot of land, Mallorca is one of the most immediately enchanting destinations that any motorcyclist will discover. With winding mountain roads, beach coves, and hideaways that James Bond would be envious of, it comes as no surprise that this a wildly popular tourist destination during peak times of the year.
I was not there during peak season. The roads were mostly unpopulated, and the island was quiet. I’m sure there is the police force, but I can’t recall seeing any sign of one. It is a motorcyclist’s paradise.
With most of the hotels and shops in the quaint east coast beach village of Canyamel boarded up for the winter, I fired up the Speed Twin’s High Power liquid-cooled parallel-twin and let its glorious, raspy exhaust note from the 270-degree crank drone out into the frigid morning Mediterranean air.
Rumbling along at the heart of the Speed Twin is, in fact, nearly the same-spec motor found in the Scrambler 1200, which means it has all the benefits as well. Helping save weight, to the tune of 5.5 pounds, is a magnesium cam cover, lightened engine covers, and a revised clutch assembly. But reduced weight is only one piece of the puzzle.
What imbues this engine with loads of character and separates it from the T120 or Thruxton is the lightweight crankshaft, mass-optimized counter-balancer shafts, and revised clutch assembly. The SOHC eight-valve motor feels liberated, spooling up with urgency and a solid whack of torque at every twist of the throttle.
The Speed Twin does use the Thruxton tune, which helps the 1200cc engine achieve claimed peaks of 96 horsepower at 6750 rpm and 83 ft/lbs of torque at 4950 rpm. With most of its torque being produced right off the line, you’ll never have to wring the Speed Twin’s neck to find power. Delivered with tractability rivaling the more dignified T120, it is ready for action anywhere in the rpm band, but with far more thrill in the mix.
Outside the main cities, Mallorca’s landscape is accented by waist-high cobblestone walls and narrow farm roads that invariably led to tightly coiled canyon getaways. My first taste of the Speed Twin’s power was familiar and one that less experienced pilots would be able to explore without too much trouble in these green acres.
For riders with more time in the saddle, they’d quickly be sopping up every ounce of performance offered, as if we were indulging in another sumptuous paella, all done while lazily plinking through the roomy six-speed gearbox.
With ride-by-wire throttle, riders have the choice of three selectable riding modes—Rain, Road, and Sport, which adjust the throttle map, ABS and traction control intervention.
Rain provides all 96 horse, but culls the throttle response to a noticeable degree, something that I made use of when we discovered long stretches of damp, moss-covered road accentuated by perils cliffs.
Road offers a smooth and predictable throttle, while Sport is simply a slightly more aggressive version of Road. In either case, these two modes do have a bit of abruptness when initially rolling on or off at lower rpm. However, once you are in the thick of it, it is downright silky.
Traction control is standard and adjustable, although I never felt the need to disable it in any setting. On a roadster such as this, it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
While Triumph engineers did update the Speed Twin with a bespoke frame, all the motorcycles in the Bonneville family are variations on a theme, so their geometries are closely related. What is notable is the aluminum downtubes to cut weight. The wheelbase has been extended to 56.3 inches by tossing a link in the chain, and the rake has been lengthened by a tenth of a degree, remaining steep at 22.8 degrees.
As we sauntered through small cities such as Muro, off Badia d’Alcúdia, the Speed Twin was able to let its hair down and maintain a calm disposition at low speeds, requiring little input to slash its way around the narrow cobblestone streets, in the shadow surrounding the massive Parròquia Sant Joan Baptista, a stunning baroque church.
From there, I made my way to faster pastures, testing the Speed Twin’s true handling capabilities toward Puig Major, that tallest peak on Mallorca. With the arid, craggy mountainside and views of Cúber reservoir as a deadly distraction in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, I opened the Triumph up and discovered that its low-speed prowess maintained when on the edge of the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires.
The modest KYB suspenders do quite good work as well. Equipped with a non-adjustable cartridge-damped 41mm fork and dual shocks featuring spring-preload adjustment, you are met with compliant suspension that keeps the Speed Twin balanced at virtually any speed.
Save for a bit of harshness that is translated to the rider over truly rough asphalt, the Speed Twin is always asking the pilot to test the limits in the corner. Yet, it is also perfectly happy to slowly meander through the twisties.
Although the KYB components are different from its donor bikes, the spring and damping rates are the same. In the fork, the oil level has been raised to reduce the air gap, which slows damping. In the rear, the spring preload has been backed off. Together, it offers a package more than suitable for the needs of the Speed Twin.
The motorcycle’s sportiness in the canyons must be attributed to the weight savings that Triumph engineers have managed. The Speed Twin comes in 22 pounds lighter than the Thruxton and a whopping 60 pounds less than the T120, thanks to alloy wheels, a lightened battery, and several other bits already covered.
While simply dropping pounds will make the handling feel snappier on a bike, the Hinckley men and women had a distinct goal of reducing inertia. To do that, Triumph managed to whittle away 6.4 pounds from the 17-inch front wheel assembly. In the rear, 3.7 pounds were lopped off, resulting in quite the positive transformation.
The wide, sweptback handlebars on risers from the upper triple-clamp make for a riding position on the sporty side of neutral, with plenty of leverage and no weight on the wrists. The seat height of just below 32 inches will create some knee-bend, thanks to the Thruxton inspired foot control orientation, though nothing that I found particularly uncomfortable.
Triumph moved the rearsets 1.5 inches forward and lowered them by a hair to retain an experience reminiscent of a café racer, but without the discomfort. Together, the rider can capitalize on the sport inclinations and push through the corners with ease.
Barreling down into the tight switchbacks, I came to rely on the dual 305mm floating rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers quite a bit. Combined with a Brembo master cylinder, the feel is superb and has power to spare for this roadster application.
In the rear, it’s much of the same story, although the aggressively angled pedal makes it challenging to modulate rear brake to my satisfaction. Perhaps an adjustable foot lever as the Scrambler 1200 is in the offing—I can only hope. ABS is standard and non-adjustable, although why would you want to turn it off on this motorcycle?
My time on the Speed Twin sent me careening across the island, periodically politely tip-toeing through the low-lands, observing the equally low-speed limits. Mallorca is a tiny, yet culturally diverse area, with influences reflecting the Roman, Moor, and Spanish conquests over the years. It was in those moments that I was able to admire the fit-and-finish of the machine, as it is an amalgamation of sorts.
Triumph and a rare few other manufacturers have been able to get the retro clocks right. Flush with modern features, including a fuel gauge, gear indicator, and other amenities, they look as dashing as they are functional. The branded handlebar clamp, upswept silencers, Monza cap, bar-end mirrors, and the stunning finishes on the 3.8-gallon fuel tank are the Speed Twin’s tidy bow for any would-be owner.
Motorcycles are an exercise in compromise. Push in any one direction, and the Venn diagram will begin to show how focused things become—a thoroughbred superbike is the weapon of choice on the track, but in a gridlocked freeway or street, your moral will probably take a hit, as comfort is written in the fine print of its résumé.
By the same logic, a bike such as the T120 is rightly out of place on the circuit, though I can assure you, they’re far better for the complexities of daily riding life. Those are black-and-white examples, but walk with me here.
By combining, arguably, two of the most iconic and desired machines in the Modern Classic lineup, Triumph has stumbled upon their two-wheeled equivalent of Pie à la Mode. The Bonneville and Thruxton lines are integral to Triumph as a brand, and together they’ve made something that can satisfy the needs of riders who ask the world of their motorcycles. On that note, I’m anxious for another serving under the Mallorcan sun.
Photography by Gareth Harford and Chippy Wood
Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
Jacket: Spidi Originals Tex Limited
Gloves: Spidi Bora H2Out
Pants: Spidi J & Dyneema
Boots: TCX Hero WP
2019 Triumph Speed Twin Specs
Type: Parallel twin w/ 270-degree crank
Bore x stroke: 97.6 x 80mm
Maximum power: 96 horsepower @ 6750 rpm
Maximum torque: 83 ft/lbs @ 4950 rpm
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Valvetrain: SOHC, 8 valves
Clutch: Wet multiplate assist
Final drive: Chain
Frame: Tubular steel w/ aluminum cradle
Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 41mm KYB cartridge fork; 4.7 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Spring-preload adjustable KYB shocks; 4.7 inches
Wheels: Cast aluminum alloy 7-spoke
Front wheel: 3.50 x 18
Rear wheel: 5.00 x 17
Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
Front tire: 120/70 x 17
Rear tire: 160/60 x 17
Front brakes: 305mm discs w/ Brembo 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 56.3 inches
Rake: 22.8 degrees
Trail 3.7 inches
Seat height: 31.8 inches
Fuel capacity: 3.8 gallons
EPA estimated fuel consumption: 59 mpg
Colors: Silver Ice/Storm Grey; Korosi Red/Storm Grey; Jet Black
2019 Triumph Speed Twin Price: $12,100 MSRP