2020 Triumph Thruxton RS Test: Retro-Modern Motorcycle

2020 Thruxton RS horsepower

The city of Albufeira is a sight for travel-weary eyes. Located in the Algarve region of Portugal on the Mediterranean coast, I dare say that there are few areas of the world this picturesque—from any angle, I might add.

As much as I would have enjoyed imbibing in copious amounts of codfish delicacies while there, I was destined to twist the throttle of the 2020 Triumph Thruxton RS. It is a motorcycle that, like Albufeira, will give any photographer ample to work with thanks to its picture-perfect looks.

2020 Thruxton RS ergomicsThe 2020 Thruxton RS is the third model in the latest iteration of the legendary Thruxton line. It proudly carries the coveted RS moniker that, until now, has been exclusively reserved for the British brand’s modern sportbikes—the Street and Speed Triples. Based on the Thruxton R, the Thruxton RS kicks it up a notch with a smattering of top-shelf parts, more power, revised electronics, a sprinkling of modern styling, and a weight savings of 13 pounds.

Thruxton is a name that echoes through the hallowed halls of motorcycle history, hailing back to racing at the WWII-era RAF Thruxton airfield 75 miles southeast of London, where racers competed on the runways and the airfield’s perimeter road. This inspired young riders to convert their humble British standard bikes into low, sleek café racers that darted around the English backroads in the 1960s. Norton, Vincent, Brough Superior ret al., are still kicking about in limited capacities, while Triumph has stood the test of time.

Tucked away in the stylish tubular steel cradle sits the liquid-cooled 1200cc HP parallel-twin engine that, if I had it on hand, would have received a confetti-laden greeting at every hit of the start button. The 270-degree crank sporting engine now features eight more horsepower than the R model, raising peak horsepower to 104 at a lofty 7500 rpm. Peak torque values remain at 83 ft-lbs, coming in at an impressively low 4250 rpm—that’s 700 rpm lower than last year, for those keeping score at home.

2020 Thruxton RSAlthough the performance numbers aren’t up to snuff with a modern sport machine, we should remember not to get too caught up in a dyno-sheet measuring contest. On the city streets, in the canyons, and down the highway, this is the kind of power that can not only be used, but also be thoroughly enjoyed.

Once off the sidestand and set off, the Triumph Thruxton RS reveals its refined personality with the welcoming, plucky p-twin that will easily loft the front wheel with a fair ol’ whack to the throttle. All that excellent torque is available barely above idle at roughly 3000 rpm and pulls you by the collar to its 8000 redline—500 rpm higher than before.

With all that muscle down low, the RS it happy to plod around city streets, though I suspect owners will be jonesing for curvier pastures where the motor can be spooled up with ferocity and sampled in its purest form. Better yet, thanks to the higher rev-limit, you won’t be shaking hands with the limiter as often.

As if that isn’t enough incentive, Triumph is certainly flexing its p-twin prowess by delivering all of that in one of the most charmingly smooth powerplants on the market. Sure, KTM has successfully secured the sporting end of the parallel-twin market with the 790 platforms. However, no one does a classic, gentlemanly p-twin like Triumph. It has just enough character left on the palate by the counterbalancers, as they remove any offending vibrations.

2020 Thruxton RS gaugesWhether you’re in the canyons or the urban sprawl, you won’t be fussing about with the gear selector. The silky six-speed transmission features wide ratios that give you quite a bit of leeway, letting riders work the throttle and occasionally click up to the next gear when you’re really on the cam. The assist-and-slipper clutch has a light clutch pull that doesn’t tire you out in traffic.

Although it’s an RS, the Thruxton RS doesn’t feature an up/down quickshifter like its modern sporting RS counterparts. According to Triumph staff, it doesn’t fit the spirit of the Thruxton or café racers. I agree with their point—to a point. It’s 2020, and my vintage aping extends only so far; I’d like a quickshifter, thank you very much.

We can thank Triumph engineers for these performance improvements, and it’s roughly the same strategy employed on the Scrambler 1200 and Speed Twin lines, although there are certain parts unique to each model. Internal inertia has been reduced by 20 percent using a low-inertia crankshaft, refined balancer shafts, as well as a physically lighter clutch and alternator. The clutch basket has been machined down, physically lighter springs are used, and two friction plates have been removed, all in the name of trimming the fat.

Specific to the Thruxton RS are high-compression pistons that have bumped the compression up to 12.1:1 from 11.0:1. Also, a high-lift cam compliments revised intake and exhaust porting, as well as a new tune, are responsible for its new-found pep and 500-rpm-higher rev ceiling. In terms of pure weight savings, magnesium cam covers and thin-walled case covers are in use here—parts that are bound make their way onto the other 1200cc engine powered bikes.

2020 Thruxton RS for saleEuro 5 regulations spurred engineers to create an even cleaner-burning powerplant and, once again, Triumph has opted for a dual catalyst solution. Catalysts are housed in each muffler, supplementing the main catalytic converter tucked away in the frame. The good news is that the Thruxton RS roar is more poignant than ever, even in the face of stricter emissions.

According to Triumph staff, those internal engine updates make up most of the 13-pound weight savings. The rest is due to a lighter battery. Unfortunately, Triumph only cites a dry weight for its machine. Triumph states that dry weight is sans oil, coolant, fuel, and a battery—all essential to the operation of the motorcycle. In running order, that would put the bike a bit south of 500 pounds.

Helping riders tailor the RS to their needs are three selectable ride modes—Rain, Road, and Sport, which alter power, traction control, and ABS intervention accordingly. Rain mode offers the slackest throttle response and highest levels of intervention, which will undoubtedly help when faced with traditional British weather. Road features an average throttle response and less restrictive intrusion—great for casual riding. Sport mode takes a hit of the smelling salts and offers the most direct throttle connection, with rider aids at their lowest settings.

With a leg thrown over the exquisitely stitched 32-inch-high seat, riders will be met with an aggressive riding position that isn’t overly committed or nearly as uncomfortable as any average supersport. The stylish, elongated 3.8-gallon fuel tank pushes the rider towards the aft of the bike, though not so far that you’re disconnected from the front end.

2020 Thruxton RS horsepowerThe p-twin engine configuration creates a svelte, narrow chassis that isn’t nearly as bulbous as any inline-four powered competitor, such as the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe. My 32-inch inseam can easily flat-foot at stops, and I don’t feel overly cramped. It is sporting, mind you, but it’s just enough to have fun in the twisty bits and distribute weight through your legs effectively. It won’t have you reaching for Advil due to post-ride aches and pains.

While the Bonneville T120 still might be the commuting king in Triumph’s Modern Classic lineup, the Thruxton riding position doesn’t stretch you out as if you’re hanging from the monkey bars as the BMW R nineT Racer does.

Although the Triumph Thruxton RS doesn’t have an aversion to putting around the city streets, the RS belongs in the canyons. Yes, it’s quite the looker parked outside your favorite urban beverage dispensary, but it needs to be in the wide-open spaces of the countryside.

This machine has that classic café racer feel—long, low, and sleek, but the geometry numbers may surprise you. The reality is that the Thruxton RS has a relatively short 55.7-inch wheelbase with a notably steep 22.8-degree rake and short 3.6-inches of trail. It feels sturdy and has some weight to the front end, most likely because you’re not riding over the front wheel like you are on a modern sportbike.

The Thruxton RS is balanced, poised, and absolutely planted with an impressive amount of mechanical grip. Initial tip-in requires a hint of extra effort, and it’s just enough encouragement to make you want to bully the RS about, all while grinning ear-to-ear. My confidence in the front end is unshakeable, to the point that I wish I could vote it into office.

2020 Thruxton RS ohlinsThere is something so uniquely satisfying about wringing the RS’s throttle like a drenched rag, and barreling into every sweeping corner until the tank runs dry. Once you’ve found your direction, it hits its target like a medieval lance.

Sure, the slow, first gear corners and annoyingly tight switchbacks might not be its forte, but who has time for that when there is a delectable selection of Portuguese twisties on the menu?

Curiously, the RS will stand up a bit, should you choose to trail brake with the front Brembo calipers mid-corner. Now, that’s a specific situation and one that didn’t occur if you opted for the rear brake. When piloting the Triumph Thruxton RS, it’s best to stick with one strategy—either trail brake from the entry to the apex, or get your braking done early and let that stout chassis do its work.

Suspenders are the same Showa/Öhlins combination found on the R—unrevised for the RS (not that they needed it). We have a fully adjustable Showa 43mm inverted fork and fully adjustable twin Öhlins shocks. They’re part of the stability equation and help keep the motorcycle as tracking-true as can be over nearly everything, except truly abused asphalt.

Metzeler Racetech RR K3 tires replace Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa rubber, although sizes are the same at 120/70 front and 160/60 rear. While the Racetech rubber is noticeably softer and exponentially grippier, Triumph opted for this tire as the window of operation is much broader and didn’t sacrifice mileage. In practice, the grip levels are high and pair excellently with the performance on tap. However, the wire-spoke wheels are era-representative and require inner tubes, which is a bit of a disappointment.

2020 Thruxton RS seat heightNew for this year are dual Brembo M50 calipers, clamping onto floating 310mm rotors. Some might see these superbike worthy calipers as being overkill. I guffaw in return, as this is just the type of overkill I like. Feel at the radial Brembo master cylinder is a bit firm, but rest assured you’ll have plenty of stopping power to spare. The single Nissin caliper in the rear seizes upon a 220mm rotor and is quite useful.

If you’re diehard for the classic café racer motif, then the Thruxton R will still be at the top of your list. Part of the Triumph Thruxton RS update is to give this vintage ride a bit of modern sport flair, seen in the colorways and various blacked-out bits. To give it a meaner aesthetic while retaining authenticity, the shock springs, side panels, and various other bits have been blacked out, with the standout feature being the black anodized rims. If that isn’t enough for you, Triumph is offering over 80 homologated accessories, ranging from new mufflers to lighting.

For several years now, Triumph has led the pack in terms of fit and finish. The Thruxton RS is the pinnacle of that, concerning its mass production models. Triumph sees itself as a premium brand and, at $16,200, this motorcycle surely is charging what the upscale market will bear. What you get for that money is a machine that has no visual flaws to my eyes whatsoever. The polished upper triple clamp, dual LCD/analog clocks, and tank strap are just a few of the highlights and go a long way in easing buyer’s remorse.

The 2020 Triumph Thruxton RS is retro-modern done right. Not only does this motorcycle satisfy me on every visceral level, but it’s also tough to beat in terms of performance. The RS marries all that vintage, streetable charm into a package that carries on the Thruxton name with respect. It’s as much as visual experience as it is a visceral one. Its balanced chassis, sufficient electronics package, and 1200cc engine will undoubtedly keep you thumbing the key until quitting time.

2020 Thruxton RS horsepower

Photography by Gareth Harford and Chippy Wood


2020 Triumph Thruxton RS Specs


  • Type: Vertical twin w/ 270-degree crankshaft
  • Displacement: 1200cc
  • Bore x stroke: 97.6 x 80mm
  • Maximum power: 103 horsepower @ 7500 rpm
  • Maximum torque: 85 ft/lbs @ 4250 rpm
  • Compression ratio: 12.1:1
  • Valvetrain: SOHC, 8 valves
  • Cooling: Liquid
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Clutch: Assist-and-slipper
  • Final drive: O-ring chain


  • Frame: Tubular steel cradle
  • Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 43mm Showa Big Piston Front Fork; 4.7 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Öhlins piggyback reservoir shocks; 4.7 inches
  • Wheels: 32-spoke aluminum rims
  • Front wheel: 17 x 3.50
  • Rear wheel: 17 x 5.00
  • Tires: Metzeler Racetec RR
  • Front tire: 120/70 x 17
  • Rear tire: 160/60 x 17
  • Front brakes: 310mm discs w/ Brembo M50 4-piston calipers and radial-pump master cylinder
  • Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
  • ABS: Standard


  • Wheelbase: 55.7 inches
  • Rake: 22.8 degrees
  • Trail 3.6 inches
  • Seat height: 31.9 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.8 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 58 mpg

2020 Thruxton RS Colors:

  • Jet Black
  • Matt Storm Grey & Matt Silver Ice

2020 Thruxton RS Price:

  • $16,200