Fifty-five years of depraved debauchery have taken their toll on my body. Broken and twisted in too many ways, I just look at a sleek and swift motorcycle and my back and neck starts to ache, my wrists throb, and my testicles vibrate into numbness.
Tingling nuts aside, this is not a good state of affairs. A modern sport bike is an objet d’art, designed to lean its rider into the wind; it supports the chest on a cushion of fast-flowing air and points the helmet forward like the tip of a bullet, streamlining the vehicle for minimal drag. But at speeds less than those of a track’s back straight, such as pretty much anywhere that’s legal on a public road, this ass-up/head-down position takes a rapid toll on aging wrists and a calcifying neck.
“Speak for yourself!” you might be saying, and maybe you’re some young whippersnapper who should be getting off my lawn, or some older rider who took better care of things in a lifetime of puritanical boredom. But yes, I’ll speak for myself and many others who can look forward only to the golden years of Gold Wings, cruisers or – horrors! – a Can-Am Spyder.
But wait! What’s this, parked past the Thruxtons and the Speed Triples in the Triumph showroom? It’s the new Street Cup, and it looks so pretty that it’s worth the threat of imagined pain. It’s a retro-styled, liquid-cooled parallel twin with mirrors at the end of its dropped bars, but foot pegs that don’t seem too high or far back for the inevitable sportbike squat. And when I grit my teeth and gird my nervous loins to sit on it, it doesn’t feel too bad. Not too bad at all.
Costa rode the $11,400 Street Cup earlier this year and sang its praises here at CMG, and to me directly when we drank scotch afterwards in his Montreal apartment. “Mark, it’s really comfortable for an old guy like you,” he said without blinking, the bastard, “and it’s not too fast to get you into trouble.”
This sounds like my kind of bike: good-looking, comfortable, and great fun to ride. Quick and responsive when it matters without being stupid-fast. All of it much like myself, really, of course.
Triumph keeps its press fleet at Sturgess Cycle in Hamilton, 200 kilometres from my home, so I orchestrated a finely-tuned collection with Jeff Wilson, who lives a lot closer to the dealership. He collected the Street Cup press bike and I met him with the long-term BMW Scrambler for an exchange; we ate lunch on the patio of a hipster restaurant and I kept eyeing the Triumph as he rambled on, plowing through his tacos.
“It’s kind of, well, syrupy,” he said, talking about the bike, not the tacos. This is from a guy who owns a 2014 Street Triple, so I appreciated his insight. “It looks good but it’s not really that quick.” Like I said, a Street Triple, so most everything else seems slow. “You should be fine with it, Mark.” Bastard.
He left on the Scrambler and I slung my leg over the Street Cup. The whole bike felt small, but its 780 mm-high seat is 40 mm lower than the BMW. In fact, it’s raised 30 mm from the Street Twin with which it shares an engine and frame. I reached forward with some trepidation to the low bars, but they fell comfortably to hand. A stab on the starter and the 900 cc twin rumbled to life, a little deeper than I recall from the regular Street Twin.
(A digression: A hundred years ago, I owned a Honda CB350 Four. It was crap and constantly spewed oil all over my boots from a leaky cylinder, but I loved it anyway. Somehow, I found a drop bar and installed it instead of the regular bars, and then I rode it on a sunny weekend from Toronto to Quebec and back, via Algonquin Park. My white socks were tucked over the top of my boots, sopping the oil that would have slid up onto my jeans, and my white silk scarf billowed behind like Isadora Duncan’s bane. I rode 990 miles there and back in two days, so when I got home, I went back and forth for 10 miles just to round out the clock. It was brutal. The agony. The pain. But I didn’t care. It was the beginning of the end for my neck and wrists, and that was when the dimes were still bouncing high off my in-the-air ass.)
The Street Cup is styled as a Café Racer after the old London rockers who roared on their Bonnies and Commandos and the like from café to café in 1960s Britain. The redesigned 865 cc Bonnevilles and the 900s and 1200s that have since replaced them echo this styling, with fins on their liquid-cooled engines and shields covering the area that used to hold the carburettors. In other words, it looks like an older bike but is bang-up-to-date. Score One for the good old days.
On the highway home, I hunkered down into the wind and braced for the buffeting, but there was very little resistance. Surely, the little fly-screen above the headlight can’t be that effective, but my crapped-out old body was pointed comfortably into the slipstream and my head was not at 90 degrees from my neck. I even turned around and rode the opposite direction to a previous highway exit to test out the wind resistance, and it was little different (plus, there was a pretty good ramp there I knew about). Score Two.
And on the highway, I set my wrist at 120 km/h, -ish, and could have stayed there all day. Even the mirrors were clear and showed only a touch of elbow. Score a definite Three and Four.
The funny thing about the Street Cup is that it actually has 12 less horsepower than the previous-generation Bonneville, with 55 hp total, but it’s been tuned for much more power at mid-range: 20 per cent more from 2,000 to 4,250 rpm, and 18 per cent more peak torque, up to 59 lbs.-ft. Or so says Costa, anyway, and I’m sure he’s right, because this bike is pokier than the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s mom. Syrupy, my high-riding ass. The engine runs out of steam above 5,000 rpm and redlines at just a grand above that, but this gives plenty of space for riding like you stole it. Which I did.
At the end of 90 minutes on the highway, I was quite comfortable. How did Triumph finally figure out this ergonomic riding position that’s so effective? Granted, my backside was turning a little numb, so I hung my feet off the pegs for a bit (no standing – that would be stunting in Ontario, obviously, and clearly an unforgiveable crime worthy of its $10,000 fine). My back was great; my wrists were great; my neck was great. I felt like a young stud again, sort of.
Over the next week, I rode the Street Cup on some country roads and made the most of its handling. That doesn’t mean I touched down the pegs, but I swear it was close. If I’d been on a modern sportbike, I’d have been bored at such almost-legal speeds, but on the Triumph, it was a blast. Agile, responsive even when the revs dropped, and it always made me feel like a hero. What more could anyone want?
On the final day, I rode to Warkworth as a Father’s Day treat and parked the café racer outside a café for a cold drink. An older guy wandered up and looked at the bike in the sunshine, and we started chatting. He wasn’t sure if it was liquid cooled – I showed him the tall radiator. He lamented that his Harley gets so hot that it singes the hairs off his legs, which is easy because he usually wears shorts when he rides. He commented that the Street Cup “sure looks powerful.”
It’s not nearly as powerful as the new Thruxtons, I told him, though it was plenty powerful enough for me to enjoy the winding roads of the Northumberland Hills. “It’s an old-man’s bike, really,” I confessed, thinking he might understand.
At that, a young woman walking past with her dog stopped and turned back to look at us. “That’s not an old man’s bike,” she said. “That bike is hot. It really is beautiful.” Which it is.
And I sucked in my gut and stood a little taller and zipped up my jacket and slung a booted leg over the seat. When I thumbed the starter button and the engine thrummed to life, the guy nodded appreciatively and the young woman smiled and walked away with her dog. My testicles tingled just a little. A twist of the neck from side to side, a stretch of the wrists at full reach against each other, and I rode away feeling like Steve McQueen.
Oh hang on – he’s dead…