MALLORCA, Spain—When Triumph redesigned its new Bonneville twins in 2016, the company brought its modern retro bikes into modern times. They were liquid cooled, with ride-by-wire throttle control, ABS, traction control, better chassis, and they were significantly lighter than the air-cooled Bonnevilles they replaced (Ed. Note: And waaay better than the old Bonnies of the 1970s – duh). I gelled then with the redesigned Brit bikes after riding them, and was particularly fond of the Street Twin.
The Thruxton’s performance and handling checked all the right boxes, but its stiff suspension and aggressive, almost supersport-like riding position nixed it as a daily rider for me. On the other hand, I found the Street Twin’s classic, yet contemporary styling appealing, and its upright riding position was much friendlier to my half-century-old body. All it needed to be the ideal bike was considerably more power, like maybe another 40 or so added to its 54 horsepower. It does get 10 hp more for 2019, but that’s not enough to satisfy my gluttonous appetite for speed.
For 2019, Triumph hits the sweet spot between the Street Twin and Thruxton with the all-new Speed Twin, which we rode here along the roads that wind through the mountains of Mallorca, one of Spain’s Mediterranean islands. It has the added power I was looking for, and less weight.
What the Speed Twin is about
Since power was my most important criterion, we’ll start with the engine. The Speed Twin replaces the Street Twin’s 900 cc, five-speed mill with the 1200 cc six-speed unit from the bigger Bonnies, but Triumph didn’t just settle on the 79 hp engine from the T120, but opted for the 96 hp engine of the Thruxton. Tuning is the same as the Thruxton, and the 270-degree twin puts out a maximum of 83 lbs.-ft. of torque at just 4,950 rpm.
There are, however, some minor changes that distinguish the Speed Twin’s engine from the Thruxton’s, including a magnesium valve cover, lighter engine side covers, and a lighter clutch assembly, all changes that drop its weight by 2.5 kg. Like the Thruxton, the Speed Twin gets switchable traction control, and three electronic ride modes — Rain, Road, and Sport — each one with progressively more aggressive throttle mapping and TC settings. Maintenance intervals are set at a generous 16,000 km.
The chassis was developed from the Thruxton R, with a few important changes. Chassis geometry is very similar, with the Speed Twin matching the Thruxton R’s 22.8 degree rake and boasting a touch more trail at 93.5 mm (92 mm for the Thruxton). But the Speed Twin has 15 mm more wheelbase, at 1,530 mm, achieved by pulling the wheel back in the swingarm. This puts a bit more weight over the front wheel, and brings weight bias to an even 50:50. The steel frame’s removable downtubes are made of aluminum, while on the Thruxton they are made of steel. Unlike the non-R Thruxton, which has floating twin-piston front calipers and solid discs, the Speed Twin has higher-spec Brembo four-piston calipers and floating discs.
When combined with other weight-saving measures, like lighter wheels and a lighter battery, the Speed Twin claims a dry weight of 196 kg, which is 10 kg lighter than the Thruxton, 7 kg lighter than the Thruxton R, and even 2 kg lighter than the Street Twin. That makes it the lightest, highest-performance parallel twin currently available from Triumph, and it undercuts the Thruxton by $700, listing at $13,300.
How does it ride?
We thumbed the starters at 8:30 in the morning in temperatures in the mid-single digits Celsius, with the Speed Twin returning a rich, throaty exhaust note in the cool, crisp air. Fortunately, our hosts fitted heated grips on the test bikes, and I would too, even if they are $330 options. We’re Canadians, after all. If you find that costly, consider that they’re wired into the bike, with the heat level displayed in the instrument panel, and they have just about the neatest switch setup I’ve ever seen, with the switch mounted directly onto the left grip.
The bike feels surprisingly light when lifting it off the side stand, and seat height is modest at 807 mm, allowing an easy, flat-footed reach to the ground for my 32-inch inseam. This is a tad lower than the Thruxton, despite the seat boasting about an inch more foam. A tall, wide-tapered aluminum handlebar places you upright, and the footpegs are 38 mm farther forward and 4 mm lower than on the Thruxton, providing a more accommodating foothold.
Clutch pull is light, as is nudging the bike into gear. Successive gear changes are also light, with short, solid throws. We began the day on open roads, where the Speed Twin chugged along smoothly with the engine spinning at 3,400 rpm at 100 km/h. Good passing power is available in top gear from that speed, but if space is limited, prompting you to zip by a car quickly, dropping two gears allows you to complete the manoeuvre in a matter of seconds.
Torque delivery is broad: the engine pulls forcefully and without letting up until it hits redline at 7,000 rpm. The spread of torque allows you to almost forget the gearbox on winding roads, with the engine pulling readily from 2,000 rpm whether you’re in second, third or fourth gear.
Triumph has shown a knack for nailing down throttle response on every one of its bikes that I’ve ridden, and the Speed Twin is no different. While response at lower speeds in lower gears in Sport mode requires a more delicate right wrist, it is fluid enough to make the other two ride modes almost redundant. The softer throttle response of Road mode did make stop-and go traffic a bit easier to manage, and I’m sure Rain mode will give riders peace of mind in wet weather, though I got by just fine on the wet pavement in Sport mode. This is more a testament to the engine’s linear spread of power, which makes the bike remarkably easy to ride, and probably so for a novice rider.
When we hit the twisty bits in the mountains, they were really twisty, with a variety of bends ranging from high-speed sweepers to first-gear switchbacks. The leverage offered by the taller, wider handlebar makes steering effort lighter than on the clip-on-clad Thruxton, while maintaining unwavering stability at speed. The weight reduction has a bigger effect on handling than just the lack of kilos would suggest. Triumph made efforts to reduce inertia — through the lighter clutch, brake discs and wheels — and this makes the Speed Twin especially flickable through esses.
The suspension is essentially off the Thruxton, but tweaked with minor adjustments to the rear preload (there’s less), and fork oil volume (there’s more). The only Thruxton I’ve ridden so far is the supersport-stiff R model, and the Speed Twin is certainly not that; its suspension is much more compliant and everyday usable, and not just tuned for ripping up twisty backroads. While I do find the suspension on the firm side, it’s tuned to handle a broad range of riding conditions. This provides excellent control for attacking twisties at speed while remaining moderately compliant for everything else. The only thing I’d like to see is a bit more adjustability than just the rear preload adjustment, so I could soften up the damping for anything but hard riding.
The seat is firm, yet flat and wide. I can’t really comment on the seat’s comfort, since a previous day’s bicycle ride tempered my butt, and it was aching before I even got on the Speed Twin. I can state, however, that my butt felt no worse after about 200 km in the saddle, so the seat can’t be bad.
The cold weather caused some problems along the route, particularly in the morning when the roads were damp. One five-kilometre section of road that remains shaded and wet throughout the day actually had moss growing on the pavement – its green hue sapped confidence instantly.
However, I must commend the choice of sporty Pirelli Diablo Rosso III radials as OEM tires, because they displayed remarkably good grip and returned confidence-inspiring feedback. Combined with the traction control, I never felt a tire slip, and that was in Sport mode, which turns down the TC. Some riders in the group did say they had either the front, the rear, or both tires lose grip at some point, though that was early in the day, when temperatures were at their lowest.
Finally, the brakes, which are supported by standard ABS. Lever effort is two-finger light, feedback is excellent, and they are supersport strong.
Should you buy one? Should I buy one?
If you’re considering a retro bike, like maybe a BMW R nineT Pure or Kawasaki Z900RS, the 2019 Triumph Speed Twin certainly deserves a look. Even if you’re thinking seriously about getting a Thruxton because you like its café racer styling, I say get the Speed Twin instead and throw on a set of clip-ons. You’ll get the café racer look, a lighter bike, and it’ll cost you less, even with the bar change.
The Speed Twin’s styling alone got me with its classic silhouette, and styling touches like brushed aluminum fenders, a complete absence of chrome, forged aluminum headlight brackets, an unpainted aluminum swingarm, blacked-out engine, and an overall tidy appearance. Add to that its accommodating riding position and its better-than-Thruxton performance spec sheet, and there’s no doubt that the new Speed Twin is a winner.