Test ride: 2019 Triumph Speed Twin

Although not so well-known as its Bonneville cousin, it’s Triumph’s Speed Twin that really defined the British bike maker, more than 75 years ago.

In 1938, the Speed Twin featured a parallel-twin engine format that was new for the time and fit within the framework of Triumph’s existing machines, but provided better performance and a smoother ride than the single-cylinder thumpers.  It resulted in a capable, fun and affordable bike – until the Germans bombed the factory in 1940, putting the Speed Twin production on hiatus.

Looks a bit vintage, doesn’t it? But no – the new-for-2019 Triumph Speed Twin is bang up to date.

There’s a new Speed Twin now, and it also provides performance and smoothness (and style), and in many ways, makes it the best in the Bonneville family.  It slots between the Bonneville T120 and the Thruxton R, borrowing components from each, while offering very little that’s unique to this bike alone.  The results, however, are anything but a parts-bin mish-mash.  Instead, the Speed Twin is a best-of-both-worlds bike.

There’s some business sense here: take all the existing mechanicals from one bike and dress it in different outfits to expand the model line-up, ensuring there’s something for almost all tastes, but requiring very little development investment.  We can’t blame Triumph for splintering off its successful modern classic bikes into an endless number of variations. After all, other manufacturers are doing it successfully (just how many different Ducati Scramblers or BMW RnineTs are there now anyway?), and more important, people are snatching them up.

Jeff really liked the black on black colour scheme of this tester.

What is it?

The 1,200 cc parallel twin-cylinder that’s in the Bonneville T120 lineup is a very impressive mill.  That it puts out 96 horsepower isn’t all that special, but the way the 83 lbs.-ft. of torque are measured out in a wave of thrust makes the Speed Twin a thrilling and addictive machine.

The fuelling and throttle modulation are exceptional, enabling all that oomph to be doled out with such silkiness that it makes the rider look like a hero [Bit of wishful thinking there, Jeff? – Ed.] and feel more confident when riding.  Even in its sportiest of three ride-mode settings (the aptly named “Sport” setting), the Speed Twin is still wonderfully obedient.  Traction control is standard and can be switched off, if desired.

The Speed Twin’s engine is as content puttering around town on errand runs as it is loafing along on the highway, or even revving to its modest 7,000 rpm redline when called upon for some fun.  It’s smooth doing any of those things, too.  Where a Moto Guzzi Griso or BMW RnineT offer more (ahem) “personality” when blipping the throttle, the Trumpet’s engine doesn’t need all that novelty – it’s got the grunt without the bike-rocking party tricks.

The six-speed transmission goes about its business without issue.  No false neutrals, no stubbornness finding first gear, just a good, solid and true actuation, flipping from cog to cog.  The clutch is very light in operation and helps make gear changes pleasant, even in tedious Toronto traffic.

Compared to its Bonneville T120 and Thruxton counterparts, the Speed Twin shaves nearly 20 kg of weight.  There are lighter engine bits like the magnesium cam cover, in the interest of keeping mass down and performance up. The cast wheels (rather than wire spoked ones on the Thruxton and Bonnie) certainly help, too, and the dry weight of the Speed Twin is a respectable 197 kg.

The reduced mass, particularly in the wheels, helps in the Speed Twin’s handling.  While not super-sport quick to dive into corners, the Speed Twin has an eagerness to lean that makes the Triumph a more capable performer than its classic appearance might suggest.  The Pirelli Rosso IIIs are the same tires fitted to the much sportier Triumph Street Triple, and provide good grip.  The relatively skinny 160-width in the back helps the bike tip into turns too, without making the rear end look like a rolling meatball (yes, Ducati Diavel, we’re looking at you).

The non-adjustable 41 mm fork pales against the beefy inverted Showa Big Piston found on the Thruxton R, but it, and even the old-style twin-shock rear suspension, are well-suited to the character of the Speed Twin. The bike is fast and fun on the street, if not the track.

Round headlight, bar-end mirrors, chunky exhaust – Triumph knows what it’s doing with retro design.

How is it to ride?

Elephant Lake Road is a coveted riding route just south of Algonquin Park, but during our recent CMG group ride, we discovered its blacktop hadn’t weathered our harsh winter well and was in pretty rough shape.  Dean, riding the CB1000R – a much faster and more capable machine than the Triumph – had his hands full as the Honda skittered around nervously. The Speed Twin, with its softer suspension, was comparatively easy to ride fast there. I could keep up with Dean without much difficulty.

That’s what’s so great about the Speed Twin.  It’s a bike with a storied name that looks cool, but it’s also easy to ride around town, or rippin’ it up in the real world.  There are much faster and better equipped track bikes out there, but the Speed Twin isn’t trying to be one; it’s just remarkably satisfying to ride everywhere else.

Jeff prepares to round a corner on the Speed Twin. He’s riding incredibly fast here, but it barely looks like it.

It’s decently comfortable too, with a relatively low seat height; the bars keep the rider in a fairly upright riding position and the pegs are a little farther forward than on the Thruxton.  That said, both Editor Mark and I found the shape of the bars strained our wrists a bit, but then, we have more grey hair than the rest of the group, none of whom complained about the bars.

The Speed Twin sounds really cool, too.  The blacked-out pair of exhaust pipes are just deep and loud enough to make their presence known, without being obnoxious.  Plus, they burble and pop when you let off the throttle.  It’s this sort of stuff that gives this bike the personality that’s lacking in so many other sterile, modern bikes.

While the Speed Twin is available with a red tank or a grey tank (each with hand-painted coach lines), it’s the all-black version of my tester that looks best to me.  Ryan, our photographer, grumbled about the sight of the radiator up front, but he’s an air-cooled Thruxton-riding snob, and I’d happily have a cooler-running bike in stop-and-go traffic any day.

Is it worth it?

The Speed Twin looks clean and simple and bad-ass, and there are a few flourishes that are appreciated – like the bar-end mirrors (which work great), and the aluminum headlight brackets.  Plus, Triumph offers more than 70 different accessories to help individualize the Speed Twin, though they’re not cheap.

Speaking of cost, the Speed Twin rings in at a starting price of $13,400, which is $150 more than the cheapest Bonneville T120, but $600 below the starting price of a Thruxton.  I would unquestionably choose this over either of those bikes for its blend of performance, comfort and simple styling.  BMW’s entry-level RnineT Pure is priced nearly the same, as is Kawasaki’s Z900RS, and choosing a favourite between those two and the Speed Twin would be tough for me without spending a lot of time riding each back-to-back.

Triumph has done very well with its modern interpretation of its classic bikes and this latest addition hit the sweet spot for me.  The new Speed Twin is well deserving of its historic name, and it’s a truly fun machine to ride every day.

Right in the sweet spot of Triumph’s lineup, the Speed Twin has no pretensions for the track, but plenty for the street.

One thought on “Test ride: 2019 Triumph Speed Twin”

  1. Very nice! A highly capable, real world street bike that happens to possess outstanding ‘street’ performance along with amazing aesthetics and build quality. Well done…a real ‘Triumph’.

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