Is that what I think it is?
Yes, it is. Under the fried eggs and camouflage of baked beans, lies a single piece of fried bread. Translucent, crispy and retaining twice its body-weight in fat, I had rediscovered the famous English breakfast – a killer in its own right. It was perfect.
But it wasn’t the only perfect thing that day. It was all perfect. For starters, it was not only sunny, it was cloudless sunny, and warm too. Bleating lambs and quick-whistling birds completed the sensory experience, as I sat in the back garden of a roadside café – digesting my fat-ladened breakfast.
I had just completed a hundred miles of simply heart-fluttering A-road, aka the A68 – an undulating smooth track, stroking the Pennine hills between northern England and southern Scotland. Fast and fun with the occasional heart-stopper as rise becomes descent quicker and sharper than expected – body and machine momentarily weightless, bars fluttering, broken by a thump and a wobble as rubber reunites with asphalt.
It was a day to remember, and after a less than stellar start I was finally starting to warm up to Triumph’s latest Bonneville incarnation – the Thruxton.
THE THRUST OF THE THRUXTON
The Thruxton is Triumph’s latest derivation of the standard Bonneville platform, a much anticipated move into the folklore of the café racer and a much welcomed respite from a series of cruiser derivations that were aimed squarely at the American market.
Also much welcomed is the boost in engine performance achieved by punching out the bore to increase displacement from 790cc to 865cc. But that’s not all; higher compression, hotter cams, bigger carbs and freer flowing megaphone exhausts all help to give an additional 8 horses and 9 ft-lbs of torque.
Unlike the cruiser derivates, which have an unusual 270-degree crank (one piston at the top while the other is mid-stroke), the Thruxton keeps the traditional layout of 360 degrees (pistons up and down together). That’s much the same as my beloved Yamaha XS650, although Triumph keeps the inherent vibrations of this layout at bay with the addition of a balance shaft.
The modifications are good, and indeed add the performance dimension that was somewhat lacking from the old 790 motor. However, it’s almost, well, too smooth! And when combined with ‘orribly quiet pipes, you just don’t get the rorty feeling that you’d expect to get from a classic parallel twin. Of course, you can get the official “off-road” pipes fitted – although I’m not sure why a large steel rod and a BFO hammer wouldn’t also do the job if they were irresponsibly used to punch a hole through the standard baffles (although we wouldn’t recommend such at thing).
LOOKING FOR THE HAPPY PLACE
I’d managed to get the Thruxton for a week during my recent England expedition, with pick-up and drop-off from the firm’s factory in the Midlands. But the start of our relationship was not to be a smooth one, with a rather miserable ride back from the Hinckley factory up a very wet M1 motorway – bent over double, rain blasting into my face.
The Thruxton wasn’t what I had expected. A quiet and seemingly characterless machine, with a severe riding stance; Clip-on bars and rear-set pegs forced my 6’4” frame into a single position – arse pushed forward onto the narrowest part of the seat with my generals elongated against the tank. My knees were angled below the tank, resting against the fins of the air-cooled motor – protected from the conductive heat by small wire guards.
It’s the classic café-racer pose, but it’s more radical than most super-sports, although the head-down angle of attack did save my neck on this truly naked machine.
But then this was a potential worst-case scenario, creating a rather harsh initial judgment. I didn’t even the notice that the Thruxton was humming along nicely at a reasonable clip with the 90mph traffic flow, still able to accelerate through the occasional gap in the endless train of belching cars – eager to show that there was more to it than its hapless pilot could see. This definitely wasn’t a happy place for either of us.
Knowing all too well that I had just put the Thruxton through a very tough first appraisal, I took a few days off to recover, got some better weather and took a route further north via the less-crowded and more characterful A68.
The A68 is the kind of road that encourages speed, testing the rider’s abilities to keep composed and to think clearly. But it will also not tolerate fools gladly and the blind crests and right-angled corners will just as happily rob the wandering mind from its mortal coil, as it will reward it with a day of endorphins.
I leave my perfect café – with additional ground hugging breakfast weight – and within 15 minutes I’m into the Scottish border region. A curled ribbon of road off to my left seizes my attention momentarily, but the A68 firmly grabs me by the jaw again with a wide-open 180-degree corner before me. With no deep descent to justify it, this is an unexpected pleasure. As I exit the apex I glance ahead and am rewarded with two more such corners, back to back.
Toes on pegs, down two gears and fingers covering the front brake, I grin the grin of the inane (and possessed) and swap arse cheeks as the Thruxton swoops in for the next apex. Each corner is mathematically perfect, the surface is new and smooth, the arcs wide.
Short straights between right-angled corners were soon gobbled up with a quick twist of the throttle. But the lack of engine vibration and exhaust noise meant that perceived speed was still deceptive. The ensuing panic-braking before the road went in a direction that rider and bike would be unable to follow, affirmed just how much momentum had built up in the last few throttle-pinned seconds.
A long-straight allows me the luxury of ringing the bike out, showing an indicated 112mph (200km/h) at a relatively smooth 7000rpm (in top), before I had to hit both brakes and sitting up as far as possible in order to bring it back down again for the next right-hander. Fudged corners can still be saved though, thanks to that down low torque – pulling from a tad below 2000rpm, all the way to the 7000rpm redline. Well, actually all the way to the 8,250rpm cut-out … if the truth were told.
By the latter part of my two day Scottish excursion I’m pulling up steep hills in third at a mere 2000rpm, short-shifting through the gears down narrow stone-wall encased lanes or cutting a slow serpentine series of esses into a single high-speed wiggle.
Talking of shifting, the box proved to be quite smooth. The ‘quite’ bit being because it did require a bit of a prod to change, although it was free of false neutrals and once you’d got the hang of giving it a firm push, it ceased to be noticed at all.
By the way, over the course of my trip I recorded an average fuel consumption of 15.76Km/L or 6.35 L/Km, with the reserve (a traditional petcock switch), requiring a turning around the 180Km mark. With a 16 litre tank, that equates to a range of about 250Km.
But the motor is only half of the equation, how does a steel-cradle chassis cope with the modern world?
THE OTHER ‘ALF
Quite well actually. Although the chassis remains essentially the same over the standard Bonnie, the geometry is quite different. An 18-inch front wheel replaces the 19 incher (both aluminium now), and longer shocks at the back combine to steepen up the front-end and quicken the steering.
This helps the rider with the turning effort, off-setting the reduced leverage of the narrow clip-on bars. However, I never did get razor-sharp with the steering either – the Thruxton requiring a lot more thought to bring it through corners on a tight line than an modern sport bike. Oddly, this served to add to the overall character of the bike, actually requiring the rider to have a certain level of skill to pull off high-speed corners with grace.
Hmhh, all this coming from a man who enjoys the handling vagaries of an ancient XS650!
The Metzeler tires are a mix of a ME33 up front and a MEZ2 on the rear. For everyday usage I found them quite acceptable, never once stepping out on me despite my best efforts to get something to touch down in the corner (which I also failed to do btw).
Suspension also adds to the vintage character. The front forks are adjustable for preload, with the classic twin shocked rear offering the same. You cannot say that it wasn’t compliant but I’m not sure that you can say that it was either. The front end would become quite vague at high speed, and I either found the ride slightly hard or slightly soft, depending on the circumstance. Ultimately I suspect it was an issue with the twin shock set-up at the rear not having quite enough range to cope.
Triumph have boosted front braking on the Thruxton with a larger 320mm disc up front, gripped by a twin-piston caliper. Again, it maybe keeps with the more classic look but the deceptive turns of speed from the motor had me pulling mighty hard on the front on more than one occasion. It’s the kind of brake that will eventually do its job when squeezed, but lacks the initial bite. A second disc would be a good idea methinks.
The rear works just fine – not locking up unless stomped on, but it’s not just for show either, actually adding to the general retardation effect. Oddly, the engine-braking back up that you would expect from a high compression twin was lacking, though I‘m not sure why.
Although at speed there is some relief offered by the wind supporting the torso, urban traffic was painful at best and a spirited back-roads ride with much braking was akin to applying a mother of a vice-grip between torso and clip-ons, compressing the wrists in the process. Okay it might just be my aging wrists, but I could still feel the pain a month later. Honest.
Oh, and this seems like a good time to mention the high-speed highway position of choice. Feet back onto passenger pegs, left elbow on tank, right hand on throttle. This has the added effect of pushing yer arse back onto a more padded part of the seat, with the added benefit of relieving pressure on the generals in the process.
THE THRUXTON RIDER?
So who should buy the Thruxton? Well, it feels more like a second bike than an utilitarian ride. It’s a niche machine that begs for Sunday rides down gnarly country lanes, complaining like a spoilt two year old if you try to take it highway bound or through stop-and-go traffic.
The Thruxton relies on character as its main appeal, so a total lack of sensory feedback from the pipes is akin to having a quartet, when you need the full orchestra. I’m not talking slash-cut, no baffle here, just enough to complete the sensory picture. There are other machines that come straight from the factory with just that right level of sound, so why not from Triumph, especially on the Thruxton?
But it does have the look. Whilst trying to take as many shots as I could during my British tour, it was one of the few bikes were I’d actually take time out to just admire it in between pictures. The blackened out fins, polished side cases and Dunstall-style pipes (the downpipe kink has also gone), are perfectly framed by alloy wheels, shorty guards, stepped seat and traditional styled tank. Lovely.
Even riding it gave the pilot the view of just two white-faced clocks, chrome headlight shell and the unfurling road below. It’s just you, the road and a pair of clocks to explain why you’re now in trouble, mid-corner (you’re doing 90mph you idiot!). And even with its peculiarities outlined in this article, there’s an argument to be made that it’s a slice of character oft missing from modern machinery.
Still, I’d like to have seen a less radical position. Maybe a set of tubular drop bars instead of the fixed clip-ons, thus allowing the rider to modify position to suit age with a simple and cheap change of the bars.
But perfection is rare and subjective. With the Thruxton, Triumph has actually managed to recreate a classic with the comforts of modern engineering – a fine balancing act. Although our initial encounter had been rather rough, with the trip to Scotland I found the Thruxton’s happy place – one that is far away from the drone of the motorway or the stop-and-go traffic of the urban bungle
At C$11,799.00 it’s competitive with the likes of the Ducati Monster 800, although a direct competitor is not really an option. Of course, it only seems a matter of time before the new 865cc motor makes it into the standard Bonnie and even the cruiser variants. And so it should – it’s a big improvement.
Now how about a nice Scrambler version? High pipes, low gearing and a set of knobbies! Get to it then.