A First Look at the Triumph Thruxton
by Neale Bayly
There has been a lot of buzz in the press and on the Internet lately about the new Triumph Thruxton and I have to admit to being more than a little curious myself. I am a long-term fan of the café racer, growing up in England when a well-sorted Triumph Bonneville was still one of the fastest bikes on the road. Though times have changed, I have not lost my affection for rear set foot pegs and clip-on handlebars attached to a lightweight, minimalist machine. It is easy to get lost in the hype these days with so many mega-horsepower machines grabbing the headlines, and it was a refreshing day when I got to sample the original Bonneville back in early 2001 for the first time. Light, with ample power for spirited riding, it came with a taught chassis, good brakes and classis style all of it’s own. It re-defined the word “fun” for me, as I re-discovered the neighborhoods and roads close to home that I usually ignore while testing. I also distinctly remember sitting back reflecting on the possibilities for the bike, musing about upswept pipes, drop bars, solo seat, fly screen…etc,.
A recent phone call to Triumph’s Product and Racing Manager, Mr. Ross Clifford, quickly confirmed I hadn’t been the only one thinking this. The original concept of the Thruxton has been kicking around Triumph’s headquarters over in Hinckley, England, since 1996, when the Bonneville was in it’s initial development. It was more a matter of “when, not if,” Ross told me, but first the Bonneville, the Bonneville America and the recent Speedmaster had to introduced. With the overwhelming success of these models, Triumph designers were able to respond to the frequently asked question, “When are you going to build a café racer?” Ross is quick to point out that the project is a “team effort,” with no one person solely responsible for the Thruxton at this point.
The idea was a “no-brainer,” and with a rich, racing history to draw from, the Thruxton was born to commemorate the famous race bikes of the 1960s. More specifically the Thruxton 500 endurance race in England that in 1969 saw Triumph take the top three podium positions. “We definitely wanted something a little more dynamic than the Bonneville”, so the project began in July, 2001. By January of the following year, styling commenced and chassis tests were under way by early November. Less than a year later, the styling was finished and by May 2003, the photo bike was complete.
Starting in the engine, Ross told me Triumph wanted to add more excitement, so power was increased by 13%. This was achieved in a number of ways, from larger pistons to give an engine capacity of 865cc’s, to new camshafts and re-jetted carburetors. The new exhaust pipes were extensively re-worked to not only aid the power increase, but to have a different tone. Triumph wanted a throaty Bonneville beat while still meeting noise and pollution standards, always a compromise at best. The new power plant now makes 69 horsepower, compared to the original Bonneville’s 62, and the increase comes at the upper end of the power band for a more spirited ride. According to Ross, it is very noticeable when you ride both the bikes back to back. Interestingly, the Thruxton’s peak power occurs at 7,250rpms compared to the Bonneville’s 7,400rpm, while torque figures jumped to 53ft.lb from 44ft.lbs. Due to the nature of the power gains, this figure now arrives at 5,750rpm, not the original’s 3,500rpm. The Thruxton retains the Bonneville’s 360-degree firing order also, and I wonder if this new engine will find it’s way into the rest of the Bonneville range at some point in the near future?
Chassis changes were limited to new, longer rear suspension to help quicken the steering, as well as upgrades in the forks. Braking was improved to handle the extra power, with the use of a single 320mm floating disc up front and a smaller, lighter 255mm disc out back. Both calipers remain two-piston, and when I asked Ross about the suspension and brake components, he told me “they were designed to improve the overall handling without losing the classic look of the 60’s café racer.” More high-tech units could have been sourced, but they would take away from the looks and increase the cost.
I am positive the Thruxton will make a fantastic platform for some cool modifications once it hits the streets, and am certain that we will be seeing them with trick shocks, brakes, et al very soon. To complete the café style, clip-on handlebars, rear set foot pegs, a sporty front mudguard and a race-inspired seat hump help complete the visuals. The engine cases are also polished and the gas tanks will come in Jet Black or Sunset red. There will also be a full assortment of accessories available from off-road silencers to fly screens and throw over saddlebags.
Ross was very positive about the feedback the bike received at the Paris and Milan shows earlier this year, with a lot of young Europeans eager to get their hands on one. When I asked him if he thought Americans would understand the Thruxton connection, he told me he hoped the upcoming press launch would give journalists an opportunity to be able to explain this very authentic connection to people. As a bike that is aimed at riders who like the style and the heritage, the new Triumph Thruxton is intended to be a unique, fun motorcycle that doesn’t pay the penalty of high purchase price, large insurance premiums and the fear of collecting a bunch of speeding tickets.
The one question I really wanted to ask was if Ross thought there might be the chance of a single bike race series in the future. As Triumph’s Product and Racing Manager he has been very involved in the hugely successful Daytona 600 race effort this year, so I know this is subject he is very close to. “Never say never: It is a possibility in the future, but definitely not right now.” We both agreed it would be a fun series, but Ross felt people would be buying the Thruxton as a street bike not as a racer. We can only wait and see.