One Saucy Brit
by Neale Bayly
Exiting a particularly greasy roundabout on London’s North Circular road, it is time to feed in some throttle. Ahead of me, the sound of the old British twin roaring up through the gears means I had better do it quick. With the light snowfall turning to water as it hits the ground, I straighten up the new Triumph Thruxton 900 and spin the parallel twin up to red line. The rear Metzeler keeps me honest as I dive for a gap in the fast moving traffic, keeping my eyes firmly attached to the number plate on the Triumph Triton up front.
In the saddle, Ace Café owner Mark Wilsmore is crouched low over the alloy tank and hard on the gas as we head for his flat. Filming a segment for an upcoming show on “Speed Channel,” he is hell bent on making my ride as exiting as possible. Of course he is succeeding, and with the last of the feeling leaving my frozen fingers, I glance down to see the Triumph’s speedometer nudging 80mph. A line of cars means losing some speed as we cut through the narrowest of gaps, before ripping around the next roundabout. With the North Circular road’s two lanes choked with fast moving traffic, this sort of riding is the only way to get anywhere fast.
Blasting across the old IronBridge, a place that brought death and injury to the ton-up (slang for hitting 100mph) boy racers of the 50s and 60s, we make it through in one piece. Back on the throttle, Mark keeps my adrenaline pumping with his carve-and-slice maneuvering as he does battle with the London traffic.
Coming to a rapid halt at the next light, inquisitive faces peer from steamed up car windows, the Featherbed framed Triumph’s open pipes alerting them to our presence. I also notice the sharp look of the new red Triumph Thruxton holding their gaze: It is highly likely they haven’t seen one before.
Perfectly suited for the roads of London, my first introduction to Triumph’s newest retro happens a day earlier at the famous Thruxton Race circuit, just outside the small hamlet of Andover. On a bitterly cold morning, under a blanket of gray sky, Triumph’s Ross Clifford takes us on a quick three-lap sighting excursion. Stone cold tires, frigid track surface, and no clue which way the corners are going makes this an exhilarating experience as I follow Ross, a man who only knows two throttle positions: wide open and closed.
This really isn’t the best method for evaluating a new bike, but as the Triumph staff point out repeatedly, we are just here for photos. Our real evaluation is going to take place out on the highways and byways of rural England later in the day.
Running through the fast back side of the track at over 100mph quickly shows the suspension’s limitations. As mentioned in my earlier article about the Thruxton’s development, the suspension has been upgraded at both ends and the steering quickened with the use of longer and more sophisticated shocks than the original Bonneville. With the tachometer needle doing straight eights through the gears, there is not much chance to feel what the engine is doing either.
It is just so much fun though and the movement from the suspension is not unexpected or too out of hand. The single 320mm front brake needs the assistance of the 255mm rear to make fast stops, as there is a strange twisting feeling from the front forks if the four-piston caliper up front is applied too hard. Apparently, the extra weight of a second disc was deemed unnecessary, as tests revealed it didn’t really provide that much extra stopping power.
The Thruxton, while obviously no leading edge sport bike, makes for an easy bike to learn the famous circuit and coming back in from our photo sessions, the atmosphere in the Thruxton clubhouse is positive. I sat amongst pictures of past racing heroes, it is a special moment to have ridden on such a famous piece of racing real estate. Now it is time to don more warm weather equipment and go out for the real test.
Starting the bike, a small amount of fiddling is needed to work the ignition key which is found to the left hand side of the headlight, with access impeded by the small bullet-style indicators. (We are in England now so apologies for the language) Firing up the quiet sounding twin, a little choke, located on the left hand carburetor, quickly has the engine warmed up and idling, even on such a bitterly cold day.
Sitting on the broad saddle, it is a good reach to the low clip-on handlebars, but my feet are flat on the ground. The riding position actually feels remarkably similar to an old Moto Guzzi Le Mans or Laverda Jota from the 70s. The adjustable clutch lever is definitely not the lightest I have pulled, but it is certainly not heavy. Like the four-way adjustable brake lever, I need it set on the closest setting as it is too far from my hand if it is any further out. Finding the gear lever takes a conscious effort the first time, as it is set back to accompany the rear-set foot pegs. Slipping into gear is a quiet, effortless task.
The throttle seems light, but wearing thick gloves doesn’t make for a very accurate assessment so I check with a couple of fellow journalists at lunch: They have no complaints. Letting out the clutch and joining the line of bikes heading onto the road, the motor immediately seems peppy, the CV carburetors allowing it to pull cleanly from low down. The engine will actually accelerate, albeit not too strongly, from just off idle in top gear with no drive train snatch. Smooth and quiet, it feels almost vibration free until the revs get up over 5000 rpm. Here, the motor puts a good buzz through the controls. With less than 1,000 miles on the clock I wonder if it because it hasn’t been revved this high during break in.
We quickly hit the open road and settle in for a spirited ride through the English countryside. It takes a few minutes of adjustment for riding on the left hand side of the road, but with a line of bikes in front I have no excuses if I mess up. The road surface is challenging to say the least. Damp and slippery in places, the plethora of metal drain covers and pot holes peppering the tarmac certainly keep me on my toes as we blast round the tight, twisty roads. Passing through small, sleepy villages with picture postcard thatch roof cottages, the Thruxton 900 is completely at ease.
Out of the villages, away from the numerous speed cameras that seem to be all over England these days, we pick up the pace. At times, I see triple digits registering on the round-faced speedometer. In top gear (the Thruxton has five), this equates to around 6000 rpm, which is about 2000rpm shy of the rev limiter. Producing 69 horsepower at 7250 rpm, there is little to be gained revving past this point. Chin on the clocks, hammering down a stretch of dual carriageway, at one point I see the speedo needle hitting just shy of 120mph.
I was actually very impressed with the bike’s high-speed travel manners as I follow a group of Italian journalists for a time. What this shows me is the Thruxton’s ability to easily hold these speeds. With no real fairing, the wind hits me solidly in the chin and gives the wrists some relief from the low bars. There is no need to change down to over take, as top gear pulls very respectfully from 70mph if needed.
So up hill and down dale we ride. Taking in a good cross section of everything England has to offer, including a quick visit to Stonehenge. Beneath me the Triumph Thruxton 900 is purring effortlessly as we make our way back to Thruxton. Perfectly suited to the English roads, it is going to make a back road riders delight here in the USA, not to mention sparking a bunch of conversations on a trip to your local coffee shop.
Back in the warm clubhouse gives us another chance to compare notes over steaming hot cups of tea. The atmosphere is as positive as earlier in the day, and a fellow English ex-patriot and I wax lyrically about growing up in England. Being the same age, we can both vividly remember being dusted by a well sorted Triumph or two in our formative years, while riding small displacement Japanese bikes. It makes me feel grateful that we have manufacturers such as Triumph producing bikes like the Thruxton. Totally unique, and harking back to perhaps a simpler time in life when Triumphs and Nortons roamed the world, it gives a fantastic opportunity to recapture these old halcyon days of motorcycling, without all the trouble associated with bikes of that era.