One of the main reasons certain donor bikes have found themselves as the base for custom projects is that in the cold light of modern day, with rose tints removed, they’re often inherently crap. Perhaps not entirely but usually a good proportion of the components used aren’t as good as they could have been thanks to mass production having become the stage for the beancounters to shine rather than draftsmen and engineers. Seemingly great motorcycles have been hamstrung by the pursuit of cheapness and others are just downright awful. But this dearth of engineering prowess offers us lot, the bedroom, shed and workshop chancers the opportunity to make our mark on affordable basket cases and barn finds.
So what do you do when a manufacturer leaves little room for improvement?
The Triumph T100 was an accidental hero of the custom scene, long before we began reporting on it, for a different reason. The Bonneville, Thruxton and Scrambler weren’t crap at all, but there was undeniably a window of opportunity to apply more than just a bit of new wave style to that venerable twin. The crew in Hinckley wisely embraced this with their new range of Modern Classics and rather than try to be too clever spent time and resource making something already good, much, much better.
I’ve tried the whole range now and each one feels well thought out and accomplished, and after sitting on a Street Cup at Eicma last November I was expecting this café racer homage to complete the full house. Capitalising on a painstakingly developed and proven powertrain and chassis is the most obvious way to extend the Triumph offering but the Street Cup is more than just a seat hump and low bars.
The 900cc water-cooled twin and five-speed ‘box will be familiar to Street Twin owners but now an altered torque curve improves tractability thanks to a specific fuel and ignition map. The wheels are the same cast 18 & 17 inch combo, the suspension is more or less from the same shelf in the factory and the frame is also carried over. The rear shocks are a smidge longer though, jacking-up the rear to steepen the head angle up front.
As we reported with the Scrambler, the idea behind the Street range is to encourage people to swing a leg over an entry-ish level Triumph and hopefully become hooked for life. There’s nothing scary about the 55HP engine, an A2 licence kit is available, ABS is of course mandatory these days, a Torque Assist clutch will make light work of city filtering and thanks to Euro 4 compliance the Street Cup sips fuel at a very modest rate. But that doesn’t mean it’s dull or a bike for pussies.
I joined the Triumph crew in Seville on the promise of some great roads and an extended riding route. But before I get stuck in, could someone with inside information please explain Spain’s road building reasoning? Seemingly important areas near the city had surfaces resembling a motocross track, and in places nearly as bad as London. The ‘Cup wasn’t unnerved by crashing into potholes but didn’t feel particularly velvety in the process. Then we were guided to sinews of riding nirvana that seemed to serve no purpose. I’ve done a good few thousand miles around southern Spain and Andalusia but these roads were on a different level. Mile after mile of sweeping and swooping, punctuated by switchbacks and hairpins, decent visibility and road surfaces the chaps at Silverstone would be proud of. Why are they here? Bueller…. Bueller? Anyone?
I’m not complaining as we were free let the reins loose and give the little Triumph its head.
The engine surges toward the horizon with urgency rather than sheer pace, making a lovely sound in the process. There’s just a single throttle body on this incarnation and the audible but not intrusive intake roar is a pleasant accompaniment to mid-tone thump from the reverse megas. You can wind the throttle to the stop if you like, enjoying turbine like smoothness all the way to the redline, but the torques arrive early so you might as well play with them. Clicking between 3rd and 4th dining out on the juicy bit between 3250 and 4000 RPM provided plenty of entertainment on route to the first, and well needed, coffee stop. Jack Frost still frequents these parts well into February apparently.
The ‘box might only have five ratios but spacing is ideal, in town 1st combines with well behaved fuelling to offer jerk-free filtering but I stuck mostly in 2nd as the clutch is so light and doesn’t snatch, and the shifter’s action is positive without feeling agricultural.
The KYB fork doesn’t come with adjustable twiddly bits which is not necessarily a terrible thing. It was the last day of the press launch and guide riders (test riders, racers and development pilots when not jollying around Spain) were clearly over the whole novelty of billiard table Tarmac so the pace was spirited. The chances of most people enjoying roads this good, traffic free while following someone who knows every inch of the route is slim. For normal people on a normal day trying to avoid the fuzz on Derbyshire’s Snake Pass the 41mm right-way-uppers will do the job just fine.
I’m not a seasoned journo or road racer so frequently find myself at the edge of my ability, looking across a large gap towards a bike’s capability. That gap seemingly shrinks on a bike as forgiving as the Street Cup. To me Triumphs posses something of a wooden feeling, not in a negative sense but more in a confidence building way. Less willow whipping in the wind and more oak swaying gently. On the Street Cup there are no surprises just a steady stream of feedback and steadfast handling. As the engine isn’t exactly gushing with power I found myself using the ‘box and a one finger caress of the front brake for abating speed, carrying as much as possible through the corners in the hope of catching the steep part of the torque curve on the way out.
Of course, this went wrong on the odd occasion but the ‘Cup doesn’t down tools and embarrass you in front of your mates. Stick it in a bit hot and all you need do is wait a second, coax the pegs a bit closer to the ground, and have a word with yourself before the next corner. Worth noting that unlike some of the other Triumphs in the range, only aggressive or experienced riders will be sparking the hero blobs. Rear shocks were on the softest setting and I didn’t see anyone in our group reaching for the C-spanner. My chunky Icon boots provided an early warning signal and I returned my test bike with pegs intact. More or less.
The ‘Cup is infinitely more enjoyable when ridden smoothly, like a great big 125, momentum equals smiles.
The single 310mm disc and Nissin twin piston setup is in keeping with the rest of the package and as such doesn’t tolerate vicious four finger grabs, if that’s your riding style then you’re probably in the market for another type of bike anyway and have got this far through my rambling because of the pretty pictures. That said, I only had a day on the bike under pretty controlled conditions and didn’t have cause to throw the anchor out with any force. Some of the other guys did and felt they’d either prefer an additional disc or a burlier caliper. But it pays to remember that this is a retro styled machine that’ll be bought predominantly by urban dwellers and sensible-ish folk without the experience of doing litre-bike comparison tests. The same 18″ cast wheel from the front of the Street Twin and 100 section tyre features on the ‘Cup further establishing it’s aim at fun rather than lap times.
And it really is good fun. Pure and unadulterated, grin across your face good fun.
All that fun is great but not if short lived thanks to poor ergonomics, as is so often the case. Anyone who’s endured one of my previous ride reports will be aware of my moaning about comfort. On a sunny Saturday in Seville I didn’t have a single moan, not one. The Ace style bars looked like they’d be woeful, especially combined with the slightly higher rear-end but I remained happy for a whole day. The saddle is super comfy and the tank so narrow that your knees remain just over hip width apart and on the longer stretches of motorway there’s enough room to scootch you bum back a bit, rest your toes on the pegs and make the most of the stubby flyscreen, which is actually pretty effective.
Thanks to the early sunset and onset of British-type temperatures our group hurried along some open stretches with the speedo’s needle in the all-the-way round position. Not only was the ‘Cup perfectly stable through corners at such speeds but periods of time hunkered down didn’t cause discomfort. With my elbows at 90 degrees and wrists perfectly straight I could have sat there for miles. In fact one of the test riders rode from Barcelona to Calais in one hit, hopped the Channel and continued on home to the midlands. 1100 or so miles in a day, there aren’t that many café racers you’d contemplate doing even 100 miles on.
So the Street Cup is great to ride and it looks pretty damn good straight out of the crate. I’ve previously raved about the fetching architecture of the engine and its cunningly integrated plumbing so obviously the same accolades stand here too. The finish across the whole bike is as I’ve come to expect from Triumph, corners aren’t cut just because this is a sub nine grand machine. The saddle is not only comfy and really well made but comes as standard with a café hump cover, which unbolts in a jiffy to offer pillion carrying capacity. In fact everything on the bikes in these photos comes as standard.
And as with the entire Modern Classics range customisation potential isn’t just factored in, it’s heartily encouraged. There’s the blossoming accessories catalogue to choose from if dealer-fit options tickle your fancy. The ones I had a play with felt good quality and they’re not crazy money. And CAD jockeys around the world are ferreting away to produce ranges of bolt-on upgrades if you’d rather not pull-up at work with the same foot pegs or indicators as the next guy.
The ease of ownership doesn’t just end there. Sturdy residual values and high demand for Triumph’s used product combine to enable some pretty affordable finance deals. “Sacrilege” yelled at screens across the land “A stock bike on PCP with bolt-ons from a dealer catalogue, surely that’s the antithesis of the Bike Shed’s entire foundation”. I should wash my mouth out while Dutch prints my P45. To a point yes but on the other hand for what I spend each week on the eBay either keeping old bikes on the road or building another, I could enjoy a whole month of trouble-free, modern motorcycling without having to compromise on looks.
I could, but I wouldn’t. First thing I’d do is bin the rear mudguard and tailight assembly. The frame rails are capped as standard, almost inviting a well engineered plug-and-play loop with Frenched-in plasma looking LED combination lights. Someone in the US makes a really smart setup, giving a similar glow to an Audi’s brake lights. This would follow the already perfectly formed rear and work in either solo or pillion mode. More traditional types could just trim the stock guard and opt for a classical Bates style tail lamp and smaller indicators.
Wire wheels would be the next and obvious upgrade. In fact our local dealer Jack Lilley already have a ‘Cup for sale with stainless spokes and black powder coated rims, it looks the business. I’d probably go for a full brushed stainless exhaust system with a slightly smaller cork, not too loud but a bit more bark wouldn’t hurt. Triumph are in bed with Vance & Hines so be sure of some seriously nice setups available over the counter. Perhaps in the meantime someone is doing a straight-through set that works with the cat and ECU, but my guess is the that’ll undo a fair amount of the hard work that’s gone into the fuel/ignition maps. Watch this space. Apart from a slimmer headlight bucket and a slightly more premium handlebar that’d be about it. There are far more talented designers out there than me who’ll have already conjured up a dazzling array of upgrades and designs. My inbox awaits.
You can pigeonhole the Street Cup into a retro segment if you like but it’s not trying to be anything other than a well engineered and sharp looking barrel of laughs. If you’d prefer to spend your time making crap things mediocre, there’s certainly a place for that (my house usually), rewards for endeavour and ingenuity will undoubtedly follow. But if time is incredibly precious to you why not start with something that’s already flipping well sorted and go from there. We’re here for a good time, not a long time.
More on Triumph’s Modern Classics range and previous ride reports here
Photos: Alessio Barbanti & Matteo Cavadini