Being unbiased can be a tricky thing. A newborn baby might resemble an alien from planet Bibendum to others but to its mother that little ball of skin and fat is beauty incarnate. “Isn’t he cute, the milkman must have been a handsome chap” is the thinnest of veneers and transparent to all but the thickest skinned parents.
The Thruxton R has been gestating for nearly five years and as you can imagine the Triumph family are very proud of what they’ve spawned. Not just proud though, a degree of trepidation was palpable when the big cheeses from Hinckley descended on Bike Shed London for the global launch of their latest offspring. But it wasn’t just the parents who were slightly on edge. What if we thought it was crap? It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Triumph support Bike Shed by sponsoring some of our exhibitions, so how would Dutch and I maintain a poker face if they unveiled a minger.
Thankfully the Triumph factory is dripping with talent and the company’s finger is most definitely on the custom pulse, many of the employees use blogs like Bike Shed to inspire their designs and the skunkworks builds from 2014 not only blew our minds but a few feathers were ruffled in the pro-building fraternity. They’re not just about re-engineering heritage into a steep angle on a sales chart, the racing department is a serious operation and their success has resulted in go-faster tech filtering down into an impressive range of road bikes that punch well above the weight of the company’s balance sheet. Would any of this make it’s way onto the R version of the Thruxton?
When the Bonneville carnival rolled into Shoreditch we had the chance to check Triumph’s homework and see what all the fuss was about. With a Thruxton R standing in front of us we had to act fast and make sure we gave the correct, business-like reaction, cue the silence. Everyone knows men can’t multi task, in fact it’s a wonder that myself and Dutch are able to ride a motorcycle at all given our distinct inability to focus on anything other than the immediate task in hand. By disengaging our mouths, brains were allowed a chance to quickly calculate what could be sold in order to buy one of the stunning machines in front of us. I hastily valued my collection of motorcycles, cycles, tools and ran a rough calculation as to how many newspapers Dutch’s kids would be able to deliver before school. If he took their after school earnings and sold one of his bikes we’d have a Thruxton R, each.
Over the winter many beer chats involved what we’d do with a brace of Thruxtons. The inspiration kits offered by the Triumph dealers are so accomplished that bike builders have their work cut out. Thankfully we rarely have to turn our madcap ideas into metal so the creative juices overflowed and the wheel got reinvented. But getting a second chance to see the bikes in the metal reaffirmed what a cracking job the team have done. In reality there are only a few things I’d change.
So, lyrical waxing and brown nosing over. Is it any good? No, it isn’t any good, it’s bloody marvellous. Having been invited to the press launch in Portugal we spent the morning carving through the hills north of Lisbon on the all new Bonneville 1200 (review to follow soon) and to be honest I was expecting a similar experience from the Thruxton but with a bit more poke, better handling and an uncomfortable riding position. On this occasion I really enjoyed being wrong, very wrong indeed.
Before the second speed bump in the hotel car park the Thruxton R felt right. The super narrow tank splayed my legs barely wider than my hips, in fact I haven’t had my knees that close together since owning a Vespa. (Shit, did I say that out loud? I meant 2-stroke GP bike). Clipons are the riser type and even for a stiff-necked desk jockey and bemoaner of the prone position I felt perfectly comfortable. With such an easy tank to grip weight could easily be transferred off the wrists, prolonging all-day rideability. The controls needed only the fairy lightest of touches and if it hadn’t been for the clutch lever’s shape one finger would have been sufficient. A photo in the presentation showed a coil spring running around the circumference of the clutch basket which means that a cleverer man than me has been in there tinkering and installed some extra lightness. Smallness too it would appear as the new clutch allows for much tighter packaging contributing to reduced overall engine dimensions.
The engine architecture is almost identical to the High Torque version in the new Bonneville, both sharing the same bore and stroke, the Thruxton though enjoys the High Power version of the 1200cc parallel twin. Cams are the same profile but the head on the Thruxton increases compression from 10:1 to 11:1 for a bigger bang. A low inertia crank allows the whole lot to spin-up with more vigour and the redline has been extended by 500 rpm. Not huge changes sure, but the stats and charts tell a different story. I won’t share those with you but how about a couple of real world comparisons.
Ridden the outgoing T100 Thruxton? Imagine the power of that, and add nearly half as much again, coming from a lowly 4500rpm along with the thick end of three quarters more torque. On the T120 Thruxton gear selection isn’t something to overly concern yourself with, simply turn the throttle and the Hinckley dinner lady beneath will ladle oompf onto your plate, spilling it everywhere yet leaving plenty of seconds for the next bloke in the queue. Delivery is silky smooth and fuelling remarkably close to spot-on. I tried my best to catch it out, rolling around narrow uphill town roads in 3rd at around 10mph with the burly twin barely thudding out anymore than a fast idle. It refused to surge, the chain didn’t slap and once passed 1800 rpm or so normal service resumed. Speaking of servicing, you won’t need to make great friends with your local dealer, this lump only needs looking at every 10,000 miles. But with the such a rich sound bellowing from the satin polished reverse megaphones you’ll struggle to keep the Thruxton only for Sunday bimbles to the coast. Thankfully the 270 degree firing order, as per the outgoing Scrambler, has been adopted across the T120 range and that offbeat thump, extending into a rampant growl is more addictive than cheese.
There are three riding modes which don’t alter power but instead change the ratio between throttle position and the intake butterflies. Rain is like having a little cam in the throttle housing, only elbow swinging inputs will send a message to the dinner lady saying you want some more. Road is the middle option and the one I preferred for the majority of our calm and gentlemanly test ride. Sport is more aggressive and chucks coals on the fire with only the smallest of inputs but there’s absolutely nothing scary about it. Obviously this is all possible thanks to the ride-by-wire throttle, which I’m not usually a huge fan of. No matter how good they are (of the bikes I’ve ridden at least) there always seems to be the minutest of delays after shutting off or when going for a downshift blip. In Sport this was hardly noticeable. And if ride-by-wire throttles mean fewer visits to the petrol station and Greenland staying cold and icy then I’m all for them.
We got a bit of a chance to stretch the Thruxton’s legs during the photo session, thanks to a mini-section of countryside that looked like it had been cut-and-pasted from a Northern Irish road race. Like a bunch of lads on a stag-do karting day, some of us set off completely ignoring the 30mph crosswinds and the poor photographers trying to steady drainpipe lenses. Enthusiasm caused me to slam into the rev limiter earlier than I’d expected but once the novelty of an open road wore off I gave all the torques a chance to do their thing. Clouds spitting and winds biting is usually enough to reign in the most spirited of intentions but the Portuguese road surface also played a part. It would appear that E.U. infrastructure budget doesn’t flow all the way down to southern Portugal, it’s neighbours have apparently called shotgun on the bags of billiard table asphalt leaving just the shiny broken stuff for us to play on. The Showa-Öhlins combo worked wonderfully together to inspire huge confidence, you hit a corner and think, yup, must have used all the tyre there only to find a full chicken breast of fresh rubber on the edge. More commitment required.
On one of the tighter 2nd gear corners (one of the bigger boys managed 3rd and knee down but he’d stolen my Weetabix at breakfast and was in a cowskin onesie so I’m not surprised) I cracked the throttle and unleashed all 1200 cubic centimetres and was calmly put back in my box by Matron. Triumph have installed a traction control Matron in the ECU to make sure the world’s supplies of Savlon are spared for those who don’t yet know any better. She didn’t shout at me or make me look silly in front of my mates and the headmaster, she just let me have little slide before slowly waving a finger while throwing a hard stare. Lesson learnt I resumed the protocol of riding someone else’s bike as if the invoice was already in the post.
The gearbox is the same as the T120 Bonneville but I found the Thruxton R slightly slicker, but that could have easily been the difference between a fresh, zero-mile Bonnie and a post-journo’d Thruxton. Either way, it’s light, has a nice throw and snicks cogs concisely. The spread of ratios felt bang-on making the most of the engine’s size 14 welly.
The radial monobloc Brembos are more than enough to cope with the weight and power, for this testing exercise at least. I managed to stick to my one finger rule most of the day (any more than a single digit means I’m going too fast on someone else’s bike, riding left handed on foreign roads) and speed was scrubbed easily with loads of retardation capacity left in reserve. I’m a big fan of using a rear brake and again, this felt more than adequate and didn’t feel snatchy. ABS is obviously standard but that only chirped the once so I can’t really say I explored the Thruxton’s braking potential with any validity.
Frame geometry has been altered between the relaxed Bonnie and pointy Thruxon, so combined with a 17″ front wheel and sticky rubber it handles like it looks, brilliant. OK so it’s complimented by Showa big piston forks and Öhlins piggy back shocks but the chassis designers had a fair old while to play around with different head and trail angles resulting in a rewarding ride with sporting pretensions yet it’s not in the slightest bit skittish. It’d be great to give one an unrestricted race track to really unleash the competency that’s been engineered-in. Or even better, watch a talented grown-up let one rip around Brands.
With just shy of a hundred ponies on tap most Thruxton Rs will unlikely be considered a track tool, and certainly not a weapon. But I’d argue that this bike would more than hold it’s own under the talent of a decent operative and would deliver far more smiles than wringing the neck out of some screaming banshee of a supersports bike.
So, it’s well engineered, rides like a dream and even Stuart Garner would have to hold his hands up and consider it to be beautiful, but what about that polar ice-cap saving radiator? Considering the fiscal constraints placed each area of development, what the engine team have achieved is remarkable. The water pump is internal and there are just two radiator pipes, the top one gushes hot water out from between the exhaust ports and is sucked back in ahead of the sump. The rad fitted to the Thruxton is particularly small and near as damn it follows the lines of the frame’s downtubes and as you can see in these photos, it’s barely noticeable. The cooling fins on the cylinder and head are more than just a nod towards the good old days, they look fantastic with machined faces but are functional too sharing the cooling burden and allowing for an After Eight mint of a heat exchanger, some bikes have oil coolers bigger than this.
With drop dead gorgeous looks and handling that’ll flatter the most hamfisted of riders what is left for the customisers to do? After all, Bike Shed wasn’t invented to talk about bone-stock bikes built by big-boy manufacturers. Well, if tinkering is your thing and you aren’t blessed with a decent workshop or the motor skills required to TiG welder then there’s a huge catalogue of aftermarket accessories – flick through that and fill yer boots. There is still plenty of room left to individualise and leave your mark, and perhaps most importantly you’ll be doing so on a donor with rock solid residuals that’s actually worth all the effort and expense. It makes me a little queasy when I see huge budget builds that turn a bike into something that looks stunning but will never match performance to its stunning looks.
The fairing from the accessory catalogue is an absolute stunner so my hat is already off to anyone who can better that but I have absolutely no doubt that with an ever morphing custom scene the extraordinary talent we’ve witnessed over the last decade will continue to push the stylistic envelope. See manufacturers joining the custom movement not as coroportates jumping on the gravy train, but as confirmation that good looking motorcycles that ride properly and come with customisability built-in are here to stay. It’s up to the builders, artisans, craftsman and Fred-in-a-shed to lead the way towards the next custom chapter and we’re excited to see the first Custom Thruxton.
For Dutch’s view on the Thruxton R check the Bike Shed Archive
If you want to know more about the gear I’m wearing click below to read the reviews.