Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 27th September 2019
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Triumph inject true performance into the idea of the retro roadster

Apart from the odd ‘café racer’, such as Triumph’s 1200 Thruxton or Ducati’s late lamented ‘Sport Classic’ 1000, we’ve become used to the new breed of fashionable ‘retro roadsters’, bikes like the benchmark Triumph Bonneville or Moto Guzzi V7, also being about as dynamic and exciting as tea and biscuits in a Maidstone care home on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

Sure, they’re pleasant enough, easy to ride and, often, alluring lumps of metal in their own right. But they’re also usually fairly soft performers aimed at less experienced riders and with basic, built-to-a-price chassis to match.

Which is why Triumph’s new Speed Twin is such a breath of fresh air. On face value it’s an upright, Bonneville roadster, as usually powered by either the T100’s softer, 900cc, 54bhp variant of its classic twin, or the T120’s bigger, 1200cc, 79bhp version – but with the souped-up 1200cc 96bhp motor from the Thruxton café racer.

That in itself would add a healthy dose of excitement. But there’s actually much more to the Speed Twin than just that and as a result it performs far better than you might expect.

First, it’s not ‘just’ a Thruxton engine, it also has a different clutch and engine covers plus a magnesium cam cover which together reduce the motor’s weight by 2.5kg. In fact, all told, the Speed Twin is an impressive 10kg lighter than the Thruxton and seven less than the Thruxton R, already making it the best performing retro in Triumph’s range.

Second, there are wholesale chassis changes, too. Triumphs have a deserved reputation for fine handling and they’ve gone to town with the Speed Twin to deliver once again. The frame itself is unique, lightened, again, with aluminium downtubes and with revised geometry. Its wheelbase, for example, is actually slightly longer than that of the Thruxton to calm its more upright steering.

While all the Speed Twin’s cycle parts, wheels, suspension brakes etc, are uprated, too, to be more performance-orientated. Its lightweight cast wheels are now 17-inchers front and rear (the Bonnevilles have an 18/17 combo) and wider to take modern performance rubber (OE tyres are Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIIs). Brakes comprise twin four-piston Brembos biting onto enlarged discs and suspension, though only preload adjustable at the rear, is uprated at both ends.

Add to all that a revised weight bias and sporty-ish riding position that’s somewhere between the Bonnie and Thruxton, all of the latter’s electronics including switchable riding modes, ABS and traction control, which are controlled through similar classic-looking but sophisticated and feature-packed twin dials and neat, classic styling touches including a ‘Monza-style’ fuel cap and bar-end mirrors, and you’ve clearly got all the ingredients for a true performance retro roadster.

And, on the move, that’s exactly how it delivers. From the off the Speed Twin’s as upright and easy to get on with as any of Triumph’s roadsters but somehow it engenders a sense of the sheer speed to come. Then, when you crack the throttle in anger, it leaps and drives like no retro roadster before. Get aggressive enough with the throttle and clutch and I’m sure it’s the first retro roadster that’ll credibly wheelie as well.

The turns are better yet: it’s posture and aplomb egging you into scratching through the twisties where, on a base Bonnie, you’d simply travel and trundle. And as for the brakes, well, close your eyes (I wouldn’t advise it) and you’d be forgiven for thinking that, stopping-wise, you’re on a full-bloodied super naked or sportster instead.

A retro roadster that scratches and stoppies? That’s pretty much exactly what the Speed Twin is…

What’s in a name: the Triumph Speed Twin

red and black motorbike

The Speed Twin is one of Triumph’s most famous name plates, but it has been absent from the British company’s range for some 50 years.

The original 5T Speed Twin is a nailed on classic motorbike. Launched in 1937, the 27bhp 500cc twin was a legend in its day and set the blueprint for the classic Brit bike twin that ruled the roads right through to the late 1960s.

Production of the 5T ended in 1966. Triumph (sort of) relaunched the name in 1994, with the modern day Speed Triple, but it has taken until now for the British brand to use the designation on one of it’s modern classic range of bikes.

Triumph Speed Twin specifications

ENGINE TYPE Parallel twin, four valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled
DISPLACEMENT 1200cc
BORE X STROKE 97.6 x 80mm
MAXIMUM POWER 96 hp (72 kW) @ 6750 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE 112Nm @ 4950rpm
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm telescopic forks
SEAT HEIGHT 807mm
DRY WEIGHT 196kg
FUEL TANK 14.5 litres