With their low seats and laid back, feet forward, riding positions, American style cruisers are top sellers all around the world.
Among the companies looking to take on Harley-Davidson in this highly competitive class is Triumph, and with their new Speedmaster due to hit showrooms imminently, Insidebikes has taken a look at some of the British marque’s best cruisers from over the years…
Triumph X-75 Hurricane (1972)
Whether you’d call the X-75 a cruiser in the modern sense is open to debate, however there’s no doubt that, like all the models on this list, this most iconic of Triumphs was designed deliberately with the American customer in mind.
In fact, the Hurricane never really started out as a Triumph. The boss of BSA’s American arm engaged Craig Vetter to restyle the A75 and create something more modern and stylish, with the resultant prototype unveiled in 1969 as a new BSA Rocket III.
The British managers were none to impressed by the ‘trendy’ design but were forced to reconsider due to a strong public reaction when American magazine Cycle World featured it in 1970.
The bike went into production as the Triumph X-75 Hurricane (BSA owned Triumph at the time) although it was a troubled time for the company, as it flirted with bankruptcy on a near daily basis. Production started in 1972 and just 1170 bikes were built in less than two years.
That sleek styling and iconic triple outlet silencer design, not to mention the limited run, contributed to the Hurricane becoming one of the rarest and most collectable of Triumphs.
Interesting fact: Designer Craig Vetter’s legend continued to grow as his aftermarket Windjammer fairings became ubiquitous in the latter part of the 1970s.
Triumph Thunderbird (1995)
Triumph’s Thunderbird name has traditionally been allocated to models designed with American tastes in mind, but it was the 1995 version that was the first to embrace the chrome and tassels culture.
The original T-Bird, the 6T of 1949, was a sporty machine that gained notoriety in the Marlon Brando movie, The Wild One.
By comparison, the 1995 version was very much The Mild One. Utilising the modular engine design that powered the revived Triumph range of the 1990s, the launch of the new T309RT Thunderbird coincided with the reintroduction of the Triumph brand to the US.
The new bike used a detuned, 68bhp, version of the over engineered triple unit and came with lashings of chrome. With the optional King and Queen seat, the Thunderbird edged into cruiser territory, although in truth it was more a classically styled standard, as the Americans would call it. The derivative Adventurer (with high apehanger handlebars and lower seat) gave a truer cruiser experience but is largely forgotten about these days, while the Thunderbird is right up there as one of the most desirable bikes from the early Hinckley days.
Interesting fact: The Thunderbird was the ride of choice for Pamela Anderson in the 1996 movie Barb Wire. Unlike the bike, the movie was not well received.
Triumph Bonneville America (2002)
Where the previous two bikes in our list have been triples, at the heart of the Bonneville America was a 790cc parallel twin with a 270 degree crankshaft designed to emulate the characteristics of the more commonplace V-twin powerplants.
In many ways the America (the Bonneville moniker was dropped after a couple of years) followed the tried and tested formula for taking a ‘standard’ and customising it, a format that had been common practice by Japanese manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s.
In this case, the base model was the highly acclaimed new Bonneville of 2001, which was restyled and given a longer wheelbase, lower seat, 15” rear wheel and kicked out front end. That mellow motor had a different feel to the standard Bonneville (which used a 360 degree firing order) made 61bhp and with a feet forward riding position it was easy to ride and accessible for a wide range of riders. A whole range of accessories allowed each bike to be tailored to the individual rider’s taste and although it was an unremarkable little bike in many ways, it was an earnest machine that remained in the range for 15 years (albeit with regular minor updates) and was a popular entry level model.
Interesting fact: As well as the America, Triumph also offered the original Speedmaster. This was very similar to the America, but came with flat bars, blacked out engine and a larger front wheel (with twin brakes) to create a Harley Sportster styled mini hotrod.
Triumph Rocket III (2004)
By the late 1990s, Triumph’s desire to make a breakthrough in the US saw them commit to creating a bespoke cruiser from the ground up.
It was an exciting time for the company, which was moving away from the modular concept (where all the models shared the main engine and frame components) with bikes like the TT600 and Bonneville joining the range and a new Hayabusa competitor being developed (although dropped before production).
The Rocket III (a name taken from the BSA back catalogue) was originally conceived to be around 1600cc, in line with the class norm, but with competitors launching bigger and bigger engines, Triumph decided to go big. The 2294cc Rocket III was born.
Despite having almost 150bhp at the crank, it was the torque figure of 221Nm that got everyone talking. In truth, the Rocket III moved away from its original brief as a cruiser and was seen more as a musclebike like the Yamaha VMAX. None of that really mattered at launch time though, as Triumph couldn’t keep up with demand for orders.
Despite the weight (362kg) the Rocket III handled reasonably well and wasn’t too intimidating for shorter riders. The later Rocket III Roadster dropped the cruiser pretences, losing the feet forward riding position, and hangs on in the range today while the Rocket III Touring shared the same engine block but was essentially a completely different motorcycle.
Interesting fact: The Rocket III was one of the first motorcycles to be promoted by a ‘viral’ spoof video. The quintessentially English documentary style juxtaposed with stunt ace Kevin Carmichael stunting a Rocket III at Bruntingthorpe airfield. You can still view it on Triumph’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2QFxoDHU9o
Triumph Bonneville Bobber (2017)
With the arrival of the new Bonneville platform in 2016, it was hardly surprising that there would be a cruiser derivative sooner rather than later – but no-one was prepared for what was about to come.
Often derivatives are anodyne and slightly cynical attempts to squeeze a few more sales out of a given platform. Not with the Bonneville Bobber though, here was a bike that was just right in the way that it looks, it sounds and it goes.
Triumph’s finger is right on the whole ‘Bike Shed’ pulse and what they did was not skimp and save by replacing a few Bonneville components here and there, but rather invest in doing the job properly.
Sure, the 1200cc ‘High Torque’ twin is shared and that’s no bad thing, because it’s a corker. The Bobber styling is out of this world for a production machine and the detail stunning, especially when it comes to the faux hard tail. It goes and handles beautifully too. It’s no exaggeration to say that Triumph set a new standard in the class with the Bobber.
Interesting fact: The new 2018 Bonneville Speedmaster is heavily based on the Bobber, utilising the same frame and engine but running a more conventional twin shock rear end and twin comfort seat.
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