Here’s one of the all time greats, the bike they called The King of the Superbikes, way back in the 1970s.
The Legend 900 is one of those back-to-basics bikes that does exactly what it says on the tin. It chugs along pleasantly, can go fast enough to scare you now and then, plus it looks and sounds like an old fashioned motorbike.
Admittedly expensive, and undeniably on the heavy side for a beginner, the Legend still has lots to offer the typical ’born again’ biker who simply wants to unwind with a classy British motorcycle on sunny weekends. Alastair Walker took to the back lanes on this tasty Triumph.
The big retro is getting more popular by the day, with everything from the Plain Jane Suzuki Bandit 1200 to the wacky Buell X1 to choose from. Somewhere in-between, with a nod to its 1960s heritage, the Triumph Legend 900 has old school styling and a handy low seat height to make it stand out from the crowd.
Many years ago, I saw pictures of the US spec Triumph Trident T160, as advertised in Cycle World circa 1975. It looked long, low and deeply throaty, with a smaller fuel tank, acres of chrome and higher `bars than the UK model; a real 120mph gunslinger. It was one of those images that you stick on your wall and dream of owning the real thing one day. I gave on up on T160 ownership after a mate bought one brand new in 1977 and it haemoraged oil out on the second day he rode it, blew light bulbs and then fried its clutch after a mere 2,000 miles or so. Harsh reality tends to turn dreams into living nightmares.
Of course Triumph’s mythical history, comprised of images forged on the Bonneville salt flats, Daytona’s speed bowl and the TT flat tracks of the Southern States, are possibly Hinckley’s most marketable commodity in the USA these days. Yet the re-born Brit company is currently being outsold by the likes of KTM over the Atlantic, as they struggle to translate past glories into hard cash with the Thunderbird, Adventurer and Legend derivatives of their 885cc triple engined machines.
Of course, the old Meriden mob never actually produced a bike called a Legend (that was an 80s T160 Trident revival by Kenilworth firm L.P. Williams) but the Yanks don’t know that and probably don’t care. The bottom line is that the Hinckley Legend is one of the nicest big retro cruisers on the market, however the bad news for us in Britain is that it costs a shade over six grand.
It’s good, but is it that good ? In this market, styling is everything. Let’s be blunt, despite a cracking new motor, nobody really buys a Harley for its performance and the same applies to big, unfaired retro machines, which would give you biceps like Stretch Armstrong should you be rash enough to choose an XJR1300 Yamaha as your next track day-only toy.
Certainly the Legend has a great look about it; long, low and very reminiscent of the old Trident, finished off nicely in something similar to the old Amaranth Red and Silver paintwork, that was once applied to everything from a Tiger Cub 200 to a T120 Bonneville. In a word, the 1990s Legend looks raunchy, although it starts to get a bit messy at the rear end. I mean, I hate to nitpick, but why is it – when the front half of the bike looks so sweet, so integrated – that a huge rear disc brake, complete with a caliper and mounting plate which look like they’ve been hewn from coal, completely overwhelms the back of the bike visually?
I also tried to avoid looking at the welded on loops of angle iron which act as the pillion footrest supports too…I don’t think you’d see anything that badly designed on an AWOL reader’s project bike.
But overall, this is a pleasing profile, with plenty of chrome bits to polish, wire spoked wheels, lots of Triumph logos, a genuine screw fit fuel filler cap and that ultra relaxing low seat height of just 26.5 inches. The trade off of course is that the whole bike is slung low to the deck, restricting ground clearance, but hey, the Fonz never stuck his knee out did he ?
The Legend is a perfect choice if you’re starting biking, or returning after a long gap, because it’s refreshingly simple to ride. The 69bhp engine makes plenty of power low in the range, so you don’t have to rev the bike to feel like you’re moving pretty sharpish. Around 4,000rpm on the tacho in top ( it has just five gears ) equates to about 70mph on the road, which is the optimum speed before arms and shoulders start to bend in the breeze between the high handlebars.
The other handy thing about the Legend is that the chassis is soft enough for comfort, but still responds well enough to let you play reasonably fast in the twisty stuff. The front forks tend to dive a bit going hard into a corner on the brakes, but otherwise, you can find yourself dragging the footrests pretty easily as the bike gives you loads of confidence.
It’s no lightweight at 215kgs either, but unlike comparable porkers like the BMW R1100GS or the Hayabusa, the Legend carries all its weight a good deal lower, making you much less aware of the total mass when you are slinging the Legend around roundabouts in town.
Yep, town is where the Legend really shines, as the laid back riding position, torquey engine characteristics and the slick gearbox all combine to make rapid progress through traffic a cinch. If you can squeeze the handlebars through gaps, the rest of the bike will follow too, with the small, round shaped mirrors offering a better view than you might think as a bonus.
A long trip to the Lake District reinforced the idea that the Legend doesn’t belong on motorways, with the old A6 route northwards being a lot more fun at 50-80mph. The bike also proved surprisingly economical for something equipped with three 36mm Keihin carbs sucking juice, returning around 55mpg. The gently sloping fuel tank on the Triumph however, wasn’t that good a perch for a tankbag, although luckily, I have a substantial beergut to prevent luggage loss in such situations.
Triumph will never again dominate the world of motorcycling in the way that Honda do today, but there is a place for their unique brand of British charm, understated style and rugged `man’s bike – type of handling. They’re right to carve their own not-quite-perfect niche slowly, individually, in the market – it’s paid dividends for Ducati, Harley and BMW to name a few premier marques.
The problem for Joe Biker, (or Joanne Biker ) is that the Legend costs about 1,000 quid more than it should in today’s ever more crowded retro segment. The Fazer offers more performance in a 600cc package, plus a handy nose fairing for just five grand on the road, or less at some dealers. The venerable 1200 Bandit is a genuine two-up budget tourer if you want, plus a decent bike for trackdays and wheelies if you fancy it – all for about £5,500, or £5,000 unfaired if you shop around.
Neither of those bikes has the same classy old fashioned style of the Legend, or the distinctive throaty rumble of three cylinders from the exhaust pipes. Two uniquely British echoes from the past that help make the Legend a bike that attracts admiring looks wherever you go.
But here’s the clincher; if you want that classic British look without the oil leaks and all mod cons, then surely Kawasaki’s W650 would fit the bill. At just over £4,000 on the road, I know the Kawasaki would do just the same job for me as the Trumpet and two grand saved in the retro market is a powerful argument, making the Legend – as pleasant as it is – a bike for the seriously patriotic.
Let’s hope the new Hinckley Bonneville twin has a 650cc sized `budget – option in the range.
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph legend 900.
Engine……….Liquid-cooled, DOHC, three cylinder, cc 885
Claimed power (bhp)……….69bhp @ 8,000rpm
Chassis……….Steel spine type frame,43mm non adjustable forks, with rear pre-load adjustable monoshock.
Brakes……….Single 320mm front disc, 2 piston caliper, plus single 285mm rear disc, 2 piston caliper.