If you’re in a rush, and want to go out riding rather than read magazine articles, I’ll come straight to the point. The Triumph Thruxton R is not only the best ever retro bike made, it’s one of the greatest motorcycles of all time.
If you love classics, you’ll sell your kidney for this bike. If you are 30-something, then you’ll be trading in your R1, or Fireblade, to own an R. In short, the bike is this good – and Triumph dealers all over the world will confirm the fact, as the Rs have been flying out of their showrooms in manic numbers.
The Thruxton R is at the top of the Bonneville family tree but still shares the majority of the family gene pool with the 900cc Street Twin and it’s even more closely related sibling, the 1200cc T120 Bonneville. So, at the heart of the R is the same twin cylinder, eight valve engine with twin counter balancers and 270 degree firing order. The result is a thoroughly modern, vibration free engine which still retains a lovely anthropomorphic feel as the big, 97.6mm pistons bang up and down in the barrels. It’s a really clever job that Triumph have done, melding an authentically classic feel into something younger riders will find acceptable.
The engine is air-liquid cooled, a concept which is good for both marketing and practical reasons. In terms of selling the R there is no doubt that having the big, angular fins stuck out into the breeze like a real Meriden Bonnie is a priceless attraction. Equally, the finning does cool the engine so the radiator can be tiny and unobtrusive. Tucked away between the front down tubes on the frame it’s not much larger than an oil cooler.
The catalyzer, now compulsory to get through Euro 4 regulations, is hidden beneath the engine and the plumbing is equally well concealed. If you wish, it’s easy to find the engineering and have a really good sigh and grumble about modern regulations but, equally, if you just want to ride the R, or pretend that this is really one of Doug Hele’s Meriden creations, then you can do this too.
Just as neat is a sweet, six-speed gearbox with an extremely light clutch action thanks to Triumph’s Assist Slipper Clutch. Yet again, the Hinckley team have managed to be all things to all buyers with this bike. Other than having the gear shift on the left-hand side – a true heresy for a hard core British classic bike acolyte – the ‘box is even better than the hand built, factory prepared Production racing Bonneville I rode.
The R’s exhaust note was the subject of some controversy on the launch. Because of the change in the way exhaust sound is measured under Euro 4 regulations, it is actually much nicer and reminiscent of a Meriden Bonnie in a way which the emasculated T100 Bonneville, the predecessor of the R, never was. The R makes a lovely growl which is involving, pleasant and which, unless you drop the clutch at 8000 rpm and wheel spin up the road outside your house, won’t upset anyone.
However, the feeling amongst younger journalists was that this wasn’t sufficiently “real” – whatever that word means – and the standard silencer was considered to be a bit of a woosie. Triumph agreed and they offer Vance and Hines exhausts as accessories. These are simply offensively loud and will get right up the nose of every non-motorcyclist. Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad…
Triumph are selling the Bonneville as a life-style machine so they will no doubt be proud that mentally challenged members of this new community can annoy the general public with factory fitted noise generators, just as much as the muppets on Harleys manage to do with their exhausts. And then the industry wonders why motorcycles are selected for intrusive and restrictive legislation.
The accessories are a big deal for Triumph – and I do mean a seriously major target. It’s not only the range of accessories which is impressive but the way they are being marketed. There are in excess of 160 individual items offered, ranging from what Triumph calls “Inspiration” kits to bullet indicators. This is very Harley territory but what is clever is the way the accessories are being sold.
The idea is that you hand over your $14,500 – and no, don’t even think of asking for a discount because the answer will be negative – and then sit down with the salesman and make your R personal. Your Triumph dealer will quote a fixed price for the accessories and the fitting. It will be very, very easy to add another couple of thousand dollars to the base price.
If you want to be an independent customizer, then this is easy too. Triumph have made nearly all the bling easy to fit on any Saturday morning using your home tool kit. No cutting, grinding or need for a TIG welder.
Finally, all the parts are Triumph guaranteed, road legal and do not adversely affect the bike’s warranty. Truly a case of “You’re goin’ have fun, fun, fun until your wife takes the credit card away…”
Although it’s billed as the rooty-tooty super sports bike in the Bonneville range, in the real world the R is the easiest, and most pleasant of the three new bikes – even with a lighter crankshaft and higher compression than the T120.
With 95 horsepower on the end of the ride-by-wire throttle, there is ample power to get your license suspended – and without making any effort. Contra-intuitively it is actually smoother and easier to ride than the T120 Bonneville, with completely linear power delivery. Given a choice of the two engines for either touring or commuting I would take the R every time.
All the new Bonneville engines are light on fuel and the R is no exception. Even hammering the bike, in a way which really would stretch the goodwill and tolerance of your local constabulary if you rode like this in the US, 50 mpg is going to be easily achievable. Two-up, and ambling around looking at the scenery, expect even better than this figure.
The power is creamy smooth and is helped by some subtle electronics. There is both ABS and traction control. I can’t see any reason for not using either of these aids. It’s a bit like saying that in the good old days, Dunlop TT100 tires were the only rubber to use. This was true but compared to a modern tire, a TT100 is fit only for wheelbarrows. Why not make use of current technology if it doesn’t interfere with the riding experience?
Critically, for children of all ages, the R will power wheelie in the first two gears and what more could one ask?
There is a particularly relevant reason for having ABS. The R comes with a pair of magnificent 310mm front discs carrying Brembo four-piston, radially-mounted, Monobloc calipers. Ooooooooooohhhh, these are truly, fantasy inducingly magnificent. Simply rest your middle finger on the lightweight, alloy front brake lever and it’s like hitting a science fiction force field of speed reduction.
Just as good is that the stoppers are ultra-sensitive too. Trail brake all the way right up to the apex of the bend and then whack on the power – and move out of the way young Mr. Rossi. I really did have a lot of fun playing GP racing.
The chassis data indicates that the R should be a flighty, nervous beast. It has a short 55.7 in. (1415 mm) wheelbase and the steering head angle is sports bike steep at 22.8 degrees. Yet, on the road, the results are completely different. The R can be eased into corners almost degree by degree and will respond with laser accuracy. Alternatively, it can be chucked around in true, sports bike style. I’d run this bike in the intermediate group of any track day and feel very happy that I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way – and that’s for sure.
Clearly, the steering geometry is the key factor in the sublime handling but the numbers are made to work with an “upside down” floating piston, Showa front suspension and a pair of very competent Öhlins shocks on the rear.
In practice, these provide instant feedback on what is happening to the 17-inch Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires and, although firm, they will still soak up big pot holes – and there were more than a few of these on the poorly surfaced Portuguese roads where I rode the R.
Everywhere you look on the R there are lovely touches. I can live without the fake Amal Monoblocs, as much as I can do without black and white TV and travelling on a bus, but I did love the twin digital clocks. These are a loose tribute to the Smith’s originals which fell apart on Meriden Bonnies with such enthusiasm, and so are very homely – but they work in a way which Smiths’ instruments never did.
The fit and finish of the R is also exemplary. Purists might, and do, say that the R is not a real British bike because it is made in Triumph’s Thai factory but there is no debating the quality control which has produced an outstanding motorcycle.
Is everything perfect in R Land? No, not quite – but it is fixable, at a cost. Unless you are under 25 years of age, the low ‘bars will soon cause agony. Triumph do a higher ‘bar but this is an accessory. It’s the same with a dual seat. Yes, this will fit straight on but it’s another cost on top of the already far from cheap $14,500. Finally, the footrests are a long way back which is fine for the track but not ideal for slow speed riding.
What Triumph needed was a GT version of the R with higher ‘bars, footrests moved forward and, critically, a dual seat. Triumph Italy asked for just such a bike, clearly with memories of the original Ducati Monster in mind, but the management in England didn’t agree and so there is no GT version of the Thruxton.
Carol and I were absolutely dead center, perfect target customers for an R but chose a very low mileage, Ducati Sport Classic 1000 GT which in many ways is a direct competitor for the R – but 10 years older – so Triumph are clearly missing this segment of the market.
But Triumph have a bigger idea in mind because they invested four years’ intensive work, and about 10 zillion dollars, in this project. This was made crystal clear when we saw the Bonneville family grow at the autumn bike launches with new models like the Street Scrambler and Bonneville Bobber.