Triumph Thruxton Motorcycle First Ride

First ride on Hinckley's nostalgic, hot-rodded Bonneville cafe-racer motorcycle. From the June 2004 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine. By Roland Brown.

I was tearing along with the English winter wind whipping through my black leather jacket. Hunched over with my throttle hand wound back, it was easy to imagine myself on a cafe burn-up in the early 1960s: Between my knees was a hard-revving Triumph parallel twin, before me were a pair of white-faced instruments, ahead of me a string of riders on similar bikes.

Sadly, we weren't a gang of "Rockers," but journalists privy to Triumph's new Thruxton 900. And our destination was not a seafront brawl with scooter-riding "Mods," but the Thruxton racetrack. Still, my cafe-racer fantasy became more vivid when a rider ahead caught roadside gravel and crashed (unhurt, thankfully).

No further drama awaited us at the circuit, but the Thruxton 900 does a pretty good job of recreating the feel of Britain's cafe-racing heyday. With its semiaggressive riding position, tuned engine, firmed-up chassis and that all-important name on the gas tank, Triumph built the Thruxton with an eye toward extra performance and a nostalgic twist.

Thruxton is the perfect name for a souped-up Bonneville. Back in the early '60s, the Thruxton circuit was the site of one of Britain's biggest races: the Thruxton 500. Triumph's 650cc T120 Bonneville won there in '62, and the Meriden factory responded with a special model, the T120 Thruxton.

That original Thruxton was one of the great bikes of its time. Hand-built using special parts, it squeezed out 53 horsepower and revved above 7000 rpm. Only 50-60 were officially built, but many Bonneville owners created their own Thruxton replicas.

The new Thruxton 900 is a very different bike. Although mass-produced at Triumph's Hinckley factory, it retains some of its namesake's streetfighting attitude. The centerpiece is an engine built on Bonneville's air-cooled, dohc, eight-valve blueprint and 360-degree crankshaft. Modern modifications begin with a 4mm larger bore (90 x 68mm) for 865cc, an increase of 75cc.

Go-faster parts include bigger carbs, hotter cams, 10.2:1 compression (vs. the standard bike's 9.2:1) and megaphone-style exhausts. The result: a peak output of 69 horsepower at 7250 rpm, compared with the Bonneville's 61 hp at 7000 rpm, and more performance throughout the range. The bike gets retro touches, including polished engine covers and a checkered stripe that runs down the fuel tank and over the passenger-seat cover.

Triumph based the Thruxton's chassis on the Bonnie's twin-downtube steel frame, but most other parts are new. Suspension is firmer at both ends. The 41mm fork gains adjustable preload, and the shocks are one inch longer to sharpen steering. Replacing the standard Bonnie's 19-inch front wheel with an 18-incher also helps steepen rake by two degrees (27 degrees) and reduce trail by 10mm (97mm). The single front brake disc is larger at 320mm. The Thruxton is a neat-looking motorcycle, especially with its color-matched accessory flyscreen. It felt pretty good from the rider's seat, too. The combination of alloy clip-ons and rearset footrests give a sporty feel, though the riding position is not radical by current standards.

So far, so retro—but modern reality intrudes when you hit the starter button. The motor comes to life not with a traditional parallel-twin bark, but with a feeble twitter from those deceptive megaphones. Triumph can't do much about modern emissions controls, but how do Harley and Ducati manage to make their air-cooled bikes sound so good? Anyway, after that initial disappointment the Thruxton got better and better.

After a static photo session at the revived Ace Cafe in north London (the most famous of the Rockers' old rendezvous), the test began with a few laps of the Thruxton circuit. Despite the damp surface, the new bike's extra performance was immediately obvious.

Given the motor's modest eight-horsepower boost, I wasn't expecting much in the way of speed, but the difference between this bike and the standard Bonnie was striking. With its more aerodynamic riding position, the Thruxton was far more eager. It cruised effortlessly at 80 mph and kept going to 120 mph.

Just as impressive was the Thruxton's rider-friendly nature. Peak torque is higher at 53 foot-pounds. It arrives at 5750 rpm, much higher than the Bonneville's 3500 rpm, but that doesn't mean low-rev performance is reduced. The motor felt crisp and flexible, pulling from below 2000 rpm in top gear. Midrange response was good, and there was a slight kick right above 5000 rpm. And the balance-shaft-equipped twin was smooth all the way to its 7500-rpm redline.

This Triumph is not a supersport bike, but after the Bonneville's somewhat bland performance, the Thruxton is invigorating. Although the twin's unchanged dry weight of 451 pounds is high, the Thruxton handled and stopped well enough to make it fun despite the damp weather.

By late afternoon, the roads were drying out. Even with generous grip from its Metzeler tires, I didn't manage to use all the Thruxton's increased cornering clearance. The suspension at both ends was firm and well-damped, keeping everything under control. The big single front disc provided lots of bite, and the rear disc was welcome in harder stops. My only real complaints: The moderately low clip-ons were uncomfortable after less than an hour and the mirrors were too narrow to be of much use. Also, the unfaired layout wasn't ideal on a cold day, though the accessory flyscreen gives some protection. Accessories include a grabrail, a single seat, chromed side panels and a centerstand, plus the louder "off-road-only" pipes that would provide a much more satisfying soundtrack—for us at least.

Unfortunately, without that unmistakable Thruxton twin exhaust note, the motorcycle fails to truly capture the '60s cafe-racer character. In most respects, however, the modern Thruxton lives up to its famous namesake.

You don't have to remember the glory days of the Ace Cafe to enjoy riding the Thruxton 900. It looks good and has pleasantly punchy performance—and it is competitively priced. In many ways it's the bike the new Bonneville should have been all along.

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