The Mild Ones

The Sportster and the Thruxton were wild ones in the 1950s and '60s. In 2004, they're mild ones. But who says there are no roles for aging stars?

Freeway speeds find the Thruxton generally as accommodating. Twin counterbalancers ensure any significant vibration occurs at extra-legal speeds, on the order of 90-100 mph and 5500-6500 rpm in top gear. Otherwise, the Triumph is content to reel in the road, and only an overly firm saddle and a naked bike's expected shortage of wind protection put a damper on high-mileage aspirations.

Of course, any caf racer should be able to hustle down a twisty road, and there the Thruxton holds its own, if not exactly living up to its legend. It's hardly a threat to current sportbikes, but it's not meant to be--anymore than the Sportster is supposed to be the quickest thing on two wheels. Instead, the Thruxton rewards riders with superb feedback from its stock Metzeler tires, steering that's leisurely but precise, plus the parallel-twin's broad powerband. Only a shortage of rebound damping and a high-effort front brake intrude on a rider's best Mike the Bike fantasy.

Unlike the Sportster, the Thruxton has sufficient cornering clearance that you'll reach the tires' edges before the footpegs drag. What's more, the Triumph offers rewardingly broadband back-road manners: It's wonderfully entertaining in third- and fourth-gear sweeping turns, and slower sections are loads of fun. Even aggressive sportbikers pull away between the turns, not in them.

American iron, or British steel?
At the end of the day, you're left with the notion that the Sportster and the Thruxton were, at one time, wild ones. But increasing specialization combined with seven-league technological strides that have created 160-plus-horsepower streetbikes make them come across as mild ones, the antithesis of their forebears. With that point of view, it's easy to dismiss these two as hopeless anachronisms.

But the Harley and Triumph are quite comfortable with what they've become, thanks very much, and you should be, too. Because the vault in performance levels that makes them appear tame by comparison also highlights how user-friendly they have become. Indeed, the Sportster would make a terrific first bike. (Who could imagine that description fitting the first XLCH?) And though the Thruxton might still suit more adventurous riders, it won't stare you down the way a cutting-edge race-replica will. That's because they retain some of the traits that made them so appealing to begin with: manageable physical size and resultant agility, broad powerbands and do-it-all versatility.In fact, the current versions of Harley's Sportster and Triumph's Thruxton have blurred the once-distinct lines that used to separate them--both on the road and in that old movie. And we're all better off because of it.

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