There are few bikes that have a closer association with the term Café Racer than a Triumph Thruxton. Since BSA hasn’t made a Goldstar in decades and Nortons are as rare as mechanical unicorn shit, if I had to pick a factory built bike that personified the Café Racer it’d be a Hinckley Thruxton. The grass has well and truly grown around the 865cc version that ran from 2004. It looked the part because it really was the part. Old heavy parts, that is. Despite looking cool, 68bhp was never a real match for the 225kilo kerb weight and the bike didn’t quite hit the spot. We rode the old version on an amazing road test to the south coast a few years ago. We rode it as fast as possible, got our knee down and then slept by a drunken fire under the stars on a beach. Fast (eventually), slow or leant against a garden gate, the old Thruxton was a feel good bike, if nothing else.
The neo retro market is positively bursting at the minute and while the old Thruxton certainly helped the sector blossom, it had definitely wilted somewhat under the strain. Meanwhile, every time we turn around, another manufacturer has dusted down an old photo album from under the stairs and declared that heritage was always a priority. Some of them are doing a more convincing job than others. None more so than Triumph.
Without realising, they’ve never actually stopped making cool old bikes. Obviously they’ve diversified and had some real success with other models. The Speed Triple has always been ace and the Midas touch 675cc triple has blessed every bike it’s powered with sales success. Triumph’s journey began long before the first Bonneville appeared in 1959, in fact there probably isn’t enough space in the whole of the internet to paint the full and complete picture of what Triumph has achieved. Trust that it’s a long and established history and lets keep our eyes on the prize.
So what is the prize? It’s this, the 2016 Triumph Thruxton R. A 1200cc, traction controlled, squeezy kneesy flying sex machine.
You may remember us mentioning that the Thruxton R was coming in our Speed Twin launch report from a few months ago. They sit at opposite ends of the same table. Where the Speed Twin is the 900cc cool commuter spec bike, the Thruxton R is the road ready factory racer, full of performance-focused parts. Doing 100mph standing still never looked so classy, I arrived on the press launch in Portugal hoping it would do as good a job of going fast as it does of looking fast.
On paper it sounds like Triumph has finally built that large capacity Daytona we’ve been waiting for. Showa big piston forks, Ohlins shocks, radial mount Brembo brakes, traction control, multiple riding modes, ABS and sticky Pirelli tyres are just some of the highlights. If you read the specs and then close your eyes, the thing is only a bright green wristband and a condescending safety brief away from the fast group at a Brands Hatch track day. Casting an eye over the R shows that there’s so much more to this bike than the sum of its swanky parts. It is simply beautiful.
The technical detail is exhaustive, it took a hard working team at Triumph four years to bring this bike to life, they’re probably due a day off as it appears they’ve been flat out busy.
The 1200cc 8-valve parallel twin is all-new. This is the High Power version of the High Torque motor that powers the new T120 Bonneville, we rode that too and you’ll be able to read about that soon, but for now it’s all about the Thruxton R.
High Power means 96bhp @6750 rpm. It also means 68% more power is available 4500 rpm compared to the old Thruxton. That’s a lot, in case you were wondering. Dual ride by wire throttle bodies feed an engine that has a high compression head, a larger airbox and a 500rpm higher rev limit in comparison to the High Torque version. At 4950 rpm, the motor is making 112Nm of torque, giving another massive leap of 62% over the old Thruxton. Fuel economy has been improved by a healthy 11% and service cycles have been pushed from 6k to 10k miles. All this within the stifling boundaries of EU4 legislation is impressive stuff. Even more impressive is the way that Triumph has managed all this at the same time as making the motor look pretty. Look at it! I love how the water-cooling system is almost entirely hidden inside the motor. The Radiator is stick thin and only two tiny hoses are exposed to the elements. Finned heads and finned exhaust sleeves play their part in keeping things cool, both mechanically and visually. The curved engine cases and inspection covers all add to the theatre of mechanics, at the same time as actually being useful. It’s a thing of beauty that needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Chassis wise, the Thruxton R goes straight to the top of the class. Fully adjustable front and back, with perfectly matched radial mount Brembo brakes. Aluminium swinging arm and wheels only helping to enhance the riding experience by keeping weight down. It’s not litre sports bike light, weighing the same dry as a ready to ride GSX-R1000, but it’s lighter than the old model and way up on power, as well as having a really chuckable lightweight feel when you’re riding the thing, but we’ll come to how it rides once we’ve covered how it looks.
It’s beautiful. Next paragraph, please.
What’s it like to ride?
Up until the stage that I clicked the R into gear, I hadn’t really considered how it would ride. There was and still is so much to take in in terms of how far they’ve progressed over the old model in terms of looks and character that I hadn’t really given much thought to how it would make me feel while I was riding it. I know I usually bleat on about how important proper test rides are, and that you should always reserve judgment until you’ve had at least an hour on a bike, but within the space of the hotel car park, the R had my attention. It is nothing like the old bike. That beautiful polished top yoke splays your arms out into a relaxed but aggressive stance once you get hold of the clip ons. There is a definite feel of having your ass in the air, but the thing is so narrow across the middle that you feel like you can rub your knees together. The riding position works, it’s every inch a proper café racer and one that I was more than happy to hold onto. Within half a mile I’d popped two useless wheelies, laughed out loud at how light it feels across cobble stoned off camber mini roundabouts and had decided that I preferred the silver over the red of the bikes that we were on. With the riding mode set to Road (Rain and Sport being the alternatives), we set about Portugal.
This is England
The motor punches stronger than the exhaust note lets on. The pipes look sweet and they sound great from behind, but they don’t really do the motor justice from the hot seat. It drives from nothing in the first two gears, playfully lifting the front wheel with little more than a twist and a tug. Gearing in the first two ratios feels short but there’s little danger of it looping out or anything silly, it’s got proper poke right where you need it in that ‘round town’ rev range. Steering stopping and starting our way through pretty back streets in Lisbon (I think) didn’t throw up anything that’d bother me in terms of day-to-day living. Quite the opposite in fact. The Thruxton was making me smile, I felt like a proud Englishman, showing off the good work of other proud Englishmen. People stopped and stared and little kids waved. All the while the bike was very easy to manage. Slow speed maneuvering came easy, indicators and switches not causing any faff and neither brakes nor clutch making me look stupid in front of everyone. We were following Felipe Lopez, Triumph test rider and former Dunlop tyre development rider (as well as having a tidy racing career before all that), he’s one of them handy riders that makes everything look smooth and effortless. He’d be easy to hate if he wasn’t so nice. When he saw the chance to up the pace, he did, so we did, the bike showing no signs of distress at all. Second gear roundabout exits became a game of ‘see how fucking fast we can go before we have to slow down for the next one’, the answer was much faster than I expected, which was nice. Once we’d escaped the city and got onto some flowing roads, the Thruxton R absolutely swallowed everything that we could throw at it. Second third and forth gear provided me with everything I asked for in terms of acceleration. No fluffy fueling, no clunking feeling of being a gear higher than I should have been, just clean torquey drive closely followed by useable top end power. As is the case with beefy Brembos, you’ll need to get your eye in with them initially as they shed speed effortlessly. It’s easy to end up slowing down too much while you get used to them, once I’d realised how eager the R was to turn in, I started using less brake and relied on engine braking on the run up to most corners. Moving around on the bike was easy, as was holding a line mid corner, even when I was right up the top of the redline which is 500rpm up on the High Torque version of the same motor. Granted it was easy to ride at the pace we were at because Felipe knew the route, but the bike felt completely unflustered, it had plenty more to give than we were asking of it, which had my mind wondering off on track day fantasies every time we stopped for pictures or a coffee.
Who wants to buy a kidney?
At the first coffee stop I had to have another look at the tyre size. It is indeed a 160/60/17, none of your ball bag swinging 190 business going on here, thank you very much. My old Gilera Nordwest used to run a 160/60/17 and you had to lean that thing to the moon and back to get anywhere near the edges of the tyres, the Thruxton R is no different. The pegs are tucked up out of the way as well, giving you 50 degree of lean angle to play with before anything touches down. I looked around to see if anyone else was having as sweet a time as I was, luckily, I wasn’t alone. I had high hopes for this bike, especially after realising how pretty it was back at the NEC show in November. So far, so lovely. We decided that we’d need to drain the tanks in the name of constructive journalism and cracked on. Taking in 120mph motorway sections, trying all of the riding modes on fast sweeping moorland roads and busy town centres, the Thruxton R did nothing but shine all day. Much like the Yamaha XSR900 and the BMW RNine T, the Triumph Thruxton R is a bike capable of so much more than sports bike fans would be happy to accept, which makes them perfect (in my opinion) for sports bike fans that are looking for more from a ride than points that don’t make prizes. Firing off cranked over corners pinned in second gear has never looked so cool, or felt so easy.
Brothers in Garms
Back at the hotel I snuck back into the presentation room, Triumph clothing and accessories were everywhere, as well as a couple of tricked up Thruxtons, some wearing factory available accessories and some wearing hand spun loveliness. Everything I saw, I wanted. If the target market for this bike is 36 year-old, wheelie obsessed track day wobblers that like nice watches and English shoes, someone at Triumph deserves a pat on the back because the whole experience left me panting at the wallet. Yes, £11,700 is a fair chunk of change, but if someone showed you the tech spec of this bike and then asked you to put a price on it, only a fool would guess sub ten grand. On the flipside, if someone showed you a side on picture and asked you to guess the price, You’d have to assume it costs Norton money.
I’ve left this review finished for almost a week before we published it. Each time I read it back I thought it read like I was a blinkered Triumph partisan, or someone that had been handed one of those mythical brown envelopes full of cash that journos apparently get from manufacturers. I’m neither of those (more’s the pity on the envelope front) this bike really is as good as it sounds, better even. I could keep writing nice things about it for as long as you’d keep reading them, but I’d just be repeating my self. Yes, the seat is on the firm side of comfortable and the riding position eventually channels weight into your wrists at low speed. But it’s a café racer, not a three-piece sofa. You can’t have everything and I’d be more than happy to put up with having to shake my wrists off after a decent ride on this bike.
Whether you think the 2016 Triumph Thruxton R is the culmination of an award worthy fifty year marketing campaign or not, it’s clearly another example of Triumph absolutely nailing a market sector perfectly. Look across their range and you’ll see the same thing time after time. Beautiful bikes that ride as well as they look, priced in favour of the buyer and all blessed with that certain something that separates great bikes from merely good ones. The Triumph Thruxton R is the best Triumph I’ve ever ridden and the best thing to come out of Hinckley since the A5 opened.
Words: Johnatsuperbike Images: Grandmaster Barshon and the Triumph massive