When creating a retro bike, manufacturers generally have two options: retain the 'old-time' feel at the cost of performance and handling, or take modern running gear and clothe it in a design that only visually resembles a classic.
With their Bonneville series, Triumph has traditionally leaned in the former direction, but lately, they seem to have found the middle ground – a retro bike with a good dollop of a classic feel, but with handling and performance approaching that of modern bikes.
The same recipe
On the Thruxton this worked so well that the bike earned the Pirelli SA Bike of the Year award in 2016, and now the Hinckley manufacturer has applied the same recipe to the upright Bonneville formula to create the 1 200cm³ Speed Twin – a move that endows the more practical standard layout with performance and handling that matches the less relaxed Thruxton.
Although unquestionably a retro design, the Speed Twin has a modern stripped-back custom look, one which Hinckley calls 'the most contemporary-styled Bonneville ever'.
This comes courtesy of a custom-style bench seat, cut-down front and rear mudguards, twin upswept sports silencers and contemporary bar end mirrors – the latter working extremely well in practice.
Despite it being a marriage between Thruxton dynamics and Bonneville styling, the Speed Twin is more than the sum of whatever was left in the parts bin: the 'high power' version of the liquid-cooled parallel twin sports a high-compression head, a low-inertia crankshaft and a lighter clutch assembly, all of which is contained within a tubular-steel frame with aluminium cradles.
Quick and nimble
And that means that the Speed Twin is not just powerful, it is also light – in fact, with a dry weight of 196kg, it is 10kg lighter than the Thruxton, and even 2kg lighter than the 900cm³ Street Twin.
Also marginally lower and narrower than its smaller-capacity sibling, the Speed Twin is almost improbably tiny for a 1 200cm³ bike. Tall riders might be wise to look towards the bigger 1200 Scrambler, but being of average height, I didn’t find the accommodation overly cramped.
In rush-hour traffic, I found the Speed Twin to be extremely manageable – it could slip through narrow gaps between cars, while the prodigious low-end torque enabled it to clear the traffic effortlessly.
Although the torque kicks in almost immediately, the bike doesn’t seem to run out of breath: it just keeps accelerating in gear after gear until wind resistance threatens to blow you right off the slab seat.
The unrelenting acceleration is locomotive-like, but this bike is a jet fighter rather than a steam engine: it speeds into curves with a sure-footedness that a well-heeled gentleman rider might find a tad unseemly, if not downright disconcerting.
The Speed Twin features a full suite of rider-focused technology which includes the obligatory three riding modes, Sport, Road and Rain, ABS brakes and switchable traction control.
It also boasts an LED headlight with daytime running light and LED rear light and indicators. The analogue twin clocks incorporate a digital menu system accessed by the handlebar mounted scroll button.
Key features include riding mode setting, gear position indicator, average and current fuel consumption and range to empty.
For Triumph aficionados the Speed Twin moniker holds a special place: it was used from 1938 to 1966 on a 500cm³ bike that became the mould from which all the successful then-modern British twins were cast.
While the modern iteration may not exactly 'change the face of motorcycling' as its progenitor was predicted to do (and, in fact, did), it does a credible job of turning back the clock to give us a glimpse of what motorcycling used to be like, without sacrificing modern safety, convenience and performance. It is, in short, yesterday revived and improved beyond measure.
Model: Speed Twin
Type: Liquid cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel twin
Displacement: 1 200cm³
Maximum Power: 71.5kW @ 6 750 rpm
Maximum Torque: 112Nm @ 4 950 rpm
Fuel supply system: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Fuel type: Petrol, Premium Unleaded
Fuel consumption: 4.8l/100km
Type: 6-speed sequential
Final drive: Chain
Overall length x width x height (mm): 1 430 X 807 X 1 110
Kerb weight: 196kg
Fuel tank: 14.5 L
Front: Twin 305mm discs, Brembo 4-piston fixed calipers, ABS
Rear: Single 220mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper, ABS
Front: 41mm cartridge forks, 120mm travel
Rear: Twin shocks with adjustable preload, 120mm rear wheel travel
Wheels & Tyres
Wheel, front: Cast aluminium alloy 7-spoke 17 x 3.5in
Wheel, rear: Cast aluminium alloy 7-spoke 17 x 5in
Tyre, front: 120/70 ZR17
Tyre, rear: 160/60 ZR17Price: R184 000