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Thu, 24 Oct 2019

The Speed Twin – Keep it Pure …

As the rain continued to slam down, I began to think ‘I’ve made a mistake here’. All around me trucks came, fuelled and went. I’d picked a truck stop off the M1 in which to don my BMW rain suit. I could see, smell, hell, even taste the crude oil slick that coated the rain-lashed paving slaps. And, in due course, I would have to navigate my way through several small diesel laced traffic islands, and back on to the M1 North. ****. What a dim move. In these conditions, my Harley Hot Rod does a passable impression of a skid car – sideways to me is for cars, NOT motorcycles. And here I was, having chosen to negotiate the biggest oil slick since the Torrey Canyon. On someone else’s motorcycle. Wait … this thing has ‘rider modes’ doesn’t it … ?

Well, actually, I knew it did. Fifty metres after leaving Sloane Helicopter’s the day before I had stopped and stuck it in ‘Sport’. Why? Because this is Triumph’s 270-degree 1200 parallel twin. Not exactly a massively powerful motor. I’ve caned it in the Bobber, Thruxton ‘R’ and Scrambler XE, sure, generous fluid thrust, but it’s not going to alarm an experienced rider – I’m guessing close on 100 horsepower. So, it’s standard drill to pop it straight into ‘Sport’ – easily done whilst at rest by a push button on the handlebar control – and leave it in ‘Sport’. Then, truthfully, ride the nuts off it. Which is the great joy of these 1200’s – you can. A) they seem to like it, and B) it’s unlikely to unseat you. Unless you’re a stupid enough to drive on – in - to a pitch lake. Which is where we came in …

I put the ‘Speed Twin’ back into ‘Rain’, at which point it became more ‘Sensible Twin’ – or ‘Safety Twin’. And getting back on to the M1 became a reality. I am massively impressed by that functionality – the mode slows down the throttle response and cuts the power delivery. Substantially. If you were a newly qualified rider, you could do worse than spend a month or two ‘stepping-up’ the three modes – certainly anytime traction gets marginal – experienced or otherwise – don’t hesitate. I confess; this is the first time I’ve ever really ‘got’ the whole ‘modes’ thing – brilliant ‘active’ safety feature. Slipper clutch helps here too – such an easy clean shift – and really benign drive take up keeps the amount of work the traction control has to do to a minimum. Full marks Triumph.

The Speed Twin LOOKS like it should have no ‘safety features’ – because it does an excellent job of winding back my nostalgia clock to 1978. Safety hadn’t yet been invented. I was a young punk rocker, and the cool kids on the block all had Triumph Bonnevilles – or wire-spoked rim Z650’s – no one cool had the Honda 750. The Bonnies pissed oil out of their ludicrously split crankcases, but in an era when the Japanese were held responsible for the terminal decline of our auto industry, (actually, we did it to ourselves – complacency, idleness and shit management …), to ride a Triumph marked you out as ‘true Brit.’ These days it marks you out as having good taste.

I guess it all depends on your personal idea of the ‘look’ – in 2010 I first saw the 865 matt-metallic green ‘Steve McQueen’ Scrambler. Had to have it. Not so the Thruxton, America or Bonneville, Liked them, but, not, for me, nearly as compelling. Same with the Speed Twin, handsome though it undoubtedly is. It seemed to be everyone else’s ‘look’ – not quite mine. My first stop on picking the motorcycle up was the engineering department at Sloane helicopters – plenty of interest from the young helicopter technicians, (amazing how the style of this bike appeals so strongly to people who wouldn’t even have been born when this bike was a child …), who were keen to give it a ‘diagnostic’(!) run up and down Sywell’s runways,  and my good luck to find a matching colour scheme Augusta as a backdrop for the first film clip.

My mission was to recreate one of the epic journeys of my youth, (1978), I headed straight for the heart of London city, just like I did forty years ago. The excitement was unchanged – sense of anticipation, nerves, and a plan to penetrate the very heart of London town. I remember that glorious day, same route in, same naked style of bike, same ‘AGV AGO’ crash helmet – denim jeans, leather jacket without any armour, and regular, stout boots. Stage was set.  Traffic’s got a bit worse, mind …

 
Unfortunately, choosing the M1 in was a waste of this bike – any bike actually, but especially this one. No bikini fairing or fly screen to deflect wind blast – 90’s as fast as you want to travel for any distance without one, but there is something that makes this bike even less suitable for sustained high speed travelling – the questionable lack of noise. Those fantastic looking pipes might as well be Honda step-through pea-shooters – the tone is fantastic – but the volume is WAY too quiet. Traffic, (cars, full of zombies), do not even know you are there – this scares me. The Speed Twin needs pipes – like the desert needs the rain – if it was mine, I wouldn’t even take delivery until I had serious cans fitted – or the guts ripped out of the standard ones.

As an aside, this is my concern with the new electric bike revolution we are about to witness – I have friends who’ve just come back from the launch training for the new electric Harley – they say it’s fast … but deadly. This I get – I use my bikes extensively for traveling to gigs in the season, and my ragged old Sportster with the hideous-sounding Akrapovic pipes is undoubtedly THE safe option for long distance work – cars hear me, cars get out of the way … sorry, but that’s the truth of it. On any other bike, (including this one), it doesn’t happen.

Back to the Speed Twin, and that engine – it’s SUCH an improvement on the old 865 – sounds crazy, but the 900 just isn’t quite big enough – anywhere. Torque, power, overtaking prowess – long distance work. I’ll qualify that; if you are in your first few years of biking after passing your test, the 900 will be fine – probably more than enough. Five years of riding in; you need a 1200. It is smooth – punchy – and VERY efficient – the MPG figures I was seeing at 70-80 MPH were incredible for an unfaired 1200. This could make the Speed Twin, (albeit with a bikini screen and SW Motech luggage), a pretty decent, if a little pricey, commuter. – to ride, to run, and to live with.

Bike feels tiny – really – like a two-fifty or something – totally not intimidating – to ride, to manoeuvre, etc. That is a very GOOD thing – especially for novices, smaller riders, etc. Seat height is not particularly low though. Very well sculpted, but tall-ish. Bear that in mind. I never test any of these bikes with a pillion. Does anyone really ride a bike like this with a pillion these days … ? I’m taking my partner for a day out on a bike and, for example, I’m borrowing a BMW 1600 ‘bagger’ – I don’t think you would choose a Speed Twin as regular pillion machine of choice, Triumph have better bikes for that job, but I’m equally certain that the cycle parts and engine on the Speedy are up to occasional ‘two-up’ use.

So, eventually I hit the city. Remember, it’s forty years since I last did this just for fun – I’ve commuted once or twice – but the minimum, in and out, strictly. Quite a bit has changed … Density of traffic now means that you have to be on your ‘A’-game all the time to survive. The Speed Twin draws admiring glances from all quarters – traffic light halts become boutiques – and I realise that the Triumph is eliciting the same reaction from passers-by and other traffic as it does from me. It’s retro cool, and everyone likes it – probably, especially, non-bikers of a certain age. Great styling cues. It’s fast, nimble and you can thread it through traffic. Wish it was louder …

It's not a racer, that’s for sure – in the couple of hundred miles I rode the Speed Twin, I never felt inspired to really hang off it, even in the way I do my Harley – lack of familiarity with the Pirelli Diablo tyres I guess, but more than that – the suspension is decent, but it’s not the Ohlins quality that the Scrambler XE boasts, or the WP I sampled on the Tiger. And, though petite, the bike is quite tall, the centre of gravity of the bike certainly feels higher than the Bobber or Thruxton ‘R’. I don’t think you will see many Speed Twins on track days, even though it’s the lightest of the 1200 twins, by some 10KG.

But you will – and do – see them in the heart of the city. The Europeans will love this motorcycle. I spent a month last year living in Lisbon – they adore their classic motorcycles, the ‘Speed Twin’ will be a big hit in that capital city – expect to see them in various stages of custom dress too, once the bike ‘sheds’ get hold of them.

I tore around the West End, revelling in the Triumph’s unfussy pick-up, the light controls – and the powerful brakes. I filmed the piece with the crazy girls cracking up in the background right outside Bar Remo – just off Regent Street. Somehow a classic British twin pulled up on the pavement just outside one of London’s most established Eye-talian restaurants seemed appropriate. I was pretending to be an extra in ‘Quadrophenia’

So who is the Speed Twin aimed at … ? That’s trickier to pin down – it is not as defined as the Bobber, Scrambler or Thruxton ‘R’ – it’s a great all-rounder – but it’s not quite for me. I think it may be a blank canvas on which to create your own retro-ride, with plenty of quality engineering to justify it’s premium price positioning, (aluminium swing arm anyone … ?). This bike will offend no one, but it’s also not a bike that changes the game in the way that, say, the XC800 does – it’s Triumph’s take on a performance Bonneville for the modern world, and it’s incredibly easy to live with.

Next stop Regent’s Park, the inner circle. Time for my third piece for the camera. It’s a reflection on riding in the city in the modern era. Last time I deliberately penetrated London by MOTO was some five years ago – and it wasn’t for pleasure. Just as well, it didn’t turn out pleasurable. I was presenting a show for Mercedes Benz at Covent Garden, and I decided to commute on my 865 Scrambler. Admittedly it was in the rush hour, but it made me regret not taking the train. The 865 was hard work, it overheated and the clutch became sticky. Manoeuvring it required serious effort. Not so the Speed Twin – tackling London traffic was relatively effortless, and the torque and drive off corners and junctions meant that I was always ahead of the traffic curve, comfort and safety-wise with the ABS, sticky Pirelli rubber, Brembos and programmable traction control. Add in LED lighting, and this retro take on the original 1938 bike boasts most of gear I paid substantially extra to add to my 1200 Harley roadster. In short, the Triumph comes well equipped.

Biking’s moved on since that epic ride-out in 1979. More crucially, biking’s moved on even since I commuted here in 2014. The rate of change in the modern world is phenomenal. A 2010 Triumph twin looks steam-powered compared to a 2019 Triumph. Kids, you’ve never had it so good. And bikes like the Speed Twin do that oh-so refreshing thing when it comes to the sport we all love.

They keep it PURE.