Ridden: Triumph Thruxton review

Forward to the past

I have to admit, I struggled to like the Thruxton for the first couple of days we were together.

The environment didn’t help, though. I had two long motorway trips to do and, as is usual in my World, I was short of time and therefore in a hurry.

The fairing-less Thruxton is not at its best on a motorway but I guess you didn’t me to tell you that.

I ran out of fuel, too. With the sun behind me and a microscopic fuel warning-light that’s totally obscured by the speedo needle at 90mph, the outcome was inevitable.

The engine died in the outside lane. Quickly realising what’d happened I whipped in the clutch, indicated left and got into my best racing tuck on the hard shoulder. I managed to freewheel straight to the next exit, over the roundabout and onto the forecourt of a plant hire depot. The Gaffer sold me enough fuel to get to the next filling station. Thank you kind sir.

See? We weren’t off to the best start, were we?

For the rest of our time together I learned to avoid motorways and to ride the Thruxton more slowly.

I'll be honest - I’d been mentally wrestling with this whole retro engineering thing.

You see, I don’t really like riding ‘classic’ bikes unless they’re really well sorted (read: brand new) race bikes. What was good in 1957 or 1977 is usually and often utterly revolting in 2012. Things move on. Development forces change for the better. I enjoy progress. A friend of mine said recently: ‘I enjoy being a journalist as it’s all about searching out the truth. Unless you’re having to write about classic bikes, that is…’

But in the interests of searching out the truth I felt compelled to don a pair of rose tinted glasses to understand what the Thruxton was about.

It’s a bike, it seems, for people who perhaps view the aesthetic above the dynamic. A bike for people who aren’t interested in speed at all. A bike to chug around on during balmy summer evenings. A bike to engage random strangers in totally predictable conversations.

‘Have you restored that yourself lad? I used to have a Triumph in…’ etc, etc.

But it seemed, depressingly, like Triumph were making an old-styled bike for old men because that’s what the market has become. Old. I quizzed Triumph’s marketing people about this and they told me the classics market is an equal split between young (ish) hipsters and the doddering silver surfers. My words, not theirs, I hasten to add.

The Thruxton is pretty, I’ll have to give it that. Squint hard enough through your rose tinted glasses and the engine even looks like Edward Turner might have had a hand in designing it. The angle of the fins, the curve of the rocker boxes all hark back to the earlier pushrod Triumph twins.

Thankfully, a squint is as close as that parallel (twin) gets. The modern Hinckley twin is smooth, flexible, civilized, reliable and oil tight. The old ‘classic’ Triumph twins were shocking things - even when they were right they were wrong in so many different ways.

The Thruxton uses the same 865cc motor as the Bonneville but with higher compression pistons and a mild cam profile change. The performance difference is barely noticeable. Performance is adequate, I suppose – just like a W800 Kawasaki.

I’m not sure it handles and better or any worse than a good ‘old’ Bonneville, though. The new version is certainly heavier and it’s less willing to flick from one angle of full bank to the other than my horrible, old £700 T140V way back when.

But thanks to masses of trail it’s stable. Really stable. Through long weeping corners it tracks straight and true like an early Guzzi Le Mans. 

You feel the bumps, though. Those (by modern standards) spindly front forks and twin rear shocks convey every imperfection back to the rider. But without a rising rate linkage monoshock and catridge USD forks it would, wouldn’t it? Thankfully, the high aspect ratio Metzeler tyres have enough give in their fat sidewalls to act as secondary bump cushions. Recognize that front tread pattern? 1980 Mezeler Lazer ME99? That takes me back.

Having all that gubbins mounted on the front forks is a bit unsettling at times, too.

Plonking a headlight and clocks on the front forks is how they used to do it in the bad old days until someone realised that using the frame was a better idea. The Thruxton’s bracketry is gorgeous but, particularly at low speed, this extra steered mass makes plotting a straight path a bit of a chore. Personally, if I owned a Thruxton, the first thing I’d do is weld a tube to the front of the headstock to carry the headlight and clocks. 

Another nod to yesteryear are the fat-in-the-middle Lucas-style grips, the  ignition barrel on the left hand headlight bracket and fuel injectors that look like carbs – CV carbs, not Mk1 Concentrics.

The riding position is what you’d expect from ace bars and rear sets. It’s a bit of stretch and makes the peanut-style fuel tank feel suspiciously short and narrow. Bar end mirrors are wide and make filtering tricky but they do offer a good view behind. The seat is deeply padded and comfortable and for the few times I took pillion on the back, the comments on the rear seat were similar. Comfy. That seat cowling uses two allen blots to secure it.

And then, a week last Sunday after several days of black thoughts, I had a Thruxton epiphany. I was riding back along some warm, sunny country roads and I found – as MotoGP racers are always saying – a rhythm. 

Just leaving the Thruxton in top gear and pretty much leaving the brakes alone – I was rolling on and off the power and keeping up a speed of 70-80mph, flowing corners together with neat lines, avoiding visible bumps and admiring the view ahead. This was the Thruxton’s rhythm (not mine) and all of a sudden it made sense. It was, finally, fun.

And you know what? If I was going to be totally honest with myself this is the sort of speed that is acceptable to other road users and the sort of speed that wouldn’t even get you a bollocking from the old bill, never mind a booking.

Maybe a Thruxton is what my battered and tattered licence needs, after all. The past might just be my future.

If you fancy the idea of a reliable, brand new Classic bike (with two year unlimited mileage warranty) the Thruxton is a viable option if you don’t fancy a snail-pace Royal Enfield or a Japanese W800.

But, for now – I shall continue to risk my licence and liberty on modern, state-of-the-art equipment, thank you.