Triumph Speed Twin (2021) first road test and review

2021 Speed Twin Visordown review

THE Speed Twin has been a good seller for Triumph – they’ve shifted over 11,000 of them in the past three years, and they’re hoping to sell just as many of this new version.

New Triumph Speed Twin (2021) revealed with more power, poise, and performance.

New Triumph Speed Twin (2021) revealed with more power, poise | Engine Sound | Retro Motorcycles

It was due for an update anyway around now -  the last of the Bonneville family to get Euro 5  emissions compliance – but Triumph has taken the opportunity to do more than just clean up its act. The Speed Twin gets a whole new feel for 2021, and we were at the launch in Portugal to put it through its paces.

What’s new with the 20212 Triumph Speed Twin?

Quite a bit – some you can see, and some you can’t. The most noticeable change from last year is to upside-down forks – chunky 43mm Marzocchi items, albeit with no adjustment  – and posh Brembo radial calipers biting bigger 320mm discs. The wheels are new too – 12-spoke lightweight aluminium rims shod with trackday-level Metzeler RR K3 rubber. According to the spec sheets,  the new model has slightly steeper rake/trail figures than the old one, despite having the same frame, so it’s tempting to put that down to the new forks. A  closer look, though, reveals that’s just because the rear shocks (same as last year) come with an extra step of preload at the rear, raising the back and giving slightly quicker steering and slightly better ground clearance.

 Less obvious at first glance, but just as important, the engine is now more or less the same spec as the Thruxton RS, although with a different exhaust system and engine mapping keeping it just a few horses down the Thruxton’s power figures. It has a lighter crank, and a posh new alternator with rare earth magnets for less inertia. Combine that with new, higher compression pistons, modified intake and exhaust ports, and higher lift camshafts, and you get a modest power increase over the old model (up around 3bhp to a claimed 99bhp, with peak power now delivered at 7250rpm), and a fraction more torque, delivered slightly lower down the rev range. There’s traction control (switchable) and three-way riding modes – Rain, Road and Sport. All three deliver full power, so it’s just the delivery and throttle response that vary.

Euro 5 compliance means a new exhaust system, but still retaining the old bike’s neat layout, where it looks like a two into two straight-through system, but the downpipes don’t actually connect directly to the silencers. Instead, they divert under the sump to the catalytic converter and pre-silencer, before diverting back out again to the mid-pipes and silencers. The point where they diverge is hidden by a neat little stainless cover and you really wouldn’t know all that tiresome emissions stuff was hiding away there.

Elsewhere there’s a USB charging port under the seat, LED lighting (including a Daytime Running Light) and the new bike is pre-wired for heated grips and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, both available as accessories along with dozens of other options.

One other thing the Speed Twin gets this year is a slight price hike – it’s up £300 on the old model to bring it to £11,000 on the road for the standard gloss black version, or £11,200 for Matt Storm Grey (with yellow accents)  or the Red Hopper metallic finish (as per the bikes we tested). To put that price into context, the cheapest BMW R nineT (which Triumph see as their main competition in this market sector) is the base Pure model at £11,395, while ‘normal’ R nineT models start at £13,150. The Speed Twin’s other stated rival, the Kawasaki Z900RS, ranges from £10,649 to £11,649.

What’s it like to ride?

Turn the key, the needles on the twin dials swing through their whole travel and back, then you can press the button and it fires up with a rustling burble from the twin cans. Clutch in (nice light action) prod at the rather ponderous gear lever (set a bit high for me on the test bike) and off we go. It’s immediately obvious the new Speed Twin has great low-speed balance – the kind of bike that makes low-speed manoeuvres a doddle and means you can slow down to a halt and balance for a second or two before needing to put your foot down. When you do stick your foot out, the ground’s not far away – with a seat height only just over 800mm, even a short-arse like me can get both feet flat on the floor. The only criticism for low-speed use is a slight lack of steering lock – turning round in the road for photos I ran out of lock a couple of times and nearly dropped it. Otherwise though it’s so easy to get on with you could put a complete novice on it and they’d have no problems.

They might have a bit more trouble once they work out what the twistgrip does though, because this Thruxton-clone engine has some proper go. Ok, so sub-100bhp might not set your pants on fire in these days of 200bhp superbikes, but then I’ve never been a fan of combustible underwear anyway, and on the right road 100bhp is plenty – especially when it’s delivered like this. The lighter engine internals help the motor spin up more quickly and you can really feel the difference. It’s still got the grunt to be able to pull hard from low down, although perhaps it feels a little harsher than before without the extra crankshaft mass to damp down vibration, but let it spin just a bit higher – from 3500rpm upwards – and it really drives, perfect for slingshotting between bends on these twisty Portuguese roads. The best compliment I can pay is to say it’s the sort of engine where you don’t need a rev counter – partly because you’ve got a good spread of useable grunt over a wide range, but more because it’s just so easy to instinctively feel what it’s going to do when you open the throttle. Warning: you’ll also find yourself just winding the throttle on and off just to experience that surge of grunt again and again – fun, but intensely annoying for anyone you’re riding with...

I was very pleased to see the three engine modes are easily changed while riding – no messing around having to stop to change modes. You just press the Mode button on the left bar to pre-select the one you want, it flashes, then shut the throttle and pull the clutch in at the same time, and the new mode is active. As mentioned previously, the traction control is also easily switchable (press the info button ‘til it shows TCS, then press and hold to toggle between on and off) but for that you do need to be stopped. Once you turn the ignition off, the Mode reverts to Road, which is a bit annoying – I’d prefer it to remember its last setting – but that ease of switching means it’s not a problem. Also fair to say that the slightly less nervous low-down throttle response in Road is easier to get on with in traffic, where Sport can hunt and shunt a bit, especially when you’re on an almost-closed throttle, just coasting down to a junction or lights, for example.  That apart, the Speed Twin is great in town, but it’s on twisty backroads where it really shines.

The extra ride height at the rear gives plenty of ground clearance for quick riding, and it takes some committed effort to get anything touching down, although with the pegs a little lower and further forward than Thruxton spec, you do need to keep your feet out of the way in bends. The new forks have a firm, high quality feel to them, and along with the sticky tyres you’ve got a beatifully planted front-end feel that allows you to get away with trail-braking deep into turns, and which seems to roll perfectly naturally into bends with no real effort – just the hint of pressure against the inside bar and the bike sets itself up to whatever angle of lean you’ve dialled in, no fuss, no drama. Well, unless you start hitting big bumps mid-corner, when it’s a bit less lovely. The rear shocks – carried over directly from the old model – are budget items and it shows. The harder you push and/or the bumpier it gets, the more they lose their composure. They’re not actually bad – just not as good as the front end, and not as good as the rest of the bike. At least they’ll be easy to replace with something better a year or two down the line though. One other point about the shocks – normally you can fiddle with the preload adjusters on these using every single bit of the bike’s toolkit (which consists of one allen key behind the right hand side panel...). With the new silencers, though, access is extremely tight, and you really need to loosen the exhaust mounting and swing the silencer out of the way.

The new brakes are a step on from the old system. Monobloc Brembo M50 calipers and radial master cylinder are undoubtedly overkill for a 100bhp roadster, but they do look good and in conjunction with relatively soft pads, they offer a good balance of power and feel. The ABS system is maybe a bit over-eager, especially at the rear (use the back brake at all while stopping hard and the ABS kicks and jerks) but I suspect although that was an irritation on dry tarmac, it might be a bit more welcome on a greasy December commute.

Ergonomics are good – or at least they were for my stumpy legs and 5ft 6 build – with flattish bars giving plenty of leverage and a position that’s purposeful without being too sporty. The seat is a bit of a plank, to be honest, but ok for a couple of hours at a time, especially on the kind of roads where you’re shuffling about on the seat all the time. On a couple of fast sections of dual cabbageway it was no surprise to find anything over about 90mph was unpleasantly windy, and I wouldn’t want to do much of that if I could avoid it. Better to slow down a bit and ease the strain on your neck – 70mph in top, incidentally, is at a lazy 3500rpm, from which there’s plenty of overtaking grunt available without needing to bother the gear lever. Even at legal speeds though, you’re never going to be long between fuel stops and leg-stretches. Triumph claim about 50mpg for the Speed Twin, and a quick calculation after a splash and dash at 80-odd miles showed we’d averaged about 45mpg – not too bad, but with a smallish 14.5 litre fuel tank it means you’ll be looking for fuel at around 125 miles, assuming a nominal reserve of a couple of litres. When you get to the fuel station, you might find, as I did, that you can’t put the sidestand down – it simply wasn’t possible to snag the sidestand tang with the heel of my Sidi race boots, so I had to lean down and do it by hand. No one with normal boots had a problem though.

Looks are subjective, but I think the Speed Twin looks great, especially in the metallic red we were riding. All the inconvenient modern stuff is tucked away neatly (especially the exhaust/emissions kit as mentioned before, but it’s still got enough visual clues – especially the new front end – to say it’s a serious performance bike, not a wannabe classic cruiser. From ten feet away everything looks solid, quality, class – even the mudguards are brushed aluminium, not plastic – but get right up close and there are a few cheap touches that betray some cost-cutting (the plastic headlight bowl, for example). The mudguards, incidentally, could both usefully be a bit longer – the day before our ride was wet and riders were getting soaked from water flung up between the rear mudguard and the number plate holder. At the front a longer guard would keep gunge and stones from the vulnerable radiator – several of the test bikes were already showing minor stone damage. The only design touch I’m really not keen on is the clocks. They manage to pack a fair bit of available info into a tight space, and it’s generally easy to pick and choose what you want to see, but I’d have preferred a simpler, cleaner white dial design.

Summing up, the key word for the new Speed Twin is ‘balance’. Low speed balance is excellent, and at real-world speeds on twisty roads, there’s a great balance between handling and performance. The brakes are nicely balanced between power and feel, and even the overall specification is a carefully-engineered balance between finish and price. Triumph’s stated aim with this bikes was, ‘To combine the performance of the Thruxton with the looks of a classic’, and I think they’re managed that very well. I liked the old Speed Twin,  but this is just that little bit more exciting, more capable, more – yes - balanced. The main balancing feat Triumph have attempted is to produce something that’s easy, welcoming and unthreatening enough to attract and flatter riders who may be taking their first steps onto big bikes after passing their tests or coming back after a lay-off, but which can still put a big grin on someone who’s just stepped off the latest sports or adventure bike after a lifetime’s experience. That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off, and I think they’ve done just that.

Triumph Speed Twin and Beeline team up

Triumph chose the Speed Twin to showcase their new tie-up with the Beeline navigation system. For those who don’t want to fit a bulky sat-nav unit (or their phone) on the handlebars, but still want some route guidance, the Beeline is a possible alternative. The small but suprisingly heavy ead unit (the case is solid aluminium where you’d expect plastic) sits on your bars and connects to your phone via Bluetooth, once you’ve downloaded the specific Beeline app. Then you can either create a route on your phone, import from another source, or switch to Compass mode, which allows you to put in start and finish points and then rather than giving you detailed instructions, it just points you in roughly the right direction while letting you head off down side roads or make it up as you go along. For this ride we used a pre-loaded map from Triumph. Downloading, installing and pairing to the phone was easy (and I’m no tech-lover) and once I got the hang of interpreting the simple info on the screen, it worked ok, although on several occasions I was expecting to go one way according to what I was being told, while our lead rider acually took us somewhere else. Not sure whether that was my fault, Beeline’s fault or the lead rider’s fault, but I suspect I’d need a lot more time with it to be able to trust it fully. Speaking of time, the limiting factor is battery charge time. Firstly for the unit itself, which doesn’t charge fron the bike so needs separate charging each evening, and secondly for your phone – the constant Bluetooth activity is incredibly power-hungry and everyone finished the day with barely enough power left to send a photo of their first beer to Instagram/Facebook/Grandma (other social platforms/relatives are available).

Retail price of the Triumph-branded Beeline system is £199, which is the same as the RRP for the generic version (although actually you can pick it up cheaper than that).   The only real difference is that as an official Triumph accessory the warranty goes out from one to two years. And it’s got ‘Triumph’ engraved on the casing.