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Behind its refined café racer veneer, Triumph’s new Thruxton offers riders a serious performance rush

While Triumph’s 2016 range of five new Bonneville models has given us a veritable banquet of new bikes, two models were received with special anticipation: the Thruxton and Thruxton R. This pair go way beyond any other twin-cylinder models that the British manufacturer has yet produced in delivering retro appeal coupled with sporting allure, traditional styling combined with thoroughly modern performance. The fact that they’re both also drop dead gorgeous is another reason why you might find a long list awaiting you at the showroom floor!


This is of course the second time Triumph has a produced modern-day reinterpretation of one of the most illustrious models in the British marque’s glorious sporting heritage (see breakout). The original Bloor-era 865cc T100 Thruxton was introduced in 2004 as a first attempt to pay tribute to the Way It Was. Its debut established Triumph’s formula for recreating the best of yesteryear but in a modern context performance-wise, and I may immodestly claim to have played a part in underlining that by setting the current FIM World Land Speed Records for Unstreamlined Normally Aspirated twin-cylinder motorcycles back in 2009 with the Matt Capri-tuned Triumph Thruxton T100.

Now Triumph has produced two new-generation Thruxton café racer versions of its brand new 1200cc T120 Bonneville base model. Thanks to its more affordable price ($18,700 + ORC) and everyday nature, the T120 is expected to be Triumph’s bigger selling version, but the more costly Thruxtons ($21,100 + ORC) won’t be far behind, as they are loaded with new technology, powered by the same all-new liquid-cooled parallel-twin eight-valve engine, and offer improved handling and greater power. Where T120 engine is labelled ‘High Torque’, in Thruxton guise it is referred to as ‘High Power’ – the T120 produces 59kW at 6550rpm, the latter delivers 72kW at 6750rpm, and the new Thruxton duo’s peak torque of 112Nm at 4950 rpm is also higher than the T120’s 105Nm. And while the new Bonneville 1200 family has a broader spread of grunt peaking as low as 310 rpm, the Thruxton duo build power and torque all through the revband up to near to the engine’s 7500 rpm redline, 500 rpm higher than the T120.

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What all that number-crunching means is that the new pair of Thruxton models are the most potent Bonnevilles to carry lights and a horn yet produced by Triumph, thanks to a performance increase over the T120 delivered by a lighter crank, higher compression (11:1 versus 10:1 for the T120), and a larger airbox, as well as revised mapping for the Keihin ECU. This has three riding modes available courtesy of the ride-by-wire throttle, versus just two on the T120. As well as that bike’s Road and Rain modes, both Thruxtons now benefit from an extra Sport map. Switching modes on the move is a simple business – just close the throttle, press the M-button on the right ‘bar, then pull in the clutch to confirm the swap. Worth noting you must also hold in the clutch lever to start the Thruxton, even in neutral, though the clutch action is extremely light, denoting the presence of Triumph’s so-called ‘slip assist’ design. This is their version of a slipper clutch, though with more engine braking left in than is usual with one of those.


All three modes produce the same peak power, but with a less intense delivery for Rain than Road, and for Road than Sport. In fact, Triumph was efficient enough to arrange for us to experience a serious rainstorm when riding the Thruxton R first time around at the Portuguese press launch held in the countryside north of Lisbon, and an hour of riding in the deluge revealed how effective the Rain map is in taming the bike’s performance.

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Thankfully, the next morning dawned bright and sunny, leaving us with ideal conditions to exploit the performance of the Thruxton R. This differs from the standard version mainly in terms of suspension, brakes and tyres (see breakout) with switchable ABS on both versions. And riding it in dry conditions revealed this to be a bike that, as they say in Italy, was born well. Just sitting on it sets you smiling with anticipation, thanks to an extremely well-thought out riding position that didn’t prove tiring on our 100-mile trip into the Portuguese countryside, with the swan’s neck clip-on Ace bars fitted here for the very same reason they were invented back in the Ace Café days 50 years ago – to give a sporty stance that isn’t a backbreaker. It’s windcheating without being tiring, practical yet aggressive; it invites you to tuck down behind the twin retro-style clocks on a fast, open stretch of road, but has a spacious enough seat for you to move back and forth on it. It’s also narrow enough where it meets the tank for shorter riders to be able to put a foot down at rest perfectly easily. The good-looking fuel tank is well shaped, so you grasp it cosily with your knees, plus the retro-looking bar-end mirrors give a good view, and don’t vibe.

At 810mm high the seat is 5mm taller on the Thruxton R than its sister bike’s (and 25mm higher than the T120’s), reflecting the taller rear ride height on the R thanks to the longer Öhlins shocks. This subtly changes the front end geometry to give the Thruxton R a slightly sharper-steering setup, with a 22.8º rake to the fork and 92mm of trail, though both have the same short 1415mm wheelbase. Compare those figures with the T120 Bonneville’s 25.5º/105.2mm/1445mm numbers to see how radical the Thruxton duo are in retro terms – these are essentially modern motorcycles wearing period dress, an authentic blend of tradition and topicality.


There’s certainly nothing old-fashioned about the Thruxton R’s performance – even if the bark from the Euro 4-compliant exhaust when you thumb the starter button is decidedly stirring, muscular even, in a traditional kind of way. Thanks to the slipper clutch there’s no need to blip the throttle on downshifts, but I repeatedly caught myself doing so just to hear that great-sounding exhaust note. Thanks to the perfect primary balance of the 270º crank as well as the twin counterbalancers, there’s no hint of undue vibration at any revs. And yet it remains an invigorating and involving motorcycle to ride, not a pseudo-electric one.

It’s pretty torquey yet essentially a revver thanks to the lighter crankshaft – eager to build revs, yet dependable if you choose to ride the torque curve. Unlike the T120, whose wide spread of torque from low down makes it almost irrelevant which gear you throw at it, the Thruxton asks you to use the sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox (best yet on a Bonneville?) to keep the engine revving about 4000rpm. At that point the high-compression engine really takes off, building power up close to the hard-action 7500 rpm limiter. It may be a ride-by-wire throttle, but Triumph has opted for an old-style cutout at the redline. Midrange roll-on from about 3500rpm upwards, however, delivers a muscular response and you catch yourself revelling in the decisive pickup the big-twin motor delivers to the background track of twin-cylinder music. Riding the Thruxton in something approaching anger through a fast series of third-gear bends is heaven on two wheels – backing on and off the throttle you’re never disappointed at the response. This is an accessible and thoroughly enjoyable motorcycle which just asks to be ridden hard, and delivers when you do. That said, a wide-open powershifter would be very welcome to help keep it revving hard, even with the lighter crankshaft.

The Sport riding mode has a crisp but controllable throttle response, and its fuel mapping is impeccable. Really well done. It’s responsive without being fierce or snatchy, even from a closed throttle, and in spite of the lightened crank. I ended up using it all the time, even in traffic. This makes the Road map more or less superfluous on the Thruxton, so it’s all the more irritating that when you switch off the engine it automatically defaults back to Road mode when you fire it up again. Why? “We want the selection of Sport to be a conscious act,” explained Nik Ellwood, Triumph’s Global PR Manager – the implication being that Thruxton riders need to be saved from themselves?! Come on, guys, it’s only a 96hp motorcycle, for goodness sake, and if your design team has done a good enough job to make the Sport map the go-to mode for everyday riding, we don’t need nanny to tell us different.

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Same goes for the two ‘clocks’ on the dash. Each has a digital panel, which on the left-hand speedometer displays info that can be scrolled through via the I-for-Info button on the left handlebar, to access a mileage odometer, twin trips, fuel level, current and average fuel consumption, range to empty, a clock and a gear indicator. If you prefer to have the clock on to keep track of time, sorry – when you turn the engine off and start it again, it defaults to the odometer, so you must thumb through the choices again till you get back to where you were before. Nanny knows best, eh!

Yet again, as on the T120 and also the Street Twin 900 I rode before Christmas, the suspension on the Thruxton R was brilliantly set up – although this time with Showa/Öhlins hardware rather than the Kayaba package on those bikes. The real credit goes to Triumph’s chassis development experts, the brothers David and Felipe Lopez, who have done a great job in producing a twin-shock motorcycle with outstanding suspension compliance at both ends. I was once again seriously impressed by the way the Triumph ate up the bumps – it’s as good as if the Thruxton R was monoshocked. Yet when you do go over a rough stretch of road and the bike gets jiggled around, there are no rattles, just a tight and together feeling denoting the bike’s undoubtedly excellent build quality, reflecting well on Triumph’s Thai operation, where all the new Bonnies are made.

The styling is great, too, as an effective blend of ancient and modern – the throttle bodies look like carburettors, and the cylinders have machined fins that according to Triumph actually do aid cooling, so the water radiator now fitted can be small enough to be visually insignificant, tucked away behind the front mudguard with barely a hose in sight. Worth noting the new Triumphs have LED lights front and rear, with a very distinctive signature light pattern for the front running light, and there’s a USB charging socket fitted as standard on the headstock for ready access.

The Thruxton duo share the same tubular steel main frame with the T120, but with a different welded-on sub-frame and a 30mm shorter wheelbase thanks to their aluminium swingarm. With their 17-inch front wheel you get better feedback from the front tyre than you do via the T120’s 18-inch front end, which in turn inspires confidence, especially in terms of keeping up turn speed. With a massive 21kg weight saving over the T120 – a claimed 203kg dry – the Thruxton feels beautifully balanced. Riding it in town is easy because of the light-action clutch, but it also feels extremely manoeuvrable at low speeds in traffic. And at the same time this was a bike built to hit the highways and byways at speed, with the Italo-Japanese suspension package just shrugging off the bumps. The steering is light and agile, and the Brembo brakes work brilliantly – again, there’s loads of feel, yet a very effective degree of stopping power, with good modulation via the adjustable lever if all you want to do is lose a little excess speed entering a fast sweeping turn. Nice.

Triumph has developed a range of more than 160 official accessories in total for the Thruxton duo, up to and including a range of Vance & Hines exhausts. Slightly strangely, both bikes come only as single-seaters with no option to take a passenger unless you buy the dual seat and passenger footrests that are only available as an accessory package. The BMW RnineT (at $21,250 a direct competitor) comes standard with pillion footpegs and passenger seat, so it’ll be interesting to see which company has a better understanding of what retrobike riders prefer to do when it comes to carrying a passenger on their bike. Triumph has also developed a trio of so-called ‘inspiration kits’ packaging several of the accessories together, including one called the Track Racer, which features an abbreviated café-racer-style half-fairing, the unfaired Café Racer kit, and for the first time there’s a Thruxton R performance Race Kit. These, however, will not be available in Australia until later in the year.

The new Thruxton R is a retro-styled café racer with modern performance, employing current technology in pursuit of today’s performance and handling, coupled with the allure of yesteryear. It’s a modern classic in every sense of the term, and I doubt very much that Triumph will be able to keep up with orders for it – especially once they start attracting conquest customers from other brands, some of them owners of modern sportsbikes who are in for a surprise if they take a Triumph Thruxton R for a test ride. It’s a nice problem to have.

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