15 July 2019
Some while ago, in tandem with the rise of social media, something curious happened in the biking community – a new breed of biker could be spotted on the asphalt. He wasn’t a lantern-jawed pot-bellied Harley guy; he wasn’t the accountant who commuted hundreds of miles on his BMW, and neither was he the unabashed superbike rider. He dressed imperfectly perfect, his beard smelled of sandalwood, and he usually worked in the creative industries. He was found riding through London’s eastern boroughs, drinking flat whites by day and cocktails out of jam jars by night.
The Triumph Bonneville was the hipster's bike of choice – partly through free will, mostly through destiny. It was as if every hipster in London had suddenly realised that their Japanese selvedge denim collection and vintage Carhartt jackets were not going to make them happy. So off they went to do some research and naturally they came across a handsome bike called the Bonneville, immortalised by Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood. A few more scrolls on Google images and they saw that Tom Hardy and David Beckham were owners of Triumphs. Tick, tick, tick. And a few more ticks.
Soon enough, I got a call from Hinckley asking if I fancied a ride on their new Speed Twin. The Speed Twin name comes with rightful hubris - from 1938 to 1966, Triumph sold 45,000 Speed Twins - with a winning combination of performance, timeless design, and ease of use. As the delivery van pulled up in front of my house, there were hurried signatures, a pat on the back and now keys in hand.
I stood in quiet contemplation of the bike. It certainly ticked the box for retro-cool. From its side profile, there’s a very slight angular lean towards the front, giving it a poised and muscular demeanour. The meaty 1200cc engine fills the bike nicely, and the matte anodized finish adds to its premium presence. I particularly like the aluminium mudguards - small detail I know, but with motorbikes you’re punished for skimping on quality materials. It's one of those rare bikes that looks pretty much perfect straight out of the factory, and the use of bar-end mirrors is a deliberate nod from Triumph to appease the visually-inclined hipsters.
The 1,200cc engine is in the same state of tune as Triumph's top-of-the-range Thruxton R but features a new clutch assembly with reduced rotating mass, magnesium cam covers, and lighter side covers that shed 5.5 pounds from the engine alone. Overall, the Speed Twin is an impressive 22 pounds lighter than the Thruxton. Let that sink in. The chassis has been reworked from the Thruxton too, with a more upright roadster position, tapered handlebars featuring new upper yoke and risers, and a peg location that's 38mm forward and 4mm lower than the Thruxton's.
The upper body position to the handlebars is well balanced though my legs - 6"3 pairs to match Usain Bolt- felt vacant and the small fuel tank didn't give me the confidence to move on the bike the way I wanted. I felt like I was sitting on top of the bike, rather than being a part of the bike. With the amount of torque that the bike offers, I found myself gunning down straights and then gingerly taking corners, in true muscle car style. The bike goes exactly where you want it though, darting around like a butterfly but with a backpack on. A few adjustments to the handlebars and footpegs would have sorted my handling issues, and my (shorter) friend wasn't complaining. Another thing worth mentioning, don't let the retro looks fool you - the bike is packed with tech. I played around with the bike's three rider modes: Sport, Road and Rain (Hooligan, Gentleman and Wuss) and the versatility of the bike was immediately apparent.
The engine and gearbox have to be the highlights of why the bike is so addictive though. Opening up the throttle, you find yourself late-shifting in first and second gear to hear the roar from the Vance and Hines exhausts. Hold onto the revs for dear life up towards the low 7k redline, and there’s a decent amount of top-end pulling power and before you have time to check the speedometer, you've already broken the speed limit. You catch yourself downshifting unnecessarily for the unadulterated joy of the silky transmission, lightness of clutch and accompanying pops and crackle from the exhaust - whose sonic signature can only be described as the lovechild of Barry White and a Ford Mustang V8.
It's a hugely visceral bike to ride, and the dopamine coursing through your veins hours after will make you do inexcusable things to get back on- I rode to a local pub about a hundred yards away just to let Barry seduce me. And maybe that's where the magic lies in this bike - you get on it for no apparent reason other than to simply enjoy the journey, take in the sights, and soak up the admiration from passers-by.
Maybe the hipsters have got a point after all?