First Ride Review
When the Bonneville America and Speedmaster cruisers disappeared from Triumph’s lineup for 2017, we knew something was afoot. The Bonneville line was in the midst of a radical makeover centered around two new liquid-cooled “High Torque” parallel twins (a 900 and 1200), the wildly popular Bobber was taking social media by storm and Triumph was reaping the rewards.
Now we have a new 2018 Bonneville Speedmaster, and it bears little resemblance to its cookie-cutter cruiser predecessor. Yet…there’s something familiar about it, and there’s a reason for that: it’s essentially an “un-bobbed” Bobber. While one would normally start with a “base” model, creating custom variations like bobbers, café racers or scramblers from there, Triumph has done it backwards in this case—and that’s to the Speedmaster’s benefit. It’s a conglomeration of all the Bobber and Bobber Black’s best qualities, with a healthy dose of classic Bonneville DNA.
The 2018 Speedmaster is based on the Bobber’s single rear shock, hardtail-look frame, and it’s powered by the same High Torque 1,200cc parallel twin with what Triumph calls the “Bobber tune,” for more linear power delivery than the T120. We’ve been smitten with the liquid-cooled High Torque 1200 since it was launched with the 2016 Bonneville T120 and T120 Black, and it’s still buttery smooth and powerful enough to satisfy our heavy wrists. For such a torquey engine, it loves to rev, but it has enough grunt to pull you out of a corner or around a slow-moving truck without downshifting.
Past the engine and frame, the Speedmaster picked up a few pointers from its Bonnie brethren: it has the same 41mm, 3.5-inch travel Kayaba fork as the Bobber, but with more sophisticated cartridge damping and a stiffer spring better suited for two-up riding. Its rear single shock, meanwhile, actually has slightly less travel than the Bobbers (2.9 inches, about 0.15-inch less), but is equipped with a stepped preload adjuster. Stopping power is provided by twin 310mm front discs with floating two-piston Brembo calipers and a single 255mm rear disc with single-piston Nissin caliper, and ABS is standard. It rolls on the Bobber Black’s 16-inch spoked wheels, with wide 130-series front and 150-series rear tires.
Perhaps best of all, however, is the larger 3.2-gallon gas tank, which should extend the Speedmaster’s range into the touring realm; if fuel economy reaches Triumph’s claim of 50 mpg, you’d be looking at a 160-mile range. You could also take someone with you or carry luggage (or both), since the Speedmaster is also equipped with a pillion seat and grab rail, both easily removable for one-up cruising.
While it was made clear that the Speedmaster isn’t exactly a cruiser—as Triumph North America PR Manager Phil Read corrected me, it’s a “British Classic Custom Icon”—it definitely exudes a more laid-back attitude than the upright standard Bonnie T120 and the midmount control, flat bar aggressiveness of the Bobbers. Pull-back beach bars are comfy and not so wide as to make full-lock parking lot turns difficult, and the forward controls aren’t extreme—the lack of floorboards helps—so shorter-inseam riders should find the Speedmaster a good fit. Speaking of which, its 27.8-inch seat is a bit higher than the Bobbers (about half an inch) thanks to thicker seat foam, but it’s still more accessible than the 30.9-inch elevation of the T120’s perch.
The Speedmaster also gets a full suite of electronics, including switchable traction control, throttle-by-wire with two ride modes (Road and Rain; both provide full power, but Rain eases throttle response for slippery conditions), and easy to use single-button cruise control as standard.
One of my biggest pet peeves is long lever travel, and somehow it’s even more annoying on bikes with adjustable levers. I don’t have small hands, yet I’m often stretching my fingers to reach the levers, even when they’re adjusted as far in as possible. For new or smaller riders, that can be intimidating and fatiguing. Well, high fives to Triumph for not only equipping the Speedmaster with an easy-pull assist clutch and adjustable brake and clutch levers, but also making them actually adjust close enough to be easily reached by less than XL-sized hands.
And that segues nicely into the whole point of this review: how is the Speedmaster to ride?
Settling into the comfy saddle, feet a bit forward, gripping the tiller beach bar, we got acclimated to the new cruiser—er, British Classic Custom Icon—by, well, cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway through the quaint seaside towns of Carlsbad and Oceanside, on our way to 150 miles of curvy bliss. The Speedmaster’s exhaust is unique, with a deeper, richer tone than the Bobbers, and as we picked up the pace in the twisties the growl was punctuated regularly by the sound of peg feelers scraping asphalt, an unavoidable side effect of forward controls. The Speedmaster handles so well—light and neutral, with reassuring stability—that it’s all too easy to touch down.
The combination of 41mm cartridge fork, 16-inch front wheel and wide tires seem to be the Goldilocks formula for the stable, 59.4-inch wheelbase Bobber chassis. The Speedmaster turns in with little effort, for that magic combination of quickness and stability. The stiffer springs and improved damping in the fork reduce its tendency to skip across rough pavement in a turn, ideal for both aggressive one-up and regular two-up riding. The brakes are strong and offer good feedback, throttle response is spot-on…it was hard to find anything to complain about except the limited cornering clearance. The funny thing is, if the bike didn’t handle so darn well, that would hardly deserve a mention.
The good news is that more aggressive riders who still want the overall look and feel of the Speedmaster have a few options. Triumph offers a plethora of accessories, including a flat handlebar and Bobber-style midmount controls, that will improve your ability to take advantage of the Speedmaster’s handling. There are also two “Inspiration Kits” that are designed to offer turnkey dealer-installed customization options: the single-seat, flat bar Maverick kit and the touring-oriented Highway kit with a windscreen, passenger back rest and saddlebags.
But at the end of the day, if you want a sportbike, Triumph has plenty of other options. The Speedmaster is a unique, powerful, extremely fun to ride, comfortable “cruiser” (sorry, Phil), and if you’re in the market for what I just described you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not taking one for a test ride.
The 2018 Speedmaster is priced at $13,150 for Jet Black, $13,400 for Cranberry Red and $13,650 for Fusion White & Phantom Black with a hand-painted twin coach line. We should start seeing them roll into dealerships in February or March.