2019 Triumph Speed Twin

First Ride Review

In Triumph’s nomenclature, some motorcycle names result from a mix-and-match game using four simple words–Speed, Street, Triple and Twin. Models with “Speed” in their name tend to be larger than their “Street” counterparts, while “Triple” and “Twin” refer to the number of cylinders. Combinations of these four words identify three-cylinder naked sportbikes–the 1,050cc Speed Triple and the 765cc Street Triple–as well as the Street Twin, a “modern classic” Bonneville with a 900cc parallel twin.

The newest member of the Bonneville family, the 1,200cc Speed Twin, not only adds the fourth and final piece to the name-game puzzle, the appellation holds a place of reverence in Triumph’s long history. Developed by legendary designer Edward Turner, the 1938 Speed Twin was a lightweight 500cc parallel twin that set new benchmarks for power and handling and established a template for British motorcycles that spanned decades. In the spirit of the original, Triumph developed the new Speed Twin to offer engine performance and handling comparable to the Thruxton café racer but with an upright riding position, less weight and a lower price. Claimed dry weight for the Thruxton is 454 pounds and for the Speed Twin is 432 pounds, which even undercuts the smaller-displacement Street Twin by 5 pounds. And at $12,100, the Speed Twin’s base price is $900 lower than the Thruxton’s.

Though not a parts-bin special per se, the Speed Twin nonetheless shares engine and chassis features with other Bonnevilles. Like the new Scrambler 1200, the Speed Twin is powered by a “high power” version of Triumph’s liquid-cooled, 1,200cc parallel twin with a high-compression head, a low-inertia crankshaft, a lighter clutch assembly and lightweight covers, and the engine is carried in a tubular-steel frame with aluminum cradles. But the Speed Twin’s “Thruxton tune” delivers more output than the Scrambler 1200–96 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 83 lb-ft of torque at 4,950 rpm (claimed).

Like other Bonnevilles, the Speed Twin’s 270-degree crank generates a robust rumble from its 2-into-2 exhaust and power is sent to the rear wheel through a 6-speed transmission and chain final drive. In addition to the aluminum frame cradles and “mass optimized” engine, further weight savings come from a lighter battery and new cast aluminum wheels. Compared to the Thruxton, the Speed Twin’s front wheel and disc assembly save 6.4 pounds and its rear wheel saves 3.7 pounds, reducing both unsprung weight and inertia for better handling.

To put the new Speed Twin to the test, Triumph invited us to the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, for a first ride. The cold, blustery January day made me wish for some wind protection, but at least Triumph was kind enough to install accessory heated grips on our test bikes. And I was fortunate enough to grab the key for a bike with the gorgeous Korosi Red/Storm Grey paint job on the tank, which adds $500 to the price (same goes for the Silver Ice/Storm Grey paint scheme; base price is for Jet Black).

With its round headlight, sculpted tank, bench seat and dual shocks, the Speed Twin has the stance of a classic sport standard, and its bar-end mirrors, fork gaiters and analog gauges give it some café racer flair. Perched at 31.8 inches, the flat seat is supportive, and the tapered aluminum handlebar is positioned at a comfortable height and reach. The footpegs, well forward and a tad lower than those on the Thruxton, contribute to a natural riding position.

As with other modern Bonnevilles, there’s plenty of 21st-century tech, tastefully applied so as not to interfere with the essential riding experience. Things like LEDs for the daytime running light, taillight and rear turn signals; ABS and switchable traction control; riding modes (Sport, Road and Rain, which adjust throttle response and TC); an assist-and-slipper clutch; dual multi-function LCD panels in the instruments; a USB charging socket under the seat and an ignition immobilizer. Alas, no cruise control.

With cold pavement it took a while for the Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3 tires to warm up, but once they did grip was spot-on and cornering response was smooth and predictable. Squeezing the tank with my knees, keeping a light grip on the bars and applying feathery pressure to the rear brake, the Speed Twin masterfully negotiated the many hairpins and first-gear corners carved into the rocky mountains of northern Mallorca. With a wheelbase of 56.3 inches, 22.8 degrees of rake and 3.7 inches of trail, the Speed Twin is slightly longer and more relaxed than the Thruxton, giving it a bit more stability through fast sweepers. Although Triumph says tuning is unique to the Speed Twin, the suspension–a 41mm non-adjustable fork and dual preload-adjustable shocks, both with 4.7 inches of travel–is essentially the same as that of the Thruxton, with well-controlled damping that’s a happy medium between tautness and comfort. Twin Brembo 4-piston, 4-pad front calipers gripping 305mm discs and a single Nissin 2-piston rear caliper provide responsive braking, backed up by ABS.

With the big parallel twin generating a fair amount of engine braking, I found the Sport riding mode to be too abrupt for my taste. Rain mode was too dull, for obvious reasons, but Road mode felt just right (all modes provide full power). The Speed Twin was well-mannered in the best English tradition thanks to excellent fueling, a linear increase in power and a wide, flat torque curve. No dips, no flat spots, just smooth, steady grunt whenever you need it and an exhaust note that’s assertive without being rude. A light pull from the clutch and a buttery transmission further add to the Speed Twin’s polished demeanor.

Filling the shoes of a legend is no small task, but Triumph’s new Speed Twin honors the original’s reputation for being light, powerful and dynamic. It also provides yet another option in Triumph’s burgeoning Bonneville family, which now includes 14 models. Bigger and more powerful than a Street Twin, lighter, more comfortable and less expensive than a Thruxton, the Speed Twin is a one sweet machine.