2016 Triumph Street Twin Road Test

Road Test Review

In the 1960s and ’70s, Triumph sold more motorcycles in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined. A great many of those bikes were the iconic Bonnevilles, which were launched in 1959 to commemorate Triumph’s 1956 world speed record. By the time the company closed its doors in 1983 and industrialist John Bloor bought the Triumph name, the Bonneville moniker had become synonymous with Triumph as well as the famous salt flats in Utah.

So you can’t blame us for scratching our heads when Bloor officially relaunched the brand eight years later without a Bonneville-type twin. In 1991, the reborn company bet its success on the uniqueness of its new three-cylinder engine in a marketplace saturated with fours and twins. It’s said that Bloor had decided to delay the introduction of a Bonneville retro bike because he wanted enthusiasts to see that Triumph was building a new line of motorcycles, not merely updating the old ones.

The strategy worked. The triples had 10 years to establish a worthy reputation of their own, and when the new Bonneville finally appeared in 2001, it became the company’s bestseller practically overnight. That status still applies to the entire Bonneville family of retro standards, cruisers, the Thruxton café racer and high-piped Scrambler.

No surprise, then, that Triumph’s completely redesigned 2016 Bonnevilles, which have liquid cooling, more power, better handling and even nicer looks, were the stars of the 2015 show circuit. At the top are T120 and T120 Black models powered by new 1,200cc twins, and new Thruxton and Thruxton R café bikes with a souped-up version of the same engine.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Triumph will also offer this fun and accessible new Street Twin, an entryway to the Bonneville family with a 900cc “High Torque” SOHC parallel-twin engine with shim-adjusted roller rocker arms and a 5-speed transmission. Specs for the new T120s and Thruxtons hadn’t been released at this writing, but the Street Twin’s 56.7-inch wheelbase, low 29.5-inch seat height and 478-pound wet weight are shorter, lower and lighter than the previous Bonnies, and probably the other 2016 models as well. And at $8,700, the Speed Twin undercuts the T120s by more than $3,000, a terrific value. If it works well, that is.

Happily there’s no doubt about that. All of the new Bonnevilles get an offset 270-degree crankshaft à la the Scrambler and cruisers for more V-twin-like rumble, and dual counterbalancers for smoothness. Triumph put a strong emphasis on midrange torque output, and the new engine has a throatier sound and feel, with baskets of character and even a cammy burble on decel from its upswept stainless silencers. The previous 360-degree twins hum more like a multi by comparison, in fact, yet the new engine is just as smooth if not more so. Triumph says the Street Twin’s engine makes 18-percent more torque at just 3,200 rpm, and the Jett Tuning dyno bears this out almost exactly, showing 56.7 lb-ft peak at the rear wheel. The tradeoff is about 15-percent less peak horsepower at 6,000 rpm up near redline than the previous 865cc twins, but you’ll never notice when riding the Street Twin as intended, enjoying that deep, mellow rumble and midrange urge out of corners and away from stops, or taking advantage of its exceptional fuel economy. Liquid cooling aided by prodigious and authentic cylinder finning and ride-by-wire fuel injection help make the HT engine more efficient—we saw a high of 56.1 mpg in mixed riding, which should give it more than 200 miles of range on the highway from its 3.2-gallon tank.

Fuel metering is precise, shifting butter smooth and the lever for the slip-assist clutch feather light, a real bonus for smaller hands and in traffic. The Street Twin’s new HT engine is wrapped in an all-new chassis and head-turning minimalist bodywork that give it heaps of authentic style, save weight and invite customization, yet the bike already has nicely sculpted bits like the tank, handlebar and headlight mounts. A neutral riding position and shapely seat with more substantial foam make it comfortable enough for longer rides, and the seat is low and narrow so that with my 29-inch inseam I can easily stand over it with both feet on the ground. The footpegs are a bit high for me and cramp my legs over time, but this won’t be a problem for shorter riders.

Quick steering, its compact size and light weight make the Street Twin a joy on winding roads, particularly in tight corners, and it has a very small turning radius. Tires are an odd combo of bias-ply front and radial rear that can probably be bettered at replacement time but do look suitably retro. Its new suspension has more travel and deals with everything reasonably well, though the only adjustment is rear preload, and a spanner is not provided. More rebound damping would help tame the ride in fast sweepers for larger 5-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound riders like me, and the rear shocks can be a bit harsh over sharp bumps, but overall the suspension is nicely calibrated for those of average or smaller size. Single disc brakes front and rear are strong and confidence inspiring, and ABS is standard.

At this price you wouldn’t expect to find many niceties, yet the Street Twin has oodles. Switchable traction control is standard, the new Bonnies finally get locking gas caps and hinged seats with locking latches, and there’s a USB port for charging devices. Both clutch and brake levers are adjustable, and the taillight is a bright LED unit. A big, single meter features a fuel gauge, gear position indicator and trip computer and will also display the status of heated grips and a tire pressure monitoring system, two of more than 150 accessories, including three “inspiration” kits to use as starting points for scrambler, street tracker or urban customs.

Friendly, fun and easy to ride, we enjoyed the Street Twin so much it’s tempting to speculate just how good the larger new Bonnies are going to be. Even so, new or returning riders or those who want an exciting, lower, lighter machine with an emphasis on usable torque rather than screaming horsepower need look no further than the Street Twin. It’s the first bike that makes me wish I were just a bit smaller.