"Nothing could replace the classic Bonneville, but the new Thruxton should be a success, says Kevin Ash
I always wanted to like the "new'' Triumph Bonneville, introduced in 2000. The classic British parallel twin is a fine and distinctive-looking power unit, and the layout is the only credible alternative to the ubiquitous V-twin for cruising bikes, although because it's smaller in profile it's a lot harder to get the styling right without swamping the engine visually. But apart from an ugly kink in the exhaust pipe run, Triumph did it convincingly, on top of which the machine handled and stopped well.
Yet although the engine wasn't burdened with the oil leaks and vibration of the original Bonneville, it lacked the punch and excitement implied by the badge.
The new Thruxton changes that. The capacity climbs to 865cc from 790cc due to a 4mm larger bore, which, with revised cam profiles, modified carburettors and a compression ratio increase to 10.2:1, raises power by 8bhp to 69bhp and torque to 53lb ft. More important than these numbers is the motor's new-found eagerness. It's not sports-bike fast, of course, but now it surges forward willingly instead of leaving you with the feeling you should be apologising for opening the throttle too far and troubling it. In short, it's fun, and that's why most of us ride bikes.
The spread of power impresses, too, the bike pulling with only 2,000rpm showing on the white-faced tacho, and unlike the Bonneville it keeps going crisply right to the 7,500rpm red zone. And thanks to a pair of balance shafts, you'll find vibration only if you go out of your way to look for it - some things are best consigned to the past.
That's where the styling's inspiration came from, however, specifically the British cafe racer scene of the 1960s, most famously centred on the Ace Cafe on London's North Circular (tel 0208 961 1000). Ton-up bikers would gather in caffs and coffee bars and race from one to the next, unencumbered by tiresome speed limits. The tool of choice was the Triton, a 650cc Bonneville engine housed in Norton's seminal Featherbed frame, but dropped handlebars (known as Ace bars) and rear-set footrests adorned almost anything in a bid for cafe credibility.
The new bike's name, meanwhile, belongs to the race circuit near Stonehenge where in 1962 Triumph scored a famous victory in the Thruxton 500, prompting the then Meriden factory to hand-build about 55 T120R Thruxton production racers. These have since become legendary and highly sought-after.
The modern, Hinckley-based Triumph's Thruxton 900 won't win any races, but it stays true to its heritage by being based on the contemporary Bonneville. Apart from the engine changes, the forks are more firmly sprung and damped, the rear shocks are longer to steepen the steering, and the frame geometry has been further sharpened with a one degree increase in head angle. The wheelbase is slightly shorter and an 18in front wheel replaces the Bonnie's 19-incher. The gentle Bonnie was the starting point, but the changes endow the Thruxton with much quicker steering and a welcome agility. The front end will protest with a gentle wobble if you try to flick it from side to side too forcefully, but it never develops into feeling unstable. Triumph has always excelled in the suspension department and the Thruxton is no exception.
The riding position isn't as radical as a typical Triton, either, but it will still come as a shock to those used to a laid-back cruiser. The bars are set forward and low, and at slower speeds your wrists will get sore. Up the pace to get some support from the wind pressure and it all works much better; even without the optional period flyscreen you can still cruise at 90mph. (Well, in the speed limit-free 1960s you could have, anyway...) It will hit the magic "ton'', too, reaching about 110mph.
The only thing that lets it down is the muted exhaust. For all Triumph's efforts to extract pleasingly deep and mellow tones, the sound is a testament to how far legislation, as well as engineering, has come.
The Thruxton will be bought for its style rather than performance and, of all Triumph's retro range, this look works the best. The black and white chequered central stripe is lacquered into the deep paint, the cast tank badge oozes quality and the whole machine blends convincing Brit bike culture, the authenticity of the badge and configuration, and an air of solidity and substance.
It's also a perfectly viable everyday machine, however, and judging by the Bonneville it should achieve 50mpg fairly easily. This would mean a range of about 180 miles from the 3.6-gallon tank, so fitting some of Triumph's extensive touring accessories (as well as plenty of style and performance bolt-ons) will give you have a half-decent tourer, too. Add to that its easy rideability and the new-found vivacity of the motor, and the Thruxton should prove a big success for the Triumph factory."