Thruxton B Being asked to test-ride brand new motorcycles you can buy from a dealer isn't usually my bag, but some machines are more anticipated than others, and in the case of Triumph's new retro flagship bike, there's also a lot more to the re-launch of the Bonneville than just a manufacturer's new model. This bike has been developed in parallel with the new-wave, modern-retro custom scene, taking much of it's inspiration from the idea of marrying old-soul character to modern performance, and personalisation has been built-in from the off. They're not the only ones to do this, but arguably they started earlier and have delivered in a more considered way and certainly with more models and commitment. Thruxton A My own entry into the cafe/custom scene wasn't via some misty-eyed romantic notion of 'older is better' but via the Öhlins-bedecked Ducati Paul Smart 1000LE; a bike with modern handling and performance that has it's roots in timeless design, and I think this story is being retold here. Hopefully with a bit more longevity! IMG_6972 The Bonneville has been a proper bike brand name from way before my time (the Z1 was the first bike to grace the cover of my schoolbooks) and it's always captured the idea of Great British biking goodness, but in a modern context the recent incarnations have been more 'mild one' than 'wild one'. I ride a customised 2014 T100 and I do love it, but what's missing is a large dose of extra zing and more up-to-date handling, and I'm always looking at the square fins and wanting to take a file to them for more organic and rounded look....Well, what a coincidence, because that's exactly what the team at Hinckley have been beavering away with for the last four years. Cheers fellas. IMG_6953 If you meet the team of engineers behind the new Bonnie, you'll witness a group of excited bike aficionados grinning like naughty school kids who've been given a gold star for drilling a peep-hole into the girls' changing rooms instead of getting a detention. While one part of the business has been building proper fast bikes that go around corners with clever electronics and posh suspension, the Bonnie team have spent four years taking that applied learning and secreting it all in to the new Bonneville, and I get a distinct whiff that it was their idea - not some marketing analyst or strategic sales director driving the project. Dutch on a ThruxtonR 1 There's no replacement for displacement, so taking the cubes up to 1200cc on the flagship model was a no-brainer, but they also took a very brave step, throwing the numbers-obsessed marketing rule book out of the window, and tuning the engine for maximum torque and power low down in the midrange instead chasing of top-end bhp. This bike's engine isn't about pub-stool bragging rights, it's about power delivery and feel, sacrificing the big HP numbers in favour of useable kick-in-the-pants acceleration in the sweet spot that gives most satisfaction and gets the most day-to-day use. The upshot is that gear choice isn't much of a issue wherever you choose grab a handful, fuelling is sublimely smooth on all three power maps, and the engine spins-up extremely quickly while still giving the feel of unstoppable inertia. Expect every ride to finish with face-ache from unavoidable over-grinning. IMG_7000 Another thing to mention is sound. I'm a firm believer that loud-pipes and engine-vibes makes bikes feel faster - above-and-beyond any actual performance benefit. Riding bikes is about the senses; all of them. Burning billion-year old fossil fuels should be noisy, organic and visceral, and EU regs are sadly killing-off the aural reminder of speed and power that most bikers enjoy, but somehow Triumph seem to have built a standard bike that has a real roar on standard pipes. They say it's something to do with more relaxed noise regs on twins, but who cares, what matters is that this sounds like a proper bike on full-chat. Long may that last. The Thruxton sounds even more raucous through the Vance & Hines slip-ons, and we're soon to hear the race cans too (watch this space). Dutch on a ThruxtonR 5 The new engine is water-cooled, but it takes a while for your eye to be drawn away from the brushed steel and stylish finned-engine to notice the radiator between the front tubes. While some people have complained about the "cosmetic" engine fins, they do actually contribute to engine cooling and allow for less plumbing and fluid volume. What I love is the fact that the bike looks and feels modern in it's components and design, but like an Aston Martin it's all crafted into timeless shapes and lines that don't pigeonhole the bike into any particular date or even decade. I doubt we'll see any cosmetic design tweaks in the next few model years. This one's a keeper. IMG_7060 I won't go on about technical stuff. You'll read about that from proper journalists and I'm a rider not an engineer. I'm also not exactly a professional road tester or track-day-god, just your average life-long rider who's ridden most things at some time or another and manages about three track days a year, but for what it's worth my pants-dyno says this bike is plenty fast enough for me and that it handles as well as any bike I've ever ridden - within my own capability. Brembos, Öhlins and big piston USD Showas do exactly what the gold anodised and brand-stamped cast components suggest; they work without fuss and provide acres of confidence. Like an 'Intel inside' sticker on your laptop they suggest "no worries" and they deliver on the promise, to a standard that makes me want to take the bike to Brands Hatch where I know it'll embarrass a few city boys on brand new Panigales with matching leathers and chicken-strips. IMG_7113 Ok, so how's the ride? Well, we took the bikes out for a long and fast half-day ride in the twisties around Lisbon. The weather was sunny but chilly, and the coast wind blew up sandstorms that drifted dangerously onto the seaside roads, which was frankly quite perilous - and one rider did fall off (no names mentioned). Riding in a group of people you don't know while being led by professional test riders who ride 100,000 miles a year was a little intimidating if I'm honest, but within five minutes I'd forgotten all of that. Despite the grown-up nature of Triumph's top Bonnie, it's as easy to ride as popping down the shops on a step-thru. Ok, that's probably bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Dutch on a ThruxtonR 3 The gearbox is smooth and glitch-free, the clutch is lady-hands light, and the steering is completely telepathic. I never once thought about what the suspension was doing, or actively remember counter steering like I do on my Ducati. I comfortably hovered at or near the front of the pack, sometimes on the back wheel of our group leader on roads I'd never seen before. That's not the normal me. I usually sit in the middle and hang back like to see clearly around every corner. This time I was willing the Triumph Explorer we were following to push just a little harder so I could scare myself that little bit. It actually never happened because as the pace picked up I simply followed suit getting gradually smoother and more relaxed. Dutch on a ThruxtonR 6I played with the 3 fuelling maps (a first for me) and they did what I thought they would, but less annoyingly than I'd imagined. Surprisingly on Sport mode the bike actually felt mechanically more raw, despite the actual change only affecting fuelling. Clever stuff, and clearly lots of time spent getting it right. If the traction control ever did it's thing I didn't notice. However having ridden without TC all my life I'd have questioned my skills and judgement if the bike had needed to rescue me from a dodgy moment. Good to know it's there though, (I grudgingly admit). Dutch on a ThruxtonR 4Towards the end of the ride I was honestly cold, tired, and wanted to get back to the hotel for a hot bath, but my arse and neck didn't ache, despite crawling in evening traffic on a sporty bike with clip-ons and a firm seat, and I felt pretty ok considering how rarely I ride for that long under pressure to carry someone else's pace. That experience was the final big tick in the box, as testament to how intuitively rideable the bike was and how easy it was to go quite fast without drama. I admit that I wanted to like this bike, almost on looks alone (how very shallow of me), but what a relief to walk away impressed and excited. "Now I can write genuinely nice things" was my first thought. Phew. Dutch on a ThruxtonR 2 I could mention my views on the looks and design of this bike, but I think you're better off just looking at the pictures. Like most supermodels, it looks even better in the flesh, and better again when it's fired-up and ready to play. Either way you'd have to be pretty cynical to say it looked rubbish. In fact you'd have to be pretty cynical not to like this bike in all respects whether you ride an R1, a Brat-Style CB750, a supermoto or an H-D Breakout. Thruxton Dutch final So why is this bike being written-up on the Bike Shed when you can buy it in the shops and there are no spanner wielding bearded hipsters in sight? Well, firstly; because they asked us to have a go (we were too polite to decline ;-), second; because the bike has a tonne of parts you can bolt on, making a degree of customisation and personalisation usefully accessible to all, and third; because the reason we got into custom bikes in the first place wasn't just because handmade stuff is supercool, but because we wanted to make our bikes more like this. Personally I think we should all embrace that the the big boys have noticed what we all want, and have done most of the hard work for us. Thruxton R_silver_ice_Front_quarter I've walked around the dolphin-faired inspiration-kit laden version of the Thruxton a dozen times now, trying to work out what I could possibly change, apart from maybe the side panels, indicators and front fender brackets - and maybe I'd swap the LED running lights headlamps for the Street Twin version - but this is serious custom-nerd nit-picking. Triumph have triumphed, and I feel like they earned it. Thanks fellas. Now, how the F* can I get my hands on one? Meanwhile, if you want to see how good the Thuxton and the rest of the Bonneville family all look when the selvidge-wearing spanner-monkeys have been allowed to fiddle with them, come to Bike Shed Paris or Bike Shed London this spring to see some exclusive new 2016 Bonnie custom builds, and possibly a few other secrets Triumph have up their sleeves. If you want to buy a Thruxton then ring your dealer now. They keep running out. Bugger! If you are interested in the kit that Dutch wore on the trip then keep an eye out for upcoming Gear Guide features, or in the meantime you can check it out here... Bell Bullitt Helmet Roland Sands Clash Jacket Resurgence Skinny Jeans Rev' It Mohawk Boots