Uzair Abdul-Karrim ponders where the Triumph Speed Twin 1200 fits into the extensive Triumph retro catalogue, and where it could fit into his life. All photos by Uzair.
The retro-bike boom has proved to be much more than a flash in the pan. Where sports bikes are either changing (read softening) their approach (such as the Yamaha R7), or complete model lines being dropped (such as the brilliant Yamaha R6, and pretty much the entire Japanese 600cc supersport class), the retro space is growing, with new models constantly added to fill niches within niches. Triumph, being one of the progenitors of the genre, is the best example of this.
There’s now a “Bonnie” for every purpose, and the six members of the Bonneville family are as specialised as they are varied. The Scrambler 1200, for instance, has proven off-road chops, and the Thruxton RS is truly capable as a track-day weapon. This modern-classic range Triumph has developed is more than a show that celebrates retro design. Instead, these bikes are extremely competent machines within the field they represent.
A sports standard
Besides the velvety nature of the powerplant, smoothness is also (I found) the best approach to riding the Speed Twin. If you try to hook the throttle and absolutely chuck it into corners, the bike does it just fine, but never feels like anything special. Approaching it with smoother roll-on throttle and keeping corner entry progressive, and not being a complete yob, the bike starts to shine in the twisties.
It has great feel from the front tyre and rock-solid mid-corner stability, and you can use momentum to get you into and through a corner more effectively than yanking anchors and then accelerating hard from the apex. It handles in a way that inspires confidence and encourages riding that is pure enjoyment.
The suspension is not the most sophisticated in terms of adjustability, not that this is a particularly bad thing. The ride quality is firm and sporty enough, but still comfortable. The springs and dampers handle fast sweeps just as adeptly as rutted and uneven suburban roads. Adjustability would have been a welcome premium touch, but I’m not sure I would have made adjustments. The bike feels agile when ridden fast, soaks up poor surfaces, and tracks straight and true, even when nearing its top end. You can adjust the preload when carrying a passenger or luggage. It’s a bit of a faff, though, what with the stepped adjustment and the dual shocks.
No bike is perfect, and I have a few minor gripes. Firstly, there is no cruise control. It’s not even available as an option. This is odd, as cruise control is standard on others in the range, such as the Bobber. Also, heated grips aren’t included as standard. At the asking price of over R200k, this feels a bit stingy. The Street Twin, other than those omissions, has standard features we’ve come to expect from modern premium bikes, such as ABS, switchable traction control, and a very cool LED daytime running light to complement the main beam.
My last gripe is subjective and has to do with the styling. When the Speed Twin was first revealed in 2019, with the telescopic forks and old-fashioned paintwork with hand-painted pinstriping and the like, it was a perfect mix of old and new. However, the revisions made to the styling (and make no mistake, styling on this type of bike is as important as the ride) for 2022 are questionable.
The upside-down forks work a charm, as do the radial Brembos, but also seem like they were chosen as much for the appearance of progress as they were for their actual performance benefits. However, what bothered me more was how the matte grey paint and modernised tank decal make the bike look a bit less interesting than it used to. This grey colour scheme also has a lumo yellow stripe on the tank, that I just don’t get. I know I’m being picky here, but the execution of a retro look is important.
The Speed Twin is a highly accomplished motorcycle. If you aren’t planning on using it as a touring machine, it’s all the bike you could need. Compact and agile enough for commuting, and powerful and balanced enough to tear up your favourite passes.
Find a plain black one, stick louder pipes on it, and you have a bike that has all the bad-assery of a sixties Triumph, with all the capability, reliability, and performance of a modern naked sports bike.
Engine: 1 198 cc, parallel twin, 270-degree crank, liquid cooled
Power: 99 hp (74 kW) @ 7 250 rpm
Torque: 113 Nm @ 4 250 rpm
Front suspension: 43 mm Marzocchi USD forks
Rear suspension: Twin RSUs, adjustable preload
Front brakes: 2 x 320 mm Brembo M50 four-piston radial callipers
Rear brakes: 220 mm Nissin two-piston floating calliper
Front wheel: R17 120/70
Rear wheel: R17 160/60
Seat height: 809 mm
Weight (wet): 216 kg
Fuel capacity: 14.5 litres