Todd Anderson, Triumph Motorcycle ltd. (America)'s VP of marketing, firmly believes they will make their goal of beating the `67 sales figure within five years, making them the fifth-largest seller of street motorcycles in the US market and the biggest European brand once again.
You may scoff at this; Triumph's marketing history since their reentry into the US market in the mid-90s has been a mixed bag. Although the bikes quickly acquired a deserved reputation of being good-handling, reliable machines, they were uncompetitive -- on either price or performance -- with their Japanese peers.
It was only when Triumph started aggressively introducing new models -- two a year for the last three -- that played on the marque's strengths did sales start increasing. Models such as the Speed Triple 1050, Sprint ST, Scrambler, and MO's favorite, the 675 Daytona, have created thousands of new customers by both satisfying the needs of traditional Triumph fans as well as those who crave cutting-edge performance and technology. For 2007, Triumph has just a few changes and upgrades to their cruiser lineup, but they invited MO on a press intro for the first time in many years so we could re-acquaint ourselves with their cruisers.
Was it worth the trip? Power and style is what Triumph brings to the table for US cruiser buyers. You've met the 2300cc of excess that is the Rocket III in prior MO stories, but we written much in the last four years about their Bonneville-based cruisers, the America and Speedmaster. All three of these bikes have received a few updates to make them better and more appealing, and I got a chance to really ride them on some beautiful roads. However, press intros aren't some kind of paid vacation; there's at least an hour of work at the dreaded technical presentation, where glassy-eyed journos struggle to stay awake though an interminable PowerPoint presentation long enough to get to the bar.
Fans of this new feature (recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for creative journalism*) are probably very excited; Triumph is the closest motorcycle manufacturer to Scotland, the only place where whiskey is made. Other places, including Ireland, the US, Canada and even Kentucky make foul-tasting and smelling liquids** that cleverly approximate the color and bottle shape of The Water of Life, but can result in severe injury or death if accidentally ingested. So of course I expected the lovely Inn at Morro Bay's bar to serve us only the finest whiskey after our long day's ride.
I was not disappointed. When asked to recommend a single-malt, the bartender held up a 10-year-old bottle of Laphroaig. Whilst visiting MOron "Evo" Don Crafts last year for our Milwaukee Iron shootout, I had a glass, but as it was halfway through the sampling of Don's dangerously complete Scotch collection, I had only a fuzzy recollection of what it was like. "Pour!" said I, instantly winning the bar staff's approval by specifying it be served with a splash of water and no ice, of course. Scotland is cold enough.
Aside from having a name that reads like a pharmaceutical product, Laphroaig is exquisitely crafted. It has a beautiful amber color, and tastes even better. You may recall I've been moving more towards the Speysides, but this Islay has a more subtle flavor of peat, rather than the overwhelming Hickr'y Pit avalanche of smoke some Islays hit you with. It's also slightly sweet and rich, perfectly combining what I like from Islay, Speyside and Highland malts in one beverage. In fact, Laphroaig is so balanced it could almost pass for a very expensive blend. I liked it a lot, and that was just the 10 year bottle. I'll bet the 15, 30 and 40-year-old bottles are incredible, but this isn't the Robb Report.
But even the 10 year is a great whiskey, and would you expect any less from a Triumph intro? The Hinkley company's marketing department has been busily exploring all kinds of cross-promotional and cross--marketing opportunities, but I think they should consider purchasing a whiskey distillery and slapping a Triumph label on a bottle of single-malt. After all, they are both hand-crafted products with years of tradition behind them that provide excellent, cutting-edge performance.*** And the brand they should buy? They could do worse than Laphroiag (attention Laphroaig marketing people: please email me for shipping address).
**I realize this will generate a tremendous amount of hate mail, but I don't care! Substandard liquor makes my liver hurt. The fine people of Kentucky should stick to making things that are better if they're low quality, like banjos and banana pudding. Please send hate mail to this address.
***All kidding aside, please note that I did my Scotch tasting after the ride. Although Scotch can be a healthy addition to a well-balanced diet, drinking and riding may hold numerous unhappy consequences that greatly outweigh the warm sense of well-being riding drunk temporarily imparts. If you feel I have been irresponsible in advocating alcohol use, please direct hate mail here.
Apparently, Triumph has big plans for the US market, with a goal of increasing sales to their 1967 high (not that kind of 1967 high, Peter Fonda) of 28,500 within five years. Although Triumph does well with their standards and sport tourers, any company looking to grow in this market needs cruisers, cruisers that satisfy the desires and needs of American cruiser customers. At the small end of the Triumph cruiser lineup is the Bonneville America. This uses the eight-valve, air-cooled, DOHC parallel twin engine from the standard Bonneville, but with a 270-degree firing interval. For 2007, Triumph makes the bigger 865cc motor that first appeared in the Thruxton available across the Bonneville range.
For now, twin CV carbs with a throttle position sensor perform fueling duties -- expect fuel injection in the very near future -- and the 54 claimed BHP (Triumph claims 51 foot-pounds of torque) go to the rear wheel via a five-speed gearbox, a wet clutch and an X-ring chain.
That motor is contained by a tubular steel-cradle frame that places 65.2 inches of wheelbase between the two bias-ply-shod (and new for 2007) cast wheels, with a 110/90-18 front tire and phashionably phat 170/80-15 rear. Suspension is a pair of preload-adjustable chromed coil-over shock absorbers in back and a pair of non-adjustable 41mm forks in front.
PAGE 2Braking is handled by a single 310mm disc a two-piston caliper in front, with a 285mm disc and two-piston caliper bringing up the rear. Rake and trail numbers are 33.3 degrees and 6.02 inches respectively. The seat is but 28.3 inches above the pavement, and claimed dry weight is a manageable 497 pounds.
It's finished with a 4.4-gallon fuel tank, a more comfortable passenger seat and some other touches. There's the giant Smiths-esque speedo face and nice chromed tank panel, newly restyled chainguard and passenger footrest brackets, and adjustable brake and clutch levers.
There's also a new two-tone paint scheme with hand-laid pinstripes -- which Triumph proudly claims is the only such pinstriping on a mass-produced machine -- with each tank signed by the pinstriper. Big shrouds over the forks, wide-set forktubes and a big chrome headlamp give the front end a substantial, aggressive look. Price is $7,999 or $8,199 for the two-tone paint. There is also a healthy selection of accessories, like windscreens, lighting kits, floorboards, exhausts and all the other stuff we like to dress our rides up with.
Triumph has also gussied up the Speedmaster. The Speedmaster is a power-cruiser take on the America, with a blacked-out motor, drag-style bars, a sleek chopper-style seat, slash-cut mufflers, a small tachometer (that's available as an accessory for the America) and an extra
front brake disc. It also gets new cast wheels for 2007, along with four new paint schemes and the new footrest hanger and chain guard as well. Pricing is $8,299 for solids, $8,499 for two-tone. Moving up the ladder we find the Rocket III. We've spent some time on this bike, "Triumph has also gussied up the Speedmaster."most recently in 2005, but we can take another close-up look. The basic Rocket III is actually a pretty exotic machine. It's built around a liquid-cooled, 2,300cc DOHC inline-triple motor that uses multipoint sequential-port fuel injection to pump out a truly frightening 140bhp and 147 foot-pounds (yes, that's 147, and we really did see 142 foot-pounds at the unfortunate rear wheel on our much-abused Dynojet MO dyno) of torque. It crams the power through a wet clutch and five-speed gearbox to the shaft final drive.
The chassis is a twin-spine tubular-steel job that puts a not-unreasonable 66.7 inches between the two big tires. Those meats -- a 150/80-17 front and a mammoth 240/50-16 rear -- are mounted on five-spoke alloy wheels. Suspension is handled by a pair of preload-adjustable chrome shocks in back and an inverted 43mm front fork. The front braking duties are handled by a pair of full-floating 320mm discs and four-piston calipers (with steel-braided brake lines, like most of Triumph's machines), while the rear is happy with a single 316mm disc and a two-piston caliper. It all weighs in with a not-exactly-light-but-surprisingly-reasonable-considering-it-has-a-car-engine 751-pound (claimed) dry weight.
"The gearbox and clutch are easy and precise to use."
There's also a tachometer and speedometer, a 6.3-gallon fuel tank, a big chrome handlebar, distinctive dual headlamps, a cool straight-pipe-style triple exhaust and a big, wide seat. The Classic gets some extra chrome, floorboards and a pull-back handlebar. Both of these bikes get a blacked-out engine treatment that goes a long way towards making the big block of an engine look less industrial.
Triumph dealers noticed they were selling a lot of touring accessories for the Rockets, so for 2007, Triumph decided to sell a bagger, all set up and ready for the open road. The Rocket III Classic Tourer gets over $1,900 worth of touring accessories, including a windscreen, passenger backrest and accented saddlebags.
The Tourer also keeps the unpainted engine from prior years. You get this for just $700 over the Rocket III Classic's MSRP of $15,699. The Rocket III is a buck under 15 grand. The next morning brought us clear weather to explore the Central Coast. I first mounted up on an America finding a relaxed riding position that's less extreme than many cruisers, with the pegs not too far from my feet and a comfortable reach to the bars that weren't too high. The motor started easily after pulling out the quaint choke knob, with less of the tingly, unpleasant vibration common to parallel twins. The exhaust note is unique -- somewhere between the blatting of a parallel twin and the smooth melody of a V -- but very subdued and quiet.
The gearbox and clutch are easy and precise to use (kudos for adjustable levers) and the motor responds with sufficient, if not earth-shattering power. The gearing is tall enough for high-speed cruising to be a relaxed affair, with the powerplant ticking off low RPM, but ample acceleration is there when you downshift once or twice. The touring accessories like the windscreen and bags we tested extend the America's usefulness, although many of us complained of buffeting from all the accessory screens.
Triumph gear and Bell Helmets
Sympatex Expedition Gloves, $95
Triumph knows all about cold, miserable weather, so they're a good company to buy cold-weather riding clothing from. These gloves are a good example. If you were to design a winter glove in California, it would not be designed with everyday use in mind, but these gloves utilize high-tech materials like Keprotec, Sympatex and Hitena (I don't know what that is, either) as well as our friend the cow to keep your hands dry and protected from abrasion. They also feature some kind of hard armor under the leather knuckle guards.
In use, these gloves are lightweight and offer plenty of feel, yet are durable and very warm. They're also suitably waterproof, and I appreciated the slim gauntlet that allows a jacket cuff to fit over the glove to keep rain from running down your sleeve and pooling under your gauntlet in a downpour. I also liked the handy rubber squeegee attached to the left thumb to wipe your visor. I was also surprised at how comfortable and unbulky these gloves were, without bunching or looseness from the liner. They lack the perfect fit or sensitivity of a summer or racing glove, but for cold weather gloves they're tough to beat, in my opinion. They're available at Triumph dealers and online in sizes small to XXL.
Bell Apex Helmet $189.95
If you and your riding mama were heavies back in the `70s, you might have crammed your oversized afro into a Bell helmet, if only to keep from being hassled by the Man. Bell has a long, long history of building brain buckets -- they pioneered the use of energy-absorbing liners and sold the first full-face helmet in 1963 -- but recently they haven't had the market penetration they used to. However, like Triumph, they are making a slow, steady comeback.
In 2001, Bell re-acquired the rights to selling Bell streetbike helmets from Italian brand Bieffe and proceeded to design a line of helmets at their Santa Cruz, CA headquarters. One of these helmets is their top-of-the-line full-face model, the Apex.
The Apex has a lot of features you don't normally find in a sub-$200 helmet. It uses a DOT and Snell M2005-approved Kevlar composite shell to keep the weight down and to protect your noggin. There are extensive vents, and the EPS liner has deep channels in it for maximum airflow. The liner is removable and the cheekpads can be swapped out for a custom fit. The inside of the visor (Bell offers heated visor kits as well as iridium and smoked) is coated with a "NutraFog" anti-fogging film. My "Double Crossed" matte-finish model is covered with a rubberized paint that feels nice to the touch and sports the all-important flaming Maltese Cross (there are also eight glossy finishes). It weighs in at 3.5 pounds on my postage scale. To compare, my Shoei X-11 weighs seven ounces less.
On this head, I found the Apex to be a very comfortable fit, as close to perfect (after Bell's Chris Sachet swapped out the cheekpads for me) as any helmet I've worn. Build quality is only average, but there are thoughtful touches, like moisture-wicking fabric on the EPS foam and easy-to-use vents that can be operated easily with a gloved hand.
The helmet was a little less noisy than my Shoei RF1000, and although the visor sealed sufficiently, wind came up from under the chinbar more than I'm used to.
I found the anti-fog treatment very effective in all but the most cold and damp conditions (the west side of Mount Tamalpais at eight in the morning, and there is nothing that won't fog in those conditions, including the wonderful Fog City Shield), and found this to be a very comfortable helmet, even for hours on end.
Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this helmet to someone looking for a good lid under $200. I like the styling and anti-fog, but build quality might be a factor. However, Bell offers a five-year warranty (and you're supposed to retire helmets after five years, right?) so that shouldn't really be an issue. My head shape is somewhere between Shoei and Arai, so if that describes you, try on a Bell.
PAGE 3 On the twisty roads, the America shows off Triumph's genius; developing their motorcycles for real-world riding. At a pace that would leave most cruisers -- regardless of size or weight -- wallowing and scraping, the America is a joy to through turns, with a light feel and plenty of ground clearance. The single front disc brake is a little overworked, and the higher bar keeps the fun factor down a little, but compared to many middleweights, this cruiser can hold its own when the yellow "Curve Ahead" signs start to appear.
The lower bar and extra brake disc encourage more aggressive riding, and on tight, bumpy, twisty stuff the Speedmaster would be high up on the short list of mid-sized cruisers I would want underneath me.
I also like the bad-boy attitude the blacked-out engine, slim passenger pad and drag bars give the bike. But let's face it; the ultimate bad-boy machine Triumph makes is that monster motor with wheels, the Rocket III. I hadn't spent much time in the twisties on one, so I was eager to give all those ponies a workout. And the Rocket was game: at least most of it was, anyway.
The Rocket's main problem is that shaft drive.
With 140-plus foot-pounds of torque turning all kinds of wheels, gears and shafts every which way, gyroscopic precession rears its ugly head, making the rear of the bike lurch up and down with throttle changes. To compensate (and make the seat low enough to be remotely acceptable to cruiser riders) Triumph uses short, stiff springs in the rear shocks that don't seem to have much damping. The result is something that would impress the Teutels and the rest of the hardtail gang, but bounces over bumps and requires a smooth, careful throttle hand and easy corner speeds. If the road is smooth with wide, flowing corners this is a good bike, but it is a handful in tight bumpy corners.
Of course, so is every other heavyweight cruiser, but I think Triumph is giving us the shaft -- literally -- by not using a belt drive here. If you think a belt couldn't stand up to the sawmill-like level of torque coming from that three-cylinder powerplant, keep in mind that the bazillion-HP Boss Hoss we tested a few months ago uses a belt with no ill effects. However, there is no way I can deny that this motor is endlessly entertaining while still being smooth, fast and easy to use. At low RPM, the motor builds power easily, but not violently, and even when you give it a kick in the nuts at high RPM the bike's mass keeps the acceleration to manageable levels, although it will get up to warp speeds faster than you'd expect. Much faster.
Even with what I think is an outdated and unnecessary final drive, this bike is ill faster and better handling than any of its heavy cruiser brethren, and is really fun to ride. I preferred the basic version, as the pegs offer more ground clearance and I don't like pullback bars. Rolling, the bike's mass seems to lessen and a respectable pace can be maintained on most two-lane roads, with the powerful brakes and sturdy front end able accomplices. The Classic and Touring versions felt more staid and pedestrian, if such a thing is possible; I prefer the mean, low-slung, blacked-out looks of the standard Rocket. So do passers-by, and if you purchase one of these be sure to always leave extra time on your calendar for the inevitable conversations you will strike up with curious spectators when they see the huge engine and header pipes.
What did we learn today, kids? Well, there isn't much news to report from the cruiser front, but I'm happy MO had a chance to really explore these unique machines.
"Hopping onto the Speedmaster was even more fun."
"Hopping onto the Speedmaster was even more fun."
The America, Speedmaster and Rocket certainly hold down the two ends of the cruiser market for Triumph, with two middleweight models that have competitive build quality, performance, character and value as well as a heavyweight trophy cruiser that in the numbers game -- and you'd think cruiser buyers are medieval Kabbalah scholars for how they worship numbers -- can chew its competition into a simpering pulp.
But where is the middle ground? Triumph is committed to introducing two or three new models a year, and it's no big secret that we'll see a naked 675 Daytona-based roadster. We should also see a couple of new cruiser models, and something between 900 and 2,000cc would go a long way towards getting back to 1969's sales figures, and perhaps Britannia will rule again.