Machines like the Commando, Gold Star, Square Four or the R90S, weren’t cluttered with complicated wiring harnesses or layers of bodywork. Constant-velocity or slide carbs, points ignition systems and a kick-start were about all it took. To be fair, though, much of that simplicity found in the old stuff came at the cost of oil leaks, crappy electrics or hydro-locked cylinders courtesy of faulty petcocks. Nowadays we just refer to those bothersome issues as “character.”
As for the Universal Japanese Motorcycles, bike makers from the Land of the Rising Sun chose to march forward to the beat of Technology’s drum and didn’t bother resting cozily in nostalgia. And, quite frankly, the motorcycle world-at-large is much better for it.
Some of the old brands have done well, whether by retaining much of their original heritage year after year or by creating models that recall traits and qualities that helped put the company name on the map. A few years ago Ducati turned to its own history for inspiration and created a line of air-cooled, 2-valve, 992cc 90-degree Twins called the SportClassics. These stretched-out, airy bikes borrow modestly from Paul Smart’s 1972 750 Imola Desmo, a bike that took him to victory in the ’72 Imola 200. Yet they enjoy modern conveniences of fuel injection, digital ignition and plush suspension.
Triumph, on the other hand, has been at this game of returning to roots even longer.
In 1990 Englishman John Bloor resurrected Triumph from its 1983 death, and in 2000 the brand saw the return of one of the most recognizable models in motorcycling: the Bonneville. This venerable bike anchors what Triumph refers to as its Modern Classics line-up. We learned in our recent ride on the 2009 Bonneville SE that all five models (Bonneville, Bonneville SE, T100, Thruxton and Scrambler) in the line finally did away with carburetion in favor of fuel injection. Now riders can enjoy classic looks with the benefit of trusty fueling.
A complete Triumph!
Part of the kicks of having a Triumph Modern Classic is looking and sounding the part, and for that, Triumph has you covered.
The Hinkley, England-based bike maker has a deal with Italian exhaust maker, Arrow, to produce some trick exhaust pipes for not only all of the Modern Classics, but virtually all Triumphs. With respect to the Thruxton, a 2-into-1 full Arrow system ($1,099.99) not only cleans up the bike’s look, breathes a little freer and saves a little weight, it also endows the Thruxton with a sweet, raspy note. You can’t help but blip the throttle at stoplights or wring out the throttle under bridges and overpasses, or in tunnels!
In addition to the exhaust, numerous other bits are available to shiny-up your ride, or in the case of the Scrambler, go rugged. With available headlight grill, drilled sprocket cover, handlebar brace, skid plate, so on and so forth, your Scrambler will look like the property of Steve McQueen, as it’ll appear ready to compete in some unforgiving desert race.
Once you’ve kitted out your new-old Trumpet, the next step is to make yourself look the part. Triumph has a riding gear line that applies just the right amount of retro to jackets made from what I found to be surprisingly supple leather. However, don’t let the old styling fool you, as many of the jackets use CE-certified shoulder and elbow protectors. If you like the old-style of the Modern Classics but prefer more modern riding gear, Triumph offers just about everything, from jackets, boots, and gloves to a Triumph-branded Alpinestars one-piece leather suit. When you’re not riding but want to let folks know where your two-wheel loyalty lies, a healthy-sized casual clothing line is also available from Triumph.
If you’re into Brit kit, visit Triumph’s clothing site.
The Triumph Thruxton use the same 865cc parallel-Twin as the other four Modern Classics, but the addition of EFI and high-compression pistons give the Thruxton 2 additional horsepower and 1 more ft-lbs of torque over the Bonneville’s claimed 67 hp and 51 ft-lbs. Other updates for ’09 include handlebars that are now 1.5 inches closer to the rider and 2.5 inches higher courtesy of new bar risers; bar-end mirrors are standard.
Zipping around the greater New Orleans area aboard the Thruxton during the 2009 Modern Classics launch had me wondering what riding might’ve been like during the Mods vs. Rockers era, racing through England’s back roads en route to the Ace Café. The Thruxton is an obvious throw back to ‘60s café racers, but the crisp, smooth and responsive throttle response makes me glad I’m riding this bike now and not then.
The biggest change to this Thruxton’s personality comes by way of a much friendlier stretch to the flat handlebar a la the new bar risers; the previous Thruxton’s low bars placed too much weight on riders’ wrists. This ergonomic change makes rides of any length much more tolerable. The price paid by the new arrangement reveals itself in tight-radius turns, i.e. U-turns or parking lot maneuvers, which are a tad more challenging to complete than on the upright Bonneville models. But, hey, how often are you pulling a U-ie for photo passes?
The Thuxton shines most brightly in easy riding cityscapes and sweeping canyon environments. Its nimble handling comes from narrow-for-today tires (100/90 x 18 front, 130/80 x 17 rear) carried on spoke-wheels, yet the steel-tube cradle-type frame provides good stability, and ample ground clearance is available from footpegs with a higher, sporty-riding bias. Suspension, like on all the modern classics, consists of basic forks adjustable for pre-load, and twin coil-over spring shocks with ramp-style preload adjusters. The relatively simple springy bits won’t provide a plush Gold Wing-like ride but are quite sufficient for spirited riding. Freeway stints requiring, say, less than an hour in the saddle, are tolerable.
The single twin-piston sliding-pin caliper is the same as used on the Bonnies, but the Thruxton employs a 10mm larger rotor (320mm). The stopping kit offers remarkable power and feel from such a simple system.
The newly EFI-ed $8,599 Thruxton is fun to ride and a welcome break from the usual performance and/or bling-driven motorcycles that fill roadways today. Now if I can just get my hands on some old goggles and a weathered Davida helmet…