Triumph revives Edward Turner’s masterpiece—and not in name only.
With the introduction of the Speed Twin in 1938, Edward Turner, Triumph’s visionary managing director and chief engineer, drafted the blueprint of his company’s future. While Turner’s parallel twin wasn’t the first, it was certainly the most influential example of the engine configuration that’s still synonymous with the British motorcycle.
From an engineering standpoint, Turner’s twin wasn’t a revolution as much as it was a realistic application of right thinking: Two half-sized pistons—by reducing the size of the single’s big thumps—smoothed out the ride; aluminum connecting rods eliminated the need for a costly five-piece roller crank assembly; and the engine’s narrow packaging fit in preexisting Triumph frames. By rationalizing the design in order to minimize production costs, Triumph was able to turn a profit during the lean years between the world wars. And it captivated the imagination from day one. Turner’s genius lay in doggedly pursuing the innovative and the feasible, and having the wisdom to distinguish between the two.
The Speed Twin is available in Jet Black, Korosi Red, and Silver Ice. Triumph’s ever-growing Modern Classics lineup can be difficult to keep straight. Basically, the “Street” models (including the Street Twin, Bonneville T100, etc.) are more beginner/budget-friendly models that use the 900cc engine. The Speed Twin, Bonneville T120, Bobber, Speedmaster, Thruxton, and Scrambler 1200 use variations of the 1,200cc powerplant. Kingdom Creative
From 1938 to 1966, Triumph sold 45,000 Speed Twins. History—and sales numbers—prove right thinking can be more revolutionary than the mere boldness of ideas. But here we are in 2019 and revolutions seem increasingly difficult to come by.
After spending a day riding the 2019 Triumph Speed Twin in Mallorca, Spain, it’s clear Triumph didn’t simply pluck a landmark name from its history in the hopes that some of its luster would wear off on the modern incarnation. Instead, it followed Turner’s original formula, reinterpreting it for the modern rider, who—just like his/her grandfather—is won over by performance, timeless design, and ease of use.
Brembo (front) and Nissin (rear) brakes bring things to a halt rapidly and provide strong initial bite and good feel. ABS comes standard but can’t be turned off. Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires are spooled on at the factory. Kingdom Creative
Thumbing the starter, the Speed Twin roars to life with a deep rumble. Here’s a stock exhaust that doesn’t make the motor sound like it’s been sucking helium. The 1,200cc engine is in the same state of tune as the Thruxton’s (low-inertia crank, high-compression ratio), but features a new clutch assembly with reduced rotating mass, magnesium cam covers, and lighter side covers that shed 5.5 pounds from the engine alone. Overall, the Speed Twin is an impressive 22 pounds lighter than the Thruxton. Let that sink in.
As the sun begins to warm the Mallorcan pavement, I feel increasingly confident putting the Speed Twin through its paces. The motor delivers speed in great galloping strides. There’s plenty of power from down low in the rev range with a progressive build to peak power output at 6,750 rpm and peak torque at only 4,950 rpm. Practically, it means you can short-shift the thing all day long and pass cars without second-guessing yourself or wasting time kicking down through the gearbox. Leave the thing in fifth or sixth, grab a fistful of throttle and things happen with wonderful immediacy. It’s not rated-R fast but it’s definitely not for the novice. It makes the most of every one of its (claimed) 96 ponies and 83 pound-feet of torque.
The Speed Twin is an obvious step up for current Street Twin riders. Triumph hopes it will entice riders attracted to the Thruxton’s performance but who want a more upright riding position. Kingdom Creative
There’s a lot of engine-braking which means on/off throttle inputs can be a bit abrupt—the opposite of the liquid-smooth, it-just-wants-to-be-friends-with-you nature of Triumph’s Tiger 800 and Tiger 1200. It gives the bike a bit of attitude that isn’t unwelcome, but the rider needs to use finesse when modulating speed in corners. And that gearbox. It’s a treat: slick-shifting and precise. I didn’t miss a gear all day.
For a motorcycle to achieve the locus of sensory pleasure that elevates it beyond mere machine, it has to have an affecting sound, shift gears with the precision of the mechanical movement of a Swiss watch, and marry unquantifiable “feel” with bury-the-tach-needle-in-a-sea-of-red urgency. Riding the Speed Twin, you get the sense that Triumph’s designers, engineers, and test riders wanted to build something that would resonate on a bone-deep level where sound and speed feel as necessary as the air that fills your lungs. I think they succeeded.
The Speed Twin’s frame is also borrowed from the Thruxton but uses aluminum engine cradles in place of steel and has a revised geometry that increases forward weight-bias by 2 percent. New cast aluminum wheels help shed weight and reduce reciprocating mass to the tune of 28 percent in the front and 41 percent in the rear. There’s also a new, lightweight lead-acid battery. Kingdom Creative
The Speed twin feels nimble and light on its feet and the chassis remained rock solid up to its top speed of around 130 mph or so. For my 150-pound burgeoning dad bod—and on the smooth Mallorcan pavement—the nonadjustable cartridge fork and preload-adjustable twin shocks are adequately damped, but I suspect at a more spirited pace and on pavement that’s gone through the freeze-thaw cycle of too many winters, they could get a bit squiggly. Still, they’re good for what they are. And crucially, they help Triumph build the Speed Twin to a very competitive price point without sacrificing performance for most uses.
Twin gauges with in-set LCD screens display all the necessary info, except for a gear indicator. The Speed Twin has three ride modes (Sport, Road, Rain), which each have different throttle maps and levels of traction control intervention. TC can also be turned off. Triumph did a good job of streamlining the system with one-button adjustability to get on with the business of riding. Kingdom Creative
My biggest complaint is that I didn’t feel completely confident chucking it into corners because of a somewhat awkward seating position. The footpegs are 38mm more forward and 4mm lower than on the Thruxton, but feel at odds with the handlebar position. My lower body felt too tucked beneath me in relation to the near-upright position of my upper body. Combined with a flat bench seat that perches the rider on top of the bike, I didn’t feel free to move around the way I wanted to. It’s not physically uncomfortable, but it’s a fair degree away from what I would consider a neutral riding position. I should note that other journalists didn’t feel the same way, so my opinion may be too subjective from which to draw a general conclusion.
Integrated heated grips come as a dealer-installed accessory. Monza cap, fork gaiters, and bar-end mirrors complete the silhouette. A new torque-assist clutch provides a light feel at the lever. Kingdom Creative
Ready for one of the best parts? The Speed Twin has an MSRP of $12,100 for black and $12,600 for silver or red. That’s thousands less than some of its direct competitors. It’s pretty apparent there’s some Turner-esque thinking going on at Hinckley Triumph.
As we’ve come to expect from Triumph, the Speed Twin’s fit and finish is industry-leading. From aluminum mud guards to hand-painted coach lines around the tank graphics, the Speed Twin exudes thoughtful quality. It’s a timeless-looking motorcycle that will have you pouring yourself a pint of bitter and absconding to the garage to revel in the glow of its sparkly paint. Kingdom Creative
Eighty years ago, Turner gave the world a machine designed for enthusiasts. It was a smart, sophisticated motorcycle that people desired and could afford to own. The 2019 Speed Twin does justice to its famous name by exemplifying the same virtues. It’s an ode to greatness, a tribute to an enduring legacy, an homage to a genteel revolution of two vertical cylinders working in perfect harmony.
The 2019 Speed Twin is a motorcycle built for today to be enjoyed for years to come. A revolution? Perhaps not. But a revelation? That it very well may be.
|PRICE||$12,100 (black); $12,600 (colors)|
|ENGINE||1,200cc liquid-cooled SOHC parallel twin|
|CLAIMED HORSEPOWER||96 hp @ 6,750 rpm|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||83 lb.-ft. @ 4,950 rpm|
|FRAME||Tubular steel w/ aluminum cradle|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm KYB cartridge fork; 4.7-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Twin KYB shocks adjustable for preload; 4.7-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||Brembo 4-piston fixed calipers, 305mm twin discs w/ ABS|
|REAR BRAKE||Nissin 2-piston caliper, 220mm disc w/ ABS|
|SEAT HEIGHT||31.8 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||3.8 gal.|
|CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT||432 lb.|