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Review: Triumph Makes a Cafe Racer for the 21st Century

Cafe racers are meant to evoke the past, but Triumph’s all new Thruxton R is every bit a modern-day motorcycle.

The top yoke on Triumph’s new Thruxton R is exquisite. Much like the bike itself, it looks like a restored heirloom from motorcycling’s past. Perched on the machine for the first time, I can’t help but pore over it. It’s not what you expect on a new model these days — it appears bespoke, custom. The polished luster provides just enough texture, so it isn’t gaudy or blinding like chrome. Everything about its vintage air is deliberate and spot on, reminding me of the 2006 Ducati PS 1000LE — arguably one of the most gorgeous machines of the modern era. And company that suits the Thruxton R thoroughly.

I’ve been waiting to ride Triumph’s reborn cafe racer since being first introduced back in October. Finally it’s happening. I grab some clutch, shift my gaze to horizon and thumb the ignition. The all-new, liquid-cooled, “High-Power” 1200cc parallel twin barks to life and I tap my left toe to slot first gear. A couple blips of the throttle to suss out its electronically controlled tendencies and we’re off.

Barely out of the parking lot and I’m already impressed. Unlike the previous-generation Thruxton (a bike I have waiting for me at home), Triumph didn’t merely bolt on some Ton-Up Boys bits and call it a day. The suspension is fully adjustable, tweaked by remote reservoir Ohlins units out back and Showa big-piston forks up front. The brakes are track-ready too, with a twin four-piston, radial-mount, monobloc Brembo setup commanded by my right hand and a Nissin unit under my right foot. Although it shares the same block as Triumph’s new Bonneville, on the Thruxton R the motor receives special tuning, a lighter crank and high-compression heads to create a respectable 96 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque. That’s roughly 40 percent more power than last year’s unit, which makes this a proper cafe racer. There are even switchable riding modes — Rain, Road and Sport — that temper fueling without reducing power, and both ABS and TTC (Triumph Traction Control) can be eliminated completely should you live near a track.

Triumph Thruxton R Specs and Gear


Engine: 1,200cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Horsepower: 96
Torque: 83 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed
Curb Weight: 448 pounds (dry)

Jacket: Spidi Worker Wax H2Out
Pants: Saint 100% Kevlar Drills
Helmet: Vozz RS1.0
Shoes: Rev’It Fairfax Shoes
Gloves: Icon Pursuit

This riding position has me primed for action and the bike’s reverse-cone mufflers abhor reticence. As soon as the slippery cobblestones are replaced by tarmac I give them their chance to howl. Transitioning between switchbacks along the Atlantic coast of Portugal, I’m floored by how well the Thruxton R handles. I give it my best to keep pace with the knee-slider-equipped riders in my group, and for a while, I’m right with them. A revised geometry and shorter wheelbase make turn-in quick but predictable, and the Daytona rear-sets give plenty of clearance for apex attacks. On more than one occasion I feel I’m coming into a corner too hot, but the ABS module keeps the Pirelli Diablo Rossa Corsa rubber from squirming and the bike simply follows my committed gaze. I’ve never pushed my own Thruxton this hard and doubt that I ever could: It just doesn’t deliver the same levels of confidence at even eight-tenths, let alone at full-clip.

During a quick stop for an espresso outside of Mafra I poke around the bike to explore its other stylistic details. The twin-throttle bodies, designed to mimic the original Bonneville’s Amal carburetors, are perfectly executed, as are the Bakelite-type spark-plug caps. The fuel tank is a sculpted Manx unit, and though it might benefit from knee pads, it’d look right at home at an Ace Cafe parking meetup. It’s complete with a stainless steel strap and a Monza-style filler cap; even though it’s liquid-cooled, the engine still features functional, machined cooling fins; the shortened swingarm has a clear, anodized finish. The wheels are spoked and constructed from aluminum to reduce unsprung weight, and they employ a supersport-dimensioned 17-inch unit up front. The mix of modern ride-ability and classic aesthetics just work on this bike better than any other neo-retro unit on the market today, including its stablemates.

Triumph Bonneville T120 Black

Before I was able to swing a leg over Triumph’s new cafe racer, keys to the new Bonneville T120 Black found their way into my gloved hands. The T120 has undergone equal measures of reimagining by Hinckley’s engineers as the Thruxton, only with a decidedly less aggressive bent. The engine is the same 1,200cc, water-cooled, finned parallel-twin but its electronic tuning is tweaked for enhanced mid-range grunt — peak torque arrives lower on this Bonnie’s intricate clock (65 lb-ft arrives at 3,100 rpm). It was designed this way to deliver a more rewarding ride in the midrange, with proper manners for urban settings. The ride-by-wire throttle is good at keeping things smooth and the T120’s notably better suspension and brakes are more than up to the task of bailing you out during much more spirited riding.

My only gripe — and it would be really easy to fix — is that the T120’s drop pegs sit too low for this bike. It was explained that the T120 was styled to capture the aesthetic spirit of Triumph’s original 1959 Bonnie by the same name. This is something it does quite well — it’s unmistakably a Bonneville at every angle. But those pegs are a marketing department’s cruel joke. This combination of engine, chassis and suspension shouldn’t be relegated to plodding along at a cruiser’s pace. It’s a far cry from the being crowned the world’s fastest bike, but like that original, it’s a proper runner. $11,500+

Back on the Thruxton, on the return ride to Cascais, I decide to slow down, enjoy the scenery and explore the bike’s low-speed tendencies. Even when taking a more conservative approach, the new bike is comfortable and competent, though it excels at higher speeds. I’d prefer a softer seat for commuter duties and weekend tours and would inevitably pony up for the pillion option — both the Thruxton and Thruxton R come sold for solo rides only. But the clip-ons are well placed for small stints of relaxed riding, so you’re not required to monkey around should you want to light the wick. And you will want to light the wick. Rolling on the throttle when roads uncoil propels you quicker than any Thruxton could before, and getting the front wheel skyward is easier than ever.

During the tech briefing, Triumph’s engineers informed us that the Thruxton R had been under development for over four years. They explained that everything about the bike, from chassis to tires, was brand new and that pains were taken to maintain iconic styling without stifling performance. The fact that this presentation took place after a morning ride on its stablemate Bonneville T120 meant they could have saved their breath. It was obvious on that cruiser model that the new breed of Bonneville is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, and the Thruxton R drives that point home best of all: it’s more than a restored heirloom from motorcycling’s past — the Thruxton R is a classically styled example of an icon’s future.

Buy Now: $14,500

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