Café racers are supposed to be road bikes, aren’t they? And on the road, this latest neo-retro Triumph Thruxton R had us mighty impressed when we rode it in Portugal a few months back. But staring down an empty pit lane, leading into the MMRT track in Chennai – which is all ours for the day – with the slim, gorgeous tank of the Thruxton R nestled between my legs, I can’t help but wonder if this experience is going to be as satisfying as I imagine it to be. Time to find out just how much “racer” is in this café racer then…
A heart for speed
From the word go, it’s clear that speed is one thing this bike certainly isn’t lacking. The 1,200cc parallel twin motor might be almost identical to that from the more laid-back Bonneville T120, but the difference in specs is quite stark. While the T120’s engine carries the High Torque badge, the Thruxton’s says High Power, or rather screams it. Open the taps and the twin upswept reverse cone megaphone exhausts sound like a heavy metal drum solo. But you don’t get too much time to appreciate that when on the track, as the next corner approaches much quicker than can be anticipated. And the rate at which the Thruxton R shortens any straightaways will leave you wondering, “Wait! What? How is this just 97hp?” Granted that it’s not supersport-fast by any means, but because the motor makes more than 100Nm of torque right from 2,000rpm, the acceleration in any gear is surprisingly quick. In fact, you’ll be glad that there’s a fairly competent electronics package providing the bike with traction control, wheelie control and even riding modes. Yes, electronics… on a bike that represents the minimalist design philosophy from the 1960s.
You’d be perfectly happy admiring it in pit lane, but happier thrashing it around the track.
This electronics package has been a key aspect of modernising the new Bonneville range and while even the T120 gets Road and Rain modes, the Thruxton does one better thanks to a more aggressive Sport mode. But with an entire race track to play around on, it’s best to leave it in Sport. However, get a little bold and turn the traction control off, and on occasions, you’ll find the front wheel reaching for the sky if you get too happy with your right wrist. Better keep the traction control on then. That being said, there are some situations on the track which bring out the shortcomings of this motor. The low inertia crankshaft allows the Thruxton to rev very quick, but its 7,000-and-a-bit rpm redline can feel woefully inadequate on longer straights, and there is a fairly sharp drop off in torque past 6,000rpm. But honestly speaking, the motor that’s mostly impressive isn’t even the bike’s strongest suit, because it’s got the agility to match a trained ballerina.
Turn, turn, turn
The Thruxton R’s handling prowess doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, it’s wearing kit that’ll even leave some sports bikes jealous. At the front, it gets fully adjustable 43mm upside-down Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF) and suspension duties at the rear are handled by a pair of phenomenal Ohlins shocks, which apart from being adjustable for preload, offer rebound and damping settings as well. With Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa rubber shod on those gorgeous wire-spoke wheels, you’re looking at a bike that can really mix with the best of them when it comes to cornering.
Even though its dry weight of 203kg is nothing to write home about, the Thruxton R feels light and nimble. Flicking it through the tighter turns 2 and 3 at MMRT, and then through the kinks leading up to turn 4, it’s shocking just how quickly it changes direction. This, we suspect is down to its aggressive 22.8deg rake angle and short 1,415mm wheelbase. And through the longer turns such as the rather unimaginatively named ‘Big D’, the Rosso Corsas inspire supreme amount of confidence carrying ridiculous lean angles. But there’s more to the Thruxton than what the numbers suggest. Thanks to the pliancy of its suspension setup, it can handle the odd bumps or undulations on the tarmac easily and the handling feels very approachable.
What also helps the Thruxton R’s case on the track are its outstanding brakes, with the front getting twin Brembo 310mm floating discs clamped by a pair of Brembo four-pot radial monobloc calipers. With exceptional feel and bite, the only factors that really affect how late you can brake into the turn with the Thruxton R are your own skills, if you know what I mean.
Easy as pie
The beauty of putting laps on a track astride the Thruxton R is that unless you are absolutely on the edge, trying to set lap records, it is a very unintimidating experience. This is largely because of the bike’s relaxed ergonomics. While the posture is on the sportier side, with rear-set foot pegs borrowed from the Triumph Daytona 675 and low(ish)-slung, clip-on handlebars, you’re never in an extreme hunched-over position. This also means that riding back home after a rewarding day on the track is not going to be taxing in any way. However, this comfortable, somewhat upright position quickly turns awkward when barrelling down a long straight at very high speeds.
Best of both worlds
During our stint at the Chennai circuit, motorcycle racing champion K Rajani managed a lap time of just about 2:04, which is actually a bit slower than the time set by the KTM RC390 last year. But as much fun as it is to thrash around at the MMRT, to judge the Triumph Thruxton R purely on the basis of lap times would be doing it gross injustice. It’s a motorcycle that works brilliantly on the road and will keep you thoroughly entertained on a twisty mountain road, or occasionally on a race track. And to top it off, it has the looks to melt the heart of even the most jaded bike enthusiasts. An ex-showroom price of Rs 11 lakh might seem a bit much for what at first glance looks like a nostalgia trip. But as we discovered, under that facade is a motorcycle with a surprising depth of character and some ability that shines even on the race track.