2018 Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster review, test ride
23rd Jan 2018 11:36 am
Is the new Speedmaster just a twin-seat Bobber or is there more to it?
The Triumph Bonneville Bobber is a statement on two wheels. Unlike the milder Bonneville and the faster Thruxton, the Bobber is fixated on coming across as a modern-day cult machine. It is, however, not a complete motorcycle. It only comes with one seat (for the rider, of course), and that makes it quite impractical. Every garage doesn’t allow for two expensive motorcycles and so, the Bobber is an unrealistic dream to chase for most enthusiasts. The Speedmaster puts an end to that longing.
This isn’t a new nameplate to the Triumph family but, perhaps, has been done most justice to with this iteration. Based on the Bobber, the Speedmaster is a cruiser-styled motorcycle that aims to retain the highlights of the Bobber (the butch demeanour, attention to detail, etc.) in a more accessible, all-enveloping format. And, on first impression, it succeeds. The Speedmaster is a gorgeous looking motorcycle and, interestingly, carries its own distinct identity (just like the Bobber) despite the more traditional flavour it exudes. The proportions are spot-on and it looks like a complete motorcycle rather than a Bobber with add-ons. With the characteristic Californian sun glinting in its chrome, the Speedmaster paints a pretty picture and an aspirational one as well – yes, even in the land of Harley-Davidsons.
That Triumph chose to host the press ride in San Diego, California is quite a statement in itself. Now, the Speedmaster is a motorcycle that’s aimed squarely at challenging the top-end of the Sportster family of Harleys, and that makes our Californian outing with it quite a cheeky move. Thankfully, it not only has the style but also the substance to fuel its ambition. It’s powered by a 1,200cc, eight-valve, SOHC, parallel-twin motor that produces 77hp at 6,100rpm and 106Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. The motor is paired to a six-speed gearbox, and the wet clutch with torque-assist makes for light and friendly operation even in slow, city-speed crawling. There is, as you can tell, no increment over the Bobber’s numbers but is that a bad thing in any way? Not one bit.
Out north-bound on the coastal freeway, the Speedmaster had no trouble whatsoever getting up to and sustaining high speeds. It accelerates with a punch – albeit a sublime one – and the gearshifts are slick but with a nice mechanical feel to them. You can feel the surge of torque and it’s addictive, to say the least. Even the standard pipes (chromed, of course!) sound fantastic and emit just the right sort of pulse for a motorcycle of this sort; this is an old-school motorcycle but not a slow one, after all. Triumph is offering a Vance & Hines aftermarket exhaust setup as well, and that will surely sound even more impressive.
So it’s quick and meaty, but can it actually cruise or are those swept-back 'beach bars’ just an aesthetic gimmick? No, they aren’t. The Speedmaster loves the open highway and it’s perfectly at home getting to and sustaining high speeds. At 100kph in sixth gear, it rests at 2,600rpm and 120kph comes up at 3,100rpm – at either stage, it is equally unruffled. Some parts of the test route did allow me access to far higher speeds, but I think 80-120kph is the sweet spot of this motorcycle – and also a safe spot to be in on most highways, of course. Also, thanks to the super-intuitive cruise control (standard and integrated into the left-hand-side switchgear pod), which can be set by just a click. It works in third gear or higher, between 48kph and 160kph, making long-distance highway hauls even more effortless.
The Speedmaster impresses on its highway potential, but surprises out in the twisties. This is a 245kg motorcycle (dry, that too), mind you, and with a fat, 130/90 16 tyre up front, I didn’t expect wonders from it. It proved me wrong. The Speedmaster benefits from an inherently encouraging chassis that feels stable and confidence-inspiring and quite indulgent. Thanks to the feet-forward stance and a 1,510mm wheelbase, there is a sense of ease to the Speedmaster’s cornering mannerisms and at no point does it feel overbearing. Thanks to the 41mm KYB telescopic fork (the Bobber gets a 47mm fork) and a differently-rated preload-adjustable monoshock (tucked away neatly under the rider’s seat), the Speedmaster absorbs most bumps admirably well and isn’t crashy (especially at the front-end) unlike most of its competitors. Braking is another one of the Speedmaster’s strengths and Triumph has wisely offered it with a twin-disc configuration at the front-end; the Bobber only gets a single disc. Cornering clearance is good, too, and while it isn’t a dramatic motorcycle, it’s still quite an entertainer. I’m not sure it needs it, but traction control and two riding modes (Rain and Road; both retain full power but modulating throttle response) are standard on the Speedmaster.
What makes the Speedmaster a sweet deal is not just its character, but also its approachability and practicality. Thanks to a universally-friendly 705mm seat height and a split-seat configuration that’s nice as long as you take regular breaks, the Speedmaster is a delight to clock saddle time in. That said, while the seat is well-cushioned, it could do with more tailbone support since longer stints astride it left me tugging at the handlebar for comfort. Another nice touch is the Bonneville-sourced fuel tank that can accommodate 12 litres of petrol as opposed to the 9.5-litre tank capacity of the Bobber, which gives it a usable range of roughly 220km – not bad, right?
So, what’s the catch? There isn’t one, to be honest. The Speedmaster isn’t an afterthought (even though it may seem so) and is a genuinely sincere motorcycle that offers aesthetic as well as functional value. I think it’s an appealing alternative not only to most Harley Sportsters but even the Bonneville family, since it brings contemporary character to a relaxing, calming format of motorcycle. Most importantly, it’s easy to envision a lot of you (along with me, somewhere in the middle of the pack) riding Speedmasters on the highway to Goa and elsewhere, with a load of luggage piled onto the back – something you could never even consider (let alone do) with a Bobber. And any motorcycle that keeps you dreaming about being on the road is a worthwhile one, right? Thanks to all the extra kit it offers (cruise control, LED DRLs, a twin-disc setup, the better-suited suspension and the additional seat) and going by its UK price tag, we expect the Speedmaster to be priced at Rs 10.5 lakh (ex-showroom), which is a fair and entirely justified increment over the Bobber. Expect to see the Speedmaster in showrooms by the end of March or early-April 2018 but, more importantly, save up all you can before then!
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