Triumph Speedmaster born to be mild

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 07:10 23/12/2012

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As a cruiser based on the Bonneville platform, the Triumph Speedmaster has nailed the art of going slow.

As with operating its direct Harley-Davidson XL1200C competitor, riding the lowly strung British parallel twin at 100kmh feels more natural than exploring illegal open-road velocities.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 865cc air-cooled DOHC 8v fuel-injected parallel twin 45kW (60bhp) at 6800rpm and 72Nm of torque at 300rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Steel-tube double cradle frame with square-section steel swingarm, 41mm inverted unadjustable KYB front forks with 120mm of travel, twin KYB rear shocks with 96mm of travel.
Price: $16,990 (as tested: $18,148).
Hot: Hot-rod styling gives the Speedmaster more handsome looks than its "America" sibling; huge range of factory-approved accessories on offer, smooth and relaxed engine.
Not: Geared too short and lacks a sixth ratio; soft springs soon consume limited rear-wheel travel; rear brake prone to locking up Metzeler ME880 tyre.

Both bikes are licence preservers, as the opportunity to be awarded points while riding them will be limited.

Provided you keep them registered and warranted, these two easy-riding cruisers will have no trouble staying on the right side of the law.

However, cruiser riders don't like to be seen on bikes that portray them as heaven's angels. They prefer to adopt the bad-ass outlaw image instead. Hence a preference for sinister-looking riding apparel, body decoration, and motorcycles that look like they have escaped from some bike-customising reality TV series on the Discovery channel.

It therefore would be absolute marketing folly for Triumph to call the Speedmaster the Slowmaster, even though it is the more appropriate label.

With 60bhp, the most naturally cruise-controlled of sub-1000cc Triumph twins isn't exactly lazy to accelerate. It will do "speed" if the rider insists, but it does "slow" so brilliantly that you never really feel encouraged to ride it anywhere in a hurry. The horsepower peak arrives early in the rev range, near the upper third of a torque "curve" that draws a line on the dyno graph that is flatter than Kansas.

The only change as the revs rise is that the torque output lessens slightly, the fall as gentle as the passage of the Rakaia River across eastern Canterbury.

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The engine of the 250kg Speedmaster therefore feels sweetest when it is confined below 6000rpm, and would be a bit of a chugger if Triumph's choice of gearing would allow it.

With just a five-speed gearbox and a final drive ratio that ensures that the upper limit of the twin's sweetest operating zone coincides with the open-road speed limit in this country, you are constantly seeking a non-existent sixth gear with this bike at first. No doubt that extra ratio is at the top of the list of "things to do" for Triumph's next big upgrade to its range of middleweight parallel twins, for it would lower the engine's legal open-road cruising revs to a much more relaxed 4000rpm, sending the already impressive fuel-efficiency to a new height, and improving the Triumph's potential to become one of the best cruisers on the market.

Like the Sportster, the Speedmaster can be easily overlooked in the stampede to check out more credible bigger-blocked cruisers that share the same showroom floor space. Yet as a lighter, easier-to-ride and cheaper alternative to the Thunderbird 1700 parallel twin, the Speedmaster has a lot going for it. Although the total cubic measurement of its twin-engine "jugs" only just surpasses the capacity of one of the big bird's, the Speedmaster isn't all that much slower.

It can also out-point its blander-looking larger sibling in a beauty contest, especially once a few tasty accessories like those of the test bike have been fitted.

The $120 optional kneepads, the $269 teardrop-shaped mirrors, and the $769 slash-cut mufflers would all find a home on my Speedmaster if I bought one.

It's the mufflers that lift this bike most. They add a hint of a Meriden twin to the Speedmaster's aural signature, recalling the original factory that remains Triumph's spiritual home.

The freer exhaust gas flow also added a bit more poke and improved throttle response. The mirrors functioned well, while the kneepads helped reinforce a link to Triumph's 110-year history.

Triumph never really made cruiser-style motorcycles until John Bloor bought the rights to the brand and set up factories in Hinckley, England, and Thailand, where the Speedmaster is made.

The concessions to US market tastes were limited to fitting a higher set of handlebars in the days of building bikes at Meriden.

The Speedmaster goes all out to achieve cruiser segment credibility, with the fitting of a large-diameter front wheel and skinny tyre, followed by a small-diameter rear wheel with a tyre that's far fatter than it needs to be.

Both inhibit the normally neutral and flickable steering of a Bonneville twin, but not too much, for it's the lower ride height, softly sprung rear shocks and easy-to-grind footpegs that confound the Speedmaster's cornering aspirations most.

Dynamically then, it is an authentic US-inspired cruiser, as ready as any Easy Rider to take on a ride to New Orleans to hang out with LSD-addled hookers in a cemetery (even if Captain America had by then shed his Triumph for a Harley - Editor).

For our roads, there are several better Bonneville-based Triumph models to choose, but one look at the Speedmaster is all it will take to find out if you are ready for the United Nations version of a cruiser motorcycle. Inspired by Route 66, designed in England and built in Asia, it's a great bike on which to take things slowly.

- Stuff

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