I sound just like my parents when I complain about the rising price of nearly everything. From groceries and restaurant meals to cars, familiar items are noticeably more expensive than they used to be.
Sure, that’s called inflation and it is nothing new. However, as the products we desire cross certain price thresholds, they seem to slip permanently beyond our reach. The limits vary but it is safe to say many people draw the line at $40,000 for a somewhat luxurious family car, $10 for a hamburger and $10,000 for a motorcycle.
That last price point has become an obsession for Triumph, Ducati, Yamaha and other motorcycle makers who are under pressure to build bikes that are attractive and powerful enough to hold their own on the road or parked at the local Bike Night while remaining within the average family budget.
I recently tried out Triumph’s answer to this riddle; the 2016 Street Twin. Starting at $8,700 the Twin replaces the previous base model of the company’s retro-style mainstay, the Bonneville. The British brand needed a new name for its entry-level model because the Bonneville, like its Ducati Monster rival, keeps growing in engine size, features and price. The new Bonneville T120, which replaced its old 865cc engine with a 1200cc version, now costs $11,500 and up, putting it outside the sweet spot for beginning riders.
The nice thing about the Street Twin, which competes with the Ducati Scrambler, Moto Guzzi V7 and the coming Yamaha XSR900, is that it does not look or feel like a starter bike. You might say, correctly, that one should expect a serious, substantial machine after dropping nearly $9,000. But Triumph gives the buyer a long list of sweet, surprising details for the money.
When you walk up to the Street Twin it makes a good impression. You will not have to apologize or explain why you didn’t by the bigger, fancier model because the bike looks clean, neat and beautifully finished. Triumph says it is designed to invite customization but I wound not change anything.
Most of the unsightly wiring, plumbing and other bits of rigging are neatly tucked away while the exposed parts all seem to have received a designer’s attention. While the engine has a traditional air-cooled look with black cylinders and gleaming silver fins, it is actually liquid-cooled, so the fins are decorative. The radiator sits, camouflaged, near the front frame tubes. A cover makes the fuel injection system look like a set of old-fashioned carburetors and the spark-plug connectors are made of reddish-brown plastic that looks and feels like Bakelite, a classic plastic used on electrical products in the first half of the last century.
While the new 900cc engine is fetching, the greater appeal stems from internal changes that make it a completely different creature on the road. Previous Bonneville parallel-twin engines had 360-degree crankshafts, meaning the two pistons moved up and down together with one firing on each full revolution. The new engine has a 270-degree crank, so the ignition in the cylinders occurs 270 degrees apart on each revolution.
The technical talk means the new engine’s uneven rhythm mimics that of a 90-degree V-twin Ducati or Suzuki SV-series bike. Bottom line: The Triumph sounds better than before (in this Ducati rider’s opinion) and has a sweeter, warmer feel when you fire it up and especially as you roll the throttle and accelerate while coming out of a corner.
I rode the bike south on New Jersey’s Route 29, which winds along the Delaware River for 30-odd miles between Milford and Trenton. After crossing the river into Pennsylvania I headed north on Route 32 through Washington Crossing State Park and on toward New Hope. The variety of curves, from tight S-turns to long sweepers, proved ideal for the Street Twin. This is not a sport bike designed to aggressively attack technical corners, but it handles very well and has a solid feel that boosts confidence when accelerating along a twisty road. Its suspension handles bumps and uneven pavement without the alarming skips and wobbles that can break a rider’s concentration but is soft and gentle enough to fend off fatigue and numbness on long-distance rides.
You can certainly ride the Triumph for long stints on the highway, but you’ll be much happier using it to explore backroads. Leaving home at first light on a Saturday and returning just before dusk with around 200 to 300 circuitous miles and a few relaxed coffee stops under your belt is the ideal scenario for this machine.
I tend to look at the cost of new motorcycles and imagine buying two or three interesting used bikes for the same sum. But the new Triumph has a magnetism missing from most new models. It draws favorable comments and looks of longing at every stop and turns “getting there” into more of an arrival, for whatever that is worth to you. I think it is worth a great deal if we admit that riding motorcycles is in part an attention-grabbing, exhibitionist activity. We hope a bike’s appeal will rub off on the rider, and at least the Triumph has a surplus to share.