The trouble with it is, you have to keep stopping. For petrol, for instance. There is never enough in the tank. And in order to refill the tank, you have to find a petrol station, stop, take off your gloves, sunglasses, helmet and earplugs. Then open the beautiful quick release, pretend fuel cap – and the proper locking fuel cap underneath it – and squirt petrol into the tank. Then queue, pay, and go through the whole annoying process again in reverse. And all this when you could simply be riding it. It’s unbelievably frustrating.
The Triumph Thruxton R is the sort of motorbike that you just don’t want to get off – even to put petrol in, or eat, or sleep. It challenges you to ride it, and it loves when you ride it well. Some bikes get angry with you, blame you, and punish you when you get it wrong – The Thruxton R is much kinder than that; a more caring and forgiving lover. It’s always on your side, always happy for you. It nurtures you, caresses you and encourages you when you get it right.
It’s the sort of bike that demands to share mile after mile of open road. The only reason you would want to ride it in town in to catch a reflection of yourself looking stylish in shop windows.
Triumph Bonneville “Thruxtons” were born in 1965. They were originally a batch of 650cc T120 Bonnevilles pulled from the production line and modified for endurance racing – specifically for the 500-mile race, organised by the Southampton and District Motorcycle Club, at the old RAF Thruxton circuit near Andover. The race was for production motorbikes, so Thruxtons had to be available to the public. At first, they were factory built. Later, some were built up by dealers using factory parts. They were successful – very successful – because they were hand-built, reliable and (for 1965) went like stink.
Then it was the 1970s, and the demise of the British bike. Then Honda made the 750/4. Then the 80s and 90s came and went. Then suddenly it was 2000 and (hooray!) Bonnevilles happened all over again.
But it wasn’t until 2016 that the high-power 1200cc parallel twin engine that powers the Thruxton R came along. Previous Bonnies had impulse power – this one’s got warp drive.
Don’t look too closely at the bhp figures. Bhp is a great measure of performance, but peak torque will often turn up at a lower rpm than peak power. So, for road riding, lots of torque counts for lots, and the Thruxton R’s got lots of torque. I went out with a mate on his KTM 1190 and, because he had 177 bhp compared to my 96, I expected to be left behind. I was left behind, but only because he is a better rider than me. The Thruxton R easily held its own and didn’t get left behind at all, even for a moment. Its properly quick and overtakes in a heartbeat. If ever you ask yourself ‘have I got time to overtake here?’ the answer is yes – more than enough time.
It’s a lovely thing to look at. It looks like a proper motorbike – just engine, wheels and something to sit on. It’s shiny in all the right places. It’s slim, pretty and dresses nicely. It’s got spectacularly good (Brembo) brakes and the sort of suspension (Ohlins at the back and Showa Big Piston front forks) that helps you carve reliably perfect curves through the corners. And it sounds nice.
This doesn’t happen very often, and I’m not a spiritual person, but I had a sort of Zen moment when I was riding it. You know that moment in dreams when you fall down the stairs and, just for a fleeting moment, you find you can fly (just before you wake up desperate for a pee)? I had a moment like that on the bike – just for that moment, the bike disappeared and it was just me; my disembodied self, flying through the corners. It was only when I looked down and saw that lovely polished top-yoke that I remembered I wasn’t Green Lantern. I’m not sure that there are many bikes or Superheroes that can do that.
I’m not sure I’m supposed to say this, but I also like how easily I can get my leg over it. I’ve ridden lots of bikes that are great when you’re upright, but so stupidly tall that the only way to get on-board is to put them on the stand and hop sideways towards them like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Even given my efficient and compact stature, I can pull the Thruxton R out of a parking place and throw my left leg over it without resorting to the side-stand – and instantly ride off into the sunset looking cool like David Beckham (other style icons are available). And that’s also handy at the traffic lights – I can get my foot down flat on the tarmac without too much planning.
It’s not perfect, fiddly to clean, and really difficult to see the coolant level in the glass. It’s only got a range of about 160 miles and an annoying light that tells you that you need fuel about an hour before you really do. The clocks steam up. And it’s got lowish handlebars that are great when you are motoring because the wind on your chest takes the weight off your wrists, but in traffic there’s a lot of weight on your wrists. But I’m not sure that I would change anything at all.
In an alternative universe, where I had the skills to design a motorbike for myself, and if I had started in 1965, and if I was inspired and really, really lucky, I would have hoped to have ended up with something as extraordinarily competent as a Triumph Thruxton R.
And if I had, I would have been chuffed to bits.