By Dave Abrahams

Cape Town – Motorcycling is an intensely physical activity, which is part of the attraction for most riders. Inevitably a big part of why we like or don’t like a particular model comes from unquantifiable seat-of-the-pants input, loosely termed ‘feel’. And in those terms Triumph has got it absolutely right with the 900cc Street Twin, the base model in its new-for-2016 liquid-cooled Bonneville retro range.

Ignore the single ride-by-wire throttle body and the tall narrow radiator between the frame downtubes (yes, the 2016 twins are liquid-cooled, for the first time). Forget about the slightly plasticky speedometer housing and the absence of a rev-counter (real Bonnies always had ‘em), just focus on the turn-in point for the next corner and ride the bike like it was meant to be ridden – with style.

The short, cobby fuel tank places the rider’s weight well forward and the narrow cylinder head lets you tuck in, leaning slightly forward to the wider-than-expected handlebars and putting more weight on the front wheel than most of today’s riders are used to.

Factor in a low (750mm) seat height, a 1439mm wheelbase – nearly 50mm shorter than the outgoing 865cc Bonneville - and genuine, original 1970’s Pirelli Phantom SportComp tyres (back in production from this year specifically for the retro market) and you have a recipe for the quick-steering motorcycle that’s remarkably agile for its size, superbly and very accurately responsive, just a little twitchy near the limit (as it should be) but above all, a motorcycle that talks to you.

It feels smaller than it is, much lighter than its 217kg kerb weight, and it buzzed through our test handling section at 122km/h, where 120km/h is the pass mark for a modern sports-bike. Even the brakes, budget-bin Nissin twin-piston callipers at both ends, feel quite capable of handling anything the frame and engine can throw at them.

Tuned for midrange

As does the Kayaba suspension, devoid of adjustment bar preload rings on the dual rear shock. All we did was to ensure the tyres pressures were spot on (critical on old-school sports/racing tyres) and jack the preload up to the middle one of its five positions. It was harsh and choppy on our bumpy test section but handled everything else with aplomb, including our performance testing.

The new bike’s 900cc parallel twin has a 270 degree crankshaft, so that it sounds and feels like a V-twin. With a long intake tract and just one 39mm throttle body, it has been tuned for midrange; the factory quotes peak power of 40.5kW at 5900rpm, 9.5kW less than the previous Bonneville.

But, and this is a big but, torque is up from 68 to 80Nm, all of which Triumph says is on tap at just 3230rpm. OK, there’s no way to quantify that because the Street Twin has no rev-counter, but the new bike certainly feels as if it has plenty of mid-range muscle, although it is a little short on top end for a 900cc fuel-injected twin.

It went up to about 140km/h very smartly indeed, seemed happy to cruise all day at that speed, and topped out, about a quarter of the way down our notorious Six-Kay Straight, with the needle steady, just past the 170 mark. True top speed was later revealed to be exactly 170km/h, making this the most accurate Triumph speedometer we’ve ever tested, with less than two percent error.

Inevitable comparisons

Fuel consumption over a week of mixed commuting and open-road riding averaged out at 4.9 litres per 100km, rising to 5.2 during performance testing, remarkably close to that recorded by British magazine Motor Cycling when it tested the original T120 Bonneville, 55 years ago.

Odious though they may be, comparisons with that 649cc Bonneville are inevitable. The original was good for only 34.5kW, but it was also 34kg lighter at 183kg wet and had a slightly higher top speed of 177km/h in standard trim.

What it did not have was the durability of a liquid-cooled engine, an electric starter, traction control (which is switchable for soft roads) disc brakes with ABS (which are not) and a side-stand carefully placed exactly where it should be so you can operate it without having to look down.

Add these very welcome amenities to the unmistakable ‘feel’ of a classic British twin and you have a recipe for very classy commuter, and a stylish weekend cruiser, that’ll suit everybody from born-agains who can remember the 650 Bonnie but could never afford one to younger riders attracted to the style and flair of the growing retro movement.

At 217kg and R129 500 it’s not going to be your first bike, but it may very well be the one you keep.

FACTS

Triumph Street Twin

Engine: 900 liquid-cooled parallel twin.

Bore x stroke: 84.6 x 80mm.

Compression ratio: 10.55:1.

Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 40.5kW at 5900rpm.

Torque: 80Nm at 3230rpm.

Induction: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel-injection with one 39mm ride-by-wire throttle body.

Ignition: Digital electronic.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.

Transmission: Five-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.

Front Suspension: 41mm non-adjustable conventional Kayaba forks.

Rear Suspension: Dual Kayaba hydraulic dampers with coilover springs adjustable for preload.

Front brakes: Dual 310mm disc with Nissin twin-piston floating calliper and ABS.

Rear brake: 255mm disc with Nissin twin-piston floating calliper and ABS.

Front tyre: 100/90 - 18 tubeless.

Rear tyre: 150/70 - 17 tubeless.

Wheelbase: 1439mm.

Seat height: 750mm.

Kerb weight: 217kg.

Fuel tank: 12 litres.

Top speed (measured): 170km/h.

Fuel consumption (measured): 4.9-5.2 litres per 100km.

Price: R129 500.

Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.

Follow Dave Abrahams on Twitter @DaveAbrahamsIOL