2018 Triumph Speedmaster: A New Kind of Old School

Text: Brian Shaney • Photography: Triumph, Friedemann Kirn

The Speedmaster of old was originally launched in 2002 and powered by a 790cc air-cooled twin. This year, the newly redesigned bike has gotten a complete makeover, at the heart of which is a massive 1200cc liquid-cooled powerplant. At first sight, the bike appears as a custom “one-off “cruiser with its fat rear tire, low, wide handlebars, and scooped-out seat. A very American concept, sporting a very British badge. Once underway, I soon discovered that the bike is actually quite a bit more than its laid-back appearance suggests.

From the Ground Up
Augmenting the ever-growing range of Modern Classic Bonnevilles and built on its instantly popular Bobber platform, the Speedmaster offers an upright riding position, forward controls, and adds a pillion seat and larger fuel tank. All of this to make it a more practical all-rounder than the bar-hopping Bobber. Both bikes utilize the twin-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 1200cc Bonneville T120 engine, but get a 10-percent bump in mid-range torque. 

While it retains the classic Bonneville-shaped fuel tank and badging, the bike sports an extremely un-Bonneville-like hardtail-looking chassis and swingarm. Lurking under that hardtail “look” is a modern dual-spring, adjustable monoshock rear suspension. Upfront, Triumph uses 41mm KYB blacked-out forks complete with retro gaiters. 

Although the bike’s 270-degree crank motor is liquid cooled, Triumph has done a good job at hiding that fact by blacking out the radiator. The functional cooling fins on the heads and jugs help to give the Speedmaster its vintage appeal. 

Saddled Up

Out on the road, the Speedmaster is very manageable in city traffic. Its low center of gravity, 28-inch seat height, and moderate wheel base render easy maneuverability in routine stop-and-go. No struggle for my 30-inch inseam. Once we head into the mountains, the bike hits its stride. The 541-pound (dry weight) machine glides nimbly through the long slow sweepers and the wide handlebars provide ample leverage for counter steering in the switchbacks. On the first tight curve, I do get a reminder the bike’s low ground clearance requires being mindful of the pegs. 

In comparison to its slightly older brother, the T120, I think the all-together different suspension of the Speedmaster is softer, but it doesn’t feel at all spongy, and steering is quick and responsive. That 10-percent increase in torque comes in at 4500 rpm and is noticeable. Though not a rocket off the line, power to the rear wheel throughout the range is more than adequate and the throttle-by-wire design feels “natural.” The two riding modes, Road and Rain, deliver full power, with the latter being a bit subtler.

The bikes 2-into-2 slash-cut exhaust note is deep, rich, and throaty—and although it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to change that in favor of an aftermarket option, Triumph even offers an optional Vance & Hines setup. 

The Speedmaster is available in Jet Black, Cranberry Red, and Fusion White/Phantom Black; and fit and finish are top notch and well-conceived. I would, however, like to see additional color choices offered. The dished-out single seat is comfortable but it doesn’t allow for much movement once underway, and as a result I did find myself standing occasionally at stops to reposition. 

The torque-assist clutch provides a nearly effortless pull while the bike’s 6-speed transmission moves smoothly through all the gears. With the Speedmaster’s 3.2-gallon fuel tank, Triumph claims a range of 176 miles. Keeping an eye on the gauges, I was able to deduce at a fuel stop this is likely, or as the Brits say, “spot on.”

Stopping power is plentiful and provided by twin-disc Brembos upfront and a single Nissin caliper in the rear, with ABS standard. The bike’s traction control was put to the test briefly in a gravelly hairpin, and let’s just say it works well with no changing of undergarments required.

To Cruise or not to Cruise 

Although based on the current Bonneville T120, the Speedmaster is a different animal. As a daily commuter or a weekend warrior, the Speedmaster is an impressive machine. With the optional “Highway Package” (saddlebags, large windscreen, and larger seats for both rider and passenger, passenger backrest, and luggage rack), it would make an excellent touring bike. And I could readily imagine happily eating up many miles of interstate or secondary roads. 

Going the other way, the “Maverick” kit, replaces the stock seat with a brown quilted solo seat, flatter lower handlebars, and blacked out bits, all resulting in a more stripped-down version. Sort of a Bobber meets Speedmaster hybrid.

The Speedmaster is a very easy bike to ride and great fun as well. The suspension is evenly balanced and the fat made-for-the-bike Avon Cobra tires provide exceptional grip. The view from the saddle has the bike’s single-gauge instrument and switch layout all in sight and accessible. With its first service interval at 10,000 miles, it should be an undemanding bike to own, too. 

In spite of its old-school appearance, the Speedmaster is quite refined and includes a host of modern amenities, with traction control, throttle-by-wire, cruise control, and ABS all standard equipment.

So, is it a cruiser? While it does have a silhouette and riding position similar to said style motorbike, I’d have to say “no,” its a bit different. What it is, is just what Triumph wants you to think of it as—a classic British custom—albeit with a bit of American inspiration.