We got our hands on the new Street Twin and rode it 1,400 miles in the Scottish Highlands. You might be surprised about how it fared as a tourer.
It might not have been the best idea ever to go touring in Scotland on a Triumph Street Twin in early April. It’s not exactly a touring bike. And the weather forecast was far from promising; it looked like it might snow, and it was almost certainly going to rain a lot. Suddenly the thought of a 1,400-mile trip wasn’t so appealing. But as it turned out, I had the best four days in a long time. Surprisingly, the bike designed with the bearded gentlemen of Shoreditch in mind seemed to be in its element in the dramatic, barren landscape of western Scotland.
The first wobbles
On the day of the departure things suddenly looked rather grim. Just as the Triumph van pulled into the carpark to deliver the bike, the news came in from America that Triumph was recalling all Street Twins because they might leak petrol on the electrics and catch fire.
Bugger! I had visions of a great ball of fire enveloping a Finnish rider and a British bike, hurtling down a mountain in Scotland. I guess there’s some kind of poetic justice in British engineering taking revenge for what my fellow Nordic invaders did on these shores centuries ago.
Luckily, after a couple of calls to the Hinckley chaps it turned out that the bikes in the UK were not affected. I wasn’t going to go up in flames after all. I also had no excuse to get out of the trip, so I went back to worrying about the weather instead.
All of my worries about the trip lifted as soon as I saw the bike. Not because it suggested any kind of advanced touring ability, but simply because it’s a beautiful piece of design and engineering. The Street Twin benefits from a new 900cc liquid-cooled engine, which meets the new Euro 4 emissions criteria, but it still retains a lot of the key design elements from the old pre-emissions standards, air-cooled, carburettor-fuelled bikes. Attention to details such as the small radiator, concealed cat box and double-skinned exhaust pipes give this bike the timeless looks of the classics.
The combination of new tech and retro looks is beautifully represented by the brushed aluminium cover on the fuel injection system, making it look more like a guard for an old-fashioned carburettor than a part of the precision-engineered ride-by-wire fuel injection system.
The finned cylinders and header clamps add delicious retro-style, and subtle touches of colour, such as the red spark plug caps, are the icing on the cake. It’s a seriously good-looking bike!
Our test bike was the base model, not fitted with any of the ‘inspiration kits’ that Triumph offers as optional extras. These can turn the standard bike into a scrambler, a brat tracker or an urban cafe racer. The only accessories that I had on the bike were two leather saddle bags, so I didn’t have to carry a rucksack all the way. They looked nice and had enough capacity to swallow most of my travel essentials with ease. Just because I’ve never been very good at travelling light I decided to throw a Givi waterproof bag on the pillion seat so I could carry more of the ‘essentials’.
On the move
Getting on the bike and heading away from the office further improved my mood. The Street Twin might be the smallest machine in the new Bonneville range, but it’s certainly no lightweight. The 900cc liquid-cooled engine pumps out 54bhp, which is quite acceptable, but more impressively, the torque figure is 80Nm, achieved at a lowly 3,250rpm. This means lots of low and mid-range torque – highly toned muscles just where you need them.
One of the first things you notice about the bike is its great sound. There are after-market pipes available, but to be honest, I wouldn’t bother as the Street Twin sounds sweet as it is. The low purring and burbling of a parallel twin is music to my ears.
The first stretch of my journey took me from Horncastle in Lincolnshire to the Peak District in Derbyshire. No, it’s not on the way to Scotland, but I had to stop at home for a pair of pants and a toothbrush. It was also a great chance to start getting used to the bike. Not that it took very long at all. It’s an incredibly easy and care-free bike to ride, with smooth power delivery and good handling both at urban and, ahem, more enthusiastic speeds.
Gathering the troops
I’ll be honest: this was not one of the best planned trips I had ever embarked on. I knew that my mate Andy had booked us a hotel somewhere near Fort William and planned a route (thank goodness, at least he was on it), and I knew that we had four days to ride. What I didn’t know was who was going to join us or where exactly we would be riding.
One thing was painfully clear: I was on a bike that had a range of about 150 miles from a brimmed 12-litre tankful, no fairings, heated grips or cruise control, and a peak power of 54bhp. The less I thought about it, the less it worried me.
On the morning of day one of the trip, the plan – and I use the term loosely here – was this: get up, pile all my stuff on the bike, ride up to the Wetherby Services on the A1 just north of where the M1 and A1 merge, meet Andy (and anyone else who might be joining us), then head up to Scotland. Easy peasy!
Riding to Scotland from most parts of England will involve some time on motorways. They serve a purpose in getting you from A to B quickly, I know, but when you’re on a bike like the Street Twin, multi-lane carriageways don’t really appeal. But I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised how well the Bonnie handled it. Sure, I had to hang onto the bike pretty firmly at faster speeds, but even so, the machine stayed stable and composed with not so much as a shudder, even when asked to go much faster than it really should.
At the services I found Andy and Nick who had managed to get a last-minute pass for the long weekend. Andy was on his BMW R1200RT and Nick on the KTM 1190 Adventure – both ideal for a trip to Scotland. My Street Twin looked a bit twee next to them.
Andy and Nick are both accomplished riders and members of the Sheffield IAM branch (iam-sheffield.org/). It’s always nice to go away with people who you can trust to know what they’re doing. And I also know that these guys don’t hang about: if there’s safe and brisk progress to be made, they’re on it. I had another look at the diminutive Street Twin that looked like something Andy’s BMW had just given birth to. I kept telling myself it would be fine. I wish I could be more convinced.
It’s grim (on the way) up north
As with so many trips, this started with the good old A1. First we headed towards Darlington, then slipped on the A68 towards Jedburgh (a planned lunch stop). The weather wasn’t too bad, with the occasional shower breaking the monotony of dull grey skies. It wasn’t quite picture postcard stuff, but it could have been a lot worse.
The A68 is my favourite route up to Scotland. It’s not exactly thrilling riding, but it’s a lot more pleasant than doing the A1 or the M6 all the way. You get some nice rolling hills, and there are a couple of crests that make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster when ridden with a bit of speed.
As we stopped for lunch in Jedburgh Nick realised that the clutch on his KTM was knackered. At first he’d thought that a recent service had made it a bit lighter to touch, but as the feeling gradually escaped altogether, it was clear that something was wrong. A quick call to the dealer and an on-the-spot bleeding and refill of the system with brake fluid provided a temporary fix. Not quite confident with our own DIY skills we asked if Nick wanted to test the clutch before we set off again. His considered response was: “Yeah, probably best to pull a couple of wheelies just in case…”
Turned out the fix was a success (without the wheelies, you’ll be pleased to know), so we carried on towards Edinburgh, where we hit the first bit of serious traffic on the trip. We ended up filtering the best part of the journey from Edinburgh to Stirling. Even though it slowed us down, it was still better than being stuck in a traffic jam like the poor car drivers. We spared absolutely no thought to their plight as we sailed past.
So far the Street Twin had proved to be a perfectly pleasant bike for covering distance. The riding position was comfortable with the wide and fairly high bars. The seat is low at 750mm, which means that in slow speeds it’s easy to put your foot down, but on endless motorways the lack of height means that your knees are at quite a sharp angle. I found myself stretching out my legs after a couple of hours on the bike.
Chilling on the mountains
The A84 starts shortly after Stirling, and it took us back to single lanes, sweeping bends and tremendously improved scenery. The real fun started just after Callander, with fast sweeping bends that squeeze into tight twisties and then open up again. This part of the road is in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and the views – if you can take your eyes off the road – are not too shabby.
We had a quick break at the iconic Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum, where the A85 and the A82 split. By now the occasional showers had combined forces and turned into steady rain. I was starting to appreciate what it feels like to do 300+ miles on a no-frills retro bike in grim April weather. With no screen, heated grips or cruise control, this was old-school biking. Nick and Andy, on their hyper-modern touring machines, were about as helpful and understanding as could be expected: “Hey Andy, don’t forget to switch your heated grips on – and the heated seat!” I made a mental note to slash their tyres when we got to the hotel if my fingers were not lost to frostbite before then.
As we were climbing over the mountains on the A82 I had plenty of time to think of good reasons why my Bonnie was much better than the BMW or the KTM. It was the only ‘proper’ bike after all. The only one that had that authentic rawness that only bikes with no screens, heated bits and bloomin’ foot spas have. It was a retro bike in its design and this was proper retro touring. Riding a bike like it would have been ridden half a century ago. Except that I had loads more horses under the seat, ride-by-wire throttle and fuel injection, ABS and traction control… But the point still stands! Facing the elements head on was the way to go. Proper biking. For proper blokes. But I couldn’t stop wondering if Triumph did aftermarket heated grips for the Street Twin.
Apparently the temperature dropped to 3 degrees Celsius at the top of the A82 (Andy told me, he’s got a thermometer on his BMW, the sod). By the time we reached Fort William, at the foothills of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, I had just about enough energy left for a hot shower and a cold pint before bed.
On day two, after a fine dollop of Scotland’s finest gruel, we headed out in rather damp conditions. Heading down to Oban, we weaved our way cautiously on wet and diesel-spattered roads down the coast. In one left-hand bend I felt my front end slip as I hit a spot of diesel on the road. The bike recovered instantly and the wheel must have only shifted half an inch, but it was enough to shake me up a bit, so I rolled back off the throttle until we got to Oban.
After a coffee at the harbour, we continued further south on the A816. The sun was starting to win the battle against the clouds and as we progressed further down, the road started to get drier and I began to get my confidence back.
The Street Twin really is a rather confidence-inducing machine. Power delivery is about as smooth as it gets, and the agility of the bike means that you can throw it into corners without a care in the world. The suspension seemed to work beautifully, even at faster speeds. I had imagined that because of the relatively short suspension travel, this would be a bit of a bumpy ride, but apart from riding on truly poor road surfaces, the bike stayed composed and I could match the speeds set by Andy and Nick on their much bigger and more powerful bikes. Whether the tyres need a bit more grip in the wet or whether that was just my paranoia setting in I’m not sure. But the roads were getting dryer, and they were so invitingly winding that it was impossible to hold back for very long.
The A816 offers plenty of opportunity for fast cornering as soon as you leave Oban, heading south. The further you progress the better the road gets, reaching a crescendo of seductive corners, rising and falling around the undulating hills, as if designed for motorcycling. The further we ventured, the more I was happy to push the Triumph, which had enough power and speed to tackle all the roads I took it down. In all honesty, the only limiting factor was the rider.
Everything’s premium but the sarnies
We stopped for fuel and sandwiches in Lochgilphead. The sun was shining, so we sat down on a park bench by the sea, rested our eyes on the mirror-calm waters of Loch Gilp, and agreed that we had just been served the worst sandwiches known to man. You can’t have it all I suppose.
After lunch we joined the A83 towards Inverary. Again, the road was textbook biking nirvana. Fast and flowing, with glimpses of lochs and snow-capped mountains. Inverary seemed to appear in front of our eyes in a heartbeat.
But if the roads so far had been great, they were just about to be well and truly trumped by the majestic A819, running straight up north from Inverary. The Street Twin was in its element here, roaring in delight to tackle the endlessly flowing fast corners. And just as you thought the road couldn’t get any better, the views opened up and Loch Awe came into view on the left, and soon after the snowy mountain tops straight ahead. It’s scenery that gives the Alps a good run its money. And yet it’s only a day’s ride from most of us. Incredible!
Joining the A85 and then the A82, we headed up Glen Coe once again, this time with blue skies rather than rain pouring on us. The road from the Green Welly Stop to Glencoe village on Loch Leven often gets busy with tourist buses, but if you get a clear run, it’s a blast. Climbing up to the top of the mountains, you are surrounded by 360 degrees of breathtaking scenery with mountains, lakes and waterfalls.
I was a little disappointed when we stopped at the carpark at the top of the pass: a bus load of tourists descended on us, and not one of them took a photo of the Triumph I had parked there for a perfect photo opportunity. That’s what you get with bus tours – no style!
From there the road took us back to the safety of our Hotel in Fort William. We had been riding from 9:30am to 5pm, with only coffee, food and fuel stops forcing us off the bikes. Needless to say, we were ready for the finest imported lager that the good barman could serve us.
The road to Mallaig
Day three started with sunshine and one of the finest biking roads around these parts: the A830 from Fort William to Mallaig. It’s an absolute corker! The surface is a bit poor in places by the high Scottish standards, but for anyone not spoilt by the smooth Caledonian Tarmac, it’s quite passable. The road follows a railway line quite closely all the way, so it doesn’t climb up and down that much, but it’s fast and winding, sweeping left to right relentlessly.
There’s a nice spot for views over the Loch Nan Uamh roughly halfway to Mallaig. It’s worth stopping, if only to make the ride last a bit longer as it seems like the road comes to an end far too soon.
The ride to Mallaig was the first time on the trip that I noticed a bit of a gap developing between me and the boys on the bigger beasts. I could still keep up with the pace in the corners with the Street Twin’s chassis proving perfectly capable of keeping a steady line even when we upped the ante. But it was coming out of the fast corners into the even faster straights where the immense power of the KTM and BMW meant that they still had plenty in reserve to crank it up a notch. I don’t think that they ever felt like I was holding them back, with the gap quickly closed as I got up to speed. Apart from this obvious difference in sheer power, which you really can’t hold against the little Bonnie, it had been far more capable of covering the distance and doing it in style and comfort than I had anticipated.
We arrived in the port five minutes before the ferry sailed for the Isle of Skye, giving us just enough time to dart into the ticket office and load the bikes on. Not that missing the ferry would have been a particular hardship: I would have been more than happy to retrace our steps back to Fort William on that road.
Skye’s the limit
On Skye we headed to Portree on the A87, the only main road on the island, then continued along the coast to have a look at the Old Man of Storr. The description of the rock formation is a little exaggerated. Or maybe you just need a few drops of the local firewater in you to see how a lumpy rock looks like an old man. Unfortunately we couldn’t test this theory without abandoning our bikes, and that wasn’t an option.
The roads on the island are nice and smooth, pleasantly winding and perfectly enjoyable, even if they don’t offer the thrills of the Mallaig road. Riding on Skye was, for me at least, more about enjoying the scenery, which takes an even more dramatic guise than the mainland. At times it feels like riding on a different planet, with barren lunar landscape surrounding you for miles. It’s achingly beautiful and frighteningly desolate at the same time.
Turning back, we followed the same road through Portree and towards the mainland. This time we crossed the bridge rather than taking the ferry and stopped in Kyle of Lochalsh for a quick lunch overlooking the Loch Alsh and the impressive bridge connecting Skye to the mainland.
The next destination was Applecross, reached by a narrow mountain pass. Riding up to the top of the pass was slow, with the road just a single track with passing places here and there. There’s a nice section of almost Alpine-style hairpin bends that took some concentration to navigate. Again, the dinky size of the Triumph came in handy as you could simply put your foot down even when the road seemed to disappear from underneath you if you messed up a slow tight corner. The torquey engine also made easy work of climbing the steep hills. You felt confident at all times that there was plenty of pull left if needed.
The viewpoint at the top of the pass offers wonderful vistas in all directions. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate the beauty of the place either: a Japanese car manufacturer had a row of highly polished cars at the top, ready for a TV ad shoot. If Triumph ever decides to add a ‘Mountain Adventure’ inspiration kit (one with headlamp mounted antlers, yak fur seat cover, whiskey bottle holder, and maybe those damn heated grips) in their Street Twin accessory catalogue, this would be the place for the shoot.
Returning to Fort William on the magnificent A87 was the perfect end to the day. After hours on the bike it’s easy to start to feel a bit flat, but great roads like this can give you an injection of adrenaline that leaves you begging for more. The road is big and wide, fast and furious. It goes on for miles, weaving in between the mountains and tracing the shores of Loch Cluanie. It’s mega! Not even trumped by what had by now become a customary after-ride drink back at the hotel.
Our journey home started with one more crossing of Glen Coe on the A82. Not that I minded, it’s a difficult road to get bored of. Rather than heading towards Edinburgh, we decided to keep following the A82 down towards Glasgow, brushing shoulders with Loch Lomond on our way. The road follows the shoreline of the loch, and the views are lovely. Mind you, it’s a narrow road with very little opportunity for overtaking, so if the traffic is heavy you don’t get anywhere quickly.
We skirted Glasgow on dual carriageways and then picked up the A721 and A72 to Peebles to put us back in the direction of the A68 and Jedburgh. Apart from the dual carriageways the roads were perfectly nice, but we had been well and truly spoilt by the divine highland roads and two days of sunshine, so now that the hills grew smaller and the skies filled with drizzle, it was difficult to feel the same elation of the previous two days.
Slightly drifting off in my own thoughts at times, I tried to find faults with the Street Twin that I hadn’t thought of yet. I really struggled. I had spent four days touring on a bike that was never meant for that kind of riding, and the only negatives that I could find were the obvious lack of touring comforts that any city bike would lack by its very nature. And let’s not forget, in the not-so-distant past, this was how you travelled if you went away on a motorcycle. The electronics that modern bikes now boast are a relatively new phenomenon.
What I couldn’t slate was the engine that, although perhaps slightly under-powered for mega-miles motorway riding, is more than able to hold its own against bigger touring bikes, unless the pace gets silly. What you need to do is plan your overtakes a bit better and anticipate acceleration a bit earlier, but with that, the bike will move, no problem.
I was also finding it difficult to criticise the chassis. The frame is solid and the suspension soaks up the bumps in the road without leading to any serious wobbles. It doesn’t have the luxuriously long suspension travel that the bigger bikes have, but it makes good use of what it has. The brakes (single discs both front and rear) are adequate and with the ABS you can even squeeze them with a bit of extra vigour and still keep the shiny side up.
And then there are the looks. The retro-scene isn’t for everyone, but the quality of the finish and the sheer aesthetic appeal of the new-generation Bonnevilles are difficult to dismiss.
After 1,437 miles, I’m still as happy to throw my leg over this bike as I was when I first saw it. It offers the style and feel of a classic bike with enough modern technology to make riding it a hoot.
Triumph Street Twin
Engine: 900cc liquid-cooled, eight valve SOHC 270° parallel twin
Power: 54bhp (40.5kW) @ 5900rpm
Torque: 59lb-ft (80Nm) @ 3230rpm
Transmission: Five speed with chain final drive and wet, multi-plate slip assist clutch
Frame: Tubular steel cradle and twin-sided tubular steel swingarm
Suspension: (F) Unadjustable Kayaba 41mm forks; (R) Twin Kayaba shocks, adjustable for preload.
Brakes: (F) Single 210mm disc with Nissin two-piston floating caliper; (R) Single 255mm disc with Nissin two-piston floating caliper.
Seat height: 750mm
Tank capacity: 12litre
Kerb weight: Approximately 210kg (198kg dry)
Words: Mikko Nieminen
Photos: Mikko Nieminen, Nick Leggott, Andy Frith
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