This test came about as a result of a couple of requests I had from readers who were looking at buying either a Triumph Speedmaster or America, and asked if I could run a test on them. And it was about time I rode another cruiser; so off I went to test the Triumph Speedmaster.
A bit of history. First there was the Bonneville; a kind of “This is how we used to look” retro-type bike, complete with parallel twin engine.
Then Triumph decided to get into the cruiser market, and produced the America, which was a cruiser-style bike based around Bonneville running-gear. Then a couple of years later (in 2003) they produced the Speedmaster, which was a kind of “America with a bad-attitude” type bike. (And attitude is something Triumph do quite well!). The latest versions have a few up-dates, the main one being the engine going out to 865cc from the original 790cc.
There are things to like about the Triumph even before riding it. First thing is that it doesn’t look like a Harley. Okay, I know that bikes within one category often (mostly?) look similar, but I don’t see why every cruiser has to be a Harley clone! It’s a different engine configuration to the typical Harley clone too. By basing it on the Bonneville Triumph have taken an individual approach; the engine is different and the styling is different. I like individuality! The next thing to like about it is that it doesn’t weigh 300kg! In fact it’s only 229kg. (Well it is in the “mid-size-cruiser” class).
I described the Speedmaster as an “America with a bad-attitude”, and that’s the effect Triumph were going for. They even say so in their brochure: “Some bikes are more sociable than others. The Speedmaster isn’t one of them.” There is less chrome and more black, the seat is a non-pillion-friendly “gunfighter” style, and it gets slash-cut exhausts. But enough of the brochure, let’s get to riding it!
I thought a nice cruise out in the country would be the go for a bike like this; a minimum of traffic to negotiate then riding along some un-crowded country roads. So I headed to the south-west of Sydney, picking up the test-bike from Camden Bike And Power. (That’s the same place that supplied the Sprint ST, and some of the test-route was the same).
I have to admit to feeling a little apprehensive about riding the Speedmaster. The main reason was the fact it has forward-controls. I have ridden a "feet-out-front" bike before, but it was a long time ago. I was firstly concerned about the ergonomics of this; it doesn’t seem like an ideal position for someone – like me - with a crook back! So I figured on doing a fairly short test just to get some impressions of it. Secondly, the unfamiliarity was a concern. Riding different bikes doesn’t usually worry me at all, but when the riding position is as different as this, with controls being a long way from where you’re used to them being, then that’s potentially more of a problem. I needn’t have worried though; I found the Speedmaster remarkably easy to ride and get used to.
Sitting on the bike felt quite good. The seat is well-shaped and very comfortable, and the bars felt very natural. The grips are quite thick, which, because I have long hands, I liked a lot. The bike was also easy to handle; it felt lighter than even it’s stated weight would suggest. The raked-out front felt a bit heavy and ponderous at very slow speeds, but I suppose you’d expect that; and at anything above town speeds it was fine. Sure, it felt strange at first, having my feet stuck way out front, but I was surprised at how quickly I got used to this. In fact, as I headed out of town I found a certain enjoyment in the feet-stuck-out, “Look out I’m coming through!” attitude!
Coming back into town I pulled in to take some photos and take a closer look around the bike. This bike looks good from any angle! Good in that “bike-with-attitude” way! From any angle it looks mean and purposeful. The fact I was liking this is perhaps a bit strange, because normally I’m a very mild-mannered sort of bloke! (Maybe that Ulysses motto of “Grow Old Disgracefully” is starting to have an effect on me! Or is it just the individuality that I’m liking?).
The cruiser style results in it missing out on a lot of technology you come to expect on bikes today. Like a fuel gauge. (“But who needs that? You’ve got Reserve, and if you run out of that just steal some petrol from a passing motorist!”) And a trip-computer. (“But those things are only for sissy-boys to play with!”). (Just joking! Maybe this "bad-attitude" thing really is getting to me!). It also has a non-lockable petrol-cap. (You just screw it off; using a child-proof type action, where you press down and turn it). With the price of petrol these days (and the afore-mentioned lack of fuel gauge) this could be a problem!
The instrumentation also follows the usual cruiser style. Up front there is a big white-faced speedo, graduated up to 190kph. For anything else you’ve got to look down on the tank. There you find a couple of lights, and a very small tacho, graduated to 9,500rpm and red-lined at 7,500rpm. The ignition-key is conveniently(?) located down beside your left knee. But enough of the photos and looking around, let’s get riding again.
Start the bike up and you get a wonderful sound from those twin exhausts. These days most new bikes are noise-restricted to the point where they sound almost whisper-quiet. Not this one; you get a deep throaty sound that just growls even stronger when you open it up. I loved it!
The engine itself is a fairly low-spec thing. It runs a 9.2:1 compression ratio and twin carbies. Power is quoted at 54bhp (just over 40kw). So the bike’s name becomes a bit of a misnomer! Obviously with that sort of power, pulling this weight of bike, it’s not going to be a “master of speed”! Perhaps just a “master of cruise”? (Apparently the name “Speedmaster” pays homage to some bloke who used to tune the original Triumph Bonnies for greater performance on the salt-flats). Mind you, it still does go well. It’s certainly no sports-bike, but then it’s not supposed to be. Get the revs up around 5,000 and it’s noticeably quicker, and actually feels quite lively.
It’s an extremely tractable engine. It’ll pull away easily from 2,000rpm in top. At anything above that you don’t need to even think about changing down, unless you’re looking for maximum acceleration. Once, when about to take off in traffic, my foot (sticking out front as it was!) forgot which way was down, and I clicked up; putting it in 2nd. The bike pulled away with total ease and I only realised what I’d done after I was underway and going for the next gear-change.
By the way, a curious thing I noticed when looking through the brochures. The “standard” Bonnevilles have the same engine (with same compression-ratio, and carbies), but have a 360-degree firing order rather than the 270-degree used by both the Speedmaster and America. And they produce about 50kw. Strange.
The engine, and indeed the whole power-train, feels very smooth and sophisticated. One of my first impressions was that someone should give Harley Davidson one of these to show them that a cruiser doesn’t have to have an engine that vibrates so much it blurs your vision, or a gearbox that feels like it was taken off a tractor! You do feel the engine sometimes, mainly as a slight vibe through the bars, but it’s all very smooth, and the only vibes you feel are good ones!
The gearbox (which, typically cruiser, is only a 5-speed), is smooth too, giving easy changes up and down. My only criticism here was that it was a bit hard to find neutral; and the location of the light made it hard to see - especially with the sun on it. The bike had less than 300km on it when I picked it up though, and apparently this is something that gets better with a bit more distance under it.
The clutch was nice and progressive too; giving smooth take-offs and even allowing you to easily slip it to control the speed on sharp U-turns etc.
Yep, in cruiser land, I reckon this bike is a class act!
The bike is fairly high-geared, running about 28kph / 1,000rpm. At 110kph it’s showing just over 3,500 on the tacho.
And speaking of that, it cruises easily at 100kph – 120kph. Surprisingly, the wind didn’t feel too bad at these speeds either.
Handling is not something that you look too hard at with a cruiser, and I didn’t go searching for twisties to blast around. But ridden as it’s intended, it handles well; safe and secure and going exactly where you point it. Around town there is that slight heaviness of the raked-out front I mentioned, but once properly underway it has a nice flowing feel.
One advantage of the forward-controls is that it gives good ground clearance. Looking at the bike I suppose the exhausts would be the first thing to scrape, but you’d be leaning over a fair way for that to happen!
Brakes are good too. The twin discs up front (single at the rear) give good response and are more than adequate for the bike’s performance.
Going into the country and away from major traffic to test the bike was a good idea on one level, but the disadvantage was that there weren’t really any major open highways. And smooth highways are where the Speedmaster would be at it’s best. Yep, like most cruisers, it doesn’t like rough roads! My test route consisted of a smooth main road which I traveled for a while before turning around (before the traffic got too heavy) and heading back through town and out along some secondary back-roads that were reasonably good, but a bit choppy in places. Typical real-world country roads, in other words! Then I joined a major road (formerly the main highway, but now having deteriorated a bit with the surface being patchy and uneven in places) that took me back to the town again. I headed briefly up a minor back-road (where the photo from behind the bars was taken), but didn’t go far along there. Not ideal roads for a cruiser, but roads that, if you went touring away from major highways, you could easily find yourself on.
From very early on the ride, while still on the smooth road, my concerns about the riding-position proved to be well-founded. Sitting up-right with your arms and legs poking out forwards encourages your back to slump – even more than the normal cruiser seating-position does. And it places all your weight on the end of your spine. Not good! Acceleration tends to increase the bad posture; because with the bottom of your body held in place by the curvature of the seat, and the top of your body held in place by your arms outstretched to the bars, the only thing that can move is the centre of your body. So on acceleration the middle of your body tends to be thrown back, exacerbating the backwards curvature, or slump. Ergonomically, this is all wrong! Add to that the typically cruiser harsh rear suspension, and as soon as you encounter an even slightly bumpy road your badly-postured spine cops a hammering. For an old bloke with a crook back, this is bad news! And it wasn’t long before I started to feel the discomfort in my back. At first, while still on the smooth road, it just felt wrong; but when I got to the uneven-surfaces I could feel it giving me serious grief!
I tried a few things to relieve this. The first thing was to make a conscious effort to keep my back straight (which I didn’t entirely achieve, of course!). I normally arch my back forwards from time to time while I’m riding anyway, and I made sure I did this very regularly. On a few occasions I tried putting my feet straight down on the exhausts. That felt better and eased the weight on my spine a little; but not wanting to set fire to my boots, I didn’t leave them there for very long! Even letting my legs dangle vertically downwards felt better. On a couple of occasions I managed to rest my feet on the pillion footrest mountings, and then lean my body forward, which offered some relief from the poor posture.
And yes, as I’ve indicated already, the ride is harsh at the rear! The front is fine, you feel nothing through there, but the rear units bounce and bash at you over choppy surfaces. Take one section of unevenly surfaced road that was also part of my test-route for the Sprint ST. In my test of that I said, “the suspension gave a superbly compliant ride, soaking up the bumps very well. Larger bumps make their presence felt, but it’s never harsh or jolting”. Over the same section the rear end of the Speedmaster jolted harshly and gave my back a serious pounding! The ride was actually quite weird, because occasionally I’d encounter some patchy bitumen that the bike seemed to handle reasonably well, and I’d start to think that maybe it was okay; but then I’d cop some harsh jolts to remind me that it really wasn’t okay!
Now, this needs to be put into perspective. The first point to make is that, from a strictly ergonomic point of view, the riding-position is just wrong. That’s a fact. Just ask a physiotherapist. But then many people cope quite well with seating-positions that are ergonomically wrong. For example, many lounges are very poorly designed from a strictly ergonomic point. But their owners sit on them quite comfortably. And I know that a lot of people find the feet-out-front cruiser position quite good and suffer no ill-effects at all. So it’s very much an individual thing. Getting used to it isn’t a problem; you’ll do that pretty easily. It’s a matter of how your back likes it. For me, my dodgy old back didn’t like it at all, and I was still recovering from the effects of the ride a couple of days later! So, I’m sorry, but for me, despite all the things I liked about it,there is no way I could own this bike!
Okay, let's try to sum all this up. There's a lot to like about the Triumph cruiser! I mentioned some at the start; but now you can add the “bike-with-attitude” styling, the sound from the exhausts, and the fact that it did what it did in such an easy-to-ride manner, and with such a smooth engine and gearbox. And I was kind of getting the whole cruiser-mentality thing; which added even more to the enjoyment factor. As I reached the outskirts of town on my way back I turned around for another cruise down the old highway. My back was now giving me some pain, but I wanted to experience cruising it down the highway just one more time before returning it!
So would I recommend it? Well, that probably depends on the condition of your back and how the riding-position feels to you. If you like cruisers, and can handle the riding-position, then I’d definitely recommend it! It’s much better to ride then a Harley Sportser, and has more power and more individuality than most other mid-size cruisers. But if you have back problems, then re-think very carefully! The best way I can sum it up, for me personally, is to say that I rode it further than I intended, but also further than I should have.
SPEEDMASTER OR AMERICA?
Back at the dealers, I did a bit of comparing of the two models. If you’re thinking of taking a pillion, then it’s a done-deal, it has to be the America. Apparently there is an optional seat that makes the Speedmaster a bit more suitable for a pillion, but even in the brochure Triumph say that it ain’t made for pillions! If that isn’t a consideration, then for me it’d be the Speedmaster. The America’s bars are higher and wider and didn’t feel as good or as natural to me. The America doesn’t have a tacho either (I like knowing what the engine is doing). And then there’s that more individualistic styling!
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There have been a few up-dates since 2007. Most are minor things - the disc rotors are different, the fuel-tank has been slightly re-shaped, etc. But the main difference is that it now runs fuel-injection, rather than the old twin-carby set-up. Not that you'd tell by looking at it; as with the Bonneville, Triumph have cleverly disguised the system to go through traditional-looking carby bodies, so that it looks like it's still running carbies. The main reason for this was so that it met the Euro 3 anti-pollution legislation. Experience with other fuel-injected Triumphs suggests that this should be smooth running and efficient. Triumph do fuel-injection pretty well!
The fuel-injection has resulted in a few more horses; with power going to 45kW. Apart from that though, it's pretty much as it was.
A few more significant changes have happened for 2011. Wheels have changed. The front wheel is now 19" (instead of the previous 18"), and the back wheel is wider. Hmm, might not do wonders for the handling?
Perhaps the main changes have been in the area of rider ergonomics. The bars are wider and moved closer to the rider; that gives you better control, and it's also good for shorter riders. In line with this the forward controls have been brought a little closer to the rider too. Being of lanky build I never had a problem with the controls, but I suppose shorter riders may have. Oh, and the seat is lower too.
The bike gets more of a "stripped-back" appearance, with the removal of the fork shrouds, and the removal of one front disc.
Being "bad" doesn't mean you have to be black; it is now available in red too. I mostly prefer bikes to be of coloured finish, not black, but I reckon black works with the "bad" attitude of the bike. Mechanically it's identical to the 2010 model.
The America has come in for changes too. Interestingly, they've gone the other way with the front wheel on the America; it's gone from an 18" down to a 16" with a fat 130-width tyre. They've also changed the ergonomics to make it suit shorter riders. Mechanically it is the same as the Speedmaster, of course.
I reckon both these bikes are good; and they offer a nice alternative to the plethora of Harley clones with V-twin donks. Good on ya, Triumph!
One of our regular readers (who wishes to remain annonymous), who is a highly experienced rider, recently test-rode a current model and wrote to me with his opinions.
He said he first thought of me when he noticed the distinct pressure the ridding-position puts on the lower back. He said, “Whenever I came across a road imperfection I was, like you, given a sharp punch in the guts, which was certainly not a fun part of the ride but comes with the turf with bikes of this design as you noted regarding ergos and rear suspension set-up. The rest of the time, the suspension was absolutely fine.”
He said that he mostly agreed with what I’d written in my test back in 2007, particularly in regard to, “The design, feel, and ride impression etc.” He did have a different opinion on cornering clearance though. He wrote: “It handled some corners fine, but there were so many times on corners ranging from roundabouts and intersections through to sweepers and tight bends on back roads that I quickly developed a Speedmaster-specific technique of lifting my inside leg up and out of the way so that the foot peg, which was scraping the ground, would be able to use all of it’s spring-fold capability. I was careful not to scrape the exhaust, but you could do this easily enough if you wanted to. There is no question about the limited clearance though. I’d scraped both pegs just commuting home from the dealer.”
He found the power quite adequate for the bike. He said, “ I am usually quite underwhelmed by mid size cruisers, but this didn’t feel like it needed a bigger engine. That said, I was riding in a manner and location where grunt wasn’t really required. For example, I never found myself on a hill wanting to overtake a truck and just roll on the throttle in top gear to do so, hence this can’t be regarded as a comprehensive test.”
There have been changes to the ergonomics of the bike – as mentioned in the 2011 up-date above – which he said would probably have, “a tall guy like yourself even more uncomfortable.”
Our reader echoed my sentiments with the handling of the new one. He wrote: “The tyre sizes and suspension geometry tell a story before you even leave the dealership. A raked out 100 front tyre and a 170 rear tells you it is going to be cruiser-ish but not a beast to turn like some of the cruisers which over-tyre the rear in their quest for a tough look (to the detriment of cornering efficiency). Likewise the front is wide enough to achieve the desired cruiser look, but doesn’t suffer from tram tracking or slow turn in (the bars are quite wide, which also assists turn in). I found the front end one you could rely upon quite a bit, even though it may not appear so. It certainly has the ability to turn in quickly and to hold a line, but is let down by cornering clearance due to those pegs.”
He said that the sound from the stock pipes, “is still excellent.”