Testing the Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster, A Review

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Friendly. That’s probably not the first word that Triumph would use to describe its low-slung, 1,200cc Bonneville Speedmaster, but let me explain.

There are some motorcycles that you ride that take a long time to get to know. They have quirks or idiosyncrasies to which one must adjust.

The Speedmaster, on the other hand, is the antithesis of that concept. Within 5-minutes of leaving our hotel in Carlsbad, California the Speedmaster felt completely familiar and intuitive.

It was a maneuverable and fun partner in urban riding, smooth and comfortable on the highway, and dare I say nimble and easy to ride in the twisties.

It is much closer to a standard motorcycle in function than a typical cruiser.


Unlike the previous version of the Speedmaster, this new version stays much closer to Triumph’s Bonneville roots. The shape of the tank, the lustrous paint job, and the 16-inch wire-spoked wheels – front and back – all harken to earlier Bonneville design elements from the 1960s.

This bike is also closely related to the current Bonneville Bobber and borrows many of its styling features including the engine, the hardtail look “cage” swingarm, and the tank shape, though the Speedmaster’s is about a gallon larger.

The Speedmaster, though, adds forward mounted pegs and the ability to carry a passenger.

Triumph did a fantastic job of paying attention to styling details, especially on the engine, with no visible plumbing, a hidden catalytic converter, carb styled throttle bodies, and machined engine fins. The paint, badges, and finishes are all top notch.

If you like the old Bonneville’s style, you’ll most likely feel very comfortable with the design of the Speedmaster.

Details, Details…

Before I get into my actual riding impressions, let’s dive into some of the bike’s technical details. The Speedmaster is propelled by a 1,200cc liquid cooled parallel twin engine, which is very smooth, while making good, tractable power throughout the rev range.

The engine uses the same high torque tuning as the Bonneville Bobber, making around 77hp and 78 lbs•ft of torque. Twin exhausts emit a lovely, rumbling sound that is much better than most stock exhaust systems. A chain final drive delivers power to the rear wheel and traction control helps keep the power in check.

With decent power on tap, it helps to have good stopping power and the Speedmaster provides just that. With twin 310mm Brembo brakes, with two piston floating calipers, and a 255mm Nissin single piston setup in the back, the Speedmaster provides a very un-cruiser like braking experience.

In addition to being able to stop well, the suspension of the Speedmaster is also up to the task. The front consists of 41mm cartridge forks with 3.5-inches of travel.

The rear suspension setup is a good balance of style and performance, with an easily accessible, preload adjustable mono-shock hidden under the seat with 2.9 inches of travel.

Stylistically, the hidden suspender, along with the cage style swingarm, allows the Triumph to have a hardtail look while still providing good suspension performance.

So, How Does It Ride?

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Speedmaster is a friendly and fun motorcycle. Triumph conducted their press introduction for this bike in Carlsbad, California at the Cape Rey Resort.

Our all-day route on the Speedmaster took us from Carlsbad to the technical turns of Mt. Palomar, back down the east side of the mountain into the town of Julian, and back to Carlsbad via Ramona.

Ergonomics for this bike are comfortable. The seat height is a low 27.8 inches, the feet forward riding position is not extreme, the beach bars pull back to within easy reach of the rider, the seat is all-day comfortable, and the clutch and brake levers are both adjustable.

I know the cruiser riding position isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but in this case, the ergonomics are well executed.

The stop-and-go riding along the Pacific Coast through Carlsbad was a great way to get to know the Speedmaster. Throttle response is good, and the clutch pull is feather light.

This light pull is facilitated by the use of a torque assist clutch. Engagement is almost immediate as the lever leaves the bar, but is easily modulated.

The suspension did a good job of soaking up irregularities, such as man hole covers and pot holes. Not once during the ride did I get the usual tailbone beating that I have suffered so often on under-suspended bikes of this genre.

As we rode through town in a tight formation, the dual front discs performed admirably, offering strong and easily modulated stopping power.

Leaving the Carlsbad city limits, we began to wind our way towards the Yellow Deli in Lilac for our first stop. After loading up on coffee and overly healthy smoothies, we headed back out towards Mt. Palomar.

The road became distinctly more twisty, yet the Speedmaster handled predictably. This is definitely a confidence inspiring bike.

As we wound up the mountain, the turns became more and more technical, which showcased some strengths and weaknesses of this motorcycle. First, the engine provides plenty of useable power and is very flexible.

The parallel twin is very smooth and makes good power from 2,000-4,500 RPM. The motor is very torquey and doesn’t require a lot of downshifting. In the slower speed turns, it was easy to leave the Speedmaster in 2nd gear the whole time and modulate corner speed with just the throttle.

When it was time to really scrub off speed, the brakes continued their excellent performance, with good feel and progression. I never used more than two fingers on the front brake, which was plenty.

The rear brake also had good feel and was quite handy for the repeated U-turns during our photo shoot. Even while bombing down the mountain, I didn’t sense any brake fade.

Just as it had during the ride through town, the suspension continued to do an admirable job, even in tight and bumpy turns. As cruisers go, this is a willing dance partner in the twisties.

The bike weighs 540 lbs, the wheelbase is a bit over 59 inches, and the 25.3 degrees of rake and 3.6 inches of trail provide responsive, yet stable turning characteristics.

Though this bike is a lot of fun, the tight turns did bring a few shortcomings to light. First, the throttle response that was so pleasant in town became a bit twitchy in the really tight turns, especially on bumpy turns where wrist movement at the throttle translated into mid-corner jerkiness.

This issue was easily remedied by changing the riding mode from road to rain. The Speedmaster delivers full power in both of these modes, but the rain mode provides a more gentle application of the throttle.

A simple push of a single button on the right grip changed modes and after I switched modes, the twitchiness was gone.

Another potential shortcoming that occurred during the technical portion of the ride is not the fault of the motorcycle, but rather, of the cruiser genre as a whole and that’s a lack of cornering clearance. In the really tight turns, the pegs scraped quite easily.

I’m not a racer or track day rider, and come from a touring background, but even I, the Captain Slow of Asphalt & Rubber, was able to drag pegs regularly.

Not really a problem for me, but some of my faster compatriots definitely saw it as a limiting factor. But let’s face it, most riders who purchase this motorcycle will not be screaming through the mountain passes of California.

My third and biggest complaint about this bike is the bend of the beach bars. The reach to the bars was quite perfect for me, but the angle of the bar-end created a carpal tunnel nightmare.

One’s wrists should be in a straight line at the bar; not at a 45-degree outward angle. After an hour of riding, my wrists and forearms were quite sore. Thankfully, these bars are tubular and are easily replaced.

After a good meal and an opportunity to warm-up, our group headed east down Mt. Palomar towards the town of Julian. It’s on this stretch of road where the Speedmaster really shined. The turns on the east side of the mountain were less tight and opened up more towards the bottom.

This was the Speedmaster’s real comfort zone. Stable handling with good feel made the sweepers a lot of fun. The bike maintained a good clip as we barreled down the mountain towards the Julian Pie Company.

After some amazing apple pie in Julian, it was time to gas up and head back towards Carlsbad. The Speedmaster has a 3.2 gallon tank and the bike gets 50 mpg, resulting in a range of 160 miles.

On this final stretch of the ride, we had a chance to try the Speedmaster on the highway. With California traffic moving fast, the Speedmaster had no problem keeping up with the flow, with ample passing power in reserve, even in 6th gear.

Additionally, the freeway stretch gave me a chance to test the easy to use cruise control. A single push of a button on the left grip turns on the cruise and a second push locks in the speed. Touching either brake, the clutch, or the throttle cancels the requested velocity.

The system held the speed well without any perceptible fluctuations. Overall, the Speedmaster handles highway travel well, and with a windshield, would make an excellent light touring machine.

Odds and Ends

This motorcycle offers many little features that are worthy of mention. For example, the stylish looking instrument panel consists of only one instrument, but that single dial and LCD offers a wealth of information including an odometer, two trip meters, tachometer, clock, gear position indicator, average and current fuel consumption, and range to empty.

Additionally, the Speedmaster features a 5” full LED headlight with a daytime running light. The tail light, turn signals, and number plate light are also LED and are nicely visible.

Maintenance intervals are every 10,000 miles, which means more time riding and less time in the service bay.

Finally, if the stock bike doesn’t quite suit your tastes, Triumph offers many ways to customize your Speedmaster, with two inspiration packs to satisfy your needs.

The first is the more touring oriented highway pack, which adds a windshield, black waxed cotton saddle bags, a comfort riding seat with wider pillion and back rest, and chrome engine bars and luggage rack.

The second pack is focused on the single-seat bobber look and is called the Maverick. It adds a brown quilted single rider seat, lower, flatter handlebars, a Vance and Hines pipe in black, and black styling accessories.

You can also customize the Speedmaster with over 130 accessories from Triumph’s line. The Speedmaster is an easily customizable blank slate from which to start.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed my time on the Bonneville Speedmaster. It brings a nice combination of performance, modern features, and vintage style. Unlike many cruisers, this did not feel like a compromised motorcycle and offers a lot of bang for the buck.

Compared to bikes like the Indian Scout, the now defunct Victory Octane, and the Harley Sportster, this feels like a much more complete motorcycle and offers a better blend of heritage style with modern technology. The Speedmaster starts at $13,150 and is available in black, red, or two tone with pin stripes.

Photos: © 2018 Kingdom Creative – All Rights Reserved

Andrew Kohn

Space industry professional full time. Motorcycle writer and photographer part time. Motorcycle rider all the time. Ducati and Honda owner. A&R’s own Captain Slow.