For many Triumph fans around the world, even those seduced by the appeal of its current range of triples, the British brand’s iconic signature model is its born-again Bonneville twin. It’s a modern classic that originally debuted in dealer showrooms over half a century ago in 1959, and was then revived by current owner John Bloor and his men back in 2000.
Since then, exactly 138,734 examples of the air/oil-cooled 790/865cc parallel-twin have been sold, spread between its Bonneville, Scrambler, T100, Thruxton, America and Speedmaster variants. Considering that in 2011 Triumph built its 500,000th motorcycle since Bloor restarted production of the historic marque in 1990, this means that around 25 per cent of the bikes produced since then have been parallel-twins, fuelling a massive 146 per cent growth in Triumph’s share of the plus-500cc global market since 2000 – the best of any major manufacturer, during a decade when sales in that sector suffered a 19 per cent slump.
For tens of thousands of Bonneville owners, the air-cooled parallel-twin in its various guises gives them everything they’re looking for in a real-world motorcycle. Only, there’s always room for improvement, plus the factory doesn’t always necessarily tailor the different variations to suit the specific tastes of some customers. This means there’s been plenty of scope for Britain’s leading Triumph aftermarket specialist, Norman Hyde, to step in and give them what they’re looking for – first with the Hyde Bonneville TX, a ’60s-style café racer based on the Thruxton, complete with added go to match the period show, then with the Hyde Bonneville SS, a more authentic take on the marque’s dual-purpose Scrambler.
Next up was the Harris-framed Hyde Harrier, a thoroughly modern Sport Classic with Öhlins suspension and a tuned Bonneville big-bore engine, but now Hyde has turned his attention to a Speedmaster-based tourer – another bike Triumph itself doesn’t make (well, not yet, anyway!).
Hyde himself gave a decade of service as a development engineer in the Meriden factory’s Experimental Department, later working on the Rob North 750 triples and other race bikes under the company’s late, great technical guru, Doug Hele. A parallel career saw his weekends spent drag racing a succession of ever more fearsome supercharged and/or twin-engined Triumph speed missiles of awesome performance and unlikely cubic capacity, all of which Norman created himself with the aid of accumulated factory knowledge. In fact, Mr Hyde claimed the World Sidecar Land Speed Record in September 1972 at 161.8mph (259km/h), a mark which remained unbeaten for more than 35 years.
All this stood Hyde in good stead when the Meriden factory was demolished after the 1983 collapse of the workers’ cooperative, allowing him to become a mainstay of the born-again British Bike movement in the pre-Bloor era. He’d already opened his own performance house in 1976 with redundancy money that arrived when NVT tried to shut Meriden down in ’74, sacking 3000 workers, including him. Norman Hyde Ltd. is now housed near Warwick, complete with the old Triumph factory’s gates, along with a host of other Triumph memorabilia. incorporated in its building, as well as the front door, neon sign and lots of other Meriden memorabilia. First producing Triumph performance parts for classic era Triumphs, his catalogue switched to components for modern Hinckley triples in the ’90s, and now he specialises in a wide range of parts for the new Bonneville twins.
In order to create the Hyde Speedmaster TC (as in Touring Cruiser), Norman took a stock 2010 Bonneville Speedmaster, retained the DOHC eight-valve engine’s stock 865cc format and then equipped the bike with just about every possible relevant accessory from his aftermarket catalogue, transforming it into a genuine middleweight mile-eater. I borrowed it for a week to explore Hyde’s historic Midlands home town, interspersed with trips further afield to test the long-haul pretensions.
"Sales of the Speedmaster and America cruisers have been rising – more so than any of the other Bonnevilles, at least here in the UK," explains Norman. "Dealers are selling as many cruisers as conventional bikes – a lot of them to older riders looking for something with a relaxed riding position but some sporting character."
Firstly, in response to both dealer and customer feedback, a kit was made to bring the footrests back 115mm, with linkages to suit. "That already made it more comfortable for everyone, without a riding position that’s like sitting on the floor, trying to touch your toes!," says Hyde.
I’m not excessively tall, but I couldn’t help but ride the bike with my knees splayed out due to the shape of the fuel tank, and the fact I couldn’t put my feet flat on the footrests because of their location didn’t help. At the moment the footrests are in the wrong place for someone of my height (5ft 11in or 181cm), and the result is your ankles get sore from being bent unduly.
The next things to develop were a gel seat as well as more compliant twin rear shocks, replacing the stock (and over-sprung) Kayabas. "Every time you go over a bump or a pothole, the road shock is all fed up your spine. That makes the quality of suspension absolutely crucial, as well as the nature of the seat padding." says Hyde.
The Speedmaster is fitted with a pair of Ikon shocks specially tailored to the bike, with four-click adjustable rebound damping and a wider range of three-position preload for what are progressive-rate springs. They are supple enough to allow the wheel to follow the contours of the road without bottoming out, instead stiffening up as they near full compression. I indeed found these a big improvement over stock, delivering much improved ride quality and compliance.
Up front, the 41mm Kayaba forks have now been fitted with Ikon progressive-rate springs that are adjustable only for preload. "The standard springs use quite a lot of preload, but still when you hit the twin-disc front brake, you bury your nose in the floor," states Hyde. "Our springs use reduced preload, but then have a rising-rate progression, so the bike doesn’t dip in the same way." However, I’m not so convinced of that after my week’s ride, because even with the stock brake package of twin 310mm Sunstar discs gripped by comparatively low-rent twin-piston Nissin calipers, the Speedmaster TC still nosedives quite dramatically when you lean on the brakes from any sort of speed. Ride quality was good, though, and low-speed braking didn’t produce any unruliness, only when the forks had to cope with the added weight transfer of a high speed stop. More work is needed here – maybe thicker fork oil might do the trick?
The TC also sported an adjustable Norman Hyde made-in-Japan steering damper, which worked quite smoothly but is of little benefit on a bike with such rangy steering geometry. To be honest, it’s probably only there as part of the bike’s function as a rolling showcase for the Norman Hyde aftermarket catalogue, same as the reason there are no pillion footrests on the bike. I discovered that fact the hard way, after wheeling the Triumph out for a sunny afternoon ride for my wife Stella and I. Mission aborted!
Thing is, had Stella been able to come for that ride, I reckon she’d have approved of the comfy and spacious Hyde ‘king and queen’ gel seat, made locally in Birmingham. It’s much more comfortable, especially for the passenger. The Speedmaster’s standard seat design blends in with the mudguard, thus its thickness diminishes in the pillion area. Not so on the Hyde version – plus it seems like it’d be too easy to slip off the back of this version of the Bonneville in stock form. Hence the choice of two Hyde sissy bars for the bike – a lower one for the factory seat, and a higher one for the thicker Hyde seat.
The other big change in the TC package is the so-called M-section handlebars which, at 730mm in width, are 100mm narrower and 70mm closer to the rider, and thus completely different in shape from the stock ’bars. The result is a completely different set of ergonomics to the 2011 factory Triumph, which results in a much more upright stance that is relatively untiring, even though you must reach forward to hold the dropped grips, that are pulled back. "We’ve sold literally thousands of these over the years, and they’re bent in such a way that you can turn them over if you want, to give a higher or a lower setting, as you prefer," says Hyde. Thankfully, the mirror extensions allow you to see something more behind than just your shoulders.
Thumbing the starter sends the torquey engine rumbling into life with an offbeat lilt from the 270-degree crank, and a satisfying growl from the TOGA pea-shooter slip-on stainless steel silencers that Hyde’s fitted to the bike. These are double-skinned at the front to prevent discolouration, leading to a straight-through Burgess-type double silencer, with the dimensions of the perforated tubing inside, carefully tailored to give just the right noise.
There’s a slash-cut TOGA exhaust option which Hyde says his American customers prefer, while Brits and Australasians generally opt for the pea-shooters, complete with period-style pop-back on the overrun! "This type of sound is important to us, and most of our customers think it’s great because it sounds like their old classic bike," says Norman. "There’s no ECU remapping needed from a safety or performance point of view to remove this – it won’t harm the engine. The pop back through the silencers applies to any free-flowing exhaust on a Bonneville, and the zero-cost option is just to move the throttle forward a fraction off the stop when you’re slowing down, which lets the fuel in and immediately stops it dead. You can buy a Power Commander to remove it, though, which we have ready and remapped as the expensive option. In the middle, Triumph itself sells ‘Track Day Only’ silencers, so it has a remap for this kind of pipe."
The Speedmaster motor is as easy to ride as ever, and it’s also much smoother than its obvious rival, Harley’s 883 Sportster, leading to reduced fatigue on long runs. There, the TC’s big Givi screen came into its own, delivering total protection at any speed, although its sheer width means riding at sustained speeds of over 100mph (160km/h) will induce buffeting. It’s very quiet and totally effective, though anyone of remotely normal size will look through it rather than over it – one reason it’s so effective, to the point you only need wet-weather gear for torrential rain.
Givi also supplies the attractive panniers fitted to the TC, and while at 21lt each they won’t take a helmet, they do carry enough for a weekend away for two – they also detach readily, and are easy to carry around. There’s a 46lt topbox also available, as well as a bigger 36lt pannier option (which still, however, won’t take a helmet – even an open-face one). Also fitted to the test bike was Hyde’s aftermarket centrestand, a robust fitment that works well, thanks to its placement and the addition of the accompanying pull-out handle.
Norman Hyde and his men have created a touring cruiser that will hit the target for many of Triumph’s customers, but at what cost? Well, the total tax-free retail price in the UK of all the extras listed here (less the steering damper and pillion blanker kit) comes to £2043.50 (A$3132.04) plus shipping – not a bad sum for a thorough transformation of a popular Triumph model.