Want the style of the Ton-Up boys but without the oil leaks? Triumph’s got the answer in the all-new Street Cup café racer.
If there’s ever a country that can lay claim to legitimately inventing a segment, it’s Great Britain with the café racer. And if there’s a brand that can lay claim to more genuine heritage than anyone to this style of machine, it’s that most British of brands, Triumph.
It all started with The Ton-Up boys. These grease-ball geezers of the early 1960s forged the café racing legend by taking British singles from Triumph, Norton, AJS and Matchless, stripping them to nothing and ripping around London in an effort to “do the ton”—in other words, 100 mph. Later, in mid-1960s Britain, the Ton-Up boys merged into the well-known gang “The Rockers” and had a long-running war between the scooter riding “Mods” group—but that’s another story.
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Photography by Triumph
What isn’t another story is the style that era of no rules riding produced. In a motorcycle industry that loves looking backward to go forward, a café racer represents the ultimate in no-holds-barred teenage abandon. It’s a feeling that as we get older, we wish we could get back. At least, I do.
Triumph seems to think so too, and for 2017, exactly 53 years after the legendary “Battle of Brighton” between the Rockers and the Mods, we have an all-new cafe racer in the Street Cup.
The Street Cup represents a link between old and new Triumph. As part of a three-bike attack on the modern/retro market (Street Twin, Street Cup and Street Scrambler), the Street Cup uses the latest Bonneville-derived 900cc, 270° crank parallel-twin that cranks out a claimed 55 horsepower at 5900 rpm and 59 lb.-ft. of torque at 3230 rpm, pushing a claimed 441 pounds of dry weight. The chassis doesn’t vary a great deal from the donor Street Twin machine—the twin rear shocks are 8mm longer and mount a little higher than the Street Twin, giving the bike more weight on the front. The front geometry is steeper (24.3° rake for the Street Cup versus 25.1° for the Street Twin), although the same front suspension is used. The Street Cup is also 0.8 inches longer in the wheelbase, and 0.8 inches taller in seat height.
Aside from those main chassis differences, the rest of the Street Cup is a styling exercise. At the front is a neat little yellow fly screen; the tank has been beautifully decorated with hand-painted striping and the back-end now sports the ubiquitous café racer single seat cowl. Smaller changes come with the pin-stripe wheels, matte-black mufflers, and fork guards round off the aesthetic differences.
Spanish Café Racing
Our test loop for the Street Cup took us into the mountains surrounding southern Spain’s Andalusia region of Seville, nestled 100 miles or so from the Portuguese border to the west and the Strait of Gibraltar and the gateway to Africa to the south. Here, the mountain roads snake between orange plantations and tapas bars born from a time long ago, so riding a bike whose genesis was spawned more than 50 years’ prior seems somehow fitting.
For me, the star of the show is not the café racer-riding experience itself, but that Bonneville-derived motor. This is the first time I’ve ridding the new powerplant as I haven’t yet sampled the Street Twin, and having ridden a heap of 865cc Triumph Thruxtons over the years, this new engine is a night and day improvement.
The 900cc Bonneville motor is velvety smooth—if lacking in overall power. Triumph has fitted it with twin counter-balancers to expel almost all the engine vibrations, and the result is a simply marvelous example of custard-smooth parallel twin riding. The new motor runs the 270° crank as opposed to the old Bonnies that used a traditional 360° unit, and that serves to give the motor a bit more grunt down low without the want of revs that came with Bonnies of old.
But in the Street Cup, I’d have liked a little more grunt to match the racer lurking somewhere in this bike. The smoothness is an absolute plus for this motor, but more grunt (somewhere in the 60-horsepower range), would be a welcome feature. But the fuel-injection is excellently mapped, so early throttle openings on the side of the tire are not met with the thud you’d get from previous Trumpy twins. The gearbox is also a vast improvement with smooth and precise shifts from the five speed unit—but the final gearing is pretty tall, which can go a way to explaining why the engine feels like it’s lacking in overall grunt.
The chassis is comfortable without being too extreme. Looking at the riding position, you could be forgiven for thinking an aching back and wrists are par for the course, but I was pleasantly surprised after an afternoon on the yellow rocket. Triumph hasn’t mounted the bars around the top of the fork legs like real clip-ons, but instead used a bar across the top triple clamp with alloy inserts to make for a nicer riding position than would otherwise be expected when the term “café racer” is used. Part of this comfort comes down to the Bullet seat, which is aesthetically beautiful but just as comfortable, so long days are not a big deal on this bike.
The front end is un-adjustable and set quite soft—this bike doesn’t like being thrown hard into corners and isn’t going to give you Daytona 675R levels of confidence inspiring feel when you do. It’s an old-school riding style (think Mike Hailwood) that gets the most from a Street Cup. Be gentle in your movements and the Street Cup will follow your commands—get violent and ride it like a superbike and you’ll have a horrible time at best, at worst you’ll taste some of that tarmac that’s fast disappearing below you.
The rear shocks do a good job of keeping the ride comfortable and on line—I went looking for potholes to see how hard the kick from the back was but at slow-to medium speed, the Street Cup behaved well and took out much of the shock that would otherwise be transferred to my ass.
One glaring problem is the front brakes are not what I would consider adequate. The single disc, Nissin two-piston caliper and master-cylinder set-up doesn’t have enough bite, and high-speed stops are best thought about fairly far in advance. The ABS system that Triumph says has no visual impact on the bike works fine, although we’d have to argue the visual impact quote when looking at the ABS ring on the inside of the disc.
Rockers For The New Millennium
Regardless of these shortcomings, Triumph has done a good job with the new Street Cup. My prediction is it will not sell as well as the Street Twin, a bike that Triumph claims outsold every other Bonneville bike two-to-one last year, but it’s a solid addition to the line-up that is completed by the Street Scrambler.
There’re more than 120 individual accessories for the Street Cup (over 450 for the Street range), so you’ll easily be able to create a Street Cup all your own without having to venture too far out of the official Triumph accessory range.
The Street Cup has been launched right at a time when factory-built café racers are now in vogue. BMW will enter the game this year with the R nineT Racer, Ducati has the Scrambler Café Racer, Moto Guzzi has had the V7 II Café Racer for some time and on the other side of the financial scale is Norton with its 961 Café Racer MKII. Competition is fierce but with heritage on their side, I have a sneaking suspicion Triumph will get their fair share of the café racer pie, simply because the brand is synonymous with the segment.
But that means nothing if the bike is no good—thankfully Triumph doesn’t have to worry about that because the Street Cup not only embodies the style and pizzazz of the Ton-Up boys but delivers on the promise of an excellent café racing experience. CN
Join us for a quick jaunt around sunny Spain on the brand-new Triumph Street Cup cafe racer in the video below!
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 Triumph Street Cup
Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel-twin
Bore x stroke:
84.6 x 80mm
55 hp @ 5900 rpm
59 lb-ft @ 3230rpm
Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Brushed 2-into-2 exhaust system with twin brushed silencers
Tubular steel cradle
KYB 41mm forks, un-adjustable; 4.7 in. travel
KYB twin shocks with adjustable preload. 4.7 in. travel
Single 310mm floating disc, 2-piston Nissin floating caliper, ABS
Single 255mm disc, Nissin two-piston floating caliper, ABS
100/90-18 Pirelli Phantom SportsComp
150/70 R17 Pirelli Phantom SportsComp
43.5 in. (without mirrors)
441 lbs (claimed).
Racing Yellow/Silver Ice, Jet Black/Silver Ice