This article was originally published in the April 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

In its first year on the market, Triumph's Bonneville America leapt to the top of the company's 2002 U.S. sales charts. The America was the first variation on the Bonneville, and was a way for the new Triumph to return to the vertical-twin roots of the original Triumph motorcycle company, whose name and mantle it had adopted. The new Triumph's Bonneville emulates the original Triumph twins that faded away two decades ago. The America is, no surprise, an Americanized Bonneville. In other words, it's a cruiser. It struts a longer wheelbase, and the 790cc DOHC engine gets a 270-degree crankshaft to give it a more appropriate exhaust beat.

Using a name drawn from an unofficial designation applied by one of Triumph’s American distributors in the mid-1960s (finding evocative names for new models seems to be a challenge for all bike makers these days), the Speedmaster gets a more aggressive style but no major performance changes to back it up. The only functional differences in the drivetrain are slightly shorter gearing, which may help the Speedmaster accelerate a bit quicker, and a bump in the rev limiter of a few hundred rpm to 7500. The addition of a tachometer, set into the tank-top console, permits the rider to monitor engine speed.

2003 Triumph Speedmaster Details
The addition of a tachometer in the tank-top cluster is a pleasant change from the America, and the low bar works better on the road. However, you aren't likely to entice too many passengers to join you on long rides with that seat.Courtesy of Triumph

The big differences between the America and the Speedmaster are visual, though there are some changes in the ergonomics as well. Overall, the look is cleaner, with a slight performance cast. To alter the profile, the wide, swooping bar of the America gave way to a flat bar on tall risers, and the America’s full seat was supplanted by a saddle with a sort of racing profile that tapers at the rear to just a thin, narrow passenger pad. Cast wheels, with a disc style at the rear, replace the Bonnie’s wire-spoke hoops, and the Speedmaster has dual disc brakes with two-piston calipers up front. Lots of black paint completes the transformation. The engine is finished in crinkle black with the fins of the eight-valve head polished. The darkness extends to the fenders and those plates that cover the passenger peg brackets. Color—either red or yellow—is combined with black on the gas tank.

I spent a day riding a new Speedmaster around the mountains and coastal plains north of Santa Barbara, California, and quickly discovered that I like it much better than the America. The cleaner, more aggressive styling is much more appealing, and the ergonomics suit me better. Ergonomics are the primary functional difference between the Speedmaster and the America. The saddle is not as full, but it proved to be accommodating for a few hours, although a slightly firmer foam would perform better on long rides (though probably not as well in the showroom). The riding position puts your feet well forward, which requires that the seat bear more of your weight, but the flat, fairly wide rider’s portion supported me well. Triumph is offering replacement saddles, including one with a gel insert. Passengers will doubtlessly find the passenger’s seat—or lack thereof—to be torture even on a short ride. The long-wheelbase chassis makes the machine roomy for a rider of average height.

2003 Triumph Speedmaster Rear
Blacking out the engine and hardware on the sides gives the bike a cleaner appearance than the America. Dual discs on the cast front wheel improve stopping power, but add unsprung weight.Courtesy of Triumph

Vibration is minimal; even as the tachometer needle swings past 7000 rpm, the Speedmaster is smooth. However, the suspension doesn’t coddle you as well as the engine does, a fact that was emphasized by some of the rough roads the Triumph folks chose for the press ride. The bumpy pavement beat me up a bit more than I am used to, even with other 800 twins.

The flat bar gives just the right steering leverage, less than on the America, making the Speedmaster a pleasure on winding roads. It also reduces your exposure to wind pressure on the highway; the company offers four windshield choices if you prefer even less wind pressure. Ground clearance, while not exceptional, is adequate for riders who want to charge the corners in a cruiserly manner. When leaned over, the Speedmaster feels settled and stable and the Metzelers offer confident traction. Although they have plenty of power, the brakes were easy to control during hard stops.

2003 Triumph Speedmaster
Ground clearance on the Speedmaster, while not exceptional, is adequate if you want to charge the corners in a cruiserly manner.Courtesy of Triumph

I’m not sure I could feel the gearing advantage claimed by the Speedmaster, but I wasn’t disappointed by its acceleration. The engine is responsive, with a bit less flywheel and a bit more punch than most other 800 twins. No flat spots mar the power delivery, and there’s no drivetrain lash to make the bike lurch during quick on/off throttle transitions. The bike I rode felt slightly stiff when upshifting through neutral, but the clutch and gearbox were otherwise splendid. The bikes in our group averaged about 38 mpg.

Triumph recognizes the desire to customize a cruiser and offers a variety of bolt-on accessories. There are color-matched side covers, a variety of traditional tank badges and even kneepads to change the character of the bike. Custom-painted bodywork is available, along with chromed versions of the license-plate bracket, foot control bar, passenger peg brackets, shift lever, and covers for the sprocket, chain, cam box, battery box, lower yoke and lifter arm. In addition, besides the seat and windshield, you can add functionality with a luggage rack, a choice of saddlebags, backrest, an engine guard, floorboards and a light bar. If you accept that no passenger is ever going to want to deal with that butt wedge, there are covers to mount when you remove the passenger pegs. You can also replace the tach with a clock.

Overall, the Speedmaster is a pleasant middleweight ride, with a look that is cleaner and draws more from Triumph tradition than the similar America. The improved detailing alone makes it worth the additional $300.