Distance no object for the new Trophy

It's exactly five years since the Triumph motorcycle firm was reborn, putting the British industry back on the map in a manner that not even the most optimistic enthusiast had thought possible. Since then the progress of the company, owned by building millionaire John Bloor, has been relentless. Production has risen from fewer than 2,000 bikes in 1991 to last year's figure of more than 12,000, with a further increase due even before a large new factory, next to the current site at Hinckley in Leicestershire, opens in a year or two's time.

Triumph's first bike back in 1991 was a sports tourer called the Trophy, and it's a sign of the firm's policy of steady development that this year's most significant new machines have the same name. One criticism of early Triumphs was that the different models, all built using an innovative modular concept by which many components were shared to reduce costs, were too similar. Triumph is nothing if not receptive to criticism, and has since introduced modifications to make each machine more specialised.

In the case of the Trophy, available in 900cc three-cylinder and 1200cc four-cylinder form, this has meant moving further towards the touring side of the spectrum, with added comfort, weather- protection and luggage- carrying ability. The latest 900cc model's water-cooled, twin-cam engine is unchanged, putting out a maximum of 94bhp through its six-speed gearbox. So, too, are many other components, including the frame, which is based around a large-diameter steel spine beneath the petrol tank.

Many other parts are new and designed for touring, most noticeably the Trophy's large plastic fairing with its distinctive pair of chrome-rimmed headlamps. The swept-back windscreen is broader than before; the fairing contains a couple of lockable glove compartments; a fuel gauge and clock are included in the instruments; and the Triumph has a pair of large, colour-matched luggage panniers, each capable of swallowing a full-face helmet. All of these are useful features for the long-distance rider.

The added weather protection certainly makes the Trophy better suited to chilly British weather, as I discovered on a trip from the Midlands to London via Wales. Heated handlebar grips will be available as an option in time for next winter, and I was wishing the 900 had them fitted as I headed down the M5 on a bitterly cold day. At speed, the big fairing kept off most of the wind, but turbulence from the screen created a roar that rapidly became tiring. Some rival tourers have a height-adjustable screen, a feature the Trophy could usefully incorporate.

Triumph's supremely smooth three-cylinder engine is well-suited to a touring bike, and helped the miles slip past almost unnoticed. This Trophy has a top speed of about 140mph, but the most impressive aspect of its performance is the strong delivery at low and medium revs. The Trophy always had instant acceleration on tap, from 2,000rpm to the 9,500rpm redline. Only the three-cylinder engine's thirst failed to impress. The Trophy's 25-litre fuel tank is generous, but brisk riding brought consumption tumbling to below 40mpg.

For a big machine the Trophy handled very well, remaining stable at speed in all but the fiercest cross-winds. At 220kg, it's reasonably light by touring-bike standards, and was agile enough to be enjoyable when the motorway ended and I began exploring the narrower, twistier roads of south Wales. The front forks are fairly soft, and tended to dive when the twin front-disc brakes were used hard, but suspension at both ends generally worked well. And the compliant ride, in conjunction with a reshaped dual- seat and revised, slightly raised handlebars, allowed several hours' riding in comfort.

On a long trip a motorcyclist has plenty of time to notice the smallest detail, and the Trophy gets better the more closely it is examined. Its distinctive twin headlamps are bright, the mirrors remain clear, the paint finish - complete with discreet Union Jack logos - is rich. The dual-seat incorporates retractable hooks to hold luggage, plus solid grab-handles for a pillion. Despite their size, the colour-matched panniers are neatly styled and also narrower than the handlebars, a bonus when filtering through traffic.

Competition in the touring bike market has never been fiercer, with Honda's highly competent ST1100 four having recently been joined by BMW's new R1100RT boxer twin, but at pounds 8,889 the Triumph more than holds its own. This reshaped Trophy is a sophisticated and well-equipped touring machine, and it retains the performance and handling ability that made the original model such fun to ride. Triumph has come a long way in the past five years. The Trophy 900 provides further proof that the British motorcycle industry is thriving once again.

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