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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Ride review: Triumph America

2014 Triumph America
Find yourself a sofa -- the comfier the better. Take a seat on the edge of the cushion, in such a way that sweet tushy of yours is supported but your thighs are not. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, now recline your back until it just barely touches the back cushion, but do not put any of your weight on it. At this point you should find your abdominal, back and neck muscles straining to support the weight of your torso. Welcome to the strange core workout that is riding the Triumph America.

It breaks my heart to tell you of how unpleasant is the experience of riding an America. I would almost prefer to lie, or narrowly focus on good things whilst conveniently ignoring any negatives. Like the seat. Golly, that seat is comfy. Oh so lovely and comfy. Sure, it is angled in such a way that you need the abs of King Leonidas to be able to sit on it for more than a few minutes, but in and of itself, it is a great seat.

The reason it breaks my heart to speak ill of the America is that I have loved this bike from the very moment I saw it. Before this blog even existed, the Triumph America was at the top of my wish list. The image of the America served as a nucleus around which my plans to get a bike were formed. Then, about a year ago, I spotted its almost identical twin, the Triumph Speedmaster, in a car park in Bristol and the beauty of the machine almost spoke to me.

The Speedmaster became a go-to dream bike. Search through this blog and you will see it mentioned over and over again -- even more than the Victory Judge or Indian Chief Classic. I love the look of that machine; it is a piece of art. And it was the Speedmaster that I had asked to ride when I went up to Bevan Motorcycles recently. But they didn't have a demo Speedmaster available and offered the America instead.

I happily agreed. After all, the Speedmaster and the America are almost exactly the same bike. Even more so than the Victory Judge and the "new" Victory Gunner. Basically, the only differences are paint and chrome. But because I did not actually ride a Speedmaster, I am going to cling to the desperate hope that it is still, somehow, the perfect bike for me. Whereas the America is not.

In fairness, you could resolve the America's seating issue by simply forking out the extra cash to get a different seat -- one with a back rest, perhaps. There are plenty of aftermarket options available. But the discomfort of the standard ergonomics seemed to open the floodgates for me. Slogging through corners and feeling the ache in my lower back intensify, I found myself having flashbacks to riding the Harley-Davidson SuperLow 883 and the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200

In those test rides there had been some intangible thing that had kept me from thinking, "I need this in my life." I loved them, but did not really find myself thinking seriously about replacing my Honda CBF600SA, as I have with the Triumph Bonneville. That intangible thing is this: I don't like cruisers.

Gasp.

I remember exactly where I was when those words formed in my head. Trauma has burned the moment into memory; I almost pulled to the side of the road and wept. Because it is not really that I don't like cruisers, but that I don't like the way they handle. As things to look at and hear, I love them. But as things to ride, I find them awkward and unpleasant.

In fact, so strong is my love for the cruiser aesthetic that I am refusing to accept my own conclusions. I have decided that it is not that I don't like cruisers, but that I don't like cruisers in Britain. Roads here are surprisingly narrow, crowded and in increasingly poor condition (a). Here in Wales, I am willing to bet, not a single road exists that offers a full mile of straight.

So, when you look at a bike like the Triumph America, the clue is in the name: these are machines made for a different country, a different continent, a different attitude. A place of grids and straight lines, where a large hunk of metal with all the responsiveness of a sedated horse makes sense. Take this motorcycle to the smooth, straight back highways of Minnesota or Texas or the like and it will be comfy bliss (assuming you have a backrest).

Only good on British roads if those roads have been closed
for photography purposes.

In another place, the America would be a lot of fun to ride. Gears are announced with a reassuring "clunk" and there is a comforting grumble within the bike's stock exhaust. It is loud enough to sound like a cruiser but not so much that it hurts the ears or will damage neighbourly relations. Sitting behind the enormous chrome headlight and gripping the bike's wide bars, I felt a bit like Flash Gordon on his weird flying motorcycle thing. The machine has a commanding presence.

The engine's power is similar to that of the Triumph Bonneville, which is not surprising because, you know, that's what a Triumph America is. Indeed, in some circles the America is known as the "Bonneville America." The engine is exactly the same and pulls with with the same useful strength. You have roughly the same amount of torque as with a Harley-Davidson Sportster but it is delivered in a more pleasant way; you don't feel as if your arms are going to be ripped from their sockets; motorway speeds are comfortably achieved, maintained, and exceeded.

At that speed, the bike made my heart ache for the wide concrete rivers of home.  This thing would be so wonderful to ride up to my friend's cabin in Forest Lake, Minnesota, gently navigating the I-35 up from my parents' house in Bloomington, or even trundling up via Highway 61. In the clogged tributaries and streams of Britain, though, constantly shifting was not made easy by the America's stiff clutch and occasionally hard-to-find shifter.

Meanwhile, with the exception of the speedometer, dashboard information is placed on the tank, where it is completely invisible to a rider in motion. What's the point of having a neutral light if you have to be stopped and staring straight down to see it?

Although the bike's weight and bulk made me feel a little more authoritative on the road, it did not leave me feeling as if I could tackle the road with authority. The brakes required more force than I would have anticipated, and on one occasion I found myself floating out into a roundabout because the bike simply was not able to stop in the space I had given it.

And it was more or less at that point that I gave up on the America. In another roundabout I stalled the engine trying to get the bike to jump too quickly from the line and I learned it has a rather stupid safety feature of not being able to start when in gear -- even though I had the clutch pulled in. So, I had to stare down at the tank and dance the shifter until I found neutral, then start it up and put it into gear, by which time the tiny window of opportunity to enter the roundabout had passed and the patience of the driver behind me had utterly dissipated.

I felt frustrated and completely deflated. Maybe my expectations had simply been too high. Having been so near and dear to my heart for so long, maybe no machine could have actually lived up to what I had hoped for the America. But at the end of the ride I found myself quite happy to get off and walk away without so much as a backward glance.

So, you can guess it doesn't fair well in answering my three question test:

Does it belong in my garden?
No. I'd love for it to be there, for me to look at, but it would almost never get used. This is not a bike for this country. I don't fault Triumph for that. In their launch of the latest Thunderbird models they have flat out said they are targeting the United States with their cruisers and aiming to one day be the no. 2 company in the cruiser market there. That's fine. More power to them. And if you are reading this in the United States, I'd suggest giving the America a test ride (just make sure you allocate plenty of space in which to stop). In Triumph's home country, however, these bikes are not fit for purpose. 

Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. That may surprise you to hear me say that. Objectively, though, I enjoyed riding the America. It was a huge disappointment for me because of what I wanted and what I expected, but in and of itself the riding experience is a lot of fun. The engine is smooth and powerful, but just better enjoyed in a standard Bonneville.

Is it better than my current motorcycle?
No. It sounds better, has a (potentially) comfier seat and looks cooler but it is outperformed by my Honda in all the ways that matter to a person riding bad roads on an overpopulated island. In terms of braking and manoeuvrability it is even outpaced by the Harley-Davidson Sportster.

Maybe the Speedmaster is different. Maybe, somehow, it doesn't feel as heavy and the riding experience is more nimble. Maybe, somehow, it stops better. Maybe. Perhaps, though, I'll just hold onto the dream of it as a perfect bike, rather than ever test riding one and risk learning otherwise. The America was enough heartbreak for now.

___________________

(a) Seriously, roads here are awful and many councils have admitted they are simply giving up on maintaining them.

Comments

  1. Even though I've logged thousands of miles riding on the back of Hubby's America, I myself, am not a fan of the riding position piloting one. I find the seating position unnatural and need to scoot all the way up the seat to try and reach the bars and shifter. Thankfully I only had to ride one a few miles into town when SpartanBabe crashed hers and couldn't ride it back into town. Mind you I was riding it with a broken brake lever, stuck throttle and bend shifter. Oh the joy.

    With such high hopes, it is unfortunate that you didn't like it, but I completely understand why.

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  2. I remember when BMW came out with their cruiser, and it looked really awful for a cruiser. But some companies just aren't made for making cruisers, and perhaps Triumph is one.

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  3. I road tested the America and loved it!! It now sits in my garage and I can,t wait for the weekend to ride it!A great bike over here in NZ not sure about your roads thats a bummer for you but at least you have your' bonny

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    Replies
    1. From NZ as well, For me its a comfortable position, I have an LT maybe the seat change from the earlier models are a big improvement.

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  4. 3250 miles just completed in 12 days by 2 unfit 50 year olds and the bikes were a joy and extremely comfortable. Neither of us have abs I can assure you. You talk bollocks

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  5. ridden an America for 700 miles, so comfy and great riding position.
    Get your back and brain seen too !
    KGB

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  6. Hello,

    I found this review while I should have been doing other stuff, and thought I had better leap to the defense of the mighty america.

    Before my wife and I moved to the Middle East from Australia ("just for two years" ... 6 years ago) I had the first model of the America. The one with the old 790cc engine no less.

    I'm 6' (184ish cms) and weigh around 210lbs (95kgs) - and my bike, despite later models being updated to the more powerful engine, was the bike that was supposed to end up in the garage at the end of its serviceable life, to be poked at with beer in my hand, and ridden when the sun was shining.

    I did 60,000 kms on that thing (37000ish miles) , many 8-10 hour days (it happens when you are part of a motor cycle club that live all over the state - coffee is often a 4 hour ride away) and while there were likely to be more comfortable bikes of the era, I didn't have any issues whatsoever. I will admit though that pillions were only good for about 2 hours at a stretch, but that's okay too.

    I didn't have the rider's back rest, only the pillion.

    In all those kms, this thing never let me down, and in the twisties it regularly proved that a well ridden 800cc cruiser will always be faster than a poorly ridden sporty. Yes, Australia is a big flat country, mostly, but most of the riding the club did was through the mountains, so this bike was mostly on one tyre sidewall or another.

    On that, my old America had surprising amounts of cornering clearance. By "surprising" I mean, "More than most mortals can utilise" - yes my boot heels got champhered off on the outsides, and a small scrape appeared at the back of one of the pipes once, but having ridden all manner of metric and imperial cruisers over the years, the America had more clearance than most if not all.

    Will everyone love this bike? Probably not.

    Is it as bad as the tone of this post suggests? Absolutely not, it is actually a great bike. Even in the old 790cc version (that you could pick up for next to nothing now I suspect). Mine had just on 70,000kms when I tearfully had to let it go. The guy bought it over the phone asked whether it would make the trip to Queensland from Victoria, about 1600 kms - without hesitation I said "yes". He came, paid, got on it and did just that, and has put another 40000kms on it since. With NOTHING other than fuel and oil and other servicing bits.

    Killed me to sell the thing, but we didn't know how long we were going to be here, and was stuck between shipping both ways and whether I could get servicing parts (and if something SHOULD go wrong, would there be a mechanic here who knew WTF a triumph was.)

    Storing for years is even more expensive, so it just had to go.

    Why did I find this post? Well... a triumph dealership has just opened here in Dubai. So I thought I'd check to see what the reviews for the current model are like.

    This is the longest in my adult life that I've been without a motorcycle, and it is driving me nuts.

    Would I buy an america again?
    I'd buy my OLD america again. It looked rougher than the current models. Tank seams on the outside etc. The new ones just look a bit smooth.

    Living here the 800 Tiger would be the obvious choice.

    But they have a Standard Bonneville at the dealership as well...

    ...now, to convince the wife that a motorcycle is a great idea, and that the roads here are not as dangerous than the (truthfully) awful statistics suggest.

    THAT is the battle.

    heh heh

    Andrew

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  7. I traded a high mile V-rod for a fresh America. I find it underpowered by comparison but so is everything else in the cruiser category. Your right about the great looks and poor handling. It performs poorly in curves and scrapes the kickstand on the left side. I find it very comfortable with factory floorboards and touring seat. Seating position is a combination of seat, handlebar, and foot configuration and can be adjusted but If you ride sport bikes you'll be disappointed. Try a Rocket 3 with drag bars and center foot controls.

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  8. The moment I read the first two sentences of this post, I knew exactly where it was going. I’m a proud owner of a 2013 Triumph Speedmaster; just finished my 24,000 mile service last week. Without a doubt, I’m very familiar with the first awkward moments of finding an agreeable seating position. After the first few weeks of riding I realized that cruising through town was fine, but once riding at speeds above 55 mph, the wind blast made me feel like I was clutching the bars for dear life. I installed a fly screen and all is forgiven. Admittedly, the Speedmaster has a different front wheel and drag bars; I have sat on several Americas and from what I can tell, the bars on the America are pulled back to more of a degree than the Speedmaster. The drag bars on my Speedmaster mean that I actually lean forward, just a touch, so I suspect that those bars combined with the fly screen have alleviated the need for a serious abdominal workout regimen.

    I’ve only had my endorsement for about 4 years; based on odometers I’d say I ride more than most (in the U.S.) but probably not as hard or “skillfully” than more seasoned riders. I tend to lean more in the turns, and thus far have only scrapped the pegs once (skill; or fear… you tell me). I ride with a local Triumph RAT Pack; composed of much more seasoned riders on bikes of every model that Triumph produces. I can typically keep up with the pack quite well on the Speedmaster, but there’s no doubt the limitations really start to show when I’m chasing down the Street Triples and even the Tigers.

    Overall it has been a great bike; I do a bit of light touring on it, and my wife frequently joins me. The stock seat has been sufficient for my needs (400 mile days), but there are certainly better pillion options available. I have no complaints about power and performance; I keep up with Harleys twice my displacement with little effort. That said, for the type of riding I am doing, and plan on doing, I’m in the market for a Tiger (most common model ridden by local Triumph Riders as well). I’m hoping the Tiger will be a bit sportier, comfortable for 2, bring more luggage, and hopefully require less frequent baths (sick of all the chrome… sigh). In a perfect world, I would park a Bonneville SE and a Tiger 800 XCx in the driveway; then I’d have the best of both worlds.

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  9. I ride a 2008 America and I have to say i disagree with this review. I find it comfortable ( im 6'3"), and compared to other cruisers Ive ridden, quite nimble.

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  10. Just traded my 2007 Tiger 1050 for a 2015 America, crook knees for myself ( 6' 2") and wife (Gym junkie), she was having trouble getting off it. So sad, loved the tiger, handling and presence gave me many happy hours/kilometers in south east Queensland. Now must adjust to new sitting position and reduce my lean angle, 80 kilometers on it and already scrapped the floorboards. All about slowing down and enjoying the scenery after my 60th birthday. Rather be riding than thinking about being riding

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  11. Cross Canada,Montreal(Quebec)/Dawson city(Yukon) on a Triumph America 2015.7 days,6600km of pur Fun.....no windshield ;)

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  12. I am going to say I disagree, but I might be unique in this. First, I grew up on a Triumph (my first clutch vehicle was a '67 Bonnie w/suicide), and I just picked up the 2014 America. Got 300 miles on it so far, and SUPER comfortable for me, and I don't feel like I am riding a Tonka truck.
    See that's the thing for me; I am 6'6" and 220. I DWARF many bikes. The America is big enough to feel like I am fully supported, and all the gears/shifters/etc are right in my range.
    Not starting in gear?? YA THAT SUCKS! You can't stall this bike or people are gonna be made at you. For me, though, as a big guy, I disagree with the rest of what you said.

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  13. Sorry you have a bad back. The speedmaster is the same basic riding triangle as the america, so take some ibuprofen, and avoid reviewing more cruisers unless your back recovers. My 2 cents, my back is average and I have never had a sore back after a 200 mile ride on the 2014 America. It is the best value I have found in a new bike, really enjoy it.

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  14. UPDATE: Regarding the "won't start in gear" during your review....These bikes seem to have a safety to prevent damaging the starter motor. Just pull in the clutch if it stalls, push the starter button once, then quickly press it again and it turns over in gear. Also, If you turn the key on and off you only need to press the starter once. No neutral needed, ever.

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  15. I used to live in Cardiff and was disappointed that Bevan's didn't have a Speedmaster to even look at let alone test ride. I was shopping for my first bike in 2014 after passing my test and only riding since passing had been a day on a Harley in Florida.
    So I headed off to Blade in Swindon knowing that they at least had one for me to look at and sit on. I decided immediately that I preferred the riding position on the Speedmaster to that of the America, and the slight differences in the appearance. I'm 6ft 1 and 100kg, and occasionally feel the bike is a bit low for me with regards to legs, but love riding it. Didn't like the America that I test rode as much.
    There are times where I think it lacks a little power, but just means I have to work the gears a little more. Changed the saddle recently to the touring gel saddle for extra comfort for the pillion. Interestingly Triumph said based on the serial number that this wouldn't fit, but Blade ordered it in for me to try and it fitted.
    Just come back from Europe doing around 1200 miles over 5 days of riding and the bike performed flawlessly. I think a screen to reduce the wind at higher speeds would have helped, and looking to get a set of engine crash bars and some highway pegs. Kept up with the sports bikes and Triumph trophy that were with us, and have worn away the heels on my boots dragging them round a few bends, but otherwise clearance has been good.
    My only irritation with the bike has been a habit of cutting out as you start to release the clutch and open the throttle. It doesn't get as far as biting, so its not a stall, just seems to cut out and there have been lots of reports of this. I ended up increasing the idle speed which has helped massively with this. Never had the issue that you mentioned around not starting whilst in gear, just simply pull in the clutch and press the button!

    Liked reading your of the Triumph Sprint GT (SE). I'm keen to give this a try and potentially add to the stable as more dedicated touring bike as the soft luggage on the Speedmaster/America is a bit of a pain especially as they don't seem to do bags for the panniers so you have to use something else (black bag for an example) to carry things to and from your hotel room overnight, plus they are not waterproof when the wet stuff comes down.

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  16. Read this whole thread with interest as I,m looking at getting back into biking again... The reports on the America seem to be mixed and after having had a 1974 bonnie 750 for many years in the past was interested in having another and the america appeals.. I rode a dragstar 650 for a few years and having once again refreshed my memory by sitting on one realised how cramped it was for my 6' 4" frame... Sat on a wildstar 1600, so very tempting and a beautifl fit, not sure I want all that weight though.. so off to Superbike to try a few triumphs, the Vulcan which I thought was gong to be tops was not a good fit for me, I just felt too close to the tank, the bike too short... Tried the T100 but felt tiny under my bulk, the speedy wasnt too bad but lacked something and when the Mrs sat on the reminants of the rear seat instantly counted that out... On to the America, fitted like a glove for us both, pleanty of leg room on the boards, knees under the tank level, it just felt so right and with the screen should keep off the worst of the wind... It felt light to handle and move around, even had a rev counter.. Now I,ve not ridden it as yet but I know what I like and if a back rest is needed then so be it.. Living in mid wales the roads are quite twisty, I dont ride at speeds any more, a steady 50-ish enjoying the scenary is fine with me so I may well be buying one soon.... I do like the rumble of an xv 1600 though and need to get that notion out of my head first...

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