Britain’s answer to the R1

Published: 15 September 2000

THERE have been some great British motorcycles over the years. Triumph’s Bonneville, Norton’s Commando, BSA’s Dandy (well, maybe not). But, even in light of the very latest machines like Triumph’s 955i and TT600, few can match this particular Triumph sports bike.

Lurking inside the menacing black bodywork are a host of changes which have transformed a stock T595 into an R1 rival. They mean that this particular T595 puts out 142bhp at the crank, compared to the standard 125bhp.

Combine this with a few other mods like a full Arrow racing exhaust system and you’re suddenly talking about a machine which is quite possibly the best bike to be made in Britain. Ever.

The man behind this transformation is John Wilcox, boss of Wilcox Engineering. And he’s no stranger to the marque. Wilcox is the man Triumph trusts to develop its engines from a workshop directly opposite its Hinckley plant. He’s had a hand in every Triumph engine in the last 10 years, so when it comes to aftermarket tuning for a Trumpet, there’s no-one better qualified. And what he’s done to this bike is particularly impressive.

If we’re honest, the standard T595 is starting to show its age now. Introduced in 1997, it was replaced by the 955i less than two years later. The 955i kept the same three-cylinder engine as its predecessor, but had new rear suspension, a different exhaust and modified throttle bodies. It all added up to a better spread of torque, but no discernable increase in power – and this at a time when the 141bhp R1 was setting the standard.

Enter the Wilcox tuning kit. It consists of a modified cylinder head, larger valves, new cams, new sprockets, modified throttle bodies, modified pistons, an Arrow exhaust system with a carbon end can, a high-flow air filter, a high pressure fuel regulator and modified trumpets and gaskets. It includes Wilcox’s own fuel and ignition modifying ECU system. This increases the amount of fuel going into the engine which, along with the other changes, means the extra power is achieved without increasing revs.

So what’s it like to ride? Well, it wasn’t until I stepped off the bike after 120 miles that I realised how desperate I was for a leak. I had been concentrating so much on riding that I didn’t have time to think about basic bodily functions. I’d been having so much fun I hadn’t noticed my slowly-ballooning bladder.

Make no mistake, the Wilcox Triumph is a fun bike. It has just as much power as an R1, but it’s far less intimidating because it makes that power in a smoother, more progressive manner.

Sure, the throttle works both ways and you don’t have to wheelie an R1 through every gear. But it still feels that bit more aggressive than this Trumpet, which pulls smoothly but strongly from as little as 2000rpm. But get a little heavy-handed with the Triumph and you’ll definitely be looking for aeroplanes – there’s enough power here to wheelie around the M25.

Tucked behind the bubble screen, which is tall enough to give wind protection even to my six-foot frame, the Triumph’s cockpit looks strangely sparse compared to Japanese and Italian rivals.

The traditional clocks look fairly stylish, but dated, especially as more and more bikes move to digital speedos. Stopping for fuel and manually turning the trip meter back to zero also reminded me that the Triumph was not a new model. I’d also forgotten just how racey the riding position was on the T595, and it was a joy to be reminded.

The bike is not that small so it doesn’t feel cramped, but you know you’re on a dedicated sports bike the minute you climb on. At speed – and there’s plenty of that on tap – the howl from the racing exhaust system is a joy. I was even tempted to remove my earplugs just to hear it better.

A triple makes a unique sound which stands out from all the " common " fours and twins out there. Many engineers also believe a triple can offer the best of both worlds – the low-down grunt of a twin and the top-end rush of a four. It’s true that a triple does feel like a hybrid of the two. This bike pulls strongly and cleanly all the way through the rev range, and there’s a noticeable rush at 8000rpm.

It’s just as well then that the brakes are among the best in the business. They’re made by Nissin – the same Japanese firm favoured by Honda – but they carry the Triumph logo. You could be forgiven for thinking they were six-pots considering the smack-in-the-teeth affect they have as soon as you squeeze them – and I mean as soon as. There’s instant feel and response followed by strong, progressive action until you’re at a standstill. It’s always a comfort to know you can stop.

Most of the tweaks on this T595 are hidden by the bodywork, but owner Gary Lyford, from Newbury, Berks, has made a couple of changes which you can spot. He swopped the 190-section rear tyre for a 180 Pirelli Dragon Corsa in a bid to get the bike to steer quicker – and it’s paid off.

The bike handles well through my favourite section of eight hairpin bends all linked together (I’m not telling you where: it’s my road), but I was hampered by the long reach for the clutch lever. I have the same problem on the Sprint ST because neither models have adjustable clutch spans and I have stubby little fingers. The factory says they are looking into it, so don’t be surprised if we see adjustable clutches on new models.

The suspension is standard, but the back end has been jacked up a little to aid ground clearance – an area the original T595 was lacking. The forks and shock are both set pretty stiff, which is brilliant for focused cornering on good surfaces but a bit sore on the butt on bumpier roads.

Lyford has also fitted an oil pressure gauge to the dash because he’s a bit of a wheelie merchant. The problem is the oil surges away from the pick-up pipe when the bike is vertical and this starves the engine of lubrication. With the gauge fitted, Lyford can tell at a glance when that happens – and when to plonk his bike down.

Some people spend lots of cash to make their bikes look trick just for the pose value. Others are content in the knowledge that they have something really special between their legs without shouting about it (stop sniggering, please).

Lyford is obviously content with improved performance – even though he plans a paintjob in the next few months – and that’s the reason he had the Wilcox kit fitted in the first place.

He said: " I’m not mad keen on twins and I was bored of Jap fours. I loved the Triumph, but wanted more power and for just over £2000, it was cheaper than buying a new bike with similar power. "

If Triumph’s replacement for the 955i is on a par with this bike, the Japanese had better start worrying.

The kit costs £1995 from any Triumph dealer and there’s a £300 fitting charge on top of that. So you could transform your T595 for a total of £2295. Wilcox can usually turn a bike around in 10 days, but in some cases (when he’s working on top-secret new Triumphs) you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available for the new 955i.

TRIUMPH T595

Cost: £3500-£5600 plus £1995 Wilcox kit

Colours: Yellow, black, red

SPECIFICATION

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 955cc (79mm x 65mm) 12v in-line triple, Sagem fuel injection. 6 gears

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar

Front suspension: 45mm inverted forks, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Single shock with rising-rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Pirelli Dragon Evo Corsa; 120/70 x 17 front, 180/50 x 17 rear

Brakes: Nissin; 2 x 320mm front discs with 4-piston calipers, 220mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper

PERFORMANCE

POWER: 142bhp@10,000rpm

TORQUE: 71ftIb@8500rpm

Weight/power to weight ratio: 198kg (435lb), 0.72bhp/kg

Standing 1/4-mile time/terminal speed: 10.5s, 125.5mph

Top speed: 170mph

Geometry (Rake/trail/wheelbase): 24°, 8.6cm, 144cm

Average mpg/ tank capacity/range: 36mpg, 18 litres, 140 miles