BMW R12 nineT vs Triumph Speed Twin 1200 | Roaring Roadsters - Old-school looks meet modern performance... but which is best?

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There is an argument that super-nakeds are getting a bit too, well, super. In a reflection of what happened to their litre sportsbike siblings, the fact that the current crop of full-on naked bikes are starting to approach 200bhp and come loaded with tech has not only seen their prices escalate but also their usability on the British roads diminish.

Flat bars still have a limiting effect on top speeds, which is a good thing, but even this is being pushed through more aggressive riding positions and small screens allowing the rider to hang on tighter and further explore the performance envelope without over-stretching their neck muscles.

What’s the answer? How about a naked that looks great, has bags of charm, more than enough performance, and yet is happy to deliver its thrills at road legal(ish) speeds? Bikes such as these two fantastic retro roadsters. 

There is always a tendency when you hear the term ‘retro’ to assume the performance will be somewhat dated but this is far from the case. Despite old-school looks, the latest crop of retros pack modern handling, performance and tech – just in a more subtle way than on a super-naked. And leading this retro revival is BMW’s R nineT, which has been given a hefty revision for 2024. 

Fast Facts:

BMW R12 nineT riding past on road with dark sky backdrop

BMW R12 nineT

£14,420 (£16,500 as tested)

  • Engine 1170cc air-cooled DOHC 8v boxer twin
  • Power 107.5 bhp
  • Torque 84.9 lb.ft
  • Fuel Capacity 16 litres
  • Frame Tubular steel bridge
  • Suspension 45mm inverted forks, fully-adjustable. Monoshock, remotely adjustable preload and rebound
  • Front brake 2 x 310mm discs with four-piston Brembo radial calipers. Cornering ABS
  • Rear Brake 1x265mm disc with two-piston caliper. Cornering ABS
  • Seat Height 754mm
  • Kerb Weight 220kg (kerb)
Triumph Speed Twin 1200 riding past with a dark sky backdrop

Triumph Speed Twin 1200

£11,995 (plus £350 for paint option)

  • Engine 1200cc liquid-cooled SOHC 8v paarallel-twin
  • Power 98.6 bhp
  • Torque 82.6 lb.ft
  • Fuel Capcity 14.5 litres
  • Frame Tubular steel
  • Suspension 43mm inverted forks, non-adjustable. Twin shocks, adjustable preload.
  • Front brake 2x320mm discs with four-piston Brembo calipers. ABS
  • Rear Brake 1x220mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS
  • Seat Height 809mm
  • Kerb Weight 216kg (wet)

I remember first riding an R nineT in 2014 and being blown away by its blend of performance, stripped-back looks and modern handling. It may be powered by an air-cooled engine that first appeared in 2010 (it runs the twin-cam head, although arguably the majority of the engine is pretty much identical to the 2004 single-cam one) but so packed full of charm is this boxer that it feels contemporary in both its ride and the fun-factor it delivers.  

What have BMW done to enhance its appeal for 2024? Despite being a fairly serious revision that even includes a new frame, the heart of the R12 nineT (note the new name) remains the same (just made cleaner to please emissions testers) and around this upgraded chassis much of the original bike’s ethos is unchanged.

There’s lots of scope for customisation, enough tech cunningly hidden away to keep you safe and sound, modern running gear and a pleasingly minimal overall silhouette. Not to mention a new, and very small, dash option. So will the R12 have things all its own way in 2024? Not if Triumph have anything to say.

Challenging the BMW’s superiority since 2019 has been the Speed Twin 1200, a retro roadster from Triumph that can trace its roots back to the firm’s sporty (and now discontinued) Thruxton model. More understated than the BMW, the Speed Twin is one of those bikes that tends to get overlooked due to the fact Triumph have a very strong naked bike line-up.

With options such as the established Speed Triple, brilliant Street Triple range and classic Bonnie models, it is hard for the Speed Twin to stand up and be counted in a crowded Triumph showroom. Which is a shame because it’s a cracking model and for many riders, a better choice than the more modern naked options. And one that isn’t too far removed from the norm, which isn’t the case with the R12. 

BMW R12 nineT close up engine picture of right hand side

“Initially I didn’t get the BMW,” admits MCN’s Saffron Wilson, whose longterm R12 nineT test bike we are using today. “It’s very different from anything else I’ve ridden. The engine is brutal and unrefined and does odd things like lurch when you rev it and hit you with huge amounts of engine braking. It’s disconcerting at first, but it rapidly grows on you.” 

She’s right, from the moment you start it up the R12 is an assault on your senses and one that doesn’t stop until you tuck it away in your garage. And it is all down to that flat-twin boxer. 

Very much an engine with a bike built around it, the R12’s powerplant is unashamedly raw and aggressive. Fire it up and the bark from the twin pipes is loud and once you get rolling the new airbox adds a snarl to its cacophony of noises.

Far from forgiving, it has so much instant drive it kicks hard when you touch the throttle (Dynamic power mode is fierce, stick with Road) and this when combined with a boxer torque-reaction twist, big twin vibes and slightly clunky gearbox (the new accessory quickshifter actually works well) all results in a fairly demanding ride.

But one that I love as these quirks give the R12 nineT a sense of being alive. It’s not easy-going or chilled-out, but it is undeniably fun and back-to-back with the Triumph, the far more memorable motor to experience. 

The Speed Twin’s parallel twin may be the High Power version of 1200 engine but it is still quite relaxed – especially when compared to the R12 nineT. Hard to fault and super-slick in its operation, it is very flat in its power output, making it feel quite understated.

Triumph Speed Twin 1200 close up of engine and fuel tank on the right hand side

Hardly lacking in power and with lots of roll-on torque, it doesn’t thrill in the same way as the boxer yet by the same token, it never annoys or surprises you as its throttle connection is perfect, gearbox slick (there is no quickshifter option) and there are next to no vibrations.  

“I like the more refined nature of the Triumph but after a while I miss the BMW’s attitude,” says Saffron. “It lacks the nineT’s theatre but if you are pootling along, the BMW’s demanding nature can get a bit much.” And it is a similar story in bends, too. 

Much like its engine, the R12’s chassis takes a bit of getting used to. “There is a definite edge to the BMW’s handling,” reckons Saffron. “When I swapped from it to the Triumph, the Speed Twin instantly felt normal, it’s a more natural handling bike and also feels softer and more forgiving on its suspension.” 

Take to the backroads on the Triumph and aside from its somewhat ridiculous choice of tyres (Metzeler Racetec RRs, which are more suited to a sportsbike and aren’t great in damp conditions), it’s an effortless delight. Rolling through bends with an assured and confidence-inspiring feeling, it’s hard to fault and very easy to love as everything just seems to work.

The relaxed and grunty nature of its engine sees you merrily driving out of bends with no need to shift gear and while its suspension lacks much in the way of adjustment, it’s set just right for UK roads and the Brembo brakes offer plenty of feel.

Perfect for a spirited jaunt (wearing a leather jacket and denim riding jeans, naturally) while not on-the-edge sporty, the Twin strikes a lovely balance between agility and predictability that results in an enjoyable riding experience. And one that is effortless, unlike the BMW. 

Triumph Speed Twin 1200 Front wheel brake assembly and tyre

With the R12 nineT the more you put in, the more you get back. While BMW have upgraded the R12’s chassis and suspension (which is fully-adjustable) it still remains quite a particular ride due to the long and low nature of a boxer engine. With a tendency to push its front slightly into bends, you need to grab the nineT by the scruff of its neck and muscle it around to get the best from it.

Do this and it is a great handling bike but also one that has a feeling of being on the edge (in a good way) thanks to its chassis doing a slight dance due to the boxer engine’s vibes, its fairly firm suspension and its overall raw character. It’s one of those bikes where you find yourself giggling as you ride it hard, simply because it feels a touch wild.

However, others may well not be so enamoured but that’s fine because these two bikes are machines that are purchased not because they are the most powerful or boast the best tech, they are bought because they will stir an emotion during every ride. And that’s what’s so great about retro roadsters when compared to a super-naked: they deliver their thrills through spirit and character – not performance figures. 

BMW R12 nineT front suspension, wheel, brake assembly and tyre

Spot of light relief

Our BMW test bike was fitted with the £200 Headlight Pro option (which involves angle-responsive cornering lights). Mere pence a month if you’re buying on a finance deal. It is noticeably better on dip beam than the Triumph, which has fairly typical lighting for a modern bike, with LEDs providing a bright beam but limited spread.  

The R12 nineT’s cornering light function is helpful, but again it has is a very definite cut off (almost a horizontal line) between light and dark when on dip, which is a bit disconcerting if you grew up with halogen lights, and their softer fade at the edge of the beam’s spread. Main beam is staggeringly good. Four out of five for the BMW, three out of five for the Triumph. 


‘Every ride is an event’

Great-looking and brimming with spirit, these two more than deliver in terms of performance but do so with charm and character rather than sheer brute force. But they are also very different beasts. 

After a quick blast on the R12 you may well be left undecided on its appeal. It’s not an instantly comforting bike like the Speed Twin and certainly has its quirks. The old-school boxer motor is abrupt, does odd things like twist and shake and the BMW’s handling has a slight feeling of being on the edge – but these are all traits that after a while endear you to the bike.

It is a machine that feels alive and far from sterile in a wonderfully engaging way. But it certainly won’t be for everyone and if you are looking for a more relaxed ride, the Triumph is undeniably the more polished product. 

BMW R12 nineT and Triumph Twin riding past

Perfectly set-up for UK roads, the Speed Twin is a delight to ride. Its parallel twin is packed full of effortlessly smooth thrust, its chassis assured and yet still sporty and its overall look (typically for Triumph) is classy and elegant. It’s a beautiful bike and one that’s huge amounts of fun to ride while also remaining an impressively potent package when you wind its wick up.  

Which would our pick of the two be? As much as we both loved the Triumph, we’d opt for the BMW, simply because it turns every ride into an event with its more visceral nature. 


  • R12 nineT’s attitude
  • Triumph’s more subdued and easy-going nature.


  • BMW still refusing to fit a fuel gauge to the nineT
  • Triumph’s lack of spirit
BMW R12 nine T versus Triumph Speed Twin 1200 versus winner

Other options – A shed full of great retro roadsters

BMW R12 used as other option to BMW R12 nineT or Triumph Speed Twin 1200

If you like your retro offerings to be feisty, BMW sell the stock R12 alongside the R12 nineT. More a relaxed roadster/cruiser, it makes less power than the nineT (93.7bhp vs 107.5bhp) and has other compromises including a smaller tank, fewer modes and a single dash but costs from £11,990.

Ducati’s Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro is £14,495 and is powered by a thumping air-cooled V-twin while Harley-Davidson’s water cooled Sportster S is £15,145 or mad-looking air-cooled Fat Bob 114 is £19,345-although hey arguably aren’t retros.

Kawasaki’s excellent Z900RS range consists of the base RS range consists of the base RS for £11,799 or the higher-spec SE with its Öhlins suspension for £13,149. Yamaha sell the XSR900 in naked form for £10,716 or the beautiful half-faired XSR900 GP costs £12,506. Honda still have stock of the neo retro CB1000R but it isn’t a current model and its £11,749 price tag is optimistic as dealers are desperate to clear old stock.

The Suzuki Katana costs £12,699, with deals certainly there to be had. Arguably the £10,499 Husqvarna Svartpilen 801 is a retro and Indians FTR range, which starts at £12,995,h have a retro feel. If you prefer a classic aesthetic, Triumph’s Bonnie T120s start at £11,995 and use a lower-performing version of the 1200 parallel twin engine (HT not HP) tuned for torque rather than peak power.

Yamaha XSR900 GP bike used as other option to BMW R12 nineT or Triumph Speed Twin 1200

While you’re here: How MCN tests bikes

Our highly experienced team of road testers grind out hundreds of miles, come rain or snow, on the UK’s pothole-ridden roads to decide which bike is best in a particular category.

Using years of riding and racing experience (on and off-road), our expert journalists are able to assess the capabilities of a machine and translate that into understandable language to help MCN’s readers make an informed buying decision. Pitching bikes against their main rivals, we aim to give a conclusive verdict on which bike is best for your needs and your budget.

Using their considerable knowledge of the motorcycling market and audience, they can put a motorcycle into context and deliver a verdict that means something to anyone considering buying a particular machine, whether it be a cutting-edge, 200bhp sportsbike, a tall adventure weapon or a low-capacity 125cc machine.

When we ride the bikes in the UK we tend to do at least one full day of riding on various different types of road and in varying conditions. Our testers will then spend another day riding the bike – with rivals – to get images and video footage for our print and online reviews.

We will also, often, weigh the bikes, speed and dyno test them to see just how accurately the manufacturer claims are in these areas to give a more empirical assessment.

Find out more about how we test bikes right here.