Triumph turns it up with the Thruxton RS Ton Up

Brummell goes for a ride with Ace Café London's Mark Wilsmore to trace the inspiration for Triumph's limited-edition motorcycle

Motoring 23 May 2022

Triumph Thruxton RS Ton Up motorcycle

Mark Wilsmore outside the Ace Café

It is a sunny May afternoon at the Ace Café London and its owner, Mark Wilsmore, is showing off the physical proof of decades of motorcycle mishaps. As a longtime biker and horse-rider, Wilsmore is no stranger to adrenaline or to sticky situations. Riding a motorcycle, he says, ‘lets you know that you’re alive – that being at that edge of focus. It’s the adrenaline, it’s the buzz, it’s the ability to indulge in the pure, pure joy of life.’ But, according to Wilsmore, the thrill these days is more about navigating London traffic than speeding around the North Circular arterial road, which is where the Ace lies on the western end of the city. 

Triumph Thruxton RS Ton Up motorcycle at the Ace Cafe
Triumph’s Thruxton RS Ton Up motorcycle

The adrenaline that Wilsmore speaks of is what drove groups of motorcycle enthusiasts dubbed “rockers” or “ton-up boys”, to race full-throttle through this area in an attempt to “do a ton” way back in the 1950s and ’60s. In modern terms, that means attempting to reach speeds of 100 miles per hour or more. To achieve it, Wilsmore explains, guys would take as many parts off of their motorcycles (usually a Norton, BSA or Triumph) as possible in order to make the machine ultra-lightweight, at once creating ‘absolute deathtraps’ and what we now call café racer motorcycles. 

To celebrate this legacy, and indeed, Triumph’s integral role in all of it, the motorcycle manufacturer has created a very special “Ton Up” edition of its Thruxton RS bike. An icon of British motorcycle racing, the first iteration of the Thruxton was fitted with Triumph’s wildly popular Bonneville parallel-twin engine and took victory at the Thruxton 500 race in 1958 (hence the name). Later, Malcolm Uphill rode a Thruxton in the 1969 Isle of Man TT to become the first to achieve a 100mph average lap speed on a production motorcycle. 

Biker riding Triumph Thruxton RS at Ace Cafe
Brummell‘s ride out from the Ace Café London

Fast forward to 2022, and this special Ton Up Thruxton builds on the speed and agility of the originals, with a Bonneville 1200cc twin engine (what else?), twin Brembo floating front brake discs with Brembo M50 radial monobloc calipers, and a rich Aegean-blue fuel tank with contrasting black knee pads. Hand-painted details feature throughout, as does a “100 Special Edition” graphic on the fender and seat cowl. Wilsmore says, ‘In my view, this Thruxton, which is an absolutely gorgeous bike, captures the heritage of the ton-up boys and café racers extraordinarily well.’ 

When the North Circular arterial road was built in the 1930s, the long intervals between roundabouts near the Ace Café ‘created a natural racetrack, to put it bluntly,’ Wilsmore explains. And though there’s no racing on the cards today, his practised darting and dashing through the London traffic leaves no shortage of that aforementioned adrenaline on our ride to retrace the route of the ton-up boys. There are significantly more traffic lights and cars than there were back in the ’60s, but the S-bends and straights on the journey up to Brent Cross – where they’d go up to a roundabout and then return to the Ace, as we did – still leave no doubt that to have blasted up here at 100 miles per hour would have been utterly exhilarating. 

Woman biker riding Triumph Thruxton RS
Retracing the ton-up boys’ route on the North Circular, London

So, as 60 years have passed since the advent of the café racer, what does the future look like for ton-up boy culture? ‘It will be here forever,’ Wilsmore says. ‘All that changes with the passage of time is the technology you use and the gear you’re wearing… and the soundtrack! The Romans had chariot racing, and it’s no different – people want to show off how fast they can go, and that they can make it through a gap, and this has been documented throughout the ages.’

Triumph’s Thruxton RS Ton Up Special Edition motorcycle is available for one year only. From £14,195;