Whenever the next latest and greatest thing comes out, it always makes us reconsider what came before it with a critical eye. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, depending on how shiny the packaging is. Since Triumph has introduced the new line of liquid-cooled motorcycles to replace the air-cooled modern classics, people have been flocking to the dealerships to trade their old air-cooled models in like they’re old hat for the new Street Twin, Bonneville T120, and 1200cc Thruxton. Since the release of these new models, we’ve gotten our greasy mitts on a few of each and have built a range of custom builds out of them while we designed new parts inspired by these new machines.
Truth be told, the process made us reconsider the old air-cooled modern classics, and we want to share some of those thoughts with you.
The first thing we want to share with you all is that the air-cooled bikes are much easier to work on, and therefore customize. This may surprise you, it may not.
The design of air-cooled motorcycles is much simpler than that of liquid-cooled motorcycles. Air-cooled motorcycles require a lot less wiring to run, for example. Less wiring and electronics means A.) you don’t have to deal with them whenever you want to change something on your motorcycle, and B.) a greater range of customization is possible since you aren’t constrained by the black box dictations of electronics suites or their placement inside the motorcycle. Let’s look at the front sprocket cover, for example. On the air-cooled models, you pull off the front sprocket cover and you see what you expect: your front sprocket. If you wanted to, you could keep the sprocket cover off if you’re going for a raw look, or even swap out the cover for something more to your liking like a Finned Mule Sprocket Cover with a quick few bolts and get back out there in style. On the liquid-cooled models, you remove your front sprocket cover and — hey, wait, there are a bunch of electronics inside the sprocket cover that route back into the motorcycle. Which means you sure as hell can’t remove your sprocket cover unless you want to find a way to tuck those electronics somewhere else.
A second major difference is that everything on the liquid-cooled bikes is more exact. Like the brake lines, clutch cables, and throttle cables. We tried to put a tracker bar on a Street Twin recently and found that all the stock cables were too short, keeping us from being able to put the controls on the new bars. Lucky you, that inspired us to create a new control cable kit designed to allow riders to install whatever kind of handlebars they want, but unlucky you if you had visions of a custom build but didn’t know you needed a custom cable kit to make it happen. On an air-cooled Triumph modern classic, you can just pull off the old bar, put the new one on, slide those controls right on there, and get back out on the road where you belong astride your new custom setup.
This article isn’t meant to keep you from buying a new liquid-cooled bike if you’ve had your eye on one. They’re great motorcycles, and a lot of fun to ride. It’s just that we’ve found that they aren’t as easy to work on or customize as their air-cooled counterparts — yet, anyway.
What we’re trying to say is that the air-cooled bikes are still great, and still have certain advantages over their new liquid-cooled siblings. If you’re a new rider, the air-cooled modern classics are the perfect platform to start with because it’s much easier to learn how to work on them than their counterparts. If you’re a seasoned builder, the air-cooled modern classics — especially the carbureted models — are still preferable because they have the greatest range of customization possible.
So if you still have an air-cooled bike, don’t forget that you have one of the coolest, most customizable bikes around. So get wrenching!