The Bonneville is Back!
Triumph brings back their most popular bike and we get to put it through the motions.
Triumph finally revealed the new Bonneville at Munich last year after nearly ten years since the rebirth of the company name. The unveiling marked an important point for the factory that has done so much to put British motorcycles back on the map. It’s been an eagerly awaited model since the Triumph concern first opened the doors of the Hinckley factory and started building the new modular range of modern motorcycles. The Bonneville name was once one of the strongest brands in motorcycling and the years that have passed since its heyday have done little to diminish its shine. Triumph was duty bound to bring the name back, however the factory had to get it right on its first shot. Get it wrong and they’d quickly alienate a huge following of dewey-eyed nostalgics with check books at the ready for the return of the bike that was once King. The Bonneville is back, but did the factory get it right?
From the outset, Triumph’s intention with the Bonneville was to produce a machine that combined the old model’s timeless appeal with modern technology. Triumph wanted authentic styling, which had to include a parallel twin engine and to replicate as much as practically possible the feel and sound that forged the original Bonneville legend. This meant using, for example, a 360-degree crankshaft (pistons rising and falling together) and a twin-shock rear suspension system.
One of the design team’s first tasks was to decide which Bonneville from the past should become the inspiration for the new bike. This was not easy, given that the model spanned almost three decades, incorporating countless styling and technical changes. It is rare for two Bonneville enthusiasts to agree about which was best! It was decided that the T120 Bonneville of the late Sixties represented the peak of the model’s development; it had the combination of performance, styling and market position which once made the Bonneville famous.
While I thought Triumph nailed look of the bike, at least as much as modern legal red tape and manufacturing processes would allow, others don’t agree. Some complain that the top end isn’t right, or the angle of the ‘peashooter’ exhausts is wrong. To these pedants I’m inclined to say: “If you need it to be 100% like a 1969 model, then go buy a 1969 T120R.”
A dangerous mix of rose-tinted vision and hopeless nostalgia will afflict many of the new Bonneville’s potential buyers, so pleasing them won’t be easy.
Whatever your opinion, or the opinion of the masses, all the work Triumph put in to reproduce the look of the original Bonneville won’t count for diddlysquat unless the bike works on the road. A dangerous mix of rose-tinted vision and hopeless nostalgia will afflict many of the new Bonneville’s potential buyers, so pleasing them won’t be easy. But, at least in my opinion, Triumph did their homework and getting on the bike reveals a riding position that’s a blast from the past. The bars, the seat and the tank all present themselves in much the same place as they would have done thirty years ago the new bike is very close to its forebear not only in its look, but also in its geometry and physical size.
The motor, which at 790cc is a tad bigger than any previous production Bonneville, sounds a bit suspect when first fired, emission and noise regulations have taken their toll on the modern motorcycle’s bark and the Bonneville hasn’t escape the neutering process. It sounds horribly similar to a 400cc Superdream, a Seventies Honda Euro-twin straight from Dullsville and complete with an alarming character bypass. What a relief then to hear the exhaust and intake note change radically when the bike is underway, especially when you’re accelerating hard. Giving the throttle a healthy yank produces a roar that wouldn’t have disgraced an earlier version of the famous twin. Fit Triumph’s own ‘not for highway use’ pipes (read loud) and the bike’s going to be singing just like a Sixties Bonneville. The sound of the engine working is accompanied by a good rate of thrust, it’s a seat of the pants feel that reminded me instantly of the old Bonnevilles I’ve owned or ridden. Triumph deserve top marks here because they’ve done more than badge up a bike with the famous name, they’ve managed to get the heart of the old Bonneville into their new package.
OK, it’s not super fast, but this ain’t no sportsbike, even if its illustrious ancestors most certainly were. Times have moved on and the Bonneville now occupies a more comfortable niche in the market labelled ‘retro’. That’s fitting as most of the former Bonneville riders (and I count myself among them as I’ve owned both a ’78 T140V and a 69 T120R in the distant past) have also grown up and cooled down. While it must look the part, and the Bonneville does, what it really needs is plenty of oomph delivered without loads of gearchanging â€“ crazy top speeds and sub three second 0 to 60 times are now left to the fast-plastic brigade.
The engineers have graced the new Bonneville with a broad, flat torque range and this translates to a very wide spread of useable power on the road. The engine gives its best in the mid to upper rev range, but it still well at low revs. It’s not V-Twin stump pulling power of the sort found on tuned Harleys, but it is fun.
Whatever your opinion, or the opinion of the masses, all the work Triumph put in to reproduce the look of the original Bonneville won’t count for diddlysquat unless the bike works on the road, and it does!
The gearbox, which on the test machine I rode was absolutely smooth and very precise, is almost redundant. Just bung it in fifth (top) gear and pull on the twistgrip – that’s all. Talking of transmission, I did notice one other trait that seems to have hung over from the old days. When popping the Bonnie into gear, first thing after starting, there was a slight lunge as the gear dogs engaged. It wasn’t as bad as on my old 750, which would try to lunge up my driveway even with the clutch lever still pulled in, but there was a distinct pull as the ratio was engaged. But I only noticed this when the engine was stone cold.
Contrary to what some of those afore mentioned nostalgics might claim, handling is not an area the Bonneville was famous for. Correction, the early Bonnies were infamous for handling. They had a bad reputation for poor road manners and were often known as Mr. Whippy because of their tendency to waggle their butt in corners. I’ve experienced this alarming trait on a ’69 Bonneville. The Seventies oil in frame T140 models were much better but wouldn’t have been a useful benchmark on which to base the present chassis. Technology has moved on and Triumph have replicated the look of the early models with a twin downtube frame, spoked wheels, twin rear shocks and deep mudguards, but without inheriting the handling of the old bikes.
The new Bonneville comes with modern road manners, although if you push it very hard you’ll run out of ground clearance with the pegs touching down first. Barrelling through fast bumpy bends at full throttle also induced a little chassis movement that’s eerily reminiscent of the old days. But I doubt many of the typical dewy eyed old Rockers the bike’s aimed at will ride nearly so hard as I was. I reckon they should be satisfied with the bike’s neutral manners and rider friendly behavior up to that point. Those that intend to ride harder might want wait for the sports model that must surely follow this ‘Stateside’ version.
The ultimate test of the Bonneville isn’t really going to happen on the road because this is a bike that, like a Harley-Davidson, will live or die on it’s ability to turn heads and pull in the sighs of admiration. When parked up for a photo shoot the Bonneville passed this test with flying colors. An old gent ambled up to the machine, examined the machine for a few moments and then turned and asked me how long it had taken to restore it to such fine condition.
With a Bonneville you need to be ready to explain the rebirth of the famous British mark and then spend at least ten minutes exchanging stories of the good old days when the Bonneville still ruled the road.
Triumph isn’t building the bike in huge numbers, even though they reckon they’ve sold every machine long before it’s built. The Bonneville is not just a bike to sell; it’s a bike that sells the Triumph name itself. Even Triumph admits that it’s a sort of glorious public relations exercise for the new factory.
If you are trying to relive your past, and Triumph’s, you’ll like this bike. The new Bonneville is perfect for those with rose-tinted memories. At only $7,000 that’s bargain priced nostalgia. The Bonneville would also make an excellent choice for the new biker, it’s a doddle to ride, it won’t be dear to run and it should hold its value.