2009 Triumph Bonneville SE First Ride

Bart Madson | April 2, 2009
The 2009 Triumph Bonneville is the flagship model in the Triumph Modern Classics line. The 2009 Triumph Bonneville and Bonneville SE (above) join the previous T100 model to headline the British manufacturer’s Modern Classic line.

In 1959 Triumph celebrated its top speed performance exploits on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats by affixing the Bonneville moniker on an all-new motorcycle model. Flash forward a half-century and the British marque has endured rises and falls, and the trusty Bonneville endured too. An iconic motorcycle from Triumph’s past, the Bonneville remains a flagship model, anchoring the English firm’s nostalgic Modern Classic lineup.

Triumph revamps the classic line for 2009 by equipping its 865cc Parallel Twin with electronic fuel injection. Along with a handful of smaller changes, the British brand also expands the Bonneville model family to three. Motorcycle USA was on hand for the Modern Classic press launch, sampling the retro wares in New Orleans.

2009 Triumph Bonneville SE

Defining the Bonneville in modern motorcycling terms is problematic: 50 years ago it was cutting edge performance, in present trim it falls somewhere between cruiser and standard. The most recent incarnation of the Bonnie, the T100 (2001 – present), is a modern interpretation of the 1968 Bonneville and has proven quite popular with older return

2009 Triumph Bonneville SE
Motoring through the French Quarter, the Bonneville SE is well suited to use as an urban cruiser.

riders looking for the bikes they rode in their two-wheeled youth. But Triumph is also targeting the entry-level crowd too, with Triumph Marketing Manager Jim Callahan describing the model as “one of the most accessible Triumphs.” Enhancing that accessibility are the new Bonneville and Bonneville SE.

The difference between the standard Bonneville and the SE is mostly cosmetic, with the SE sporting a fuel-tank badge with hand-painted pinstripe and aluminum engine cases. A tachometer is also added to the SE version. After straddling the Bonneville SE in the New Orleans French Quarter, however, the changes from the T100 version are more concrete. The new Bonnies change tack in two significant ways, wheel size and riding position.

Seven-spoke 17-inch wheels replace the more traditional looking 19-inch wire-spoke rims. Aiding in the handling department, the smaller hoops also offer a much wider tire selection – our test units sporting Metzeler ME24 rubber (110/70 front, 130/80 rear). Seat height has been lowered 1.4 inches to 29.1 thanks to the smaller wheels, a lowering of rear suspension travel by 6mm and a new shape of the seat itself – the foam thickness reduced. The handlebars are relocated 22mm further back and 21mm lower, reducing the reach for smaller-statured riders, who are sure to appreciate the lowered seat. Other changes include the incorporation of fenders borrowed from its Thruxton and Scrambler siblings, as well as the Thruxton exhaust pipes – which replace the T100’s pea-shooters but still leave room for luggage, as many Bonneville owners use their rides for short touring duties.

The new Bonneville handlebars are lower and closer to the rider.The Bonneville seat height has been lowered via smaller wheels and less rear suspension travel  as well as a newer shape to the seat itself.
The Bonneville handlebar and seat have been lowered to make the entry-level cruiser even more accessible.

Although our 6’1” frame felt cramped with the pegs and bars, the riding position seems ideal for smaller riders. Our brief riding time makes us suspicious of the new seat’s comfort factor, however, feeling stiff and less cush than expected. Adjustable brake and clutch levers are a valuable feature and the mirrors have been moved out to provide better view of behind. The instrument display with analog speedometer fits in with the overall vibe of the Bonneville and the SE version, with analog tach to match the speedo, looks best.

In practice the new Bonneville makes for a fine urban cruiser. Darting up and down the historic streets of the French Quarter, the first impression of the new Bonneville is how light and small it is – confirming Triumph’s claim that the new wheels and fenders contribute a 19-lb weight loss. The sensation makes it quite easy it is to ride, at lower speeds in particular. Aided by its light clutch pull and the precise 5-speed gearbox, the Bonneville makes a successful case as the ideal entry-level mount in the Triumph arsenal.

Cutting through traffic on the larger surface streets and freeways, we head eastbound on Highway 90 en route to Mississippi’s gulf coast. The smaller wheels do make the new models feel light and quick and the 865cc Twin flutters along without trouble.

Undergunned compared to the typical cruiser powerplant on American roadways, the Trumpet’s Parallel Twin is still a fun ride. The power is quite easy to control, again ideal for the entry-level crowd. With a respectable lower end, we found ourselves parking the throttle in the upper half of the revs between 4000rpm and the 7000rpm redline to take advantage of some top end zip.

2009 Triumph Bonneville SE
Fuel injection on the Bonneville and Modern Classic lineup was developed with Keihin, with Triumph packaging the system into a twin carb housing.

The Modern Classic’s headlining move to electronic fuel injection conforms to EPA emission regs, the new system claiming to be five times cleaner than the older carbureted version (the EFI promising better fuel efficiency too). Triumph introduces EFI with a twist, however, packing the injectors into a twin carb façade – with functional two-stage fuel-enriching choke lever. Knowing the EFI was coming, a new fuel tank was intro’d in 2008 with room for the fuel pump. Developed with Keihin and tuned by Triumph the electronic fueling provides near seamless power delivery – the only nit to pick being a slight jerk of hesitation when briskly re-applying throttle after rolling off.

Sound emissions will not be an issue for the polite purr of the Bonnie, unless riders choose one of the aftermarket exhaust options from Arrow. The partnership between Triumph and the Italian firm has expanded into the Modern Classic lineup and the bombastic bellowing of the Bonnies sporting Arrow 2-into-2 and 2-into-1 systems are character altering to say the least. The systems deliver up to a 60% weight savings on the stock pipes. And although we’re told peak horsepower claims aren’t much bolstered with the addition, first-hand experience of the pipes confirms the powerband feels beefier.

2009 Triumph Bonneville SE
The Bonneville SE is a very easy bike to ride, making it well suited to its entry-level and returning-rider demographic.

Heading into the bayous along the coast, there aren’t any turns worth evaluating the Trumpet’s cornering abilities, just a couple bends in the road to wiggle through. Severe thunderstorm warnings squash peg-scraping intentions and cut our ride day short. All we can say for certain is the 41mm Kayaba fork and twin rear shocks are not adjustable, except for rear preload, with potholes and other significant road imperfections accompanied by a harsh jar on more than one occasion.

The dual-disc (one front, one rear) braking system is more than adequate. The single 310mm disc front delivers a confident feel and the floating 2-piston Nissin calipers are effective but not grabby. The 225mm rear, also pinched by a two-piston Nissin unit, performs its ratio of the stopping equation rather well.

The classic lines of the new Bonnies deliver in the style department, at least in our opinion. The only caveat is the faux carb looked less clever the longer we examined it… but, hey, we’re paid to complain. Overall, the new Bonneville is a fine mount, one we enjoyed immensely. Our only regret is not enough time in the saddle for a more thorough evaluation.

The standard Bonneville is available in black and white, retailing for $7,699. The SE is available in all black or two-tone blue and white, sporting an $8399 asking price.

2009 Triumph Bonneville T100
The Triumph Bonneville T100 plods along with more retro looks, sourcing the 1968 Bonneville as styling inspiration.

2009 Triumph Bonneville T100

The Bonneville T100 stays in the classics lineup because it’s a popular model and aesthetically, the eldest Bonnie does claim higher points in the authentic looks department – mainly because of the spoked wheels and peashooter cans. Take away the EFI addition and the T100 is mostly unchanged from 2008, with a few tweaks, like chrome engine covers and rubber fork gaiters. The T100 is also available in a limited 650-production run of a 50th anniversary edition.

Sampling both the T100 its Bonneville siblings back to back, the changes are apparent. The larger spoked 19-inch wheels do affect handling, with the smaller Bonnie quicker to turn in. Riders close to or cresting the 6-foot mark may prefer the T’s handlebar placement and higher seat, as we did.

Triumph reps tell us that Bonneville owners are quite loyal to their machines, often replacing with identical units after riding their old Trumpets into the ground. Riders wishing to stick with the older aesthetics of the T100 for 2009 will have to shell out $8,799.

2009 Triumph Thruxton
The sportier ergos of the Thruxton contrast its Bonneville sibling, but a new handlebar actually mellows out the riding position of it clip-on predecessor.

2009 Triumph Thruxton

What a difference the handlebar placement and a more aggressive riding position make! After jumping off the Bonneville SE we were at the helm of the Triumph Thruxton café racer for only a few minutes, but they were the most exhilarating of the whole ride. The Thuxton’s forward-leaning riding position is fun in small tastes, but as one test rider quipped – the cafés you race between should be less than 10 miles apart, because comfort is not the Thruxton’s forte. That said the new 2009 handlebar with risers is far less severe than the predecessor’s clip-ons and the riding position is at least bearable.

2009 Triumph Bonneville SE
The army green Scrambler with aftermarket Arrow pipes was much coveted during out press launch ride.

Certainly many riders will be happy to sacrifice comfort for the sleek lines and better performance of the Thruxton – particularly if they select the Arrow-piped version we sampled. Future owners will love the Thruxton’s Arrow pipes, but their neighbors will not – this is doubly true if the easily modified internal dB killers “accidentally” fall out. The 2009 Thruxton is available for $8,599 in Jet Black or Tornado Red.

2009 Triumph Scrambler

Rounding out the 2009 Modern Classics is the Triumph Scrambler. Sourcing the same EFI Twin as its siblings, the Scrambler just looks like a fun machine. The military green scheme and 2-into-1 Arrow pipe adorning the test unit in our riding group was often bickered over when it came time for riding swaps.

Again, our time aboard the Scrambler was limited but the upright position and high bar deliver a great active feel and the Scrambler’s tires make riders flirt with the possibility of dirt roads. It’s the most adventurous of the Triumph classic line and a lot of fun to ride. The Scrambler costs $8,499 bone stock and is available in Jet Black and Matte Khaki Green.

Bart Madson

MotoUSA Editor | Articles | Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for 10 years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to motorcycle racing reports and industry news features.