Going into this test, we know the Bolt and Sportster are true direct competitors, but the Bonneville certainly competes for sales in the same demographic. Many OEMs are trying to figure out how to draw in the young, hipster, urban cruiser crowd these days. Like the other two, the Bonneville is powered by an air-cooled twin-cylinder engine, albeit Triumph’s Parallel Twin sports a much different character. And the engine performs much differently than the other two as well. The trio has the versatility to be a first-time buyers motorcycle but delivers enough performance to scintillate the senses of seasoned riders as well. An affordable price point lumps these motorcycles together as well, the 2013 Triumph Bonnneville coming in as the lowest priced of the bunch at $7699, with the 2013 Iron 883 priced at $7999 and the 2014 Bolt stickered at $7990. The R-Spec version of the Bolt we tested with the upgraded rear suspension, suede-style seat vinyl, black mirrors and matte grey paint pushed MSRP up to $8290.
Climb into the stretched saddle of the Triumph Bonneville and you’re sitting more on the bike than the other two. The seating position is upright with a forward slant, your feet are under you and small cutouts in the tank allow riders to squeeze in while the bars are situated down. At a 29.1-inch seat height, it feels much higher and open than the behind-the-bars feel of the Sportster and Bolt. Its seat doesn’t offer any lower back support and is fairly stiff, but it’s also the only one of the three that comes with pillion accommodations as standard fare.
Twist the Triumph’s throttle and it’s deceptively quick. Though it feels like it lacks the arm-stretching torque of the V-Twins, a peek at the torque chart shows that the Bonneville delivers 45.53 lb-ft at 3700 rpm, slotting in between the peak of the Bolt that comes on at 3400 rpm and the Sportster at 3900 rpm. The area where the Bonneville gets the advantage over the other two is that it doesn’t reach its peak of 46.24 lb-ft of torque until 5600 rpm and is still delivering in the 45 lb-ft range up to 7000 rpm. By that time, the motorcycle with the smallest displacement of the bunch starts putting out the most horsepower of the three, topping the charts at 60.35 hp at 7100 rpm. This means the Bonneville has the widest, most usable spread of power and allows riders to wind it out more between shifts. This becomes immediately evident right from first gear as the Bonneville doesn’t sign off until just over 50 mph whereas on the other two bikes have riders shifting into second gear at just over 40 mph.
In our acceleration tests, it was no contest. The Bonneville went from 0-60 mph in 5.25 seconds, a full 1.25-seconds faster than the Bolt. In the quarter-mile, same results, as its time of 13.87 and top speed of 97 mph easily distanced itself from the pack. Throw in the fact that the horsepower king is 55 pounds lighter than the nearest competitor and watch it check out down the strip. The only real demerit we found with the 2013 Bonneville’s powerplant is its subjective lack of character. At full song, long-time Motorcycle USA Editor JC Hilderbrand likened it to a Singer sewing machine. Managing Editor Bart Madson also picked up on this.
“The Triumph’s engine performance far outpaces the other bikes. It revs longer and feels peppier from top to bottom – it’s not really close. The Parallel Twin does emit a completely different character than the gruffer V-Twins. It gets the dreaded ‘feels like a sewing machine’ descriptor – and while it’s super smooth and powerful by comparison, it doesn’t emote the same image as the other two bikes.”
With a tighter rake, smaller front wheel, compact COG, and a different chassis, the Bonneville has a definite handling edge on the Iron 883 Sportster and the Bolt.
The red racing stripe matches the Bonneville’s sporting disposition and we milked its 4.2-gallon tank for 152 miles before a fill-up.
We logged over 1600 miles in two weeks on the trio of bikes in our urban cruiser comparison before determining a winner.
Further disparity between the 2013 Bonneville, Bolt and Iron 883 was demonstrated on our run through the mountains. At 27-degrees, its rake is much tighter and the Triumph’s 17-inch wheels are much smaller and narrower. While the bike’s 4.2-gallon tank looks big, overall the design is svelte with the narrower engine and powertrain tightly packaged within the rails of its closely spaced, tubular steel cradle frame. This makes for a compact center of gravity. The placement of the foot controls are up and allow for a lot of lean angle.
“Handling is where the Bonneville rips these other two bikes to shreds. For starters it actually has some ground clearance, where the others scrape pegs at even slight turns. Its smaller-by-comparison 17-inch wheel allows for much quicker transitions, and the Bonneville feels nice and planted in the bends,” commented Madson.
To validate its performance, I took the 2013 Bonneville down to Carmel with me for the 2013 Quail Motorcycle Ride. First I used it to pace through winding Carmel Valley while trailing an all-original 1971 Dunstall Norton, a motorcycle whose reputation is built around its handling, and the Bonneville did a fine job of keeping pace. The Quail Ride also included an opportunity for a handful of parade laps on the vaunted grounds of Laguna Seca where turn-in on the Bonneville was light and sharp, its stability at lean was impressive and the grip of its stock Metzelers exceeded all expectations.
We broke the ton down Laguna’s straight, the five-speed gearbox of the Bonneville hitting every shift on cue. The wet, multi-plate clutch ensures that gears catch smoothly and efficiently. When it came time to bank around for Turn 1, the powerful front brake came in handy. The Nissin two-piston floating calipers have a strong bite all the way around, but the front in particular is very bitey, enough to just about throw you over the bars if you’re overzealous with them. Used in tandem, the Bonneville’s brakes provide great feel at the controls as well.
“The Bonneville’s brakes are more effective, particularly the front. It delivers more bite, but it might feel stronger because the Triumph feels lighter than its heavier rivals,” said Madson.
And though the Triumph ticks all the right boxes in the performance category, the styling tends to be a bit staid. Painting its tubular frame a racy red and the racing stripe down its tank are nice touches, the chroming on the KYB shocks are stylish, and the minimal instrumentation, anchored by the analog speedo and digital odometer/clock/ trip meters, provide form and function. But overall styling is pretty vanilla.
The fake carbs over the throttle bodies are a curious addition, especially since the fuel-injected Triumph is still a cold-blooded starter. Even when you pull the faux choke lever out, manually wrenching up the idle, it didn’t want to catch several times and Madson couldn’t decide if it’s quirky cool or just irritating. The plastic side covers the pseudo carbs lead in to also detract from its fit and finish. We weren’t fans of those tall, thin-stemmed mirrors either. They work fine but on the aesthetic side, they don’t add anything to the style of the bike. The Bonneville doesn’t have any adjustability to its levers either, which the standard Bolt does.
“It lacks the fit and finish of the Harley,” said Madson. “If I were picking up a Bonneville, I’d definitely opt for the more retro-styled T100 version with its wire-spoked wheels and
more traditional looking seat.”
In the end though, what it lacks in curb appeal, it more than makes up for on the performance side. It left the other two competitors in the dust, both on the straights and in the turns. It has the strongest brakes of the bunch and the smoothest tranny, too. Madson’s final thoughts on the 2013 Triumph Bonneville sums it up well.
“I was actually quite impressed with the Triumph. It had been a couple years since I’ve ridden the Bonnie, and it’s a great standard/urban bike. It’s also a fantastic beginner bike that won’t bore more experienced riders.”
And on that note, you’ve got the clear-cut winner of Motorcycle USA’s 2013 Urban Cruiser Shootout.
’13 Sportster 883 Iron vs Star Bolt vs Bonneville
2013 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Iron Comparison
2014 Star Bolt Comparison
2013 Triumph Bonneville Comparison