National No. 32 this year was Shawn Baer on one of the more interesting machines in the pits. Bear and the Bonneville Performance team have fitted a Triumph powerplant into a custom framer to create one of the more nostalgic set-ups in the paddock. The Trumpet Flat Tracker pays homage to the English-built bikes that ran at the front of American dirt tracks across the country in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the heyday of the sport. With the likes of legends Gary Nixon and Gene Romero at the controls, those decades saw Bonnevilles on countless Grand National podiums. But as the sport’s popularity died down in the ‘80s, Triumph went with it. The Bonneville Performance squad has set out to bring back these glory days, and with a ninth-place finish at the Minnesota Mile this year they are well on the way.
I hopped on the Bonnie fourth in line and quickly noticed that, like the Harley, it has been modified to feature both the shift lever and rear brake on the right side. Turn the external starter over, drop the bike into gear and roll away. It’s quite thin between the rider’s legs and sits very low to the ground, featuring the shortest seat height of the bunch, even lower than the SV. You sit much more ‘in’ the bike than on top of it, very similar to the Suzuki and quite different than the other four machines.
The Triumph’s low CG allows the chassis to behave in a very light feeling and predictable manner, turning in with ease and staying planted mid-corner without requiring rider effort to keep it turning. This also allows the rider the ability to slide in a very predictable manner under acceleration on corner exit. The position and size of the rear brake lever didn’t fit well with the MX boots I was wearing, which was limiting on corner-entry, as the feel wasn’t there to get confident backing it into the high-speed corners. Rider Baer uses much smaller road race-style boots, for which the fitment and position of the lever is designed.
At first glance, looking at the older-style engine one may assume that they are starting with a serious disadvantage, but the Bonneville Performance boys have stretched some serious horsepower from the Triumph. This is instantly apparent twisting the throttle when leaving the pits. Initial throttle response from the massive dual carbs is somewhat sluggish, but once rolling and at speed things work much more fluently, as they have the air needed to mix with the large quantities of fuel being dumped into the engine.
Up the pace and the Bonne really comes to life, stretching its legs and showing very respectable pace. Does it have the top end of the Kawasaki or the instantaneous throttle response of the Ducati? No. But it squarely falls in line with some of the others, very close in many aspects to the Suzuki. Both are smaller and nimble handling and make up for their lack in top end by giving the rider tractable mid-range that shows on initial corner-exit, as both make getting the power to the ground very user-friendly.
Like some of the other privateers teams featured in this test, 100% of the development of the Triumph has fallen squarely on the Bonneville Performance team’s shoulders. The bike of choice throughout the paddock remains the Harley XR750, giving those who venture to challenge it an uphill battle no matter what engine manufacturer is chosen. Not since Honda made a strong push back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s has someone put a factory effort up against The Motor Company. But the ability to make any 18-rider main on the calendar and results like a ninth in Minnesota have shown that despite limited time and resources, the BP boys have put together a formidable opponent, their eyes set on bringing back the glory days of English domination in American flat track.