Monday, 10 February 2014

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville


"OK," I said. "I want one."
"Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first."
"She loves Triumphs," I said.
"Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."

The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially because of that, some part of me was expecting the Bonneville experience to be equally "classic" -- and "full of character," and various other cliches that are tactful ways of saying "not terribly pleasant."

Another reason I thought this is that the Bonneville produces the same amount of power and torque as the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200: a bike I absolutely loved riding but which had a few "character" issues that would make it difficult for me to love in the long term. Specifically, I am thinking of how unpleasant was riding at high speed, and the Sportster's ergonomic ability to make me sore in all kinds of places (knees and back, primarily).

The Sportster, too, has a heritage extending back to the late 1950s. So, I suppose that's what I was expecting when I hopped on a Bonneville and set out on a quick tour of the Vale of Glamorgan last week. But it turned out to be something rather wonderfully different. The Bonneville is nimble, fun and sexy, feels lighter than its weight would suggest, and is just so damned easy to ride.

Over and over, when the bike leapt to well above the speed limit, when it flowed through curves, when it danced through traffic, when it cruised at 70 mph without strain, I was hit by the impression of just how easy it is to ride a Bonneville. This is what motorcycling is supposed to be. Rather than asserting your will over the fire-driven dandy horse -- as was my experience in riding Harley-Davidsons and is even the case when muscling my Honda CBF600SA through certain tight spots -- you simply connect with it. You think; it does. Simple. Beautiful. Easy. Indeed, those three words sum up the Bonneville perfectly.

Simple

The stock Bonneville is, admittedly, a no-frills affair. You get wheels, an engine, brakes, a seat and not a great deal else. The dashboard consists of an analog speedometer face, within which is contained a small digital odometer. That digital display has two trip settings and a clock. Also within the same face is a tiny low-fuel warning light. Next to the round face are four lights to tell you: when you are in neutral, when your turn signal is on, when your high beams are on, and when you're running low on oil.

There is a tremendous selection of aftermarket goods available for the Bonneville, so a tachometer can be easily had for those keen to spend a few hundred dollars/pounds/euros more.

The aftermarket caveat applies to every aspect of the bike, but in stock form the Bonneville also lacks any wind protection. However, I found this to be surprisingly less bothersome than I would have thought. Perhaps because of the seating position I felt the wind most at my stomach and did not feel a need to keep a death grip on the bars. Leaning forward just slightly made it even more tolerable and I felt I could comfortably handle a solid 40-60 minutes of nonstop motorway riding before needing a tea break. By comparison, I would expect to last 60-90 minutes behind the windscreen of my CBF600SA.

The brakes consist of just two discs -- one up front and one in back -- and there is no anti-lock option available. This is probably my greatest concern about the Bonneville, but the brakes perform so well that I find myself willing to overlook it.

The single seat offers plenty of room to move around when riding, and for a human-sized passenger. It's a good bet passengers will feel more comfortable on the Bonneville than on other bikes because most will be able to touch their feet to the ground. However, it has to be said that the seat is quite firm, as are the standard shocks. I deliberately hit pot holes on my test ride and can confirm that doing so is not terribly pleasant. As a regular cyclist (on a road bicycle that has no suspension), I didn't find it unbearable, but those of a more sensitive nature may want to factor in the cost of a new suspension when considering this motorcycle.

Beyond a grab rail on that seat there aren't a great deal of places to strap things to the standard Bonneville. But, again, the aftermarket comes to the rescue with endless racks and sissy bars and panniers.

Beautiful

There's no denying that the Bonneville is a joy to look at. It is a machine that elicits a sort of warmth and approval from everyone. Or, at least, that seems to be the way of things in Britain. It has a certain quality that draws the eye, that makes you want to trace the lines of the frame and fenders and handlebars. It is the sort of bike that men speak to and whisper "baby" at: "Come on, baby, let's show 'em what we can do."

Jay Leno often says he prefers a motorcycle you can see through, meaning that it is uncluttered by body work, and that is certainly true of the Bonneville. The parallel twin engine serves as a showpiece, with the exhausts swooping forward, then dipping below your feet. Indicators and lights have utilitarian beauty. Everything is there because it's supposed to be. Even when it's not; the carburetors are purely aesthetic on this fuel-injected bike.

I found the sound of the exhaust to be delightful: growling enough to let me know I'm on a motorcycle, to send those silly manly shivers up and down my spine, but not so loud or obnoxious that it would upset my 75-year-old neighbours.

Easy

The Triumph Bonneville has an incredible get-on-and-go quality. With anything -- a car, a motorcycle, a bicycle -- there is a certain space of time in which you adapt from one version to the other. For the Bonneville, that adaptation time consisted of seconds. Everything was just there, it just worked. It felt right. It was instant zen.

The bike weighs 225 kg (496 lbs.), roughly the same as my Honda CBF600SA but somehow manages to wear that weight so much better. That is true both in terms of handling on the road and in physically moving it about. After the ride I hopped off the bike without putting down the kickstand; the bike started to tip but I caught it, one-handed, and comfortably pushed it back upright from an angle that quite possibly would have been the point of no return on my own bike.

And, as I say, the same lightness shows up on the road. Corners and curves were easily navigated; roundabouts suddenly became fun. When I wasn't aiming at pot holes for the sake of testing the suspension, they were no trouble to dance around.

In city sections, filtering was so natural it felt almost like filtering on a bicycle. Jumping from the line (i.e., accelerating from a traffic light) put me well ahead of traffic and out of danger, and did not require rapid gear changing. First gear goes a lot further than on my existing bike, probably even further than I realised because I never heard the engine strain.

Getting up to motorway speeds was, in fact, easier than on my bike and holding that speed put no strain on the engine. Drew, the aforementioned level-headed salesman, made the comment that the Bonneville can "cruise the ton all day" and I'd certainly believe it. I pushed the bike to 90 mph at one point (a) and could tell the engine still had plenty more to give. The engine was not screaming, the way a Sportster does at such speed, nor was there any noticeable vibration (beyond the obvious vibration that would occur on any object travelling that speed).

I felt confident the Bonneville would have no trouble delivering Jenn and I to the beach or a country pub. With a little aftermarket love, it would be equally up to the task of carrying me across the length and breadth of Europe. And certainly I wouldn't be the first one to try such a thing. In looking more into Bonnevilles I find that quite a few people choose them as touring bikes.

And in that sense the Bonneville is easy to transform into whatever motorcycle you want it to be. Need a bike that makes you look cool? This is it. Need a bike you can beat to hell going back and forth across continents? This is it. Need a bike that can zip you through traffic and tiny filtering gaps? This is it. Need a bike that won't look silly in 10 years (as opposed to any sport bike)? This is it. Need a bike you can actually afford? This is it.

Only two complaints

As I alluded to above, the Triumph Bonneville is not the perfect motorcycle. My main issues with it are:
1) I don't own one (yet)
2) Anti-lock brakes are not available.

But for me, the overall experience of the bike is so incredible that I find myself almost willing to overlook my set-in-stone rule for bikes and brakes. I felt totally confident in the Bonneville's standard brakes and I am notoriously cautious in my riding. Perhaps. For such a wonderful machine, perhaps I'd break my old rule...

So, that brings us to the three questions that must be answered in any ride review:

1) Will it fit in my garden?
Effectively this is a question about practicality, i.e., am I able to incorporate this bike into my existing lifestyle? But whether you want to interpret the question literally or figuratively, the answer is yes. It is small enough and manoeuvrable enough to fit into the tiny space that is my garden shed. It is adaptable enough that it can fit my lifestyle.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Oh, hell yeah, it does. Salesman Drew had to calm me down. I spent the evening afterward showing pictures of the bike to my wife. I am sitting here, several days later, still grinning.

3) Is it better than my current motorcycle?
Yes. There are a few points my current bike could score on a stock Bonneville in terms of heated grips and wind screen, but these are items that can be added. Beyond that, the only other sticking point is anti-lock brakes. But some part of me feels that perhaps the reason I've been so religious about ABS is that, deep down, I've not really felt 100-percent in control of my CBF600SA, especially in terms of its top-heavy nature. The Bonneville, meanwhile, feels lighter and made me feel more confident. Additionally, it is a better-handling motorcycle than my Honda, the pull of its engine is more thrilling, and its sexiness is infinitely greater.

The Bonneville has shown up quite a few times on my What I Want list. Now that I've finally ridden one I am very, very, very seriously considering taking it out of the realm of wishing and into reality...

_______________

(a) If you are a member of South Wales Police, this is a lie told for entertainment purposes only. I never exceed the speed limit.

38 comments:

  1. And it's a "proper bike" too. I remember when I bought my second bike, my wife really bitched about the seating. It made her butt hurt, and she'd slap the back of my head every 10-15 minutes to let me know. Also, the location of passenger footpegs was also a big deal for her, it made her knees ache. I had sunk a couple thousand dollars in two new seats and various footpeg/floorboard combinations, but ultimately I had to buy a yet another bike to make her feel comfortable. So, long story short, if you plan to ride Jenn on this Bonnie, sit her on the back of the bike and let her test it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good plan. I'm trying to convince her to come with me next Saturday to check it out and see if she's as keen on the bike as I am.

      Delete
  2. Chris, nice write-up...almost made me want one. I like the vintage look but therein lies the problem, it's not a vintage bike. There is something very appealing about it but at the same time I'm not sure if I'd enjoy riding a bike that looks like it was manufactured in the 60's. I know, who am I to talk, Harley's pretty much look the same as their ancestors as well.

    I do agree with Steve, make sure you do a two-up test ride with your wife. The stock seat doesn't look like it would be very comfortable for two...but looks can be deceiving. If this is what your heart desires. Go for it!

    Cheers,
    Curt
    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy
    www.curtcarter.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I get what you mean. I personally love the look and sound of the Sportster, it was just the ride that put me off. I rode a Triumph America that same day (review to come) and what I suddenly realised is that the reason cruisers don't tend to sell very well on this side of the water is that they really aren't good bikes for our road conditions. If I were back home in Texas or Minnesota, I'd probably lean a little more toward the Sportster (with a different seat).

      The Bonneville, obviously, was built with this island in mind, and fortunately for me I really like the look of the thing. If I get one, I'll add a small fly screen to somewhat round out the look of the headlight.

      Delete
  3. Great review Chris. I so wanted to keep the Bonneville when I had one but it just don't suit. Loved the way it cornered, so smooth.

    Regarding anti-lock breaks - would that be a deal breaker for you? I've watched the Team Oregon instructors practice braking and some of the guys were stopping shorter than the guys with ABS bikes. Hubby was one of those and they had to ask him if his Tiger has ABS, which is doesn't. The steel braided brake lines do wonders for the stopping ability as does practice, practice, practice.

    I mention this even though I don't think I could stop that short with my soft Gladius brakes........

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand that there are people who can practice and practice to stop shorter than ABS without locking up, but the questions I have are:
      1) Are they definitely always without fail going to do the same thing outside of ideal conditions?
      2) Am I one of those people?

      What I know is my own experience, and my own experience is that I struggle to think clearly in panic situations. In the past, when I have been in panic situations on the bike I have found myself just grabbing at the brake, even though I KNOW not to do that, and even though I have practiced in parking lots (really, I set aside at least one day a month to practice basics).

      So, what's the answer there? Just hope that somehow I'll drill the correct procedure into my brain before I kill myself, or continue to practice but "protect" myself with modern safety technology? I choose the second.

      Delete
  4. Great write up! I'm not surprised you fell in love with a Bonnie - I think I've mentioned ten times or so that I was going to buy a Bonneville until I hopped on the Speed Four I finally bought. Anyway, Triumphs rock.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I ride a bike with no ABS. I've only locked the front wheel once, and that was practicing emergency stops on a damp greasy road in an industrial estate. I released the brake, re-applied the brake, and no kittens were killed.

      ABS is nice, but it's not as essential as you seem to think.

      Delete
  5. Have you looked into something like the TCB unit? I read about it awhile back. Im like you , love good brakes and get excited sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice review, and I know exactly how you feel as I just purchased a new one about 6 weeks ago! I've already put 1000mls on it, and the wife loves it! up the rear shocks to 5 and 2 up is no problem, did a 100 mile round trip today between Ayr and Castle Douglas, and was still yearning for more.... buy it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. So did you buy one Chris? I bought the 2010 Bonnie after 30 years not riding and while I too ponder the lack of ABS brakes I couldn't part with it now not for anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear it. In the end I decided against getting one because I feel ABS is so important and didn't want to stress myself out financially for something that's not up to my standard. The day they announce ABS for the Bonneville, though, is the day I put a downpayment on one.

      Delete
  8. After all this hype and talk and you decided not to get one? Ugh, really dude? You need to man up. I been riding for close to 40 years, owned a lot of diff bikes, crotch rockets, a turbo bike, last decade was on a Harley. I just bought my first Triumph (Bonneville T100) last year. Its a blast. Everything you wrote and more. The uniqueness alone makes it far superior to all the drones riding around on Harleys that all look the same. If you're a real bike guy I can't believe the ABS is even a concern. Bikes stop hella fast as it is. Better to lock up and control the skid than to just keep ratcheting until you roll into the car in front of you or over a cliff. All the bikes prior to the last decade or so didn't have ABS. That sounds like hipster douchbagery ... like crying about the coffee shop running out of half and half for your no whip, low cal, non-dairy latte. Buy the thing, ride the thing. You won't regret it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My penis is plenty big; I don't need a motorcycle to prove that. So I'm not ashamed to demand the features that I want and expect. ABS is available on all of Triumph's models except the Bonneville line. To me that smacks just a little bit of laziness. Especially when Harley-Davidson offers ABS on all of its models, including the Iron 883. Yamaha offers ABS on the XV950. Those two bikes are comparable to the Bonneville in price, look, spirit, and, to a certain extent, performance. I've had my life saved by ABS, so I'm pretty unwilling to compromise on that aspect. As I say, the day Triumph announces anti-lock brakes for its Bonneville line is the day I head into my local Triumph dealer and hand them a down payment... Unless I decide to get something else first.

      Delete
  9. Really enjoyed your article... I've recently brought a 2013 bonnie and its a great bike to ride and it shows a unique lazy cool character compared to my previous bike (Ducati Monster). As I'm becoming a family man lazy cool is good for me. Personally, I'm not too worried about the lack of ABS breaks as the front brake feels a bit weak ends up creating a feeling of security for me, knowing even if I accidentally slam on the breaks its not going to lock the front wheel on me due to its lack of power. Thanks again for the cool article.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Agree about the ABS, Chris. In a panic-situation, and there will be some, the ordinary rider will lock-up, and probably get hurt. Im into Thruxton, and if it had ABS I would have get one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Totally agree with you there. I love that bike. I am waiting for ABS; it has to come in the next year or so.

      Delete
  11. Great writing Chris. Sorry you weren't able to get the Bonnie, but I do get the concern with the lack of ABS. I own a Thruxton and recently had the opportunity to ride a Bonnie through the mountains of Colorado, and it's a great bike. Hopefully Triumph will offer that option in the 2015 model - right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Still waiting for ABS. I'm sure it will come soon. I hope it will come soon. How do you feel about tire options for the Thruxton? Is there a decent selection? Are you able to find tires that are good in the wet?

      Delete
  12. Your article was pretty on track. I have a 2010 T100 I picked up last year and have put just over 6000 smile inducing miles on it that have also been trouble free. I do a daily commute of back roads and highway in Maine of 80 miles roundtrip, when the weather cooperates. Yes, it takes the bumps and holes rough, but it only impacts your butt and not the handling. Outside that, the bike is a blast to ride, drag pegs in the corners, and gets better than 45 miles to the gallon. I spent five hours in the saddle last Friday buzzing around the back roads on a trip to Concord, NH and I was comfortable the entire trip and even more surprising, when I went to get off the bike. I get your concerns about ABS, never had a bike with it myself, but I'd buy another Bonnie with or without ABS.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent article, and spot on regardingTriumph and/or the Bonnie. After numerous Brit bikes over a period of many, many years I have just purchased a 2015 Triumph T214 Bonnie to complete the circle. My first (and last) Triumph was a new 1956 TR6A Trophy, with several Ariels following. The new Bonnie is a Birthday present to myself for my 80th year on this old planet at the end of next month. I look forward to many more happy miles!
    Cheers,
    Bill

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you're enjoying your Bonnie as much as I do mine.

      Delete
  14. hi, i have ridden harley sportsters in the past, presently on a 2014 Z1000 and i am seriously considering the bonnie. but i am just not able to decide whether i should let go of my z1000 for the bonnie! agreed that the two bikes in question belong to two separate leagues but then again, should i!????

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a challenging question, since the two bikes are so different. For me, I guess I'd look at what aspects you like about the Z1000. Consider what of those elements the Bonnie has; if there's something the Bonnie lacks, can you live without it?

      So, for instance, in my case, the thing that eventually turned me against buying a Bonneville is the fact they aren't presently offered with ABS brakes. That's a really important feature to me. I love the Bonneville and came very close to getting one anyway, but I've decided instead to just wait until Triumph put ABS brakes on the bike. In the EU, legally they will be required to do that within the next year.

      Delete
  15. Hi Chris, I've read in your posts that you are 6'1", which is the same as I am. Did you feel cramped on the bike at all? I've read conflicting personal reports across the net, so it may just be a personal preference thing. I wouldn't considering buying without trying anyways, but just curious on your comfort level as the Bonnie is a serious contender for me.

    ReplyDelete
  16. 2016 should put a great deal of bikes on the floor with ABS since laws are demanding that in some countries. Triumph probably and this is a guess on my part add ABS to the 2016 bike and we may also see for 2016 a larger motor.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great review I am reading this at my home in Canada in March of 2015 having just ordered a Triumph Bonneville Newchurch, I was really happy reading your review but I am amazed that you are so reliant on ABS, Personally having ridden motorcycles for over 40 years including modern crotch rockets and old rickety classics, I have never ridden one with ABS or linked braking nor would I want to, as far as braking goes I like to be in total control of the bike and not dependant on electronics to stop me, I hope that you buy a bonnie in the future I for one applaud what John Bloor is trying to do with Triumph and seriously hope that he takes note of what the American shops are achieving people like south bay triumph and Mule motorcycles have made some beautiful bikes using the Bonnie as a base.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Your review is spot on for the Bonnie. Owned a 67 T120 since 81 and I'm sorry to say that my 2013 T100 is a better bike to ride. It feels like it has an invisible force field around it when zipping through traffic and curves in the road straighten out as you lean into them. I don't understand why you would ever want ABS with disk brakes. Try some shoe breaks on a rainy day and you will feel empowered on the disk brake machine. If you feel insecure with braking, buy a Mustang or Corvette and keep yourself from becoming a road pizza. The bike did need better shocks (Bitubo), jell seat (Dunstall, 1-2 inches higher), pipes with character (Hyde Toga) and a remap (TTP 3) to make it just right. Brakes are what brakes do.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I just bought a 2014 Triumph Bonneville T100 SE. I came from the crotch rocket world and I'm 45 and didn't want to donate my eyes quite yet. I just got home on the bonny from a 110 MPH ride for 12 miles. I'll be smiling for a couple of days....

    ReplyDelete
  20. I really would love to have a Bonneville but would make the purchase if ABS were available
    I am looking at the 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S as it has abs but may end up with a Bonnie at some point

    ReplyDelete
  21. Returning to biking after 15 years. Test road a Harley sportster lots of noise terrible back brake too slow and doesnt go round British bends. Then a Yamaha MT09 tracer. Has abs and traction control and I would need them to stay alive. 40 to illegal in top gear in the blink of an eye. Then a Bonneville big smile and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. Instantly felt at home Pick up my low milage 2012 . model next week and cant wait.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Great review, and thanks. I recently purchased a 2014 Bonne SE, BEFORE reading your review, and you have captured my view of this machine beautifully. This is my 6th bike, I'm getting long in the tooth, but the Bonne just makes me want to ride more! Don't believe it could take my tricked out Star 1300 in a drag quarter mile, but it definitely would destroy the Star, the way it does the local Harleys, in the Catoctins here in northern Maryland. I don't have any issue with the brakes in the mountains, since the front brake is so much more effective than the ones on any cruiser I have every ridden.
    Ride On!
    bobk

    ReplyDelete
  23. 90,000miles on my 2007 Bonneville. Original suspension, light bulbs, steering and swinging arm bearings (untouched from the factory!. All I have replaced was the rectifier ($100) and valve guides as we took off the head to see how things looked and they had a little wear. Nothing else did. I ride every day and go where I want wioth confidence. I don't miss ABS. I won't sell this bike no matter what else I buy.

    ReplyDelete
  24. You should check out the new Bonneville. It has ABS now:
    http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/2015/10/article/the-2016-triumph-bonneville-line-is-reborn/

    ReplyDelete
  25. Looking round the bike showrooms I was disappointed at the absence of Brit bikes..all there seemed to be were overpriced overweight two wheel tractors. ( aka harley davidsons...sorry people but thats how i see them ) Then I saw a Bonnie ! Yes...the bike I always dreamed of having as a teenage " rocker " back in England in the 60s...now im in USA and about to get delivery of a 2014 bonneville and relive those wonderful times. If the t100 is half as good as your review then there is gonna be one ex Brit touring around the USA with a huge grin on his face. Safe riding to you all and enjoy your ride no matter what you have.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Nice article Chris. Do you own a Bonnie yet? I loved the idea of the guy giving himself a Bonnie for his 80th birthday. I turn 60 next month but failed the handling part of my driving test today so I'm well gutted. Now waiting for a new date so I can get my license and start testing Bonneville’s. I keep changing my mind as to which one, there's so much to choose from now! I like the looks of the scrambler and the high seat (I'm 6 foot). The idea of whizzing around Amsterdam where I live appeals to me but the bulk of my riding will probably be the motorway to and from work. The Street twin looks tasty too and the specs seem great (incl. ABS!) but the seat is so low. It feels, after sitting on a few, like it would be a dream to flip about but I wonder whether it would be too small for me on longer trips. Just to make it more complicated, the new T100 coming out next year looks to die for. Hopefully the addition of ABS will make this unnecessary.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I sold my 1982 Honda CB900SF two years ago and am in the market for another bike. The CB900 was nice but tall and heavy. I've been looking at 800-900cc cruisers and seriously looking at Moto Guzzies, but haven't found one that seems just right. I've ridden old Triumphs and had a Yamaha xs650 that I completely rebuilt and drove for years. I recently found a red and black 2014 T100 for a reasonable price and need to make a decision about it. I do my own wrenching so servicing is not a problem, I was just concerned about the reliability issues. From what I.ve read most owners don't seem to have too many problems. And at my age (67) it should suit me just fine.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Plan to buy a Bonnie as soon as the right one, previously owned, shows up. Rode a 1970 for a year on loan from a friend. Loved it. Have since owned many others but still hanker for a Bonnie. Time to get serious. The spoked wheels on the T100 are of a minor concern but since I never had an issue with them on any bike since 1960 will just not worry. Now waiting for spring and the snow to melt.

    ReplyDelete