The Triumph Bonneville T 120 at 1,000 miles
I’ve had my Triumph for over a month now, and first impressions are hardening into permanent truths. Here’s what I have learned.
Overall: Simply a brilliant design. Triumph engineers were striving to create the look of a 1960’s Bonneville with a lot of modern technology added in ways that are for the most part invisible. The degree of their success in this is astonishing.
In appearance it’s hard to take your eyes off the bike, as there are small details everywhere that delight the eye when discovered. I prefer the cranberry and silver paint scheme, but the bike is attractive in every paint array available, as far as I can tell. All of the wiring and bits and bobs that are necessary but can detract from the overall look are hidden. Yes, there’s a radiator between the frame down tubes for the partially water-cooled engine, but it’s small and as unobtrusive as possible. Most people who stop to comment (that happens a lot) don’t even see it.
A friend saw my bike for the first time yesterday and uttered one word: “Stunning.” I think that is accurate.
Some may decry the throttle bodies, which are styled to look like Amal carbs from 50 years ago, but I would point out that Amal carbs were not all that great at the time, and the look offers retro gain with no pain.
I like the small gold circle on the left hand engine case, which sets off the contrasting colors and textures of various mechanical bits fore and aft.
I like the small pig tail for a battery charger, thoughtfully added by Triumph of Seattle before purchase. It is zip tied to the frame and invisible until you want to use it.
Technology: I lot of modern bikes have similar technology add-ons, but the combination of the tech and the retro in such an appealing package is rare. When I was trying to talk myself out of purchase, (as one does) every time I thought of some feature I wanted on my next bike I discovered it was already there, and not optional.
Heated grips, LCD headlight and taillight, ABS brakes, two engine modes, easy pull throttle and clutch, six speeds, chrome wheels, triple disc brakes, knee pads on the tank – all standard!
A 10,000 service interval is simply grotesque compared to the motorcycles of my younger years. But welcome!
Then there are the multiple tech delights I did not think of. A fake burglar alarm with a little red blinking light. A port to charge your phone under the seat. Various displays you can toggle through on the instruments, which look old school.
Performance: Still improving due to two factors. The engine is loosening up with each mile, leading to peppier acceleration and increased mpg. On one tank yesterday it delivered 54 miles per gallon. On regular. The Speed Triple that preceded it used mid-grade fuel, and usually ran in the mid to low 30’s. True, it had a fairly aggressive tune on the fuel injection, as well as TOR pipes, etc. but still I have not owned a motorcycle that offered fuel mileage this good since about 1971 – (Honda 450 Street Scrambler) – if then.
I am also learning how it likes to be ridden. Yesterday’s 200 mile ride covered winding back roads I have used for years on all sorts of motorcycles, most often on the Speed Triple. I think I am riding at about the same pace, but the techniques are far different.
The Speed Triple is what Kenny Roberts once referred to in his book as a “front wheel” bike. It was so eager to turn in that a mere thought would send it diving for an apex. The cornering could be described in car terms as “oversteer.” The Bonneville, by contract, is more of a “rear wheel” bike. It is extremely stable in a straight line, but coming into a corner it can be a little reluctant to track toward the apex. The solution is to give the front brake a gentle squeeze on corner entry. This sends weight toward the front, and now the bike is more eager to turn in.
Handling is appropriate for the intended use of the bike. At 1,000 miles the “chicken strips” on the rear tire are there, and narrow. I have touched the toe of a boot down once or twice, but have yet to drag either of the “hero blobs” under the foot pegs.
For those who want to try harder than I wish to, the Thruxton R might be a better choice. More power higher in the rev range, and far superior suspension. On the other hand, the bars on the Thruxton are lower, which might be better for aggressive riding but less comfy for a long day. It is also $2500 more expensive. And – the heated grips are not standard on the Thruxton. In Seattle, heated grips are pretty much a must for me. Of course, you could add them, either a Triumph accessory or aftermarket, such as Oxford.
Weaknesses: Nothing is perfect, of course. I do a few 7 to 10 day trips a year, and the Bonneville is a bit lacking in storage space. Alright – pretty much completely lacking. I own a few tank bags, and usually I use a magnetic one from Nelson- Rigg. The Bonneville has a steel tank, another plus I forgot to mention. The magnetic bag is fairly small, and I often leave it off, because the bike is so gorgeous without it. Such are the small-brain thoughts of the smitten buyer.
At the rear there is a lovely chrome passenger grab handle that is not of much use, (my only passenger is my wife, who will wrap her arms around me) and I have yet to find one of my bags that can strap to it.
I had a Ventura rack system double bag on the Speed Triple, and it was terrific. I kept the bags when I traded in the bike, and the Bonneville will need new Ventura “L” brackets attached. Alas, Ventura is working on it, but I doubt the brackets for this new model will be ready in time for my first big trip in late July.
However, four decades ago I would simply strap on a “jock bag” with my entire chattel in plastic lawn bags. That will work again. Back to the – past!
Or, I could purchase some throw-over saddle bags, like the two sets I donated to Goodwill a few years ago.
Another weakness is the tube tires. With chromed center spoke rims so much a part of the appearance, this is a tough one to get around. For the past few years I have carried with me on all rides a portable air compressor and flat repair kit, and of course because I did so I’ve never used them.
For sure, I never carried such things when I rode across the country a few times in the 1970’s, but I was younger and considerably dumber then. And there was that year a few years ago when I had three flats in one year. Probably upping my AAA membership to include motorcycles will be the solution to this.
Wind protection – there is none as delivered. The tank bag will help, but on long rides you can feel the strain in your biceps the next morning. The upright riding position will also make itself felt in your lower back. There are a few small “fly screens” available, and of course some larger and less attractive ones, and that may be a consideration in the future. Personally, I like having my full face Arai as the only windshield. On longer rides the pack behind me will offer support for my lower back, and also take some pressure off the biceps.
Feeling Tone: “Feeling tone” is a teacher term that refers to the intangibles you can sense in a classroom. Sort of like personality, but more so. This is a crucial factor in customer satisfaction, and road tests never talk about. Every motorcycle fills you with an emotion when you ride it, and want you want and what you get will vary.
The Speed Triple was a wonderful motorcycle, and it was very “mission driven.” It always wanted to work with you to go faster and have more fun.
The Bonneville is very much laid back. I can ride it about as fast as I did the Speed Triple (which is not as fast as either could be ridden) but it sort of says “whatever.” It is the most relaxing bike to ride in decades, and just fills me with a combination of serenity and joy. The seat is comfortable for at least 75 miles at a shot (I tend to stop often), the exhaust note is pleasant and audible, but not obnoxious, the handling is competent, and the brakes sure and utterly predictable.
Some will scream, but what it most reminds me of is a Harley. Sure, the Bonneville is a couple of hundred pounds lighter, handles and stops better, and is faster, but that is not what I mean. When I first started riding Harleys years ago (don’t hate me, it was a part of my job) I learned that they were heavy, slow, and did not stop well. And that I enjoyed riding them immensely. They (most of them) were fun to ride, and seemed to make each ride a little bit special. The Bonneville T 120 is like that – but more so.
How much do I like it? I just washed it. Because it was dusty.
Copyright 2016 David Preston