The 2016 Triumph T 120 at 5,000 miles

The 2016 Triumph T120 Bonneville at 5,000 miles.

With my new Bonneville about to hit the 5,000 mile mark, it’s a good time to look back on the ownership experience so far.

First impressions:  Well, it’s beautiful. That’s the first thought for almost anyone, and it continues every day. The “cranberry” metallic and silver paint scheme, with hand-painted gold pin striping between the colors, is striking, not only in and of itself but for the eerie similarity to Bonnevilles of the late 1960s – arguably the brands finest hour, until now. The T120 was sold out by June, making my April purchase seem a bit wiser. I think this bike and siblings may mark the beginning of a trend toward “old school” appearance, where motorcycles are beautiful to look at, as opposed to merely stunning in their perceived performance potential.

I used to work for a Triumph dealer, and the former owner of what is now Triumph of Seattle invited me to chat at breakfast a block away. Afterward, we wandered over to the shop, as motorcyclists do, and were stopped in our tracks by the first of the new arrivals. This was an odd experience, as both of us pretty much knew it was a brand new 2016 model, and yet it looked so similar to a 1960’s that the right side of our brains wondered if it were not a very fresh restoration. Even odder, as Jim used to own a perfectly restored 1960’s model in this color, one of the few bikes I was not allowed to ride. Even he was confused. Finally the well-hidden radiator between the front down tubes confirmed what the left side of our brains knew – it was brand new.

When lust for a new motorcycle hits your heart, the brain often comes up with arguments for why you do not want to do this. 

My brain said “Yes, but you would want ABS brakes.”  They’re standard. 

“Well, I have never liked it that the Bonneville only has one front disc brake.”  The T 120 has twin disc brakes.

“OK, but heated grips are a must.”  Standard. 

“Well, I’d like to have a magnetic tank bag, as the strap ones are pain.  The fuel tank is steel. 

“Really?”  Yes.

“What are the service intervals?”  10,000 miles.  “Excuse me?”  10,000 miles. 

“What is this USB port under the seat?”  For charging your cell phone.  “Excess electronics, on a Triumph?”  Don’t forget the fake burglar alarm that blinks when the bike is not running.

“I’d want the tank pads, and they’re probably extra.”  No, standard. 

“It doesn’t have cruise control.” True, but the throttle pull is so light you won’t need it.  Clutch pull is also feather light.  It also has two ride modes, and various other cute multi-functions, including a clock, built into the instruments.

At the end, all I could come up with was that the chrome wire wheels meant tube tires.

I went home on my Speed Triple, and the T 120 took root in my head. Due to arthritis in my right knee I’d been contemplating something smaller, shorter, and lighter than the Speed Triple for about a year, plus stewing with some increasing maintenance and repair issues with the old bike, which was nearing 50,000 miles. Fortunately, I had been talking about this with Susan for quite some time, so I laid out the potential numbers for her.  With trade-in, I calculated that this was going to cost about $9,000. I was off by $38 high.

Since I used to work for them, and know the owner, the purchasing “negotiations” took about 10 minutes. He did not need to sell the bike to me, but on the other hand I have been a nice guy, yadayada.

I had to wait for “mine” to get there, as the one I first viewed had already been sold. This was agony, as I did not want to ride the Speed Triple much since I had already agreed to the trade-in value.  But it did get there, and I rode in and swapped the paperwork and was on my way home. Two friends met me at the dealership to help celebrate, and Andy the salesperson impressed all with his knowledge and relentlessly polishing of every speck of dust he could find while I was paying for the bike.

Performance:  Obviously not in a league with the Speed Triple, as the Bonneville is about 50 horsepower short.  But that was OK with me.  During the 14 years I worked in the business, I was encouraged to ride every different bike I could get my hands on as part of my “customer relations” training.  I rode over 500 different motorcycles in that time, and kept notes on all of them.   (The notes are posted much further down on this site).   I also owned several different bikes during this period, including several “big guns.”  I had a Kawasaki ZX12R, an extremely rare Muzzy Raptor, a Kawasaki ZRX, and so on, as well as a lot of seat time on a BMW K 1300S and S 1000RR.  In short, I had “been there and done that” with high horsepower bikes.  I know how fast I am (not very) and what my limits are (low), and was ready (at 69 years of age) to slow down and enjoy the ride a bit.  I had also ridden dozens of cruisers, about four dozen Harleys of all models, all BMW models and on and on.  If I don’t know what I want by now there is no hope for anyone.

Having said that, the T 120 is what I would call “sneaky fast.”  For a 1200cc twin, it has prodigious torque, and accelerates more rapidly that you would expect.  It has a “happy place” for cruising at about 70-75 mph, and gets 50 mpg plus a bit on regular fuel.

Handling:  If you read Kenny Roberts’ book on motorcycles, you will note he refers to some bikes as “front wheel” bikes and others as “rear wheel” bikes. It took me several years to figure out what he meant.  To grossly over simplify, most cruisers and almost all Harleys are rear wheel bikes. You can stomp on the rear brake on a Harley and it will slow down rapidly, because that is where the weight is. Sport bikes are front wheel bikes, and with a short wheel base, hard on the brakes means the rear wheel is hardly touching the surface.  Freddie Spencer used to remove the rear brake pedal on his Honda superbikes back in the 1980’s because all it did was reduce the cornering clearance on the right side.

The T120 is a bit of both, depending on how it is ridden.  Usually the handling is a bit lazy, but I am coming off 50,000 miles on a Speed Triple, which will begin to arc into a turn if you merely think about it.  The T 120 takes some work at the handlebars to turn.  Oddly, I find that the bike is so pleasant to ride that I often almost forget I am on a motorcycle – it is more like a pleasant reverie of motion.  I have to concentrate on maintaining focus, whereas a Speed Triple demands focus at all times.  However, if the road is curvy and I’m feeling frisky, I tend to lean forward a bit and hunker down, and then the T 120 turns with much more alacrity.

I have not touched the pegs down very often, but this is more of a function of the feeling tone of the bike.  It sort of says “OK, we can go faster, but do you want to bother?”  Usually I don’t.

I think the rear shocks are also old school, as in crap. I turned them up a notch early on, using the ONLY TOOL in the “tool kit,” and now they seem a bit soft to me. Back in the day it was common to change out the shocks for something better early on.  Things began to change with my 2000 Kawasaki ZX12.  I had a race tech set up the suspension, and it seems that bike, which was long and heavy, had been set up by the boffins in Japan for Americans who are taller and heavier. It was pretty much perfect as delivered, just one click stiffer on the rear.  I think I stiffened the Triumph a bit at both ends at the first service and never touched it after. We’ll see what the future brings for the T 120. The front end seems fine.

The brakes have not been an issue. Partly because there are three disc brakes, and partly because I just do not ride it that hard. The ABS will come in handy in an emergency I hope never to experience.

Cleaning:  Bizarrely, this bike does not seem to get dirty!  The Speed Triple, with short fenders and a pretty open rear half, would get trashed in 30 feet if I rode through a puddle. I took the T 120 on a 2,000 mile ride to California this summer, and the day I got back I set out to clean it, as you do.  It really was not dirty!  I rode it 200 miles the other day and cleaned a few bugs off the mirrors as a result.

Luggage: Clearly a weakness, but easily handled. A Nelson Rigg magnetic tank bag (with a micro-fiber towel under it to protect that gorgeous paint) handles the day to day, and for longer trips I have a set of Cortech saddlebags with a really sleek top bag that clips in to the saddlebags.  I am set for long trips, unless I want to camp, where space will be a bit tight.

Maintenance:  Nothing to complain about. I use spray-on lube on the chain probably more frequently than I need to, and I clean the rear wheel with WD 40 on a paper towel.  The chain does not need adjusting, and may make it to the 10,000 mile service untouched.

The only issue is the little “service needed” wrench icon  that has appeared on the instrument panel. Dealer thinks perhaps a minor error was made on set-up, and it was adjusted for the interval of the older air-cooled 900cc mill.   Some sunny day I will ride in and have that re-set.

All in all – I made a great choice.  This bike should last as long as the Speed Triple did, and then I may be asking the question “What sort of motorcycle should a rider of 80 years of age purchase?”

Copyright 2016                      David Preston





About david

I am a 74 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020), a 2020 Triumph Bonneville, and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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1 Response to The 2016 Triumph T 120 at 5,000 miles

  1. …. It was kind of a no-brainer when the T120 showed-up for a bunch of folks, I presume… The look and the demeanor of the motorcycle fits a well tempered rider like yourself and a generation of folks with the 60’s Triumphs so prominently burned into memories… I think of all of these classically derived iterations as “gentlemanly”… This is a complement… Triumph has leveraged and refined the intellectual property of successful historical design dogma and now has fused this with the cutting-edge engineering available today…

    I would suggest improving the ignition “spark” of the engine by employing Nology coils and hot-wires.. The single most powerful improvement you can make in performance…

    As far as handling, you are finding that the forks are not as solid as the Speed Triple and they tend to twist a bit when turning, which requires a bit more wrestling with the handlebars and you may notice that on some bumpy turns the front-end seems a bit wobbly.. The single most dramatic improvement you can make to the front-end handling will be to employ a fork-brace… Also, DynaBeads in the tires will also smooth-out and stabilize the ride and eliminate uneven tire wear due to unbalanced wheels. You can get rid of the rim mounted weights…

    The rear shock situation is inexcusable… Have you found a setting that works generally?

    I just saw the new Triumph Tiger Sport on the UK site… Yum!


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