Road Test: Triumph Bonneville

Published: 12:32PM Nov 17th, 2010
By: Web Editor

If you bring a company with a rich heritage back to life, then you’d be a fool not to make good use of it. And John Bloor is no fool.

Road Test: Triumph Bonneville

When the property magnate resurrected the Triumph brand, he made sure he bought all the useful things that came with it including the history and possibly most importantly, the bike names. Those names invoke memories and emotions; Daytona, Trophy and Sprint all hark back to a time when Britain ruled the world of motorcycling. But there is one name that stirs the feelings more than any other: Bonneville.

Whereas some of the old names have translated into modern bikes thankfully Triumph revived the Bonneville as a retro-styled machine.

This works on a number of levels; it has older riders who are coming back into biking, looking at something that reminds them strongly of their biking youth. It also provides the easy option into the classic scene. A friend and former colleague runs one of the largest classic bike websites. And for some considerable time, one of the highest scoring bikes searched for was the Kawasaki W650 – another retro styled, modern machine. So clearly the look is important, but possibly not all the maintenance work that goes into keeping a classic machine on the road.

The 2005 Bonneville we borrowed from Johns of Romford, Rush Green branch most certainly has the looks – I cannot recall getting so many warm smiles from just about anyone over the age of 20, purely because I was riding a bike. Five years and 25,000 miles in, it is showing a few signs of age – the wheel rims and downpipes would appreciate a spot of TLC, but overall it is holding up quite well.

This bike features the 865cc parallel-twin engine, replacing the 790cc mill used in the earlier models. But does a bike like this need more power? Only one way to find out...

One thing I am happy not to have to do, is to kick-start the bike. Just open the choke (younger readers ask your dad) and thumb the starter button. It takes a couple of splutters, perhaps a deliberate ploy to make it feel more like the old days? But it quickly grumbles into life, turning over with a low rumbling from the twin peashooter exhausts.

The Bonnie has a wonderfully neutral riding position; quite upright (though if you move your backside into the ‘King and Queen’ saddle that came with our test bike it leans you ever so gently forward), but not feeling like your weight is being shunted onto the base of your spine. This makes it comfortable for hours on the road – I spent over two hours riding in perfect comfort. The bars initially seem quite narrow, but actually suit the bike well and – to use an old bike magazine favourite line – the controls fall easily to hand. The bars are just the right width for the bike, itself very narrow.

The dimensions and riding position make for an ideal town bike. The riding position gives a great view over most traffic, the engine will happily burble along at practically no revs, the light clutch is useful for the occasional spot of feathering and the brakes have enough bite. I will come back to the gearbox and brakes later, but in this environment the Bonnie shines. Of course, being air-cooled, things get hot very quickly; keeping the Triumph on the move is the best bet.

On the move, the Bonnie’s engine only revs out to a 7000 redline – but to be honest, it doesn’t need to do any more. The bike isn’t set up to head into ballistic speed and double-digit revs. Burbling along between 3-4000 is great for those moments you want to kick back and watch the scenery, but up the pace and take the bike into the 4-5000 range and the engine picks up and thrums along with purpose. Just don’t take this bike into the top end of the range; the closer you get to the redline the worse the vibrations get, to the point that they’re downright uncomfortable.

Given the looks and feel of the bike, it comes as a surprise to find that 60mph in top gear sees everything smooth out and at this pace the Bonneville feels like it is on rails.
Moving onto the motorway and it is apparent that this isn’t the natural home of the Bonnie; increasing the pace to motorway speeds and the buffeting on the large screen introduces a wallow to the ride – nothing major, but enough to make you want to back off and ease it back to that 60mph sweet spot.

Hauling the Bonneville back to that sweet spot highlights the limitations of the brakes. The single 310mm, twin-piston front disc will haul you up – and to be fair has enough stopping power to handle the Bonnie – but there is little feel from the lever and it does appreciate the application of the 285mm rear disc.

You will also want to back off to neck-friendly speeds to check the outside lane before attempting an overtake manoeuvre. The mirrors are a bit of a mixed bag – you have to set them quite wide to see round you, but this leaves a big blind spot. They’re also tiny, so don’t really give you much of a view and moving into the uncomfortable part of the rev range the view is seriously obscured by the vibration. But at least they’re not those bar-weight-mounted things.

The clocks are basic, but do the job. But oddly, they tend to draw your eyes to the rev counter, rather than the speedo, perhaps not a bad thing, given the three main areas of performance (3-4000 happy burble, 4-5000 purposeful, above that feel the vibes increase).

I exit the motorway with relief and head onto an environment that really suits this bike; a range of backroads. The narrow profile, narrow tyres and light handling make this an easy bike to hustle around. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect for the really twisty stuff – it isn’t the most accurate of bikes, and the soft suspension sees you loping from bump to bump. But get on to some wider, smoother B-roads and it is just about perfect. The Triumph glides easily from corner to corner, with the soft suspension cosseting your backside, inviting you to just relax into the bike and let it do its thing.

If you are looking for a bike with real looks, or want that retro feel but aren’t handy with the spanners, then the Bonnie is the bike for you. It attracts appreciative looks from everyone, and it is the only bike I have ever ridden where everyone on two wheels gives you a friendly nod. It works surprisingly well as a town bike and holds its own well at anything up to 60mph (which is more than enough for most A-roads heading into town).

Words and pics: Bob Pickett

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