When Triumph rose from its ashes 21 years ago, the last thing its brand-new owner John Bloor wanted to be associated with was a standing air-cooled twin.
It was not until ten years later when Triumph had convincingly made clear that English motorcycles were no longer synonymous with unreliability and oil stains on the sidewalk that it dared to introduce a contemporary version of the legendary Triumph Bonneville. Still, there was no guarantee for success by any means. Now this important bike, ranked amongst the most iconic models in motorcycling history, is about to be introduced to the Indian market. If you were to take a vote for the most famous motorcycle name ever, you could count on Triumph’s Bonneville to be a strong contender. The original Bonneville made its first appearance back in 1959 when it was introduced at the Earls Court Motorshow. True to form, the most classic of all Triumphs derives its name from the salt plains at Bonneville in the American state of Utah.
In no time, the 650cc parallel twin, with its 46bhp output and four-speed gearbox, became hugely popular, and rightly so. Today, one out of two Triumphs sold worldwide is a Bonneville or one of its derivatives (T100, SE, Thruxton or Scrambler).
Since its magnificent comeback in 2000, the ‘new Bonneville’ has evolved drastically. Right from the start, Triumph had injected the inspired vintage look with modern technology, but in 2005 capacity went up from 790cc to 865cc and the power output increased to 67bhp from 61. The Bonneville features four valves per cylinder, these operated by a double overhead camshaft, in turn driven by a belt. The air-cooled twin develops 6.93kgm of torque at 5800rpm. Admittedly, it’s impossible to compare the Bonneville to current sportsbikes, but you can spot some remains of its racing personality from back in the day. The Triumph likes to rev, not inviting you to redline all the time, but the engine has been tuned for an active riding style. Ask your dad and you will learn how standing twins carried an unenviable reputation for vibrations. Those times are thankfully gone. The Bonnie runs remarkably smoothly with virtually no vibrations.
Unfortunately, this refined engine isn’t coupled to the gearbox it deserves, with shifting down not feeling without glitches and neutral proving a bit tough to find at times. Sitting on the Triumph is an interesting experience. Compared to the very low seat the Bonneville had earlier, the 790mm seat is a bit higher, but still more than okay for shorter people. Typically, the Bonnie encourages the feeling of sitting ‘inside’ the motorcycle. The Triumph tips the scales at 225kg of kerb weight. The low centre of gravity, 1490mm wheelbase and 17-inch wheels work beautifully together to ensure great handling. Pointing the Triumph in the right direction is no sweat; quite the contrary in fact, because the Bonneville corners effortlessly, behaving very neutral and heading flawlessly into whichever direction you have in mind. Last-minute corrections when your head is slightly off-course are a piece of cake. The Triumph always feels secure, both in fast and slow situations, and we also like its handlebar position.
The suspension of the Bonneville is quite firm and sporty. Quite simply, Triumph’s retro naked motorcycle inspires confidence and remains tight even on very twisty and challenging roads. On bad roads, as are so common in India, you pay the price for excellent handling, which is reduced comfort. Also Bonneville-typical, there’s no need to fiddle around to get better performance out of the bike like Joe Bar and his counterparts needed to in the Sixties or Seventies. Yes, the British bestseller looks a classic, but under its skin it’s pretty sophisticated. One can imagine how riders used to curse their spongy brakes in the era of the original Bonneville. Anno 2013, the Bonneville now has plenty of stopping power thanks to a 310mm front disc with Nissin twin-piston-caliper brakes. At the rear, the Triumph is equipped with a capable 225mm rear disc, with dual-piston caliper.
Thanks to electronic fuel injection, the Triumph is also up to date when it comes to fuel economy; during our test we averaged 18.9kpl. In reality, this gives the Bonneville a usable range of over 250km. Although you’ll find much better rivals if you want pure performance, our test would remain incomplete without a thorough speed check. The Bonnie behaves terrific up to 190kph, but that’s also where the story ends, because it doesn’t have a lot more to give beyond that. Ideal cruising speeds of up to 130-135kph are a given. Cruising and commuting comfortably with a Bonneville is also doable. The metal tank offers the possibility to attach a tank bag, and Triumph offers a wide range of accessories to customize your bike with.
Whether the Bonnie is really made for you or not depends a lot on your taste and your individual riding style. In any case, count on the Triumph Bonneville to give you the pure and essential flavour of motorcycling. So even if the vintage theme goes only skin deep, the new Bonneville will evoke sensations that make it every inch a true classic for India, all while maintaining a very attractive price point. The Bonneville launches in India Nov 28, at an expected price point of around Rs. 6 lakh, and its Thruxton variant is also tipped to be India bound, a sporty Bonnie, with exciting café racer styling.