Bonneville motorcycle

By Paul Berglund
I’m not a cruiser kind of guy. Over half of all American riders are cruiser men and women, so I’m not going to complain about the feet forward riding position of the 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber. Clearly, I’m in a minority here. It’s a mild version of the style and it’s easy for me to move on with this review, because that’s my only problem with this bike. I was a little skeptical when this assignment came down the tube and landed on my desk. I didn’t go to the MMM Christmas party, so maybe they don’t know who I am? My bad.

I have ridden the 2017 Triumph Bonneville T120, a very close relative of the Bobber, and I loved that bike. I hoped that the radical look of the Bobber didn’t ruin the party. By that I mean, if you start with a perfectly good motorcycle and then radically change the look of the bike to be cool, you also make the bike much less competent to ride. Form over function. I just can’t go there. Most manufacturers when faced with that dilemma choose form to please their potential customers. The bike becomes a bloated caricature of a motorcycle. I was afraid of what my beloved Triumph would do. Somehow they managed to pull off the function as well as the form. It may look like a custom bike, but the Bobber is still fully functional and dare I say, a fun to ride motorcycle. If you like your feet to arrive before your butt, you can do that in style now, without suffering with crappy handling and suspension.

Top view motorcycle
With all the options available you can craft the look
of this bike from an ape hanger handlebar bar hopper, to a light duty traveler.

Before I even got on the bike I did a walk around with Mike Anderson of Belle Plaine Motorsports. It’s his personal bike and he was kind enough to loan it to me for a day of test riding. Before I get into the details, Mike has put a lot of goodies from the huge stock of Triumph accessories on his bike. Base price for a Bobber is $11,900. The “as tested” price on this Bobber is over $16,000. I’ll try to point out when I’m being influenced by the Bling, and when I’m talking about the meat and potatoes of the stock bike.

First up, the seat. The one on the test bike is a Triumph upgrade. It did give my tush a little more cush, but the cool thing about the Bobber seat is that it’s adjustable. The stock seat or one of the many Triumph accessory seats can be unbolted and slid forward or back for you to find the best position. So riders of all sizes can find the sweet spot. That lead me to ask, “just who is buying this bike”? At Bell Plaine at least, they’ve sold them to men and women, both young and the grey. While I was out riding I got several complements and thumbs up from a broad range of people. So a lot of people think this is a good looking bike. With the adjustability of the seat and the variety of accessory handlebars, if it’s cool you’re after, this bike comes in your size.

One other thing that baffles me about cruisers is the weight. Why on earth are they so heavy? Most cruisers start over 600 pounds for a entry level bike and the big ones can top 900 pounds. Are the frames made out of tungsten? This bike is a very refreshing exception to that trend. It’s claimed dry weight is 503 pounds. In a world gone mad, this restores a small measure of sanity. And looking on the bright side, filling the tank with gas won’t add much weight, because it only holds 2 and half gallons. You even get a gas gauge, miles till empty display and a readout of your miles per gallon. So you can avoid range anxiety. Expect about a 100 miles between fill ups.

The speedometer is a large, old school looking analog gauge. It has a gear indicator (which I love) permanently displayed and all the other information is in a small digital screen at it’s base. You can switch between the above mentioned gas and milage functions as well as the odometer, two trip meters, a clock and my must have favorite, RPMs. I feel any manual transmission vehicle should have a tachometer and this one does.


Saddle bag on motorcycle
From saddlebags to license plate mounts,
the accessories available for this bike seem almost endless.
Photo by Paul Berglund

Some of the other electronic wizardry are ABS brakes and traction control. The ABS was never intrusive and I was told not to turn off the traction control, as apparently, I have that hooligan look about me. I did arrive at the dealership on a bright orange hooligan bike, so I took my restriction in good faith. I’ve never mastered the art of the wheelie and I had my fill of burn outs back in my muscle car days, so I rode like a gentleman and I was rewarded with a very well behaved bike. So how did I have fun without smokey burn outs? In the corners.

The Bobber isn’t handicapped with restricted cornering clearance. Nothing dragged while navigating corners. It’s light weight and responsive steering made the wide sweepers down along the Minnesota river a blast to ride. It has short legs by motorcycle standards (Travel is 3.5 inches front and 3 inches in the rear) or long travel suspension by Sportster standards. Ether way you choose to label it, the ride is set up stiff. It’s great on a smooth road, but beware rail road crossings, your butt will see day light when it gets tossed up off the seat. For what it is, I found the ride to be spot on and the bike was a treat when at play in the twisty bits.

The other part of the equation is the motor, and the 1200cc parallel twin was the other half of the fun. This Bobber had a Vance and Hines exhaust strait out of the Triumph catalog and it was just shy of annoying your neighbors loud. Not quite too loud, but it sounded very sweet. All bass and thump without any bad harmonies to ruin the song. V-twins still sound the best to my ears, but I’d be proud to ride this bike through a small town near you. Sounds good is fine, but goes good is better.

Side view motorcycle
A pretty standard riding position with a very adjustable seat. Photo by Sarah Mae Fisher

The spec sheet has the stock bike putting out 78 horses and 78 foot pounds of torque. I can’t say how much the modifications done to this bike have improved on that. But I had plenty of go in this show pony. The six speed transmission was just about perfect. It was smooth and easy to shift and it was spaced out just right for a spirited take off and a mellow 3 grand on the freeway. I wish my 2008 Triumph Speed Triple had a transmission like this. Triumph has learned a thing or two about transmissions in the last nine years. The brakes are adequate. They stop the bike without drama, but the whoa isn’t as fun as the go. However my tightie whities remained skid mark free as did the roads of Scott County, Minnesota. ABS coupled with my Kung Fu grip, and there is nothing scary to report.

One of the options on this bike was the license plate relocation kit. It moves the plate from the rear fender just below the tail light to the left side of the swing arm. That allows the mounting of the optional small saddlebag in the same location. I have an irrational fear of the asymmetric. I can never buy a BMW with their hideous lopsided front face because of that. So this is one option I wouldn’t order on this bike, but the cool thing is, you can get a pair of similar looking large saddlebags from the option catalog too. You can have symmetry and tote your stuff with you. So with all the options available you can craft the look of this bike from an ape hanger handlebar bar hopper, to a light duty traveler. The reincarnated Triumph has consistently made high quality and stylish accessories and clothing. So if you want to bling out your Bobber, just bring your credit card.
The best part is that all those options are truly optional. When we rolled the Bobber off the show room floor at Belle Plaine Motorsports, it was ready to go without the added farkels.

(By the way, I have always heard the term “farkel” to describe motorcycle accessories. I Googled the word to check the spelling and was surprised to learn there are several other definitions of the word given in the Urban Dictionary. One is motorcycle accessory, another is a card game… and then it gets weird. Back to the bike review.) So you don’t have to spend the money to fix the flaws, just add 87 octane gas and ride.

Motorcycle on twisty road
Whether cruisin’ through town or tearing up twisties, this bike is fun to ride.
Photo by Sarah Mae Fisher

And! When you go to your local Triumph dealer to check out the Triumph Bonneville Bobber, look around the showroom. Odds are there will be a 1200cc T120 parked next to the Bobber. That’s the middle bike of a trinity of Bonnevilles. The Bobber is the cruiser, the T120 is the standard and the achingly beautiful Thruxton is the sport bike. I said I loved the T120 at the start of this review. I found the Bobber to be one of the best cruisers I have ever ridden. It’s not handicapped by it’s styling. So if you came in for the look-at-me styling, you can stay for the ride and be a happy biker. Or to put it another way, if you hear the siren’s call of the Bobber, but you don’t want the typical cruiser draw backs. There is no need for wax in your ears, don’t tie yourself to the mast Odysseus, it’s safe to listen.

But for me, standing on the showroom floor, it’s the 1200cc Thruxton R that fills me with a great desire to own one. That is why I was so happy to have sampled the Bobber and the T120, but I have not ridden the Thruxton. I got a taste of what could be but did not fall to temptation. I am sure I would drain my bank account and my all ready full garage would burst at the seams. I have dated two of the Bonneville sisters and we had a wonderful time, but it’s the Thruxton that I want to marry. I think years from now I will be perusing Craig’s List and see an ad for a Thruxton R with the optional fairing and I’ll have to make that call. I just have to figure out how to get a bigger garage before that day. So when you go to Belle Plaine Motorsports, or a Triumph dealer near you, bring a bouquet of roses. You are going to want to ask one of these Bonnevilles to the dance..


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