Bonneville High – The 20 Year Reunion

by Sev Pearman

I really wanted to dislike this motorcycle. I mean — I couldn’t even try to come at the Triumph Bonneville with a sense of objectivity. I’ve had my share of Meriden Triumphs, and recently sold my two-owner ’69 Trophy. How could this modern interpretation possibly compare?

Let’s get one thing straight. It is physically impossible to manufacture or sell a “new” ’69 Bonneville in today’s market. Emission and sound laws are tighter. Metallurgy is different. Manufacturing costs have only increased.

Oh sure, I’m sure there are a handful of craftsmen who will gleefully build you a copy of a ’69 Bonneville. Virtually all parts are available. There is a huge industry building H-D clones. I’m equally sure you’d pay a H-D clone price, not Triumph’s MSRP of $6,999. What you get for that kind of money is one darned good motorcycle.review43a

You old Goats out there will feel right at home with the classic British-bike “sit-up-and-beg” riding position. The bars are wide; making for easy steering, and high enough that your hands float slightly above your elbows. This makes for a comfortable ride.

The seat is a retro-bench which eliminates both cruiser slouch and racer-boy crouch. You simply sit upright. It looks geeky, but once underway, it all makes sense.

The foot pegs are placed directly below your knees; reinforcing the kitchen chair position. They felt a little high for my taste, but all the better to increase lean angle my dear.

For an “entry-level” bike, the seat is very comfortable. I ran two tankfuls straight through on the Bonnie, and never once thought about it, except for one thing. As you squirm around on it, the top layer of fabric “slides” relative to the dense foam. Not enough to unsettle you, but just enough to be distracting. This is one of those quirks that an owner would soon forget about.

In a concession to price, instrumentation is spartan. Just a Smith’s styled speedo; no tachometer. The usual idiot lights are present, although they were easily overpowered in sunlight.

Economy is excellent, averaging 47 mpg in a combination of city commuting and -ahem- spirited highway testing. The tank holds an honest 4 gallons (4.3 according to Triumph) with a full gallon reserve.review43b

In a cost-saving measure, fuel is controlled with a traditional petcock. Plan on flipping to reserve at about 140 miles, with an honest 40 (!) miles remaining. The Bonnie ran bone dry at 187 miles and 182 miles, so you can make that Duluth ride without stopping for fuel.

The suspension of the Bonnie reveals its budget. The fork is non-adjustable, and the shocks have only a five-position pre-load adjustment. Just like her ancestor, the Bonnie is undersprung and overdamped. This means that the front end dives with any brake application and the bike “hops” over pavement blips. I’m sure your friends at Lindeman Engineering and RaceTech are already devising a cure.

The handling, however is sweet. With a generous steering lock and low center of gravity, the bike is ridiculously easy to drive and park. At speed, she is easily flickable, without being twitchy.

Cornering clearance is incredible. It took a determined effort to touch anything, and by that time the suspension was beginning to come unglued. Guess those awkward pipe bends have a purpose afterall…

The clutch and five-speed gearbox are well matched. The bike is smooth up to an indicated 85 mph, before the first tingles in the handlebars start to annoy. Neutral was always easy to find; whether from 1st or 2nd, while moving or stopped.

The clutch action is forgiving. It has a w-i-d-e friction zone that is friendly to newer riders and easy take up. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to ride the Bonneville all day.

I encountered one false neutral in 450 miles, once, between 4th and 5th. gears. To be fair, it occurred on one of our recent 90+ degree days during an aggressive acceleration with a half-assed shift on my part.

A couple things about maintenance. You can’t open the seat without a 5mm Allen wrench. No problem; we’ll just check beneath both sidecovers for the toolkit……Hey — where’s the toolkit?

After purchasing the absent wrench, I was able to read in the owners manual (stored under the seat) that one is buried — er — carried under the right (steel!) sidecover. Catch-22.

That is it for the toolkit though. One L-shaped 5-mm Allen wrench. Bah. Humbug.

Another cost-saving measure is the lack of centerstand. I can’t imagine owning a chain-drive bike, with its regular maintenance, without a centerstand. Maybe newer riders won’t care, but that can be a deal breaker for many curmudgeons.

If Triumph is smart, you can expect to see a “Heritage Edition” Bonneville with centerstand, “traditional full instrumentation,” and “travel-ready” toolkit. Coming to a dealer near you. Just how many versions of the Royal Star is Yamaha selling?review43c

Fit and finish are excellent. Riders and civilians alike admired the beautiful green & silver paint scheme. The aluminum bits have several finishes; including brushed, satin and highly polished. Many details are sculpted.

Both the engine case covers are chromed, along with the headlamp shell and other bits. Overall, the finish of this bike puts more expensive rides to shame.

The test bike came with Triumph’s excellent optional polycarbonate windscreen. I was initially skeptical, as I thought it would spoil the fun (and the lines) of the bike. Instead, it was a worthy freeway addition. It took all of the blast off of my chest, greatly aiding slab-riding comfort. Because it is short, your head still gets buffeting, but if you are that much of a whiner, please direct your attention to Triumph’s fully-faired Trophy.

Not as pleasing were the factory saddlebags. They were sturdily made of thick leather, and shaped such that the trailing edgers of the bags matched the curve of the rear fender. Unfortunately, this means the openings for each bag will barely swallow a rolled-up sweatshirt, let alone a helmet. I was able to squirrel some Thai food into one bag, but it had to be loaded one tiny carton at a time.

Triumph’s positioning for this bike was “entry-level.” New, returning and smaller riders are their market, and they have succeeded. It is small enough to maneuver around town, yet makes ample power to sail the freeway. The seat is low enough to accommodate most riders, but tall enough that you won’t get uncomfortable after a tankful.

Despite my surly efforts, I couldn’t help but love the Bonneville. Much like Volkswagen’s New Beetle or the new (BMW) Mini, the new Triumph Company has successfully “reinterpreted” a classic vehicle.

Wife’s First Reaction: “Is that it? It looks great!”

Comedy:
Friendly handling
Tractable clutch action
Excellent finish quality

Tragedy:
The goofy seat material and retention system.
Where’s the tach and center stand?
Toolkit, please.

Selected Competition: BMW F650; H-D Sportster 883; Honda 750 Nighthawk; Kawasaki Vulcan 750/800; Moto Guzzi Jackal; Yamaha V-Star & Seca II

by Shawn Downey

Watching the editor roll up to my house on the new for 2001 Triumph Bonneville, three thoughts crossed my mind:

1) Wow, talk about an upright seating position

2) Damn, this thing is not nearly as ugly as everyone is saying on the Internet.

3) Did I just step on a Babe Ruth? I really hope that was a Babe Ruth candy bar…aw geez, that’s not a candy bar. Damnit. Friggin’ Wiener dogs.

Being a fervent owner of a 1967 Triumph Bonneville and exposed to all of the harsh criticisms regarding the 2001 Triumph Bonneville, I was giddy with anticipation when the editor proposed the idea of me doing an evaluation on the 2001 Triumph Bonneville. Giddy. I love that word. Giddy. Ha.

review43dStaring at the Forest Green and Silver demo in my driveway, I was immediately aware of the classic styling cues borrowed from the Bonneville of yesteryear. The classic front fender braces, ignition switch in the left front fork leg, the artful tank badges, rounded side covers, and the unmistakable trademark exhaust silencers.

Slinging a leg over the 30.5 inch seat height is more than easy and the comfortable reach to the handlebars enables an upright seating position reminiscent of the European spec classic Bonneville…but then again, I am 6’4″ so a drag bike would probably allow an upright seating position for me.

Pull the choke lever located on the carb, thumb the starter, and whirrrrrr, the bike comes to life. It is at this defining moment that you know the 2001 Bonneville is not going to be anything like the Bonneville of old. The starting procedure on my 1967 Triumph Bonneville is more like a ritual than a procedure: roll the bike out of the garage and down the alley to avoid waking my wife and son, break the clutch loose, tickle both carbs until the gas overflows onto the outside of the bowls, turn the key, and snap the kick starter while twisting the throttle and VaROOOM! POP! The free-flowing silencers belch a small flame as the engine comes to life and each angry twist of the wrist produces a compression-laden burst of exhaust capable of knocking over small children. Don’t ask how I know. VaROOOM bahhhhh.

The new Bonneville, or Hinckley Bonneville as they call them in the classic bike circle, is nowhere near as adrenaline producing nor intrusive. As a matter of fact, your neighbor may just come over and introduce himself when you are astride the Hinckley Bonneville. Mine did and he’s lived there for three years.

Tooling down the tarmac in search of some twisty roads, the 790 cc air-cooled DOHC parallel twin is incredibly smooth. The thump thump thump thump of the Meridian Bonneville has been replaced by a strange whirring buzz stemming from the cylinder heads. Every now and then I had to glance down and touch the motor to see if it was running. I would imagine installing the “off road only” exhaust and a little bit of carb tuning would correct this coma-inducing ride and add to the much-needed performance. I would probably drill out those EPA safety plugs and back the airscrews out a couple of turns. Speaking of carbs, the 2001 Bonneville has electric carburetor heaters affording you the ability to ride this motorcycle when the mercury drops down a few degrees below pleasant. How nice. One interesting characteristic shared by both bikes was the hiccup I experienced during throttle roll-ons in the apex of corners. On the ’67, many people contribute this hesitation to the Monobloc carb design as they say the bowls are running out of gas at certain lean angles. As for the 2001 Bonneville, I attribute the hesitation to the constrained jetting required to pass the strict EPA regulations.

review43eMy first foray onto freeway onramp was a bit less than euphoric. You know how the onramps have the motorcycle (fast traffic) lane merging with the vehicle (old lady with a cell phone) lane? Well I got smoked by an old lady with a cell phone and found myself testing the single disc brakes to avoid becoming an addition to her collection of Garfields kissing the window. Not only does my ’67 Bonneville have a more usable torque curve, it scares the hell out of anyone over the age of 10 so you never have to vie for position on the highway.

Once you do get up to freeway speeds, you will find the 2001 Triumph Bonneville to be quite happy chugging along at 60-70 mph And just like my ’67 Bonneville, you will always be wishing you had one more gear when you surpass that 70 mph mark. This Bonneville had the optional windscreen, which was perfect for working my neck muscles as the screen directed the wind directly into my head. But then again, not a lot of 6’4″ bikers are going to fall in love with the 2001 Triumph Bonneville, so who cares. Whack the throttle from a quarter opening to WFO and you are met with an almost painful progression from 70 mph to 80 mph where she stops, has a smoke break, and continues on to 85 mph At 85, she rests for water, calls home, and does her nails and then continues on upwards towards 90 and 95. By that time, I ran out of road and stamina and backed her on down to her preferred speed of about 70 mph

Expect about 160 miles per tank in the real world and a sore ass after about 30 minutes. I have owned several new Triumphs and this is the one area in which they fail miserably. The ass. Triumph, if you are listening, please call Corbin for some pointers or at least include a hemorrhoid cushion in the tool kit for ass sakes. The current feet-forward seating position gave me leg cramps after 30 minutes on the freeway and caused my boot to scrape the pavement on the long sweepers. If you moved the pegs back a couple of inches, I believe you would avoid the toe scrapers and be able to take full advantage of the nimble tubular steel cradle chassis.

Riding two up is an attractive proposition for about 15 minutes until your passenger leans over and shouts, “Hey! My ass hurts.” I’m telling you, that seat really sucks. We were sitting at an intersection when this guy rolls up to the stoplight and begins honking his horn and giving me the thumps up sign. At first I thought it was some psycho doing a Fonzie impersonation but then I glanced towards the passenger side and saw his wife exuding the exact same psychotic behavior. What are the odds of two psychos finding each other? Nevermind, I guess Bill did find Hillary. This guy eagerly rolls down the window and just when I was about to yell, “Gun!” he leans over and says, “Great bike man! I just bought one in Red! We love it!” Obviously he and his wife have not spent more than 15 minutes in the saddle or he would have leaned over and said, “Great bike man! I just bought one in Red! And man, does my ass hurt!”

In addition to providing some roadside entertainment, this nut helped me identify the target market for the 2001 Triumph Bonneville. When the new Bonneville was initially introduced, I felt chided as I thought the new Bonneville was targeted towards nutcases like me who still ride and wrench on the Meriden Bonnevilles. Not so nutso. The new Bonnevilles are built for the returning motorcycle rider or the beginner. If you had to label this motorcycle with one word, that one word would have to be user-friendly. Wait a minute, that’s two words. How about non-intimidating? Is that one or two words? Whatever. This Bonneville was not designed with the original Bonneville legacy in mind. In the late 1950’s a Triumph Tiger with a twin-carb head set the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and later came to be known as the Triumph Bonneville. Big, bad, fast, and not taking any prisoners. The new Triumph Bonneville is almost the exact opposite. Low seat height, user-friendly, operates well within the speed limit, and willing to listen to reason. Throw a little bit of gas into the tank, check the oil once in a while, and you will encounter endless carefree miles.

So if I had to pick, which one would I park in the garage? Duh. If I bought one of these, what the hell would I have to bitch about?

M.M.M.

 

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