There is, of course, only one place to take a Triumph Bonneville Ace Café Replica – the reborn Ace itself.
London’s legendary biker caff of the ’50s and ’60s was rebuilt and reopened five years ago and the fifth birthday party organised by owner Mark Wilsmore gave the perfect opportunity to test this special Bonneville " rocker replica " . The gleaming white bike has been built by German specialists LSL (although all parts are available in the UK via London dealers Jack Lilley). The idea is to give the 800cc twin all the attitude of an original ’50s-style café racers without the crippling side-effects normally associated with these machines.
Fitting items such as clip-on bars, a dinky mirror and hump-backed seat has transformed the standard Bonnie. The removal of the giant tank badges smoothes the looks out, even if the colour choice ( " It looks like a pervy cop bike, mate, " suggested one critic at the Ace) is odd. We’d imagine it in black, or maybe with a polished alloy tank...
LSL has managed to replicate the café racer clip-on/rearset look without ending up with a riding position fit to knock your teeth out on the top yoke every time you brush the brakes. At 40mph the windblast takes the weight off your wrists. The rearsets put your feet in place to spread the rest of your bulk evenly, and there’s no flailing around to find them when you pull away.
Cycle parts are improved too. The suspension has been tweaked to take out the sag, wheels are changed from 19 to 18-inchers and there’s a smoother ride than stock, with more precise turn-in.
It’s no race-rep, of course – this is still a 200kg-plus bike with no more than 60bhp ambling its way to the rear tyre. But unlike " real " classics, the bike does turn quickly and the suspension is properly sorted (as it should be for £500). LSL has even fitted a steering damper – although the engine performance hardly warrants it.
Braking is stock, not very immediate and I’d want more up front if I was going to chuck it around like the riding position and suspension demand. A four-piston caliper kit would be a good start.
A neat little plate holds the LSL bike’s clocks, which include a dinky rev counter you don’t get on the basic Bonnie. Most of the time you see around 3500rpm, which is bang on peak torque. It revs on sweetly, through a slight flat spot, before picking up again at 5500rpm and it finally runs out of fizz at 7000rpm. Rumours suggest there is at least 8bhp extra locked away in an official pipe kit. While Triumph dealer Jack Lilley (01932-224574) offers a £400 package that’s claimed to give 13bhp and 40% more torque which sounds even more worthy.
At the Ace it sparks some interest – though no more than any other intriguing special. It’s only later – 20 conversations, three teas and a fish supper later – when I get back on that it all clicks home. As a pair of genuine rocker bikes crobba-crobba away, I flick the LSL bike into relaxed action and am immediately struck by its severely tamed outlook. The original café racers were built for a reason. They looked good, went fast, sounded great and reeked of attitude. These days you buy an R1 for that. The LSL Ace Replica is about making a different statement. One of the guys at the Ace got it instantly: " It’s for Harley riders who want heritage and handling. " But that still sounds like something a lot of people could fall for...