Triumph Bonneville - the models, the rivals and the verdict
The current Triumph Bonneville is in fact a modern classic, and the third iteration of a bike whose history stretches all the way back to 1959. The original Bonneville was produced until 1983, when Triumph went into receivership.
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Between 1985 and 1988, a final wave of original Bonnies were produced when the new owner of Triumph, John Bloor, licensed a company called Racing Spares to manufacture the T140 Bonneville using plenty of German and Italian component parts.
Production of the modern Bonneville range began in 2000 with an all new and modernised bike which retains the retro styling of its predecessors.
There are now several varieties of the Bonneville, which takes its name from the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in America, including the 900, T100 and T120.
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They are all based around a parallel twin (of various sizes) and share a laid-back attitude and stylish, retro looks.
Triumph took aim directly at the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster in 2000 with the release of their all-new Bonneville. Initially released with a 790cc air-cooled engine, the Bonneville took all of its styling cues from its predecessors.
The new Bonnie struck a real chord with buyers who enjoyed a wave of nostalgia from the very British exhaust sound and relaxed riding experience.
In 2006, the engine capacity was upped to 865cc providing a little extra poke, but just enough to keep you interested and no more. The Bonneville is all about cruising around twisty B-roads and taking in your surroundings, it has never been intended as a speed machine, despite being named for legendary speed proving ground, the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Read our full Triumph Bonneville 900 review, which deals with both 790cc and 865cc.
The Triumph Bonneville T100 started life in 2001 as an uprated version of the 790cc Bonneville. It went on to receive the same upgraded 865cc engine as the standard Bonnie and made the move to injection like the Bonnie too.
In 2016, the T100 moved to a liquid-cooled engine, something the standard Bonnie never did, when it took the 900cc lump from the Triumph Street Twin. In order to maintain the retro looks, the engine retained its now obsolete cooling fins.
When Triumph ceased production of the standard Bonnie in 2016, the T100 became the base model for customers who wanted a new one. The T100 isn’t as spritely as the Street Twin from which it takes its engine thanks to longer forks and pegs located for comfort rather than ground clearance, but it is still more capable through the bends than previous Bonnevilles.
Full liquid-cooled Triumph T100 review on MCN.
The Triumph Bonneville T120 in its current form was produced from 2015 onwards, and is a 1200cc version of Triumph’s luxuriant, classy retros.
If you like the look of the Triumph Bonneville T120, the chances are you will love it. All of the usual Bonneville characteristics are there. A lazy (although much bigger) parallel twin engine, gorgeous styling and a laidback approach to motorcycling.
It’s a more mature Bonnie for riders who don’t mind taking the scenic route. The 1200cc engine is tuned for maximum comfort and high-torque practicality. As long as you’re above 2000rpm you don’t need to consider changing down to accelerate with ease.
Full Triumph Bonneville T120 review on MCN.
Plenty of Triumphs made their way stateside in the ‘60s and ‘70s they often got modified to suit their American owners. This means that the Triumph Bonneville America has real heritage and avoids the ‘Harley clone’ accusations which can be levelled at other manufacturers’ attempts to enter the cruiser market.
Looking distinctly American with a low-slung seat, swept back bars and more shiny metal than you can shake a stick at, the America was Triumph’s first modern take on the cruiser.
Several versions of the America were produced between 2001 and 2015, initially with a 790cc Bonnie engine, and then the larger 865cc version. The America backed up its cruiser credentials with a 270-degree crank which sounds more like a V-twin than the 360-degree version used in the Bonnie and the T100.
Find out what they’re like in our full Triumph Bonneville America review.
In 2014 we tested an LT (Light Touring) version of the America, which featured many of the touring parts found on the larger Thunderbird LT such as a tall plexiglass screen, panniers, backrest and footboards. Full Triumph Bonneville America LT review here.
Following behind the fashion for modern retro bikes has come a second wave of café racers (bikes like the Bonneville with the addition of clip-on bars and custom, half fairings). Likewise, the surge in popularity of cruisers has led to a second wave of bobbers.
Bobbers, or bob-jobs as they were originally called, take a donor cruiser and modify them by stripping off as many superfluous parts as possible. The front mudguard is ditched, and the rear is cut short or bobbed, hence the name.
Triumph unveiled the Bobber in 2016 and it became their fastest selling bike of all time. Find out why in our full Triumph Bonneville Bobber review.
In 2017 they added the Bobber Black (below) to the range too, which replaces all the brightwork with matte black parts, swaps to a smaller 16 inch front wheel with a fat tyre making up the rest of the circumference. The Black also got a much-needed upgrade to twin front discs.
MCN Contributor Jon Urry talks about his experience of the Triumph Bobber Black in the video below. The Black is more than a standard Bobber with a lick of paint, it's a genuine upgrade on the standard version.
Triumph launched the modern Speedmaster in 2002 as a cruiser variant of the Bonneville. It had the same 790cc engine as the standard bike and, to be honest, it wasn’t very good. It neither looked like a cruiser nor a proper Bonneville, it was underpowered and it was terrible for a pillion.
Things improved with the 2010 version which managed 60bhp and was more comfortable in its skin as a junior cruiser.
However, it took until the latest incarnation of Speedmaster in 2018 with the same 1200cc engine as the Bobber for Triumph to really hit their stride.
Find out why in our full Triumph Speedmaster 1200 review.
The retro market is enjoying a bit of a purple patch at the moment and there’s a few options around for the Bonneville to fend off, depending on the version you’ve chosen.
The BMW R nineT, Moto Guzzi V7 and the Norton Commando are the main competition, but there’s also several scrambler ranges to contend with and not to mention Japanese manufacturers putting out retro-infused bikes like the Suzuki SV650X and the Honda CB1100. Anyone who likes the style and idea of a Bonneville but wants more performance would be interested in these.
In the case of the Triumph Bonneville America and Bobber ranges, there are plenty of other bikes to consider. Traditional rivals come from Harley-Davidson and Indian, but there are Cruiser rivals available from the Japanese manufacturers too.
As well as a raft of factory options to look out for on the Bonneville range, there are also a number of popular mods that owners can do to tailor their bike to their own style.
Factory accessories include upgraded Fox shocks, various bench seat options, exhaust header pipes and endcans, and engine covers.
Clip-on handlebars are often fitted to Bonneville 900 and T100 models for a Café Racer inspired look.
In 2018, Triumph unveiled two new limited editions of the Bonneville T120. The Ace and the Diamond edition.
The Ace bears the name and branding of the famous Ace Café London. The café was integral to the creation of a biking subculture in the 50s and 60s where groups like the Ton-Up Boys would race around the A406 North Circular in London, often riding Triumphs.
The Diamond edition marks the 60th anniversary of the Triumph Bonneville and features a one-off white and silver union flag paintjob, chrome 4-bar tank badge, engine covers, chain guard, rims, grab rail, exhausts and badging.
Get the full story: Triumph Bonneville limited edition T120s revealed.
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