November 25, 2013 - San Diego, CA
Bike Profile: the Triumph Bonneville
The Triumph Bonneville – for many people, of all ages and from all parts of the world, these two words invoke the very essence of what motorcycling is all about. In its over 50-year history, this now-legendary bike has captured the imaginations of multiple generations of riders, even as its external styling remains largely unchanged from its original 1960s-era design. Timeless, traditional, and iconic, the Bonneville has a carried a place in the hearts of riders from street bikers and customizers to road racers and dirt trackers since its introduction. But even with all this character, the Bonneville remains overall an affordable, low-stress, enjoyable bike that is easy to own, easy to ride, and easy to love, and remains one of the most attention-getting bikes on the road.
New... (2009 Triumph Bonneville T100)
...and Old (1967 Triumph Bonneville)
Adding to the Bonneville’s mass appeal is its frequent appearance on television and in film throughout the last several decades. A Bonneville was ridden by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: 3, by Clint Eastwood in the classic film Cogan’s Bluff, and is even featured as Daryl Dixon’s chopper in the AMC series “The Walking Dead.” But by far the most famous Triumph was ridden by Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape,” which prompted Triumphs release of a commemorative edition of the Bonneville SE bearing his name in 2012. As much of an icon as the Bonneville itself, McQueen was an outspoken supporter of Triumph and owned and even raced numerous models professionally. But the Bonneville’s association with classic coolness didn’t stop with McQueen: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan were all reputed to own Bonnevilles or their variants.
Steve McQueen posing with a Bonneville desert racer modified by (another) motorcycle legend Bud Ekins
Why People Love the Triumph Bonneville
The Triumph Bonneville is a simple bike with lots of soul. Designed in the era of the now legendary, sporty British twins of the 60s, the Bonneville has evolved technologically while retaining its traditional styling and basic design. It looks like a bike you might see in a classic collection or a black-and-white photograph, and recalls a bygone era of open roads, cheap gas, and unrestricted freedom. Looking at a Bonneville, you can’t help but feel nostalgic – no matter what your age.
The Bonneville has also come to represent another type of freedom – the freedom of expression, through customization. Having retained its basic form for five decades, the Bonneville has seen many styles come and go. As a result there is a wide variety of directions this bike can be taken, and with the large and diverse aftermarket that caters to the Bonneville, an inspired owner can build anything from a dirt-track scrambler to a café racer to a “Great Escape” replica. For the rider who likes to customize (in other words, all of us) the Bonneville is one of the best blank canvasses money can buy.
The Off-Road Triumph Bonneville: the "Scrambler"
While the Bonneville has a tremendous aftermarket and can be customized to suit an incredibly wide range of styles, there are a number of modifications that Bonneville owners might consider to be “essentials.” Here we feature the most popular mods for the Bonneville and explain their appeal.
Exhaust: The Bonneville’s thumping sound can be opened up by a full-exhaust system, and this mod improves mid-range power as well. (Be advised that fueling must be compensated after this mod is done: Carbureted models must be re-jetted, and EFI models generally require installation of a fueling module.)
The optional Arrow 2-into-1 exhaust system
Airbox/Air Injection Removal Kit: Designed to free up the engine’s intake, these kits remove restrictive elements from the factory setup and increase performance by allowing the engine to breathe easier. (Note: modifying the intake system may not be legal in all areas, you are advised to consult your local laws first.)
Suspension: The factory suspension is considered to be a weak link for many Bonnevilles. This can be remedied by re-springing the front forks with progressive springs, and replacing the rear shocks.
A modified late-model Bonneville cafe racer with a unique polished engine case.
Handlebars: Bars are one of the favorite mods for Bonneville owners because they determine in large part the “look” the bike will have. Drag bars, high chopper bars, wide flat-track racer bars, or sport bike clip-ons are all popular choices depending on the bike’s style. For lower bars, another popular addition is bar-end mirrors, which clean up the front end significantly.
A heavily modified Bonneville "bobber."
Fender Eliminator: The ubiquitous first mod for nearly every new bike, the big and awkward looking rear fender can be cleaned up with a fender eliminator kit.
Seat: The firm stock front seat is another weak link of the Bonneville. Changing the seat also goes a long way in determining the style outcome of the bike - from the long, flat seats of the 1960s to sporty café racer solo seats, there are a huge variety of styles to choose from.
First Generation (T120): The iconic, original Bonneville had a 650cc engine, and was built from 1959-1974
A mint condition 1968 Triumph Bonneville. Note the kickstarter and drum brakes.
Second Generation (T140): A few engine variations to the Bonneville were released throughout the early 1970s, until Triumph settled on the 750cc version. Various modern refinements made their way onto the Bonneville throughout the decade, such as electric-start, a 5-speed gearbox, and disc brakes. This version lasted until 1983 when the original Triumph factory in Meriden closed its doors.
An exceptionally well kept UK-model 1979 Bonneville with the 750 engine.
Triumph’s Hiatus: While the original Triumph factory was forced to close due to financial difficulties, Triumphs continued to be manufactured. The owner of Triumph, British businessman John Bloor, licensed the building of the T140s to another company while Triumph was restructured. These versions were not offered in the US.
Third Generation (Hinckley): An all-new Bonneville debuted in 2001 under Bloor’s Triumph Motorcycles, Ltd. Originally all built in Hinckley, England, the updated base model received a 790cc engine while higher-spec models got an 865cc (all models began to receive the larger motor after 2007.) Electronic fuel injection came in 2008/2009; a controversial move among many purists, Triumph designed the throttle bodies to look like carburetors to retain the classic look.
The 2001 model ushered in the newest generation of Bonnevilles after a long hiatus.
Current models offered are the SE, styled to recall the late 1970s sporting seven-spoke 17-inch wheels, a black engine case and body colored fenders, or the T100, straight from the 1960s with wire-wheels and a chrome engine case with fenders to match. In addition, all of Triumphs “modern classics” are based on the Bonneville platform, including: the Thruxton, a sporty café racer; the Scrambler, a rugged 1960s off-road racer; and the America and Speedmaster, American-styled cruisers with a longer wheelbase and lower seats.
The 2014 Bonneville T100 "Black." Its, you guessed it, more black.
Designed with dirt-racing heritage in mind - the 2014 Triumph Bonneville "Scrambler" in action.