CW Garage: Gary Ilminen's Stable - First Look

A Sportster, some new Bonnies and a classic Honda snowbike.

CW Garage: Gary Ilminen

Of the nine motorcycles I own, none of them have more lineage in the world of motorcycling than the Triumph Bonneville and the Harley-Davidson Sportster 883.

As a teenager back in the '60s, I yearned for the day I could afford one or the other.

Cycle World road tests of each bike back then really made things worse; which would I buy (if only I could)? The sweet-handling Triumph or the brawny Sportster? What a choice.

As it turned out, I owned more than a dozen different bikes in the ensuing years before I bought a 2003 Triumph Bonneville America and a 1999 Harley-Davidson XL 883 Sportster.

True to the test ("Legends Revisited" by Paul Dean) in the January, 2008 issue of Cycle World, it is tough to choose one over the other. The Sportster offers the low-end grunt, while the Bonneville has the finesse, pretty much the way things were way back when. Fortunately for me, with both sitting in my garage, I can resolve the problem by riding one in the morning and the other in the afternoon!

My Sportster has been a pleasant surprise. Being a '99 model, it lacks rubber engine mounts and EFI, yet it is remarkably smooth, tractable and even starts fairly well in Wisconsin's cool fall and spring mornings. I've even fired it up when it was only 26 degrees out. It took a few stabs at the starter, but it rumbled to life. With forward controls, a deeply scooped seat and buckhorn bars, it seats me down in behind that little black tank and feels as comfy at 80 mph as it does at 40, which is closer to where my average touring speed is on Wisconsin's back roads.

My Bonneville America has the older 790cc 270-degree-crank engine and so is a little milder than the later 865cc bikes, whether in the Bonneville and T100 360-degree crank configuration or in the current 865cc America model with the 270-degree crank. This makes my pair a really close match performance-wise. The America is long in the wheelbase compared to the H-D and with the wide bars is slower to respond to steering inputs and less nimble in quick switchbacks than the Sportster. Both, however, really do pretty well for my kind of day-trip touring. No rush, no crush, as they say.