When Triumph first unveiled the new Bonneville Bobber, it was met with strong reactions from people around the globe. Some enthusiasts took huge issue with an OEM creating a production bike that imitated the style of things only available to the custom market, while others, including nonriders, were drawn to the aesthetics like mosquitoes to the light.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about both sides; the validity of those who ride this style of bike enjoying the fact that it's only attainable through the work of their hands, but also the everyday person having one more opportunity to have a bike he truly loves and connects with. But we'll get to that later.
Triumph says that, when it started designing the Bobber three years ago, it gave its design teams a couple of required deliverables: The bike had to be based on the Bonneville T120 and have its DNA; it had to have premium finishes and detailing that rivaled anything else in the Triumph line; it had to have an exciting power delivery and exhaust note; it had to be a good blend of ergonomics and riding characteristics; and it had to be a platform for customization.
Normally, these sorts of claims are followed by mood boards and discussions of brand history and other qualifiers that explain how the product they've brought to market can, sort of, if you squint real hard, meet those massive dreams. (Cue a certain brand who put the term "street food" as part of their inspiration, and then claimed that its new, entry level motorcycle was great for beginners because it had similar tech to the bike it emulated, ignoring that the tech was now completely outdated and terrible).
Fortunately, such was not the case with the Triumph Bonneville Bobber. I'd be lying if I said I didn't show up a skeptic, but will be honest and say that I'm leaving a fan—and a really big one at that. Because boy oh boy did Triumph deliver, nailing each of those principles.
The Specs That Matter
The Bonneville Bobber is based on the Bonneville T120 in that it uses the same "high torque" variant of Triumph's new 1200cc motor. Both are eight valve, liquid-cooled, single overhead cam parallel-twins with a 270-degree crankshaft, and both are mated to the same six-speed gearbox. The Bobber has a new, twin airbox system with different intake and exhaust system and its own tune, which bumps horsepower and torque figures in the lower rev range.
More specifically, the Bobber makes 77 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, with the biggest gains around 4,500 rpm, where it has a 10 percent bump over the T120. Similarly, peak torque comes in at 78.2 pound-feet at 4,000, also 10 percent more than the T120 makes (peak torque is only 2 percent more).
The Bobber’s ride-by-wire throttle offers two riding modes (road and rain, both of which access the bike's full power but deliver it differently), and fuel economy is said to be 57 mpg.
To achieve the bobber look, the bike sports a floating aluminum single seat, which can be adjusted to an "up and forward" and "down and back" position. Similarly, the speedometer is angle adjustable, allowing its face to be tipped up and pointed more directly at the rider or to lay more flat in line with the bike.
Triumph achieved the hardtail look by pairing a classic "cage" swingarm with an underseat shock with linkage. Triumph's development team said one of the biggest debates they had was with the amount of suspension travel at the rear, with some members of the team pushing for authentic looks while others pushed for modern capabilities. The resulting unit offers 3.0 inches of travel, with an actually really nice ride all things considered.
Another area where Triumph worked hard to attain a "chop everything you don't need" appearance was by adopting a claimed "clean line" packaging that hides almost every possible trace of the bike’s ABS, traction control, ECU, and immobilizer. Yes, I agree it should be called everyone's "every bike" package as well.
Triumph also did a really nice job of hiding the catalytic converter required in the exhaust system. Its new "slash cut" brushed, stainless steel peashooters appear to run straight from the heads with no diversions (though there’s an under-engine cat and muffler), and they're both shorter and lighter than those on the T120. They also look pretty cool, in my opinion.
Finally, Triumph has given the Bobber a large number of unique styling and detail bits. The tank is new and smaller than the T120’s, and while it does have Triumph's signature knee pad recesses, it gets its own badging. The fenders are both minimal and steel, the wheels strung with spokes, and the battery box screams of heritage in the most subtle of ways.
Triumph has always been sneaky with a little fake vintage, and on the Bobber it's added to the fake carbs with a rear "drum inspired" brake hub. The ignition has been moved to under the bend of your right leg, and the new side panel and sprocket cover now has a removable inspection cap.
The Bobber is packed with premium finishes. The tank badges are beautiful, as as are the bronze badges on the seat, engine, and speedometer. The engine covers are brushed, the handlebars satin and graphite, and the instruments have machined detailing. Nowhere on this bike looks as if it was overlooked.
The Triumph Bonneville Bobber has a 27-inch seat height, 2.4-gallon fuel tank, 503-pound dry weight, will be available in Jet Black, Ironstone (gray), Morellow Red, and Competition Green and Frozen Silver, and starts at $11,900 for basic black.
We Rode The Thing
I left my house yesterday at 5:30 am to get on a plane to Madrid. I landed at 8:45 this morning (after watching Bad Moms, IT, Shallows, Bourne, and a documentary on the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers), got to the hotel around 9:30, and got on the bike at 10:30. We then spent the better part of the afternoon riding around the Spanish countryside, completing about 130 or so miles before coming back to the hotel around 5:30. Then came the press briefing and then dinner, and it's now about 11:30 pm local time.
I used to own a Bonneville (2010 mag wheel), I thought the new Thruxton R rode great but had grown into something more expensive and different than the old Thruxton. I’d hoped that the T120 would be the best mix until I rode it and thought it seemed indecisive on corner entry and needed too much encouragement on tip in, and then was a little uneasy at lean.
The TL;DR version is that I was not super excited to get on a bike this morning, especially one that seemed to be even more about style over substance. I tell you all this because I want to be transparent about my mindset in writing this, with the hopes that you can take more away from taking the time to read this than if you did so in a vacuum.
So...the result? This thing is freaking cool.
Visually, the Bobber is a really pretty motorcycle. To my incredibly skeptical eye, it looks different from multiple angles, as the shape of the seat pan for some reason reminds me of a Ducati Diavel while the front view looks like a Harley-Davidson Roadster. Fortunately, the rest of the bike looks classic Triumph only stripped down, something most of us can agree is really pretty.
The finishes are stunning. This may be where my hipster sensibilities get the better of me, but I'm a sucker for brushed aluminum and bronze things. They catch my eye and my attention like old wartime generator engines do for Hoyer (he has a Hercules flat-twin!) and make me all giddy inside. Triumph didn't go overboard, and the overall aesthetic feels minimal with just a few touches to up the value.
As you fire it up, the exhaust note burbles to life with a soft but meaty chug, and a quick twist of the throttle sends throaty cries not normally found in stock kits. Unlike Harley-Davidson with the Roadster, Triumph nails the foot position, putting it just slightly forward so you can put your feet down unobstructed when stopped. The seat is hard, but shaped well enough that it doesn't create hot spots, and the torque assist clutch makes clutch pull light.
Fueling is nearly perfect as you pull away, and it's only seconds before you realize that they've sort of undersold the changes to the engine. Pushing the power lower really enhances the ride, giving the bike a more cruiser-like engine characteristic that's fun to blip and punch around town.
Gearing is quite wide, and, because of the engine character and feel, I still don't believe it's the same as in the T120, as I was told. A cruising speed of 85 mph saw revs hovering at around the 3,450 rpm, whereas more legal speeds saw it drop below 3,000. I did have some difficulty in some slower sections around town, where I found myself wanting to be somewhere between first and second, but a little feathering of the clutch fixed the problem.
Triumph didn't have figures on cornering clearance, but it ranges somewhere between a little more than you think and "oh crap, I keep hitting it." Though, to be fair, part of that is because the handling is so neutral that you tend to forget you're on a bobber cruiser thing when you see tail lights around the bend and chase down the poor Spanish sucker on his sport tourer playing in the twisties, because you can.
During the bike's launch, every stop led to the same discussion between me and our riding pals about how easy it was to forget we were on a bike that wasn't supposed to handle this good. The Bobber loves to lean over and it loves to stay there, as long as you're okay with the grating footpegs. The only thing it loves more is getting on the gas on corner exit, where this new tune does a great job at putting power down.
What We'd Change
That doesn't mean, however, that Triumph's new Bobber is perfect. I came expecting to hate the suspension, but it’s actually done a really nice job given the travel limitations necessitated by the desired aesthetics. The ride is firm, but not jarring.
My problem with the Bobber comes from its binders. The single, 310mm disc and two piston Nissin floating calipers require a full four-finger grasp to access their full stopping power, which left a two-finger guy like me wondering if I was going to make out with a guard rail as I tried to keep up with Neeves. The stopping power is there, but the bite isn't nearly strong enough given the speed of traffic in any metropolitan area and the stock brakes wouldn't last a month if this thing found its way into my collection. (Buy 310mm disc here!)
Additionally, the Bobber flirts with the same issue I had with the Thruxton. The riding position is sportier than what I would want this bike for. Yes, I did just go on and on about how good it handles, but that's also considering its place in the motorcycle universe. Triumph have a catalog of 150 or so accessories and, if this bike were mine, some higher bars that provided a more relaxed riding position and attitude would be in order. It would still be fun to hustle should the mood arise, but that single mod would make it the best cruiser available on the market today (at least until you got into $25,000 baggers).
You Wanted To Know
"Is one of the accessory options a passenger pad/seat?" - Sadly no, this thing is a solo only ride.
"With the acknowledgement that every arse is different, how long can you ride it w/o discomfort?" - My butt is tiny and gets sore easily (there's gotta be a better way to say that), but I actually had no problems with the seat after a day on it. It's stiff, but well supportive and doesn't create any hot spots.
"The adjustable seat looks interesting, how effective is the adjustment range in changing the comfort/fit of the seating position?" - It moves about two inches or so along a slide it's attached to. The interesting thing is that they had ours in the "up and forward" position and the reach still felt fairly long to the bars. I think shorter riders may struggle, despite the low seat height.
"Is there a tach readout?" - One of the options in the digital readout on the speedo.
"Is there any way to put saddlebags on it?" - Triumph actually has three different options in its accessories catalog, two of which don't suck even a little bit.
"If I buy one, should I start making grumpy cruiser faces?" - Sadly yes, I'm calling this Bonneville a cruiser, which means #cruiserface is a must. However, it also means you can wear cruiser helmets, like my rad Simpson.
"I'm curious if the seat gets less ugly." - After staring at the back of one all day, I admit that the underside of the seat bums me out. It looks Italian or too sculpted in a way that it shouldn't. Fortunately, they have some really nice options in the accessories catalog.
"Who do you see actually buying these things?" - This is actually a really interesting question, further compounded by the fact that so many of the questions I've received have been from people considering this or something else completely different. Triumph says that it envisions the competition as the Harley 48, Indian Scout, Yamaha Bolt, etc (I think the HD Roadster is likely closer).
Why You Should Care
That last question brings me back to the point I brought up in the intro, about "bobber" guys not liking the idea of someone buying a bobber without working for it versus Joe off the street being able to buy the bike he's going to love the most.
The Bonneville Bobber is doing something that I've only seen Ducati's Scrambler do, and that's bring a lot of attention from non motorcycle enthusiasts. Love or hate the Ducati, it got people who'd never considered a motorcycle excited about these machines we love. I got calls and texts from friends and family all over who knew "I was into bikes or something" because they wanted to know more about that bike, and the same is happening with the Bobber.
I once wrote an article called "There's No Right Or Wrong Way To Be A Motorcyclist," which basically said that we should stop criticizing people for their version of motorcycling, because that only divided or discouraged growth. That acceptance, while being willing to show people new avenues, was the way to grow the sport and industry we all love so much.
So, while I appreciate that having a bobber used to mean you put some serious blood, sweat, and time (or just tons and tons of cash) into a bike build, I'm okay with the fact that my uncle can go buy a Triumph Bobber. Because it's a really great motorcycle that he will love and because it will make him one of us.
Triumph doesn't call the bike a cruiser, and I sort of get why. Unlike the Octane/Scout we love so much it wasn't built to compete with anything, just be the bike Triumph thought would be really cool. I think if you add some higher bars it's the best cruiser on the market but, add the clip-ons and it could be a cafe racer, or leave it as is for that pure bobber aesthetic. No matter which direction you take it, you're going to be happy with what's surprisingly my favorite of Triumph's modern classic line.
Oh, and here's a look at some awesome "inspiration kits" Triumph has for the Bonneville Bobber, just to get you a little more excited:
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled, 8-valve, SOHC, Parallel-twin|
|BORE & STROKE||97.6 x 80.0mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||27.2 in. (low position)|
|FUEL CAPACITY||2.4 gal.|
|CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT||503 lbs.|