Triumph Bonneville Rewriting History

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Nelson and Riles
June 1 2009
Parked Bonneville Triumph

Introducing a Distinguished Bonnie

The 2009 Bonneville and Bonneville SE were the stars, front and centre, during a recent press launch in New Orleans this spring. Triumph now offers four Bonneville models for 2009; the standard Bonneville, Bonneville SE, the T100 and the Fiftieth Anniversary model, which was produced in a very limited number of only 650 units. You can forget about picking up one of the fiftieth anniversary models though, as they are already sold, making them an instant collectors item, for those so inclined.

While the Triumph brand realized its heyday during the 50’s and 60’s, the pinnacle of the Bonneville was the late 60’s and this new incarnation of the Bonneville is styled directly from the 1968 classic bearing the same name.

Whether you are looking for that traditional retro Bonneville of your youth, or you are thinking of that cool 70’s look, it’s all come full circle in the 21-century Bonnie. Make no mistake, although made to look like its vintage counterpart, the new Bonnie is truly a modern roadster.

To differentiate the two models of Bonneville featured during the launch, the standard Bonnie has black engine cases, analogue speedo without a tach, and displays the proud name in decal form on the gas tank, whereas the higher spec Special Edition model has a traditional tank badge, satin engine covers and incorporates an analogue tachometer alongside the speedometer.

The biggest news for the Bonneville is the addition of fuel injection, a change that has occurred across the whole Modern Classics range for that matter. The Modern Classics family consists of the Bonneville, Thruxton and Scrambler. Fuel injection is now the standard fuel delivery system across the board for the complete Triumph motorcycle line-up. While technical improvement is good, it can sometimes take a toll on certain aspects of the traditional appearance. Triumph knows full well the importance of its rich history with the cult classic Bonneville, thereby keeping the classic look intact.

The incorporation of a closed-loop Multipoint Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection could have easily altered the Bonnie’s appearance, making it less desirable, but the engineers did an amazing job of disguising the traditional looking twin carburetors by installing the injectors inside the faux carb bodies. The accuracy of appearance could result in arguments with the most knowledgeable of English motorcycle aficionados that the bike is still carbureted. The fuel injection system, developed in conjunction with Keihin, is five-times cleaner than traditional carburetors, and as a result, passes stringent Euro 3 emission standards. Exhaust gases exiting the Bonnie’s tailpipes are through repurposed Thruxton mufflers, reminiscent of the Bonneville of the seventies.

While the 865 cc DOHC parallel twin has an oil cooler, the engine is primarily air-cooled and the new fuel injection worked flawlessly on our demo models. The engine is set-up to deliver 90 percent of its peak torque at just 2,500 rpm, and power continues all the way to its 7,000 rpm redline. Although the torque rating of 51 ft lbs at 5,800 rpm, and horsepower being claimed at 67 ponies at 7,500 rpm won’t set any records and may not sound like much against some of today’s monster power plants, the engine, incorporating twin balance shafts, is silky smooth and getting up to highway speed is surprisingly quick. Much of our riding was in the high-speed range of Interstates or deserted Louisiana roads and the Triumph twin never once complained as I put it through its paces.

I only felt the inkling of vibration in the handlebar in the 5,000 rpm range, but not enough to cause concern. Besides, other than revving the engine in order to get up to speed, that rpm range is in the upper ranks of U.S. Interstate speeds and not a pace most Canadians have the opportunity to ride in without putting their license in jeopardy.

Of the three models in the Modern Classics family, the Bonneville and the Thruxton use a 360-degree firing interval from the parallel twin while the Scrambler, still using the same 865 cc engine, albeit different engine internals, uses a 270-degree firing order, slightly changing the sound emanating from the tail pipe. Both sound great and reminiscent of classic Triumphs from days gone by.

While the more traditional, and unchanged, T100 still has spoked wheels, 17-inch on the rear and 19-inch steel wheel on the front, the newly revised standard Bonnie and the Bonnie SE deviate from 60’s tradition of spokes and take a page from the 70’s. Now incorporating 17-inch lightweight cast wheels on both ends, and with the addition of the Thruxton front fender, unsprung weight is greatly reduced by a whopping 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs). The new front wheel size and less weight bearing down on the rubber make quite a difference in handling. In comparison to the T100, the regular Bonneville and the SE, weighing in at 200 kg (441 lbs) dry, feel lighter and much more nimble in the corners, not to mention slow speed U-turns. Metzeler supplies the 110/70R17 on the front and a 130/80R17 out back. An added bonus of 17-inch tires is that it opens up a much broader selection of tubeless radial tires when replacement is needed.

Stopping those 17-inch hoops is a single 310 mm disc up front and a 255 mm disc on the rear, both being clamped by dual-piston floating calipers. Both ends do an excellent job of stopping the Bonnie with just a moderate squeeze on the front lever and the rear brake pedal.

Ergonomics have changed for the better on the new Bonnie and Bonnie SE with a lower seat height of 740 mm (29.1 in), a reduction of 35 mm (1.4 in) from the T100, and redesigned handlebars that sweep back slightly farther to meet the rider. The new bars, and longer mirror stalks offer an excellent view behind, and the brake and easy-to-pull clutch levers are fully adjustable for varying hand sizes. During the press launch we were trading off bikes from the Modern Classics family pretty regularly, but I had either the Bonneville or the SE for most of the time, and I found the riding position to be very friendly. In keeping with tradition, the foot pegs are sensibly below the thigh for an upright riding position, keeping the lower back straight and free from fatigue. The seat, while more sculpted than the original 60’s flat version, is comfortable and offers plenty of wiggle room to keep the blood flowing on longer jaunts.

The Bonnie was equally comfortable in town or on the highway, but for those who wish to alleviate themselves from the brunt of the windblast, Triumph now offers two sizes of easily removable windscreens as optional equipment.

Also helping in the personal comfort department is compliant suspension. The front 41 mm Kayaba fork gives up 120 mm (4.7 in) of travel while the rear twin Kayaba shocks have 100 mm (3.9 in) of travel. The front doesn’t offer any adjustment but the rears allow the rider to adjust spring preload. Surprisingly we ran into quite a lot of rough pavement in the southern state, but the suspension kept its manners and provided a smooth ride for the most part.

Both the standard Bonnie and the Bonnie SE are an excellent all-round bike for most any type of riding, offering rider comfort and smooth power in ample proportions, all in a cool looking package. In fact, the whole Triumph line of Modern Classics ooze character, style and a very unique heritage that a whole generation was brought up on.

And they say retro is making a comeback, I didn’t know it left.

The 2009 Bonneville comes in Jet Black or Fusion White and retails for very reasonable $8,699, while for only $700 more the SE model offers the additions mentioned earlier and a two-tone paint scheme of Pacific Blue and Fusion White, or solid paint in the form of Jet Black, both colours are priced at $9,399.

Go to for more information or to build your own Triumph. (See the Build your own Triumph sidebar). MMM


Build your own Truimph

Triumph has launched a completely interactive website where a potential buyer can outfit their dream Triumph with all the goodies they like and have a running total of the mounting costs in Canadian dollars. The site displays the base model cost and adds each accessory cost for a running total at the bottom of the worksheet. Meanwhile the accessory is placed on the bike in real time so you can see exactly what the finished product will look like. Check it out at

Choose from items like aftermarket exhaust. Triumph has struck a deal with exhaust manufacturer Arrow Special Parts to supply a higher spec 2-into-1 or 2-into-2 exhaust system, depending on the model, which sound amazing. The systems that were installed on some of the demo bikes were ‘uncorked’ making them a little on the loud side for general consumption. I can only imagine how throaty the stock Arrow pipes would sound, and likely much more palatable for the masses.

Another one of the main accessories the consumer will want to try are the many variations of seats for the Modern Classics line-up. From solo seats to two-up touring seats and pretty much everything in between, is available for the bikes. Even available is the all-new suede-like Alacantara seat, which is popular with the high-end sports car crowd.

From skid-plates to anodized brake fluid reservoirs, chromed engine covers to quick detach windshields and gas tank knee pads to fork gators, the number of Triumph accessories continue to grow.

After you build your bike, you can then print the picture and the wish list off and take it to your local dealer for your new bike order, tailor-made to your specifications. An easy process that has you knowing exactly what your bike will look like before you even pick it up–all customized by you.

We were told that the accessories and the bike are designed simultaneously ensuring quality fit and the perfect look. All the accessories are tested for approximately 12,000 miles on the track before final testing in real life settings.


Build your own personal look

Triumph also has an extensive array of clothing in the form of riding jackets and pants, riding boots or casual wear. All of Triumph’s branded clothing is designed by Triumph staff instead of just rebadging an existing brand, making it truly unique to the iconic name. Triumph has also made a strategic partnership with Alpinestars to manufacture some of the Triumph designed boots and technical wear.

Whether you want to go back to the days of the Rocker and the Ace Café, or outfit yourself from head to toe in all-weather textile for the long haul, it’s designed by riders with a flair for depicting the heritage of the machines it represents.

During the press launch, Triumph personnel had a wide array of clothing available for the photos and I can tell you from experience, this stuff fits and looks great. Many of the leather garments are made from tough, top-grain goat leather. The leather is soft and supple, making the riding gear protective but not binding.


One Hundred Seven Years of Heritage: The Condensed Version

Triumph Motorcycles has a long and varied history that dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. Siegfried Bettmann, a German immigrant to England, started an exporting company in 1886 and began moving bicycles out of Conventry, England that bore the Bettmann name. Bettmann later renamed the company Triumph and branched out to manufacture bicycles. The powers that be at this initial bicycle company wanted more. With a love of the motorized bicycle, the installation of an engine into a Triumph bicycle frame in 1902, officially marked the first Triumph motorcycle from the Coventry based company.

Triumph has a rich history in the motorcycling industry and 2009 marks many important anniversaries for this long running motorcycle company, now in business for 107 years.

Triumph had many milestones that helped to make it one of the most iconic names in motorcycling. As early as 1907 during the first Isle of Man TT, Triumph took second and third spots, and then in 1908, Triumph took home the fastest lap and the win in the legendary race.

During the First World War, Triumph ponied up to the war effort with 30,000 motorcycles for the Allied Forces, and once again during World War II, Triumph stepped up to the plate for the war effort with tens of thousands of motorcycles.

The Coventry factory, like many other factories in the city, was all but leveled during an unprecedented blitz by the German Luftwaffe in 1940 that lasted over ten continuous hours, devastating the city. The company rebuilt immediately in a nearby vacant foundry and once again started producing machines for the British Forces.

Post-war Triumph sales in the United States exceeded any other country, including England. The States were rewarded with the 650 cc Thunderbird, which was designed specifically for the American market. The Thunderbird became Triumph’s biggest seller to date. (History may repeat itself, as a brand new 1600 cc parallel twin Thunderbird will be released in North America this summer and orders are now being taken).

All Hail the Bonneville on its Fiftieth Anniversary

In 1956, Triumph had an entry on the Bonneville Salt Fats in which Johnny Allen, riding a twin-carbureted Triumph twin in streamline guise, claimed a world record and reached a blistering speed of 214.5 mph. Based on that recognition and taking advantage of the marketing opportunity, the Triumph Bonneville twin was released to the public in 1959 and then in 1960, the Bonneville T120 became the first motorcycle to lap the Isle of Man TT course at 100 mph. Also in 1960, the Bonneville once again set a new world record at its namesake with a clocked speed of 245.6 mph. Very impressive accomplishments in the eyes of the public, and the company took advantage of it by reaping the benefits from the number of sales.

With many ups and downs in their long history, Triumph during the 50’s and 60’s were arguably the most well-known, most desirable motorcycle brand in the world, and that can be attributed directly to the Bonnie and its record breaking past.

The Bonneville achieved cult status throughout the world and spawned many offshoots back in the day such as the Scrambler and the Thruxton. In England, the Rockers and other hang-arounds of the famed Ace Café made their bike of choice the Triumph Bonneville, while Hollywood and a number of movie celebrities on this side of the pond helped to make the marque famous.

Perhaps one of the first to put the Triumph name on the silver screen was Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie, ‘The Wild One’. Brando’s character, Johnny Strabler, rode a Triumph Thunderbird as he and his gang of hooligans terrorized small town U.S.A. And on a lesser-known fact, Fonzie rode a Triumph for a time on TV’s sitcom, Happy Days. Other Hollywood notables who owned the marque include James Dean, Evel Knievel, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood and of course the most famous Triumph proponent, the King of Cool, Steve McQueen.

What goes up must come down

The future of Triumph did not continue to be so rosy, though. With the influx of the Japanese brands making huge headway in North America, especially Honda’s technologically advanced and reasonably priced CB750, and labour difficulties at the Triumph plant, the company was plagued with trouble in the early seventies when production all but ground to a halt. The company barely kept its head above water, stumbling along until the doors finally closed for good in 1983.

While some might argue that Triumph did go out of business for a time during the mid-eighties, technically the brand never disappeared. After the company closed its doors at its Meridian factory in 1983, English businessman John Bloor immediately bought up the name, and all of its intellectual property.

The Modern Era

Production continued under license from Bloor as a limited number of Bonnevilles were still being produced by Les Harris’ Racing Spares, just not on the grandiose scale that the public was accustomed to.

While these limited numbers of Bonnies were being produced, Bloor quietly built a new manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Hinckley, England and then in 1990, Triumph Motorcycles was reborn to the public.

The new Triumphs were only being produced in three and four cylinder engine configurations, relegating the venerable Bonnie to the back burner. The history and recognition that the Bonnie demanded wouldn’t go away, and it was reintroduced to the motorcycling public in 2001. The Bonneville T100 was released the following year to celebrate the company’s centenary.

Triumph from the Ashes

In 2002, the Triumph factory suffered a devastating fire and was burnt to the ground. With production halted, a new state-of-the-art factory opened in September of the same year, making Triumph stronger than ever.

The company followed through with new models; the Bonneville America in 2002, the Thruxton in 2003, the Rocket III in 2004, and the Scrambler in 2005. Today, Triumph builds bikes for a number of applications that fall into three distinct families; Urban Sports, Modern Classics and their Cruiser line.

Triumph is a company with a rich history. A company that has placed itself in the forefront of the motorcycling world and a company, I’m sure, Siegfried Bettmann would be proud of.


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