WRR14: Riding the Triumph Bonneville

Brando with his Triumph Thunderbird

Triumph has produced some of the most iconic motorcycles in history. The first Triumph Bonneville was produced in 1959, just a few years after Marlon Brando’s cult classic film, the Wild One was released, where he is seen raising hell on his Triumph Thunderbird.  The Bonneville was an all new bike for Triumph, although it retained the parallel twin engine the brand was known for, the Bonnie was fitted with twin Amal carbs and a higher spec camshaft.  This allowed the 650cc bike to reach speeds of 115mph, respectably fast for the time.

1965 T120C Bonneville



The Bonneville takes it’s name from the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, home to most of the land speed records that have been set on this planet.  By today’s standards, the Triumph Bonneville is hardly a rocketship, but it is still an amazingly great motorcycle to ride.  The original Triumph Bonneville was produced from 1959 into the early 70’s, where it was replaced by the T140 Bonneville with a 750cc engine.  These bikes had their quirks.  Right hand shift, kick start only, drum brakes, and decidedly vintage.  Classic Triumph Bonnevilles are highly sought after and collectible.  The 1965 T120C pictured at right sold for $21k at auction last year.  The original Bonnevilles were made in the Triumph factory in Meriden, which closed down in 1983.  One would think that would have been the end of the Bonneville, but that was not the case.  A business man named John Bloor licensed the design, and continued producing Bonnevilles from 1985 to 1988 in Devon, although none of these made it into the US.  John Bloor eventually funded an all new factory in Hinckley, England, which would be the birthplace of the Triumph Bonneville that we know today.


Graham on his 2008 Bonneville

In 2001, Triumph released the new Bonneville.  Sometimes I wonder if Triumph knew exactly what they were doing, or if it was more of a shot in the dark.  At the time, the a few retro styled bikes had been released by the japanese brands with limited results.  The Honda CB1000 only made it two years in the US.  Even my beloved Kawasaki ZRX (released in ’99) only made it to 2005 in the United States.  What would make it different for Triumph?  Maybe they hit the proverbial nail on the head.  The sweet spot right there between classic styling and modern performance.  Rather than use old school pushrod valves, the new Bonnie sports dual overhead cams.  New Bonnevilles were first offered with a 790cc engine, and since 2007 have been bumped to 865cc (putting out about 66hp at the crank).  The new Triumph Bonneville is absolutely a joy to ride, whether you are commuting, riding around town, or taking a relaxing Sunday ride down your favorite two lane stretch of asphalt.


In this episode of Weekly Rides with Reuben, I get to take Graham’s bike for a spin (again, I grab the keys whenever I get the chance – haha!).  Graham has worked here at Competition Accessories for several years now, doing everything from helping out in the retail store to answering the phones with sales and customer service calls.  While Graham isn’t in the office he can be found tinkering with one of his classic Honda CB’s that he loves to restore, or his ’76 Porsche 912e that he’s been working on for way too long.  When he isn’t getting his hands dirty though, he’s riding his Triumph Bonneville.  Whether he’s simply commuting to work or school, or taking a joy ride through the beautiful countryside of North and South Carolina, Graham has really been racking up the miles on the Triumph.

Heading up NC80 towards the BRP


So what makes the Bonneville so great to ride?  It’s just a stripped down, pure motorcycling experience – and a good one, at that.  The Bonneville isn’t exceptionally fast, certainly not by sportbike standards, but it produces at least 90% of it’s peak 52ft-lbs of torque from 2,500 all the way to redline – making for a very smooth, even pull just off idle and all the way up to the top of the tach.  Then there’s those sounds it makes.  The new Triumph Bonneville is still an air cooled parallel twin, with a 360 degree crankshaft, which means both pistons rise and fall together.  This gives you that distinct triumph parallel twin sound, nice and throaty but just as musical at low rpm as it is wound up high in the rev range.  I have to say, there is something visceral about riding this kind of bike.  The handling is lively and sporty, but if you want to hustle through the corners she’ll make you work for it a bit.  Once you get accustomed to the feel of throwing it into a turn it can actually be quite fun, although you’ll quickly find that the ground clearance is a bit limited when you start to scrape the pegs or other hard parts.

Overall it’s just a great bike to ride.  It’s comfortable, makes music to your ears, and can be as laid back as your want or get a bit more exciting if you want to pick up the pace.  The Triumph Bonneville also elicits more comments from strangers than just about any other bike I’ve ridden.  Whether it’s gramps re-living his glory days, or a teenager that just wants to tell me how awesome it is.  Either way, I don’t admit that it’s not really my bike, I just smile and nod – say thanks, and twist the throttle and ride into the sunset.


Come along for the ride!  Weekly Rides with Reuben are uploaded every Wednesday to our YouTube Channel.  Be sure to Subscribe to our channel – stay up to date with product reviews and ALL of our two wheeled adventures!  Thanks for watching, until next week!  -Reuben


Quick look: IMS 2011

ThruxtonFor three days every January, the International Motorcycle Show transforms the far west edge of Manhattan into its own world of leathers, tattoos, gear heads and a sea of chrome. It’s the fashion week of the motorcycling world; enthusiasts from tri-state area (and beyond) come out to ooh and ahh over the new models on the red carpet, and to rub elbows with the celebrities of the motorcycle world.

I had only a couple of hours a couple Saturdays ago to push my way through the crowds and glimpse what we’ll be seeing on the roads in 2011. Not all that caught my eye was brand new, some just got a nice little facelift from last year. Here are a few highlights…

In the Ducati arena, everyone was swooning over the new Diavel, undeniably good-looking but a little thick for my tastes; instead I drifted towards the more minimalistic Hypermotard that’s been in the Ducati line-up since 2007 and comes in both an 1100 and a 796 version. The red trellis framing brought focus to the nice geometry of the bike, and performance-wise Ducati calls the Hypermotard a mix between “manners and madness” – a descriptor perfect for my riding personality.

Over at Honda were a couple of custom collaborations with Cobra Engineering – the Honda-Cobra Tracker and the Honda-Cobra Scrambler – both build-ups of the Shadow RS750 that call back to a bygone era of street racing. The $30K tags set them well out of the range of most budgets, but the more accessible 2011 lineup of Shadows sat just a few feet away, and while nothing was radically different in their design, props to the Honda design team for consistently producing bikes that are clean, classic & pretty.

This show was the first time I’d been on a Triumph Bonneville, which my Brooklyn sensibilities had me set to love – instead I found that for someone who’s 5’9”, it’s very short. I switched to the new Thruxton – a true café racer with attitude. At a full three inches higher, it was a better fit, and the detail in kickback design was consistent down to the white-faced panel instrumentation. Another bystander described the Thruxton as “a brand new vintage bike”. If I were going for a new ride in 2011, this might be the one.

Tucked into the middle were the Russian Urals, the sidecar bikes that are still stopping every passer-by with their timeless and undisputable cool factor. And in 2011, they’re looking to-die-for cool; I had sudden visions of driving off into the sunset with the orange and silver Patrol, geared up in goggles, bomber jacket, scarf flapping behind in the wind. It’s old-timey character must be hitting a strong nostalgic nerve elsewhere too: the company is expecting a roaring 30% increase in sales in 2011.

Finally, the Harley arena. On a quick pass the only real standout design note was the proliferation of matte paint. But another look brought me to the Blackline, Harley’s newest bike that had the whole place buzzing (especially after Thursday’s no-holds-barred opener at Don Hills). And for good reason – it’s stunning, easily the most eye-catching Harley design I’ve seen. The company has lowered the seat and pared down the design (calling it “Lean as wire, hard as iron and dark as a tar road at midnight”) to appeal to a younger audience. When I saw that it’s approaching 700 pounds and being marketed with this video, it’s pretty clear which half of the younger audience this one is targeted towards. We’d love to see one of these in a more sensible size for ladies, Harley. (Just please don’t paint it pink.)

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

Lightning Electric at Bonneville – Part II

Written by J.C. Current, Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

Who says that lightning never strikes twice? The adage Lightning Motorcycles - Bonneville Salt Flats 2009 is a fallacy and so is the idea behind it. Amazing things can happen to anyone anywhere multiple times – if you are lucky or very, very good. Today we are talking about Lightning Motorcycles and their land speed record attempts on the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah. Their first day went very well by any measure – they set a new land speed record of 162 mph (260.71 km/h) for an electric-powered motorcycle. This placed them firmly in the record books of both the FIM and the AMA. They were not done, though…

The following day, 1 September 2010, rider Paul Thede again set the two records on fire and came in with a 166.3 mph (267 km/h) on the same machine. Of course, team boss Richard Hatfield was not satisfied with that; he knew there was more. So, he took their General Motors EV1 electric car-sourced motor to a dyno-equipped shop in nearby Salt Lake City and did some tuning.

Thede took to the salt the following day and faced an 11 mph headwind for his first run. That brought them a measured top speed of 170.97 mph. The return run had far better conditions – no wind – and the TTXGP-raced motorcycle pulled a 176 mph for a two-way average of 173 ttxgplogo mph (278.42 km/h)! That’s the new world land speed record for electric motorcycles for both the FIM and the AMA.

The Lightning Motorcycles team will also continue their TTXGP competition by participating in the invitation-only finals in Albacete, Spain from 23 – 24 October. Keep your eyes here and we will keep you updated.

Lightning Electric at Bonneville

Written by J.C. Current, Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

TTXGP Logo Apparently, winning the inaugural TTXGP North American Championship – with three victories in four races – was not enough for Lightning Motorcycles. They took their cutting-edge technology with them to the annual Bonneville speed trials outside of Wendover, Utah, and managed to set two world speed records for the electric motorcycle category. The first certification comes from the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme (FIM), the worldwide organization responsible for all motorcycle speed records as well as international motorcycle racing. The second was from the US body responsible for the same duties in the United States, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). Both records show that the Lightning electric motorcycle achieved a two way averaged speed of 162 mph (260.71 km/h) on 31 August 2010. LightningMotor_Electric_09

Rider (and noted author of “The Motorcycle Suspension Bible”) Paul Thede was actually riding the same machine that Lightning used to compete in the final round of the TTXGP, held at Virginia International Raceway only two weeks previous. Only gearing changes were made to allow for the higher top speed. The team had made one previous record attempt, but it was only certified by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA); the speed achieved at that time was 166 mph (267 km/h), so there may be more in store.

Team owner Richard Hatfield stated that the record was set on their very first day on the Salt Flats, so the next few days could bring us another electric motorcycle speed record. Keep your eyes on the All About Bikes website…