Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 24th June 2008

Say the name ’Bonneville’ and most bikers immediately picture a classic British twin from the 60’s and 70’s; an oily Rocker’s delight.

But the Bonnie is back, courtesy of Triumph Hinckley and although the styling is pure retro, the new machine is undeniably a modern, low maintenance bike, ideal for the novice, or born again biker.

In fact, what better excuse could there be to get back to your biking roots, than to sample two wheels once again aboard a Triumph Bonneville?

At first you’d think Triumph must have been rubbing its corporate hands together in glee at the prospect of using the Bonneville name once again. Here surely was a bike which was going to sell itself with such memorable, powerful branding behind it, the most famous model name surely after Harley-Davidson’s Electra Glide.

But think about it some more and you start to see that Triumph – the modern, Hinckley-based Triumph – was faced with something of a dilemma, one which must have provoked plenty of argument and discussion in the factory over the last few years: should the Bonneville badge be used on a retro bike which evokes the look of the original, or should it be applied to a machine which carries forward the Bonneville spirit?

After all, the original Bonneville (and we’re talking about the Bonnie at its prime, in 650cc late Sixties guise) was once a cutting edge, high performance machine at an affordable price – extrapolate those parameters and you’re looking at a modern, four-cylinder, 600cc supersports machine. Triumph has one of those already and it’s called the TT600, so the decision clearly was made to get nostalgic about Bonnevilles instead – forget the context, build another Brit twin, just like in the good old days.

In doing so, Triumph has evoked not the relative but the actual performance of the original, and recreated as best it can the classic looks of the late 1960s 650cc T120 Bonneville. And to be honest, it’s rather slow.

Still, in performance terms the new 61bhp Bonneville achieves the modest ambitions of the class, which are more about ease of riding without intimidation and at the same time, recreating to some extent the feel of the old version.

Visually there’s no question it works – bystanders are genuinely surprised when told the bike’s brand new, and Triumph has put a lot of effort into recreating the style of the late 1960s incarnation of the Bonneville, such as placing the final drive chain on the right rather than the more conventional left side of the bike. This is so the large diameter clutch can be sited on the left of the engine with its cover designed to look like the original’s primary chain cover, while the other side of the crankcase mimics the old triangular timing chest cover.

The engine itself does a fine impression of the old air-cooled twin with two cylinders and a 360 degree crank, but there’s a more efficient four-valves per cylinder and short stroke dimensions (86mm x 68mm). Don’t assume by the way that this means less low rev torque – the idea a that long stroke is needed for this is a myth, it’s the valve area and timing which determines it. Whatever, it’s all enough to make this bike, and the original, hard to tell apart at first glance.

Details start to give it away of course, such as the front and rear disc brakes, the oil cooler hidden between the frame’s front downtubes, the fatter tyres, the shape and bulk of the engine, even the indicators. Some of them jar a little too, especially the unsightly kink in the line of the exhaust system in front of the silencers, essential says Triumph to raise them and offer sufficient ground clearance. Or the frame tube, which ties the cylinder head to the steering head, filling what should be a clear space around the engine. The bottom of the fuel tank really should be parallel to the ground if the original Bonneville’s poise and purposefulness are going to be carried over – instead, it slopes up. And why not rubber fork gaiters?

But overall it’s still convincing, it has the right badge and as an everyday, undemanding motorcycle it works just fine. In fact, a bike like this renders the concept of a dedicated commuter machine rather pointless as the Bonneville makes an excellent get-to-work motorcycle and adds to that panache and style without suffering for it.

The engine for example is a perfect town tool, with plenty of mid-range punch, reliable and crisp throttle response and only very light vibration levels. A pair of counterbalance shafts are fitted to relegate the classic parallel twin’s devastating vibration to the history books, but they’re tuned to allow a vestige through to stir just the memory of the modern rider.

There isn’t the urgency of the original Bonnie at very low revs but the new one pulls vigorously in the mid-range before feeling a little flat at the top end (there’s no rev counter, so you have to guess the 7400rpm power peak). This translates as enough power to overtake cars dismissively at 60mph or so without bothering the compliant gearbox (based on the TT600 unit) and plenty for motorway cruising speeds, although the classic ton is as hard to achieve on the 2000 Bonneville as the Sixties original – the difference is, the new one doesn’t feel like it’s going to shake itself to pieces in the attempt.

The handling is much better than any old British twin, despite the new Bonneville using very similar geometry to the old. The steering angle is a lazy but stable 29 degrees twinned with a conservative 4.6 inches of trail, while the 58.8 inch wheelbase also points away from agility. Even the front wheel is 19 inches in diameter, just like they used to be.

But the twin cradle frame is designed with the benefit of finite element analysis computer techniques, the swingarm is a serious box-section item pivoting through the back of the crankcase (the engine’s a stressed component of the frame) and the whole chassis is far stiffer than the bendy original.

Add to that the reasonably firm and well damped suspension and you realise why the Hinckley Bonneville is a paragon of stability and sure-footedness – far superior to the one other retro British twin, the Kawasaki W650, which can bounce and wobble nastily when provoked. Yet still the Bonneville changes direction with reasonable speed – it’s not especially light at 205kg (451lb) dry, but the weight is carried low, disguising itself well – and the ground clearance doesn’t intrude as it can on the W650.

Eventually the footrests scrape, but that’s leaning far enough for the typical rider. The steering is neutral right down to walking pace and combined with the reasonably low seat the whole package is a short-rider friendly, non-threatening motorcycle with no foibles or nasty habits.

The brakes maintain that theme, stopping the bike when squeezed with little fear of locking up the front wheel. They do need a firm hand, there’s not much feedback and the forks bottom out during serious stopping, but in this application they’re good enough.

Compare the Bonneville with conventional modern machines and it doesn’t look so impressive – a similarly priced Yamaha Fazer will utterly humiliate it in pure performance terms. But if you count it as another type of custom bike, a sort of British Harley-Davidson – which in many ways it is – then the Bonneville offers considerably more for considerably less.

The handling and practicality are way ahead, the engine is a match and the retro-style more appropriate in Britain. It won’t thrill you but it will satisfy those after a motorcycle as characterful transport, who like a bit of touring, taking it to work and accelerating far harder than they ever can in a car. Just being a motorcycle makes it automatic fun, and there’s nothing on the Bonneville to spoil any of that.

Kevin Ash

Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph bonneville.

Vital Statistics
Engine……….790cc, four stroke, air cooled twin cylinder, four stroke Valves; Eight
Claimed power (bhp)……….61bhp @ 7,400rpm
Compression ratio……….9.2:1
Transmission……….Five speed
Cycle parts
Chassis……….Steel tubular cradle type frame Front suspension; 41mm telescopic forks, no adjustment Rear suspension; Twin oil damped shock absorbers, no adjustments. Carbs; X2 Keihin 36mm
Brakes Front……….Single 310mm disc, 2 piston caliper Rear; single 255mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Wheels Front……….110/90 tyre – 19 inch diameter Rear; 130/80 tyre – 17 inch diameter Dry weight, 205kgs Wheelbase; 1493mm Seat height; 775mm Colours; Red/Silver or Green/Silver
Top speed……….110 mph
Fuel capacity……….18 litres
Buying Info
Current price……….£4,999 plus OTR charges