Bonneville is one of the most famous names in biking history. Built in Meriden from 1959, and sold initially in big numbers, especially in the US, the parallel twin-engined roadster lasted until 1983 when the factory ceased trading.
When John Bloor bought the Triumph name and began producing bikes again in 1991, the Bonneville didn’t become part of the model line-up for 10 years. Preferring to concentrate on bikes of a more contemporary design, there was an unwillingness to depend on machinery famous from a previous era. However, the Hinckley-built Bonnies soon proved to be a real success, being particularly popular once again in the States.
The 790cc twins of 2001 mimicked the styling of the original bikes closely, though their modern day levels of performance and reliability set them apart. 2003 saw the introduction of the first variant, with the T100 model which featured two-tone paint, and chrome engine covers. Aimed at the US market, the Speedmaster and America bikes were also introduced that year. Then in 2004, the sportier Thruxton went on sale. Featuring clip-ons and rear sets, the café racer was also fitted with a slightly more powerful 865cc engine.
Thee 2006 off-road styled Scrambler model also had the bigger motor, as did all bikes in the Bonneville range from the following year. Fuel-injection arrived in 2008, even if the throttle bodies were carefully made to look like carbs. For 2009, the standard and SE versions of the Bonneville had 17in cast wheels fitted. Since then, several limited edition versions have become available including the T100 SE and T100 Black, Spirit SE, and T214 SE – built to celebrate Johnny Allen’s 214.17mph world record-breaking run on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956, which inspired the name of the original model. Some of the current Triumph Bonnevilles are now made in Thailand.
The Bonneville T100 is about show just as much as go. Replicating the original 1960s era of the parallel twin, the air-cooled engine, spoked wheels, peashooter silencers and rubber tank pads really help it look the part. With the official aftermarket crash bars, leather panniers, stepped seat, and flyscreen fitted to the bike we tried, the Triumph’s style and practicality are enhanced still further.
Riding the Bonneville is a really enjoyable experience. I found it a charming and relaxing bike, and one that’s extremely therapeutic to be with. Trundling along some of Gloucestershire’s finest rural routes certainly seemed a perfect place to appreciate this very British machine. Heading off on the T100 with no special plan or destination, I found myself smiling from the off. Its capacity might suggest it’s a ‘big’ bike, but the reality is a low, light and lithesome machine that requires little more strength to manage than a middleweight commuter bike. It encourages an easy-going style of riding and prompts a feeling of thorough contentment at all times.
The 865cc air-cooled parallel twin is a lovely engine to use with a linear delivery that makes acceleration prompt, easy and friendly. The five-speed gearbox is beautifully light and slick, but thanks to the amount of power and torque available from very low rpm, there’s little need to use it too often. At those revs in the bigger gears there’s a tendency for the engine to snatch very slightly, so it’s better to drop down a cog or two to prevent that. But at all other engine speeds, healthy throttle response is the order of the day.
The fluidity of the motor is matched by the chassis to give handling that’s just as easy and manageable. There’s a planted feel from the bike over most surfaces and virtually all speeds. The Hinckley engineers definitely got their sums right with things like frame geometry and
suspension settings. With sweet steering and a nice feeling from the Metzeler tyres, twisting through the Gloucestershire countryside couldn’t have felt more secure. The rear shocks can get a little choppy in their action over some of the worst ripples, but it certainly isn’t bad enough to move the wheel off line.
The handling feels especially good at very slow pace, making it very-well suited to use in town. Feet-up U-turns are simple and the slimness of the bike allows easy filtering, even with the panniers. The brakes have a nice action too. The front caliper doesn’t produce the sharpest stopping, though it’s still strong enough with its progression and feel reducing the chance of ham-fisted lock ups.
The overall poise of the Triumph will be very much welcomed by those either new to biking or returning to it after a long break. And I can somehow see a lot of those types spending their money on this machine. It would certainly give them a very satisfying impression of what biking is all about and how much fun it can be.
It’s been quite some time since I took my time over rides and benefited as much from them as I did on the Bonneville. It allowed me to absorb more of the area where I live, rather than oblige me to focus just on the road as you have to on speedier machines. I’m not really a man who would choose a cruiser as a bike to own. But I could definitely see me opting for the quiet life on one of these laid-back lovelies not far from now. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to come out with that sort of remark for a few years yet.
I think it’s a marvelous motorcycle. The Bonneville T100 is a good used buy. Generally owned by older and more careful riders, it’s not a bike likely to be abused or neglected. The majority are used more for special occasions than everyday duties, so mileages are generally low and clocked up in better weather. Even so, as always you need to take care before parting with your cash.
Bear in mind the earliest-made Bonnies have been around for more than 10 years now so may well show a bit of wear and tear. You shouldn’t be too afraid to entertain bikes with higher mileages. In the right hands the twins can do 50,000 miles or more quite reliably. More concerning can be older bikes that have been stored for long periods. Done properly, in the right place, this won’t lead to too many issues. If that’s not the case, all sorts of subtle corrosion inside the engine and within the wiring may well lead to subsequent failures.
The Triumph’s finish is good and strong as long as some sort of attention is paid to it via a regular cleaning session. Otherwise expect corrosion in harder to reach areas. Engines are good and strong and will deliver reliable service if maintained regularly. Check the service history. Home maintenance is easy, so investigate the seller’s ability and ask for all receipts. Valves need checking every 12,000 miles but rarely need adjusting before double that mileage or more. Crank sensors have been known to pack up. Having a spare handy is a wise move. Regulator rectifiers have been known to pack up on early bikes. They can damage the alternator if you’re unlucky.
If the motor’s in good order, any rattles, taps, and smoking should not be evident. Go for a ride and check for clutch slip or wisps of smoke from the exhausts on the overrun. Check the action of the gearbox. If it’s not perfect then something could be amiss. Gearchange shafts can bend if the bike is dropped on the left-hand side. It’s not a cheap fix.
Chassis-wise, check the suspension feels under control. Fork action is a bit soft and rear shocks’ damping isn’t up to really hard riding. For general sensible speeds, both ends should feel fine. The front brake is a bit weedy. Aftermarket pads and a caliper service will restore some lost power. Clocks mist up if ridden in the rain for long or washed too enthusiastically. Looked after, Bonnies will go and last well.