Technical Articles

Road Test: Triumph Bonneville Bobber

TRIUMPH launched its new Bonneville Bobber to the world’s motorcycling press in Madrid. I didn’t get to go to Madrid. Instead I got to go to Wollongong. On the train. Triumph Australia had kindly organised me a bike for two whole weeks—all I had to do was get to City Coast Motorcycles in Wollongong and pick it up.

Triumph’s new Bonneville Bobber is part of their ‘Modern Classic’ range. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms but, strangely enough, it is an accurate description of the bike. It really is a modern motorcycle made to look like an old one. Bobbers originated in America in the late forties when returning service men modified their motorcycles in an effort to make them go faster. They took bikes such as Harleys, Indians and Triumphs and removed all the unnecessary parts such as pillion seats, body work, rear suspension. They ‘bobbed’ the mudguards cutting them very short (or removed them entirely) and tuned the engines.

City Coast Motorcycles had the bike all prepped and fuelled up when I arrived. After a quick run-through of the bike it was time to return to the big smoke.

Sitting on the Bobber it feels compact and purposeful. The first thing you notice is how light the torque assisted clutch is. The second thing you notice is how much torque the motor makes so low down in the range. Triumph claim 78 ft/lb at 4000 rpm but by the time you get to 3000 rpm it’s pushing you forward with serious purpose. The Bobber’s 1200 cc parallel-twin eight-valve motor makes a claimed 76 hp at 6100 rpm but there really isn’t much point in bouncing off the rev limiter as all the fun is found between 3000—5000 rpm riding the impressive torque. Triumph even use the moniker HT on the engine standing for ‘high torque’.

Talking about the engine there are some fantastic references to Triumph’s heritage. The whole engine has the visual appearance of Triumph’s old parallel twins. The fuel bodies are made to look like old style Amal carbies complete with knurled brass rings.

The ‘simple’ twin down-pipes and slash-cut silencers have a stainless outer skin and hide all their emissions gear and unsightly plumbing under the engine.

The motor has lots of ‘bronze’ detailing (I believe it’s actually just powder-coated bronze but the effect is good). During my time with the Bobber some people where quite negative about these details, saying it wasn’t genuine, it was all for show, etc, etc. Sure the bike is a styling exercise and I think as such it works really well.  

The strange thing is that as a motorcycle it really is sensational. I’ll let you decide for yourselves what you think of the styling, but if you like the look of it in George’s photos, you’re going to love it in the flesh. Anyway, back to the important stuff which is as always riding the bike.

I got quite lost in Wollongong but I didn’t care. I was having a ball squirting through the traffic on the Triumph Bobber. The upright riding position and torque-laden motor make town riding a pleasure.

The bar-end mirrors work really well and stay clear even at highway speeds. I headed out of Wollongong along the coast taking the Lawrence Hargrove Drive through Austinmer and across the spectacular Sea Cliff bridge. Along this stretch of road I really began to bond with the Bobber.

The handling is nothing short of amazing considering the nature of the bike. I was surprised at how good a job Triumph had done. If you’re thinking of dismissing the Bobber as a styling exercise you have got to take one for a ride. I guarantee it will change your mind.

It carries its weight low and holds a line beautifully feeling neutral and balanced right though a corner. There is a surprising amount of ground clearance for such a low slung bike. Eventually the foot pegs will touch down followed by the silencer heat shield on the right and the side-stand on the left but there really is no need. You can make serious progress keeping everything off the deck. That torque will haul you out of corners rapidly be they short tight ones or long lovely sweepers.

The Bobber’s suspension runs a good balance between firm and compliant. Considering it only has 90 mm of travel in the front 41-mm KYB forks and 77 mm in the rear horizontally mounted single KYB shock, Triumph has done a great job with the damping rates. It has to be a vicious bump at speed to kick you out of the seat and even then the Bobber holds onto its chosen line and carries on without any fuss.

At Stanwell tops I took the Lady Wakenhurst Drive into the Royal National Park in the interests of further testing the Bobber’s cornering potential. The road surface is pretty dire in parts and in the middle of winter there is some nasty green slippery stuff on the sides of the road. The ABS kicked in a couple of times but I didn’t hear from the Traction Control once.

The Bobber comes with tyres designed specifically for it by Avon. The front is a narrow 100/90 19 while the rear has a 150/80 R16. You read that right: the rear is a radial; the front isn’t… They certainly work well giving plenty of feel and grip even in wet and slippery conditions. Both have inner tubes which should please the purists!  

I was having such a ball that I considered turning around and going back through the Park. However I’d promised the family that I’d meet them all in town for a late lunch. It was definitely time to haul arse. Again the Triumph was sensational at cutting through the city traffic. It isn’t particularly light at 228 kg bone dry but you’d never pick it from the easy way it handles even at low speeds.

I got to the restaurant on time but there was nowhere to park. You can’t park on the pavement in Sydney as you can in Melbourne. In desperation, I went into a undercover carpark, rode down a vicious spiral ramp that seemed to go on for an eternity. As I ran out of the carpark, I noticed the sign with the hourly rates… Holy ###k. I’ll worry about it later I thought.  

After a sensational lunch I slunk back into the carpark to retrieve the Bobber. At the exit the unmanned machine told me I owed it $54. There was no riding around the barrier. It was at this point when all hope seemed lost that the Bobber came to my rescue. I realised that if I rotated the mirrors under the bars the bike would actually fit under the boom. I’d been on the Bobber for less than a day and it had already saved me $54.  

I went back to Ozbike HQ to tell Skol all about the Bobber’s ability to fit under boom gates— so Skol decided we should head out to the pub to spend the $54 I’d saved.

A couple of days later Skol and I headed over to George, the photographer, to get some pictures of the Bobber. George is somewhat vertical challenged and he fell head-over-heels for the Bobber. Its low seat height of 690 mm was perfect for him.  

After the shoot we headed off for the Putty Road and Grey Gums Café where we were meeting Steve, an old friend of Skol’s.

You need to be a little careful with the Bobber regarding fuel. The fuel tank holds 9.1 litres. Triumph reckon this will get you over 200 km but I never saw more than 160 km from a tank full. In fact, riding up the Putty Road, the fuel light came on after less than 100 km.  

On the way home, Skol took the Bobber and I followed on his modified Sporty. It was interesting riding the two bikes back to back. The Triumph has the edge over the Sporty performance-wise but in chilled out cruising mode, that position is reversed. Perhaps a set of Vance & Hines mufflers from Triumph’s offical accessory range would go some way to change that.
Skol pulled over at the BP service station near the end of the Putty Road. “I like that,” he said. Now that might not sound like much of an endorsement but for Skol that’s positively gushing…

Triumph Bobber

As it is the middle of winter in NSW I got to do some riding in the rain on the Bobber. It’s fly-by-wire throttle has two modes: rain and road. Rain mode really just dulls the power delivery. The Traction Control and ABS work a treat in wet conditions. Both are pretty unobtrusive in the dry but are easily provoked in the wet. The Traction Control can be switched off and doing this in the wet makes for a lot of fun. The low centre of gravity, wide bars and bucket loads of torque make for a good time….

I put some serious kilometres on the Bobber including a 600 km day. I was surprised by its comfort and its ability to cover distance easily. Sure, you have to stop for fuel every 150 km or so but that gives you a chance to stretch your legs.  

Lots of people commented on the Bobber including a bus driver who leaned out of his window at the lights and asked where I’d bought the pipes from because he wanted a set for his bike. Most loved the looks and while a few dismissed it as all show, they hadn’t ridden one.

My daughters were not very impressed by the Bobber’s lack of any pillion accomodation. There is no pillion seat and pegs in Triumph’s accessory range either. There is plenty of other stuff, though, and my personal favourite being a set of Triumph ape-hangers!  

I suppose the real revelation for me after spending two weeks with Triumph’s Bobber was just how good a motorcycle it is. Despite obviously being a retro styling exercise it is a throughly usable everyday motorcycle. Adding to its usability are 16,000 km service intervals (double that for valve adjustment). As always, you don’t have to take my word for it, go and take one for a test ride. I dare you not to come back smiling.

written by Paul Angus
photos by George

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