A tale of two Bonnevilles

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What you’re looking at here is the 2012 Triumph Bonneville T100. It swaps in a 19-inch, spoked front wheel, tubes, two-tone paint, a flat seat, more conservative suspension geometry and higher, narrower, more swept back handlebars for a $1,400 premium over the standard Bonneville. Worth it? Nope. Those mods effectively ruin what’s otherwise a great bike.

Photos: Grant Ray

Confidence

Late one night, riding up the 101 on a Honda CB1000R, I actually had to work to keep up with Sean and Ashlee, two-up on a stock Bonneville. On Tuesday, riding a Yamaha SuperTenere, I had to sand bag so Grant could keep up on the T100. That was just highway cruising. All three of us are pretty much on the same pace under normal conditions. So what gives? Why can the stock Bonneville give modern sportsbikes a run for their money, but the “premium” version falls so far behind?

Speed on a motorcycle isn’t so much a product of power-to-weight as it is the simple ability to instill confidence. I can ride an Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE faster than I can a BMW S1000RR because the Italian bike is so much more communicative and intuitive. Extreme acceleration and lean angles become as natural as riding a bicycle due to a complex mix of geometry, damping and spring rates, fueling, tire pressures and compound and a long list of other factors. In the real world, it’s the impossible-to-define “feel” that makes a motorcycle fast. And that’s where the T100 falls behind.

Hopping on the T100 the day after three straight days of binge drinking, I was given the impression that my hangover was far worse than originally thought. What’s usually riding became toodling. I suddenly found it perfectly acceptable to wait at the rear of a queue of traffic instead of plowing through it. Cars passed me on multilane roads. I was pulling away from traffic lights like a learner, slipping the clutch to avoid really opening the throttle.

That’s about as out-of-character as I get. Any other day sees a wide variety of motorcycles getting the life flogged out of them, in and around southern California. Very few people are as confident in congested urban traffic or on crowded freeways. But, I think I was faster across town on a Piaggio Typhoon 125 scooter than I was on this 865cc Triumph.

Farkled

With a frame and engine identical to the Bonneville, the differences between the two bikes are really of the dress-up variety. Already styled to mimic the ‘60s, the T100 gains a bunch of shiny chrome parts and a two-tone paint. The additions work well, so far as attracting attention goes. It’s rare to ride a bike that attracts the attention of so many old men as the T100 does. If you’re really struggling to find a geriatric sugar daddy, this bike would be a good place to start.

Cosmetic “upgrades” include:
- Two-tone paint.
- Chrome tank badges
- A longer fender with chrome stays.
- Fork gaiters.
- Polished cases.

The problem is that, in pursuit of that more retro look, Triumph has thoroughly de-contented the Bonneville of what few modern components it actually has.

Mechanical downgrades include:
- 17” cast alloy wheels become 19” (front), 17” (rear) spoked items.
- Tubed tires in odd sizes. 100/90-19 and 130/80-17. Some proper sportsbike tires fit the Bonneville. Not the T100.
- Rake and trail are relaxed from 27°/106mm on the Bonneville to 28°/110mm on the T100.
- Rear suspension travel is increased from 100mm on the Bonneville to 106mm on the T100
- The wheelbase grows from 1490mm on the Bonneville to 1500mm on the T100
- Wet weight increases from 495lbs to 506lbs largely, we’re guessing, due to the wheels.

None of the above is terribly drastic, but it’s a thorough and successful program of dulling the steering and handling. And that’s before you get to the wheels, which, in addition to being fitted with shitty tires, feel like they add a ton of unsprung weight. The latter blunts acceleration and braking; increased momentum resists the forces of the engine and brakes. By giving the (softer) suspension a harder time, it also makes the ride harder and reduces traction; the suspension is less able to do its job of keeping the tires in contact with the road.

Sadly, that’s not the end of the trouble either. Triumph has thoroughly altered the T100’s ergonomics. We think for the worse.

Ergonomic alterations include:
- Taller, narrower, more swept-back handlebars.
- A slightly taller, but much flatter seat.

It’s really the bars and your now-tucked-in elbows that make the big difference there. But, because your hands sit higher too, these ergonomics combine with the more relaxed suspension geometry, taller tire and heavier wheel to utterly spoil the feel the stock Bonneville delivers through its front end. On the T100, that feel just isn’t there.

Two-Up

The stock Bonneville actually makes a great bike for carrying passengers. Its smooth engine doesn’t scare them, yet is capable of good progress. The seat is very low, but usefully higher than the rider’s seat, allowing girls to look over your shoulder. What feels like firmer damping in the shocks does a good job of supporting their weight.

The T100’s retro-style flat seat pretty much spoils this. The ergonomic relationship between rider and passenger becomes odd, with them sitting on the exact same level as you, there’s no where for their helmet to go accept into the back of yours. Clock. Clock. Clock. That’s caused by the worsened ride you can thank those heavier wheels for. I mistakenly assumed the burgundy and cream T100 would appeal to the aesthete I’m definitely not dating. She just ended up calling it “that skippy bike.”

Riding around two-up on a rare wet day in LA, the decreased traction caused by the crappy tires and increased unsprung weight reared its ugly head, as did the decrease in control caused by the impaired ergonomics. Slick roads that normally wouldn’t have been a big deal became fairly treacherous, with several decent slides and a general slowness that left us out in the rain longer than I would have liked. We were soon back in her X5.

Not a happy customer.

I just asked her to remind me what she said about riding on the back. “It just felt cheap,” was the response. A fairly good summary of the T100 all round. In contrast, Ashlee loved riding around on the stock Bonneville so much with Sean that she now wants to buy one.

Really retro?

If your name tag reads “curmudgeon” then you’re probably rabble, rabble, rabbling about how the T100 isn’t supposed to be a modern sportsbike, it’s supposed to be a throwback. Fair point, allow me to address it.

You see, back in the good old days, when you knew where your penis was and hair wasn’t just something on your dog, bikes were slower than they are now. And there’s never been anything wrong with accessible performance. But, those old, slow bikes were fun because they had character and were involving to ride. The modern fuel-injected, 865cc parallel-twin in the Bonneville and T100 is a smooth efficient motor, but you could never accuse it of having much in the way of character. Through the stock peashooters, you can’t even hear it, fuel-injection removes any co-dependence between man and machine and the entire package feels more like an impediment than it does a tool.

In contrast, the stock Bonneville doesn’t have much more in the way of character, but instead combines good looks with modern performance, creating a friendly, accessible, useful package that you can really make use of. On that bike, you end up complaining about ground clearance in high speed corners. On the T100, you just can’t be bothered to go around corners in anything approaching an enthusiastic manner.

And that’s the T100’s big problem. It asks you to spend $1,400 more on a machine which is inarguably inferior to the one it’s based on. The Bonneville is probably the best of times you can expect on a retro-style bike. The T100 is a long way from being the worst, but it’s still worse. Just buy the regular Bonneville.

  • NewOldSchool

    Equal or better performance,looks, etc. can be had for a little work and 1 to 3k of your hard earned dollars for a UJM of similar style.

    NOT condoning the “cafe” fad, ruining perfectly good classics. What was that about a curmudgeon?

  • Archer

    “Hopping on the T100 the day after three straight days of binge drinking I was just outside of Barstow when the drugs began to take hold…”

    • BigRooster

      “The {tail bag on the Bonnie} looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers . . . and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls . . . Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.”

      • Sean Smith

        I wish HST was still alive so we could all go camping with him…

  • Kirill

    It looks like a Ural ST that has been sterilized.

  • Van Doan

    You meet the nicest people on a T100.

  • Deryl

    Great articles like this are why I subscribe.

    • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

      Excellent tear-down.

  • oldblue

    THREE straight days of binge drinking?

    Wes, are you slowing down?

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      Awesome.

  • DAVID

    its a 1960′s bike with fuel injection.

    • scott

      and much heavier…

  • markbvt

    Wes, point of order, the T100 is basically the same Bonneville that’s been around since 2001 with only minor changes (namely fuel injection), while the current stock Bonneville is based on that older machine with the spoked wheels (yes, 19″ front) replaced with cast, handlebars and seat replaced with differently-shaped ones, etc.

    What us longtime Bonnie owners figured out years ago is that the stock tires need replacing with better ones (and a 150/70-17 fits great on the rear); the airbox needs to be deleted in favor of pod filters; the pipes need to be replaced with better-breathing ones; and the suspension needs upgrading. Installing Thruxton-length shocks on the rear (about an inch longer) helps to quicken up the steering and gain ground clearance. Those mods transform the bike. Of course Triumph couldn’t deliver it that way because of legal concerns.

    Think of the Bonneville (any version) as an excellent canvas for modification. They can be turned into wickedly fun bikes with fairly minimal effort.

    • Van Doan

      I think thats the point. The new stock is mo fun. Stock.

      Also, legal concerns? If you mean the lungs, sure, but the suspension has no excuse.

    • ike6116

      Well according to Wes you could spend less for the stock one and have a bike that isn’t in so desperate need of modding or you can spend more, get a T100 and definitely need to mod.

      • markbvt

        Right, the article just made it sound like the T100 was a modification of the current stock Bonnie, when in fact the stocker is more of a simplification of the Bonneville that’s been around for a decade.

        And Van Doan, I agree, Triumph should have addressed the suspension long ago. It’s not terrible, but it could be a lot better for probably no more money.

    • BigRooster

      But why pay extra for the furthest starting point when a stock Bonnie is closer to your finish?

  • contender

    Definitely not dating?

    • Frosty_spl

      I think he means she’s a chubby F buddy.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I am going to get in so much trouble for this comment. And, you know what? Totally worth it.

      • guest

        Wes doesn’t do “chubby”, and if I was – I hardly doubt he’d have me on the back of his bike, let alone reference me in an article.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          True story.

  • always_go_big

    HFL, I love your honest opions but this was about as interesting as reading an article moaning about why a race-rep street bike doesn’t work as well on dirt as an MX bike.

    You answered your own questions early on when you said: “The additions work well, so far as attracting attention goes”

    Come on guys, you could have stopped, read your own notes, then found a way more creative angle than this to write about this bike.

    Yawn.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Shes not my girlfriend, Sean.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        (this was Andrea)

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D [EX500]

      Attracting attention…of old guys. Not exactly the target demographic of people who ride.

      • Van Doan

        Seys you.

    • Gene

      Actually, I read it as more of “they tarted the bike up and ruined it… why?” and “don’t waste your $$$ on this POS thinking you’re getting something better”

      Not only that, but they did back up their statement with a nice reasoned explanation why they think it’s worse.

  • Stacey

    Doesn’t want the girlfriend title?
    I dated one like that. Too worried about what other people thought of her.
    Hell, you can call me anything ‘cept late to dinner. I dumped her. The new Main Squeeze has about a half a dozen titles (e.g. Main Squeeze, My Sex Ma-cheen, Full-Grown Woman) and wears ‘em proudly. She’ll have a new title soon: My Wife.

  • RailRoad

    I went with a stock Bonneville mostly because of the black engine cases and the fact that the T100 seat is horrendous. Glad to know my bike rides better too. After having a CBR600 and a Monster 1100S, I was worried that the Triumph would feel slow, but if anything, it’s way easier to ride quickly around town and in traffic.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Good for you Stacey, good for you. Put a ring on it bro.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        This was Andrea too.

        • Kirill

          This is getting confusing. Or meta. Possibly both.

        • Ben

          Wes stop letting your un-girlfriend comment using your account. Jesus you call your self a professional?

          I kid, I kid.

          • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

            At least make her reply to the right comment, ha.

            As far as the review goes… I’d have to agree with always_go_big. Triumph has a bike for old fogeys who don’t want to wrench, and the stock Bonneville for those who want a better performing bike (or even better, a Thruxton).

            Bikes in America are lifestyle choices, plain and simple. 95% of purchases are based on “liking” a bike, not how fast you can split traffic… or we’d all buy Piaggio Typhoon 125′s.

      • Gene

        HA! the comment system did the same thing to WES that it’s done to me!

  • Max Headroom

    And you can tell customers that all day long. The stock Bonneville handles waaayyy better, is more fun to ride and will keep you happier miles longer but that’s not what people want to buy. They like the retro spoke wheels, the fork gaitors, the knee pads on the tank. It LOOKS better “The additions work well, so far as attracting attention goes” and Triumph sells way more T100′s than “stock” Bonnevilles year in and year out. Is this any different than HD selling 883′s cause they look BAd ASs? Not saying it’s right, just saying it is.

  • Tom Fiegener

    The nice thing about the Bonneville (in any package) is that it has no real claims or rave reviews on what a great bike it really is.

    I sell Triumphs and I have customer’s come in with GS1200′s, Multistrada’s, CBR 1000′s, ect… look at me shamefully and tell me they bought more bike than they needed and want to trade their bike in for a Triumph Bonneville. So I smile hand them the keys to a demo bonnie (mag or spoked) and they always come back grinning ear to ear and going on and on about how surprised they are by the little bike.

    People buy the bike because it makes since to them. Whether it’s there escape from the family, trip down memory lane, time capsule to a better era, or the shade tree fab guys project… it just works.

    The fact that they handle great, are smooth, use quality components, have killer resale, and are Jap reliable is just the Icing on the cake for the customer.

    If we all made practical bike buying decisions, like an early HFL article said, most of us would be riding around on V-Strom 650′s

    A negative article about the T100′s performance vs the basic Bonnie is almost as bad as .005′s of a second differences in lap times in modern sport bike articles.

    There great bikes, so buy the one that speaks to you!

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D [EX500]

      “escape from the family, trip down memory lane, time capsule to a better era” Obviously, not many people under 50 or 60 actually remember old Brit bikes (and its doubtful ANYBODY remembers them fondly). Triumph probably makes a bundle selling T100s to the older crowd, though. As long as they keep the standard Bonnie, no harm no foul. Just not exactly a bike for a lot of the readership here.

      • Tom Fiegener

        Mark,

        my point being is that it’s all a wash. The bikes are retro-themed bikes in either package. So it plays more to the emotional side than performance.
        If you are buying a bonneville for performance, you are buying the wrong bike. If you ride 2 up often, swap to the standard bonnies seat.

        In an ideal world the T100 would come with tubeless 17inch spokes, but until then I wouldn’t shy away from the bonnie i was into because it handles slightly worse than the standard. it just doesn’t make enough difference on that bike.

        And yes old men love them some Bonnie’s! But young guys love them too.

        Point is it’s still a really good motorcycle and in buying the one you like you will be more happy than any performance gain.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          But you can buy a Bonneville as a do everything bike. It’s fast, handles well and just generally does everything you need it to do.

          • TuffGong

            They are all freakin Bonneville’s. The differences are minute. Writing as though there is some night and day difference is not realistic.If you like the two-tone get it. The gaiters and knee pads can be added to any one of the Bonnevilles. Personally,I don’t want or need the tach,so the base model has more appeal than the SE or the T100.And they are hardly being sold to just old guys…customers are primarily those who are disenchanted with the size and lack of everyday functionality of most sports and most assuredly lame ass cruisers….as well as those who see a relatively cheap ,modern ,good lookin bike…and who are smart enough realise that fast is not on paper but on pavement…and the looks are appealing to becuae it has appealing looks,just like the old ones did…

            • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

              No, it’s definitely night and day.

  • Paul

    hey rant and wes – thanks for calling bull on a mediocre bike.

  • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    Two-up section, paragraph 2

    except, not “accept”

  • Simon

    Query: Spoked wheels ADD unsprung mass over cast items…? I am confuse.

    • Shaun Lewis

      Yes, spoked wheels are generally heavier than cast. Furthermore, most spoked wheels require tubes, which add even more weight and make roadside puncture repair more difficult.

    • aristurtle

      Yes, spoked wheels are generally heavier than one-piece wheels of the same size. For a quick demonstration of that, count the number of spoked wheels visible on any given racing grid. (This will generally be a wheel-shaped number.)

      • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

        “I’m going to write a large, round number on this piece of paper…”

      • Simon

        I think that might be stretching the brief somewhat; suggesting that the lack of use of flexy, difficult-to-damage easy-to-repair spoked wheels in a sport where companies have scrambled to churn out ever more rigid hoops is confused. Comparison of the lack of peaked lids and goggles on the same grid would fall into the same logic category.
        Granted, MotoGP spec wheels of either carbon or forged alloy will be lighter and stiffer than a random spoked item, but we’re talking about a road bike here ^. If I could rephrase my question: Are cast road wheels lighter than road spoked wheels? Personally I think not.

        • jonoabq

          Weigh is more than just a simple number to consider when comparing wheels. You also much consider where the weight is. When you add an inner tube you are adding weigh furthest away from the rotating axis which makes the wheel slower to spin up, slower to stop, and slower to initiate a turn. Now when you just consider the simple number, then…um, no, spoked wheels still lose, they are heavier. They also have a tendency to deform more on lateral loads, also not good.

  • robotribe

    Agreed on all criticisms except for the fork gaiters.

    Nuthin’ wrong with fork gaiters.

    • Mr.Paynter

      +1

    • BigRooster

      +2 and they generally do provide some function. Not sure if fork gaiters are worth $1,600 but no problme with them as a fashionable add on. They dont do anything negative.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean (the other one)

      I got some for my base model Bonnie for $50.

      • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

        what other mods have you done to your Bonnie?

        • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean (the other one)

          Airbox removal. Co2 block off. Exhaust. Front suspension. Brake lines. Sprocket. Chain. Tires. A few cosmetic changes.

  • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

    So next up – Triumph Scrambler? I have an unnatural appreciation for what I’ve seen & heard of the bike, but I certainly haven’t pushed it for a couple of weeks like HFL would.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Great bike. That 270-degree firing order is killer, really makes it feel like a different motorcycle.

    • wwalkersd

      Nah, go for the Thruxton next.

  • Isaac

    That helmet is huge, makes me feel better, LOL J/K.

  • Art

    Remember Buell? Yea, that was the better bike but the “bikers” (99% wannabees) drove the sales away because it wasn’t “the real thing”. Bash it if you want but the fact is, since 2001 the Bonneville, as in t100 setup, has been an ass kicker for dealers. People don’ty buy what is best. Duh..

  • jonoabq

    A few years back my purchase decision came down to a 955i Tiger or the Bonnie. I went with the tiger for a couple reasons but now I’m looking at a used one to build up for two up short hops around town and casual mountain rides. My wife hated the height of the Tiger and the Speed Triple spends most of it’s time screaming at me to “do something stupid!”, the bonnie is more laid back and seems to be just perfect for “ridin’”.

  • Harry

    I bought the T100 just because of the look (spokes, ironing board seat, etc.). I was in college during the sixties and wanted, but couldn’t afford, one then. Now, nobody on the planet is having more fun. (Of course, it may be the full Race Tech suspension and Pilot Road III’s).

  • Brad Kaplan

    Need to replace my stock shocks, what do you all think of the Progressives ?

  • JP

    Just sold my Thruxton a few weeks ago. I think Wes knows why I sold it more than I did. It just didn’t feel right. I used to go to a parking lot to lean it just to get the proper feel back since I live in a town with nothing but right angles. If I didn’t ride it for a couple weeks, I felt like I had to re-learn how to ride it all over again.

  • Calamari Chris

    Way to blame your hangover on the bike, Wes.