2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber – First Ride
There will be a certain segment of hardcore traditionalists who will hate the new Triumph Bonneville Bobber. To them, it’s a styling exercise – hipster bait – and not a TRUE bobber because, you know, it doesn’t leak oil. Its brakes work. It handles well. It’s comfortable to ride. It won’t break down every 20 miles. You won’t get tetanus just sitting on it. And it’s not some ultra-exclusive thing that you have to either be insanely wealthy or insanely dedicated to own and maintain.
If you’re one of those traditionalists, if the concept of a gorgeous, cleverly engineered, classically styled machine somehow insults you, stop reading now. Everyone else, though, stick around; I want to tell you about Triumph’s latest modern classic masterpiece.
This bike is sexy. So sexy, in fact, I struggle to understand folks who say otherwise. It’s like if you were to tell me that British fashion model Daisy Lowe isn’t attractive. I could understand if you didn’t like her personality – if you were annoyed by her laugh, or the way she drinks her tea, or some such thing – but on a purely aesthetic basis she is undeniably pleasurable to the eye.
Same thing goes for the Bobber, in my opinion. Except, unlike Daisy Lowe, it’s something you can get close to and fondle without being hit with a restraining order. And as you get closer you find more things to appreciate. The seat, the swingarm “cage,” the brass inlay within the single dial, the spoked wheels… and that paint. The Bobber comes in four color schemes, with Morello Red and Competition Green/Frozen Silver being the best. Park the bike in the sun and you see the paint is deep and rich, sparkling beneath the clear coat.
Triumph put more than three years of effort into this machine and is clearly proud of what it has achieved. Chief Engineer Stuart Wood played an integral role in the project and the look on his face when he speaks about the Bobber is akin to that of a father watching his son or daughter hit a homerun. At a stop during the press ride in Spain’s Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, he pulled me aside and pointed: “Look at that.”
Stuart was raised in a town just east of Cardiff, where I live, so I thought he was referring to the horizon – far more dramatic, sunny, and dry than the Welsh terrain to which he and I are accustomed. But, no, he was pointing at the bike and drawing attention to the fact that despite its technological whizzbangery it has a profile you can see through, like the bikes of the 1940s and 50s being emulated by its design.
Triumph Head of Brand Management Miles Perkins says he thinks the bike will appeal to “people who love beautiful objects” and he’s probably right. In my opinion, it is aesthetically the best in its class – visually beating the models that Triumph says it sees as competition, like the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight, the Indian Scout, and Yamaha Bolt (aka XV950).
Engine and Transmission
The Bobber isn’t just a pretty face. Sharing the same liquid-cooled 1200cc parallel-twin engine as the Bonneville T120 and Thruxton, it’s been tuned differently. Triumph claims 76 horsepower and 78 pound-feet of torque (or 57 kW and 106 Nm if you’re of the metric persuasion), the latter representing a 10-percent boost over the T120. The numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story.
With the Bobber, power is delivered with a greater sense of urgency. You feel it in your lower back, your chest. Wring the throttle hard and you feel as if you’re being pushed by something very large and very fast – a Borg ship, perhaps. It is deeply satisfying.
Twist the throttle like a normal person, meanwhile, and you get power delivery well suited to urban cruising. Tall first and second gears mean you don’t have to go up and down much when rolling through traffic. Increasingly unique for a Euro 4-compliant motorcycle, you can spend a long time without hitting the rev limiter.
On the highway, the Bobber is relaxed at legal speeds and has little trouble finding the oomph necessary for passing cars. It can easily hustle in excess of 100 mph but does suffer from notably less puff up there than at lower speeds. Not that it matters much on a bike like this; with an upright seating position and no screen 100 mph is unpleasant (things are more comfortable below 80 mph).
Triumph takes particular pride in the engine’s sound, and although it isn’t as heavy metal as company reps would have you believe (especially at idle, where it’s a little more Shinedown than Metallica), the set-up delivers a lovely tone. Stuart says optimum aural joy is to be found at 90 mph in fifth gear, but I personally prefer the growling and popping that comes from engine braking at about 30 mph in second.
Triumph has developed a huge catalog of accessories to allow owners to customize without affecting warranty, and different exhausts are on the list. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to actually hear the Vance and Hines pipes designed to go with this bike.
The motorcycle’s six-speed transmission is smooth – yet another thing old-school purists will hate – and clutch lever action is light. The presence of a slipper clutch means you can be a little stupid about downshifts without having the rear wheel lock up.
Ride Quality and Brakes
One thing you’ll hear from just about everyone who rides this motorcycle is that it handles better than you’d expect. This is Triumph’s “thing” – it makes bikes that handle really, really well. So, the Bobber… ahem… bobs and weaves with little effort. It's heavy – Triumph gives a dry weight of 502 lbs (228 kg) – which means its wet weight is probably around 550 lbs (250 kg) – but I genuinely did not notice thanks to the fact weight is kept low.
The suspension is a teency bit firm but nothing to complain about, and does a good job of absorbing the slings and arrows of potholes and road imperfections. Sport dudes will complain about feel from a 19-inch front tire but those dudes won’t be buying this bike anyway.
Speaking of tires, that front Avon Cobra tire is bias-ply, whereas the rear is a radial designed specifically for the Bobber. This set-up confuses me. OK, you’re highly unlikely to ride the Bobber so hard its front tire will heat up and explode, but you’re equally unlikely to be loading so much weight on the front that a bias tire makes sense. I also dislike the fact both tires are tubed. The technology exists to have spoked wheels that accommodate tubeless tires and that, to me, would make more sense. Triumph has gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to make a thoroughly modern bike; why go old-school with the tires?
All that said, the tires held perfectly well to dry pavement and were good enough in wet patches that I didn’t encounter any issues. Keep in mind, though, I deeply distrust cruiser tires and, as such, have a tendency to go into granny mode when using them in the wet.
Single discs front and rear provide the Bobber’s whoa. Some of my fellow moto-journos said they would have preferred more bite, but I have no complaints. A two-fingered grab is enough to scrub speed when riding normally. Aggressive riding will require more digits on the brake lever but stopping power is still good, especially when considered within the Bobber’s genre of motorcycle.
When I asked folks for questions about the Bobber, most readers focused on comfort. Juliet Bravo, for example, wanted to know “if gentlemen of a certain age would find it comfortable for a 2-4 hour ride. With a lunch stop, of course.”
The answer is yes, but you may need to throw in a fuel stop, as well. The Bobber’s tank holds just 2.4 US gallons (9.1 liters). Ride it like an idiot and you’ll only manage 72 miles before the fuel light comes on. Ride in a manner more befitting gentlemen of a certain age and you’ll get closer to 100 miles of fuel-light free riding. Triumph claims a real-world tank range of 138 miles and I’d suspect that’s pretty close to accurate.
Ever since my unpleasant Iron Butt experience I’ve become a rider who values regular stops, so the Bobber’s tank range wouldn’t bother me. Its seat and ergonomics, meanwhile, are agreeable enough that I wouldn’t feel obligated to stop sooner. One of the selling points of the Bobber is its adjustable solo seat, which can be moved forward and up, or down and back according to rider taste. Carry a wrench and you can adjust the seat roadside in a few minutes; in demonstrating how the system works, Stuart was able to do it one-handed.
I kept the seat in its roadster-esque forward-and-up position and found it plenty comfortable for my 6-foot-1 frame. Check the photos, though, and you’ll see my legs are a little folded up, so there’s plenty of room for those who don’t stand in the back of group photos. It pains me to recommend a competitor, but the great John Burns is a little less long in the leg than I am, so you may want to head over to Motorcycle.com to check out his review, as well.
While I’m bigging up other moto-journos, I’ll share an observation Bike Shed’s Ross Sharp made regarding the comfort of the Triumph’s seat, saying it “gently cups one’s gentleman region.” This led to a lot of jokes I won’t repeat, but the point is: that seat is really nice.
Triumph offers different seats, which may look cooler, but I’d stick with stock and spend my accessory money on a set of heated grips, the controls for which integrate seamlessly into the left grip. The two-setting (high and low) grips were much appreciated on a cold and foggy Madrid morning. Cruise control is also available as an extra.
Features and Build
For a bike with such a minimalist look, the Bobber is packed with technological fanciness. Ride by wire, ABS, slipper clutch, traction control, and riding modes all come standard. Switching between the two modes (“Road” and “Rain”) is accomplished easily with a button on the right grip – a better system than the button-on-the-dash technique used on Triumph’s multitudinous Tiger models. In “Road” mode traction control is unobtrusive enough I was able to get the rear to slide a little while accelerating hard on road paint.
The single clock – the position of which can be adjusted similar to the seat – offers loads of information via a digital window placed within an analogue speedometer. Click through the menu via a button on the left grip and you’ll get an odometer, two trip settings, average and current fuel consumption, range to empty, rev counter, time, and traction control settings. Helpfully, the gear indicator and fuel level remain visible at all times.
One of my favorite aspects of the the Bobber, though, is more low-tech: the swingarm cage and accompanying rear fender. Earlier this year I rode the Indian Scout Sixty and mentioned it made me want to set out on a cross-country adventure, but that such a thing was difficult because there aren’t many places to which one can strap luggage. Triumph has (perhaps inadvertently) fixed this problem with its design. The company would no doubt prefer you purchase a set of Triumph-branded wax cotton panniers, but I say you’ll be happier buying a good Ortlieb or Kriega dry bag and lashing the thing to the fender with some Rok straps.
On the press ride, hustling through the twisty roads of the Sierra de Guadarrama, I found myself at one point in front of Cycle World’s Sean MacDonald. Sean, you may know, is a vocal critic of RideApart, so when he started nipping at my heels I felt he had gone all track bro on me and was trying to prove how much better a rider he is.
In truth, he is a better rider than me but was almost certainly not trying to harry me; instead he was enjoying the hell out of the Bobber – like everyone else. But my fragile ego responded to the perceived slight by pushing the Triumph hard. Road signs warned of 20km/h (12mph) turns and I ripped through at three times that speed. Pegs scraped; sparks flew. Out of corners I whacked the throttle to its stop, accelerating with everything the bike had. When another corner appeared I grabbed handfuls of brake to haul the bike back down from head-ripping speed. And all the while, there was Sean – creeping alongside or filling the remarkably useful bar-end mirrors – looking, it has to be said, pretty relaxed. Eventually I conceded defeat and waved him past.
The point of that story is this: I rode the Bobber far more aggressively than I would normally choose to do so on the road, and I saw better riders than me push it even harder. If you are in any way a sane human being who values your license and health, or understands the modern cruiser/retro ethos, this bike will never let you down as a ride. It will always have more than you ask of it.
“A proportion of customers will see this as THE bike,” Miles Perkins told me. “They won’t see it as a second bike, but something they can ride all the time.”
Just looking at it, you might initially think such a person naive. But throw a leg over, spend some time on the Bobber, and you’ll see it’s possible. The Bobber has the ruggedness for urban riding, the agility to handle curving routes, and the comfort to tackle long stretches of highway (as long as said highway has a regularly spaced gas stations).
At the start of this review I said the Bobber visually beats the competitors Triumph has identified for the bike. It wins again in the arena of technology and agility. In terms of engine performance it is rivalled only by the Indian Scout Sixty (and, of course, outgunned by the 100hp Scout), though someone who is less of an Indian fanboy might argue otherwise. Starting at $11,900 US (£10,500 in its native UK) the Triumph takes the prize as most expensive in the group (unless you compare it to the Scout rather than the Scout Sixty), but does not strike me as overpriced. You get a lot of bike, and a bike that can do a lot, for the money.
Indeed, many of those competitors should be looking at the Bobber with very nervous eyes. Triumph says it’s received more deposits on this bike than it did with the Street Twin, which is presently the best-selling model in the Bonneville family. Once the bike hits dealerships in February and thereafter starts showing up on the roads, piloted by riders with ear-to-ear grins, it seems destined to grow in popularity even more. Stuart Wood looks at the Bobber like a father watching his child hit a homerun because that is exactly what this motorcycle has done.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Physical build: Lanky
Riding experience: Able to keep up with Ross but not Sean; John Burns could kick all our asses.