Better Than Ever: Triumph Bonneville T100
Entry-Level Bonnie is One of Motorcycling's Greats
"I've had a look at this motorcycle of yours whilst you were having your supper," my wife's grandmother says upon my return from the pub.
Grandma, as she allows me to call her, is upper-middle class and English to the core. She is naturally wary of Americans and has been known to suddenly burst out laughing at the idea of my being able to make a living writing about motorcycles. Add to this the fact she is somewhat deaf, a condition not helped by my natural Texas mumble, and it's easy to see why she and I don't chat a lot. When my wife is around, Grandma prefers to deal with me in third-person terms.
"Now then, Jenny, does Chris want tea?"
My wife isn't around this time, though. I've ridden the 2017 Triumph Bonneville T100 down to Devon on my own, staying the night, so I can get meet photographer Megan at the beach the next morning before tourists arrive. Without my wife as interpreter, Grandma and Grandad (who is also hard of hearing) mostly just nod and smile at me as if I'm speaking Chinese, doing their best to find reasons to leave the room. But this bike has them both willing to suffer through a conversation.
"It is a lovely thing," Grandma announces. "You may tell the people on their computers that Grandma approves."
Triumph first unveiled the Bonneville in 1959, naming it in honor of the company's successes on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The bike's full name back then was "Bonneville T120," with the "120" being the motorcycle's claimed top speed in miles per hour. It was a wildly popular model and became central to the Rocker/Cafe Racer movement that defined British motorcycling culture even into the late 1970s, when my father-in-law used a '67 Bonneville as his sole means of transportation.
A rough and tumble rugby-playing college student at the time, he was in love with his Bonnie, despite its being uproariously loud and having a tendency to break down on an almost weekly basis. That love passed on to his daughter, who collected stickers of old Bonnies when she was a child, covering her wall with them.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when my wife first saw me wheeling the T100 into our back yard; she came running out of the house to greet it. We've had plenty of bikes visit the Cope estate over the years and usually she pays no attention. She asked to be photographed on the Indian Scout Sixty, and mustered a, "That one's quite nice," in observing the Triumph Street Cup, but she'd never come running out of the house before. Never immediately thrown a leg over a bike and just sat there, grinning. I could see the little girl in her.
"I got emotional," she told a friend later. "I wouldn't have thought a motorbike could do that to you. But, oh... "
The T100, then, is a bike that shatters the idea of its being "entry-level" or "beginner," or whatever term you want to use to describe the fact it costs less than the more powerful, higher-spec T120. Triumph has been meticulous in its attention to detail, creating a showpiece machine that owners will delight in being seen upon.
Paint is deep. Fixings are high-quality and more often than not tastefully branded. Spoked wheels and exhaust glisten in the sun. From any angle other than head-on the radiator is invisible; from the side, the bike is see-through, replicating the mechanical simplicity of the T100's heritage. If you're a miserable son of bitch who has lost the ability to feel joy, you'll complain about the fake carbs – but everyone else can see they look pretty good. From an aesthetic perspective everything works.
Most notably, the T100 is not the "kinda cool" bike of old. I was a big fan of the previous "modern classic" iteration of Bonneville, first unveiled in 2001, but even the kindest of Bonnie enthusiasts has to admit it was lacking in a lot of ways. Like Harleys in the 90s, the previous Bonnie was unfinished; you had to put in the effort (and extra dinero) to ensure the bike reached its full potential. No more.
Throw a leg over and the seat is actually comfortable. I can remember being concerned for my spine on a 2012 Bonnie, but astride the T100, I was happy to turn the 100 miles between home and Grandma's into a 180-mile meander. A tachometer comes standard and the overall dash aesthetic has a more classic feel, while offering more modern info. Oh, and the fuel cap locks now, while cleverly looking better than the one that didn't.
Ergonomically, the T100 performs the magic trick of being suited to a wide range of sizes. I'm 6 feet 1 inch tall, my wife is 5 feet 7 inches tall; both of us found the bike comfortable, with hands falling naturally to the 'bars and feet effortlessly finding the pegs. Fire up the T100's 900cc liquid-cooled parallel twin and you are rewarded with a deep, bass burbling that speaks to your soul while not upsetting the neighbors.
Engine and Transmission
Unlike the T120's original moniker, "T100" is not a reference to this bike's top speed. In fact, the T100 is a model that wasn't unveiled until 2002 (now dramatically updated for the 2017 model year) so its number pays homage to Triumph's 100th birthday – the original company having been founded in 1902. In miles per hour terms, the T100 will easily exceed the ton, though I can't personally claim to know exactly how much beyond that mark it will go. There's not really much reward in trying to find out. Zen on this machine is to found at more legal speeds, where you're not fighting the wind blast that comes from sitting upright on a standard bike.
Torquey and, in my opinion, better tuned than the Street Twin, Street Cup, and Street Scrambler (all of which share the same powerplant as the T100), the engine delivers Goldilocks (just right) response. Peak horsepower of 54 hp comes in at 5,900 rpm, while 59 lb-ft of torque is delivered at a cool 3,230 rpm. Pay attention to the revs in those figures; the "whee" of this bike is easily, almost instantly accessible.
The five-speed transmission delivers the sort of buttery, why-can't-other-manufacturers-do-this smoothness that we've come to expect from Triumph, over the last decade in particular. I've mentioned before that the UK-based brand is batting 1000 at the moment and this model more than any other shows how Triumph has been transforming itself into a truly premium brand at light speed. The previous "entry level" Bonneville doesn't come close to this latest offering.
Ride Quality and Brakes
The look and ethos of the previous generation Bonneville (along with, I have to admit, the Harley-Davidson Nightster) played a major role in bringing me back to motorcycling after a long hiatus. I can still remember shaking with excitement when I finally got a chance to test ride one a number of years ago, along with the deep feeling of disappointment that came as a result of its made-of-bricks suspension.
The design of the T100 means that a suspension upgrade is still a pretty easy modification but it is no longer requisite. You'll feel the worst of the bumps if you insist upon tackling them head on, but the ride is otherwise a perfectly comfortable one. Keep within or near the limits of the law and you'll never unsettle the suspension through corners. The bike has a wet weight in the 500 lbs range (Triumph frustratingly insists on giving only dry weight for its bike: 469 lbs, or 213 kg), but it feels perfectly light and nimble.
I continue to be confused by Triumph's insistence upon using bias tires. But, as with all of the brand's modern classics range, you'll find an old-timey bias (what the Brits call cross-ply) up front and a radial in the rear. To my tiny, uneducated mind this set-up doesn't really make sense, but Triumph insists it works best.
"We tested all combinations of radial and cross-ply tires available," Triumph's UK Marketing Manager Martin Hough told me. "We found a combination of cross-ply front, radial rear meet our handling and stability criteria."
Proof, it is said, is in the eating, or, in this case the riding, and to give credit to Triumph I had no complaints. However – miraculously, considering I live in one of the wettest parts of the United Kingdom – I didn't encounter much rain during the two weeks I had the bike, so I can't really speak to the tires' performance in wet weather.
The brakes, meanwhile, are the adequate sort about which I can think of nothing terribly unique to say. One disc up front and one in the back seem to be all that are needed to prevent the object in motion that is you from staying in motion. I did have one tiny panic-brake situation where the brakes were not as assertive as I'd have liked them to be, but... ah... if I had been obeying the law at the time I never would have encountered that situation. So, I think the finger of blame there needs to be pointed at the operator rather than the machinery.
Related to the above, the T100's standard anti-lock braking system is pretty rudimentary and unobtrusive, even going so far as to allow a teency bit of lock before engaging.
Build and Features
As mentioned above, the Bonneville T100's fit and finish is anything but "entry level," though – as a Triumph owner (Tiger Explorer XRX) – I can guess that a few of the less visible fixings will get furry if neglected too long. I wonder how many owners would choose to neglect this bike, though. Sure, with its incredible fuel efficiency and low-speed nimbleness it would make a great everyday commuter (check out the bonus video below demonstrating the T100's ability to weave through heavy traffic), but I don't honestly see it being used that way.
But such is the nature of the Bonnie; it seems to draw all sorts. Take a look at how folks used the previous generations: some turned them into don't-touch custom beauties, but just as many transformed their Bonnies into low-fuss touring warriors. The latter is an easier task than you might think on the new T100. Thanks to the fact the seat is now easily removable (with a key), getting access to the frame is no problem and I was able to strap on a few Kriega bags when heading down to Grandma's.
There's no storage under that seat, though, which doesn't seem to make sense, since there is a USB socket under there with which to charge your phone. I had to to run a wire up from under the seat into my jacket.
Nonetheless, that hidden USB socket speaks to the thoroughly modern nature of the T100. Along with the aforementioned liquid cooling and ABS, life astride this Bonnie is also made easier through ride-by-wire throttling, a torque assist clutch, and switchable traction control. The stylish twin clocks are packed with pretty much all the information we've come to expect: odometer, two trip meters, fuel gauge, fuel range, fuel economy, gear indicator, clock, and – annoyingly – a service reminder.
What Others Say
"There aren’t many bikes out there that exude the same kind of class and civility as the Bonneville T100." – Simon Greenacre, Visordown
"Despite having 300 fewer cubic centimeters than the T120, there is plenty of squirt on tap from the T100’s 900cc eight-valve, single-overhead-cam parallel-twin engine... but it’s the vast spread of twist that is far more impressive than the maximum value. The sound emanating from the peashooter mufflers is pleasingly deep and boisterous, even if its 270-degree crank summons a different tune than the 360-degree cranks of old." – Kevin Duke, Motorcycle.com
"Far more than simply a retro-styled Street Twin, the T100 has all the relaxed nature of the larger T120, but in a smaller, lighter and arguably more fun and engaging package. Fans of the previous Bonnie will love it." – Jon Urry, MCN
If you haven't picked up by now how much I love the Bonneville T100 you clearly haven't been paying attention. Gorgeous, fun, and with a rich heritage to which I feel very personally connected, it is a bike that I now find myself daydreaming of often. Priced at US $10,400 (or £8,600 in the UK), the T100 is arguably a better buy than the larger T120 (if you want the extra power of the 1200cc Bonneville T120, I suggest you look instead to the sublime Bonneville Bobber).
To a certain extent, it stands alone in its class. The closest competitor I can think of is the Triumph Street Twin, which shares the T100's engine but not its loving attention to detail.
There's no doubt this is a bike people will want to hold on to, but the price point means you don't have to pamper it so intensely that you never get out and ride the thing. This is a bike very much built for summer days and getting lost on back roads. Really lost. Like, calling your boss from four states away lost and explaining that you won't be coming in today. Or this week. Expect this new T100 to work its way into your life, to become part of the story you tell about yourself. And expect to be telling that story at just about every stop – the Bonnie attracts a lot of love and a lot of attention. Rightfully so.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch tall
Physical build: Lanky
Riding experience: Street and touring
Helmet: BMW System 6 Evo
Jacket: Hideout Touring
Gloves: Klim Adventure
Jeans: Resurgence Gear Cafe Racer
Boots: MotoBailey ElBulli