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Road & Product Tests

from the archives – Triumph T100 Bonneville

(First published on the Survival Skills website November 2007, the Bonneville has gained a steady following and has proved to be a reliable motorcycle, appealing to women as well as men. The bike is even forgiving enough to be used for rider training. Here’s my review of then-new 865cc model.)

 

“I turned out onto the main road, snicked the bike up a gear and opened the throttle, feeling the surge of power push the thudding twin cylinder T100 Bonneville faster down the road. A rider coming the other way nodded as he passed.

“I glanced into the petrol station, wondered if 4* had reached ten bob a gallon yet, and set off for the fish and chip shop with half a crown in my pocket, feeling the breeze in my open face helmet, silk scarf blowing in the wind and the fringes on my black leather jacket rippling.”

That’s the message the new 865cc Triumph Bonneville T100 is shouting at you. It’s a wonder they don’t give away Esso Blue keyrings to owners.

T100a

Sadly as the mists of time cleared, the motor whispered rather than thudded, petrol was 85p a litre for unleaded, the leather jacket was given away years ago, the breeze round the chin was because I was riding with the flip front up, the silk scarf has made way for a lycra Buff and you won’t get much change from a fiver at the fish and chip shop. I’ve still got the Esso Blue keyring though!

The Bonnie still drags you back to a rosy coloured past. Indeed, when you stand back and look at it, most of the styling cues are there. Chrome stays for the (plastic) front mudguard, chrome headlamp, blue chrome on the exhaust headers, rubber pads on the side of the tank and pea shooter exhausts. Even the front wheel is a 19″ affair, the first bike I’ve ridden on one of those for years!

And anyone brought up on a post 1975 Japanese bike will struggle even to get it started, not because there is a kick start to swing out under the right leg – retro doesn’t go quite that far – but because the ignition switch is hidden away on the headlamp bracket.

Sit on it and it’s clear that some serious work has been done on the ergonomics. It’s comfortable, unlike the UK spec Bonnies I rode in the distant past.

Unusually on a bike of this sort, I lifted my feet up, plonked them down and the footrests were right where I expected them to be. Usually on customs I miss them altogether and moan about how far forward they are. In fact, they are tucked just a little rearward, so that your knee is slightly bent and you can take some weight through your legs. A great improvement on the old “feet out in front, knees at right angles” riding position of the 70s Bonnie. Traditionalists will hate it.

Reach forward and the raised bars are just about right: height, angle and everything. It didn’t feel dissimilar to sitting on my Hornet to be honest. And to be frank, that’s a big compliment. OLd US spec Bonnie bars were too high, UK spec ones far too low and wide, bending you double in the middle – don’t forget those forward pegs. Traditionalists will hate that too.

The seat feels very odd indeed. Less like foam and more like polystyrene – or perhaps the kind of high density stuff you find in some body armour. It kind of collapses slowly as you sit on it and stays there, though obviously it recovers slowly when the weight is removed. I’m not sure how long that will be comfortable for. But it’s a sensible height, and only the very shortest riders will find a problem getting their feet on the floor.

The bike I rode was almost brand new, and turning the key, the twin cylinder motor settled down to an almost vibration free tickover. Put your ear close to the silencers and you can just make out the “dob dob dob dob” exhaust note that sounds not unlike an original. The mechanical whistling and squeaking from the top end almost completely drowns out the exhaust from the seat though. Traditionalists etc. etc..

T100c

 

Pulling in the reasonably light clutch lever, and the first real problem appeared. With my size 8 1/2 boots on the pegs, the gear lever was right under the very end of the boot. OK, within 30 seconds I was riding round the problem and barely noticing it but given that a sizable chunk of the market for these machines is likely to be women, that seems a very strange piece of design, something I have noticed with other bikes including the BMW Scarver.

Whilst I’m bitching, the footpegs are nicely placed front and rear, yet the designers have perfectly recreated the traditional design with a piece of cast metal, things hewn from chunks of the Forth Road Bridge, sweeping out into chunky rubber-covered pegs. And they are too wide. With your feet on the pegs, you can’t pull your knees in and tuck them against the rubber tank pads. Bizzare.

Anyway, having got my toes far enough forward to engage 1st, the gear box turns out to be a bit clunky but positive and accurate enough in use, and we’re into first and away.

In deference to the new engine, I didn’t rev it past 4000rpm, nowhere near the 7000rpm red line. How to describe it? Well, with a claimed 63hp (64PS), it’s not going to set the world alight, but it’s significantly more than the 50hp of the old bikes and should push the bike to around 110 – 115 if gearing allows, and more than enough to have some fun.

Perhaps more importantly, 50 ft lbs of torque is available, though both figures occur at the top of the rev range. Peak power is at 7250 and peak torque at 6000rpm (Triumph’s figures). Now, to put that into perspective a 93hp Buell Lightning produces a stump-pulling 68 ft lbs of torque at 5500rpm, and a 100hp Yamaha R6 offers 46 ft lbs at a whizz-bang 10000rpm. That gives you some idea of how the motor sits in the real world.

And this is where the big difference is between the bigger bore motor and the earlier 790cc twins lies. Revised cams and carbs, and the capacity hike might only have lifted power output by 2hp over the older bike, but they’ve discovered nearly 15% more torque.

Furthermore, they’ve managed to keep the motor flexible. Although the red line is set at 7000 (rather odd given that peak power is thus 250rpm INTO the red zone!), the revs can be dropped down to 2000 with no ill-effects, giving a top gear range of 35 to a ton-plus.

Combined with a five speed box, the result of the decent rev range is a bike that can, on a twisty road, be put in an intermediate gear and ridden on the revs so that you don’t have to change gear every fifteen seconds.

However, if you want to just stick it in top and ride it that way, then there is decent thrust waiting when you twist the throttle. It’s a nice, usable motor and I’m interested to see what is available at the top end when the motor loosens up.

T100b

 

I took the bike over one of my favourite rides, a mixture of tight and awkward corners and sweeping 60mph bends with surfaces that range from smooth to lunar, and although greasy November roads precluded big lean angles, it coped with them all with reasonable aplomb.

The only time the ride got slightly exciting was on one of the swoopier bumps, one that causes many bikes to get a bit out of shape. The Triumph gave a kind of ‘bouncy castle’ slow-motion sag and heave that felt more like a cross channel ferry than a motorbike, though it never felt worrying and continued to track perfectly.

The suspension is bum-basic and unadjustable except for rear preload, and though it works well enough, to some extent this is a disappointment. We may be harking back to a golden age of biking, but that doesn’t mean Triumph couldn’t have thrown a bit of new technology at the bouncy bits – they’ve been quite happy to do so with the motor!

Brakes consist of a thoroughly underwhelming 310mm front disc and 255mm rear. At least they didn’t follow tradition and chrome the discs too – a trick that made the last 750 Bonnevilles almost unrideable in the rain!

Though the front brake lever was fine ergonomically, the rear was again a great chunky thing too far away for me to use comfortably, which is a pain as it seems to be needed for decent stops.

Whilst they were probably still bedding in, the front felt a little lacking in power, but given the fact that the front tyre is a tubed Metzler ME33, something that scared the life out of me last time I rode a bike fitted with one, that may not be a bad thing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a 100/90 front and 130/90 rear combination, skinny though they might be. The problem is that 19″ front wheel. It’s forced a compromise of style over performance and, I suspect, to some extent safety.

In footballing terms, the ME33 on the front hoop is a balding 45 year old former Premiership footballer still turning out in the Nationwide Conference. In its day it was a decent tyre. But tyre technology has moved a long, loooong way and what was acceptable in those days in terms of lock-ups and slides isn’t now. And tyre tech has long since forgotten the 19″ front, which means there is little choice, certainly nothing from the last decade.

You’d have thought that maybe Triumph would have gone to Avon or maybe even one of the other tyre companies, said: “We want a decent tyre for our Bonnie look-alike, can you do something?”.

I stress that nothing actually went wrong at the front, but I did feel one minor slide when I aimed the bike at a wet manhole with a gentle lean. Nothing serious, but thought-provoking.

My other major beef is that the traditional spoked wheels and tubed tyres bring back traditional punctures and road-side repairs, something I thought we’d left behind in the mists of time. There really is no excuse for this on a bike designed in 2004. I wondered why Triumph hand out free recovery with a new bike!

Anyway, back to the bends. With a wheelbase of 1500mm, it’s around 100mm longer than a Japanese 600, and the rake of 28 degrees is kicked out way beyond Supersport territory and into slow and steady land, but don’t get the impression it’s barge-like in corners. The bars allow accurate, light-feeling steering, and it’s the sort of bike anyone could jump on and feel at home with.

The T100 feels light and easy to balance when you sit on it, but the weight is carried low down and thus it’s a bit deceptive. I noticed that when I was wheeling the bike backwards. Dry weight is quoted at 450 lbs – around 50lbs heavier than our benchmark 600 Supersport. With 16.6 litres of fuel perched high up on the tubular cradle frame in that beautifully shaped and painted tank, that’s going to be over 500lbs fueled and oiled.

The finish looks good, though to be perfectly honest, I could have done without some of the chrome. But a quick look at the accessories list suggests exactly whom this bike is aimed at:

– Chrome Grab Rail
– Chrome Low Sissy Bar
– Chrome High Sissy Bar
– Chrome Cam Cover
– Chrome Chain Guard
– Chrome Levers
– Chrome Side Panel
– Chrome Front Mudguard
– Chrome Engine Dresser Bars
– Chrome Master Cylinder Cap
– Chrome Headlight Brackets
– Chrome Side Stand
– Chrome Lifter Arm Cover

Chrome side stand? Ah well, it takes all sorts. So, out with the polish and duster than.

The speedo and rev counter rather cutely were not quite squared against each other, but in traditional fashion the Triumph logos in each clock sit at a slight angle to each other. The basic warning lights were in clear view and easily seen, particularly the indicator warning lamp which is something of a blessing after the last few years of invisible repeaters on Japanese bikes.

The mirrors are short stemmed, but give a good view, and both clutch and brake lever are in easy reach, are light and have span adjusters, a good touch.

My final gripes. The filler cap is a straight screw in job. OK, no-one is going to steal 4 gallons of fuel, but the unlocked chromed cap is going to be temptation every time the bike is parked out on the street. For a bike that costs the wrong side of £5500, it really should lock.

And the indicator switch. It’s not up in the BMW league for reinventing the wheel and making it square, but it’s at least an octagon. The button is two part – a slidy bit that goes left/right in the usual fashion, and a central “nipple” that sits in the middle of the first part that operates the “press to cancel” feature. The problem is getting your thumb round the back of this protruding lump to hook it back for a left turn.

It’s only a real problem if you have small hands and when you are holding the clutch at the same time – but that’s often just the point you are trying to signal left off a roundabout or junction. The first couple of times I tried it, I had to have two or three goes to get the signal on. After that I had no problem, and as the owner said, “you get used to it” but that’s not the point. Japanese style switch gear works – why mess with it and end up with something worse?

Summary? It’s good. Better than I expected, in much the same way the Legend TT impressed by being more than the sum of its fairly uninspiring parts. Yes, there are some criticisms here, but they are mostly detail points, and few bikes escape those. The front tyre is my only major concern and the only way to find out if I’m right is to do some miles.

The heart of the beast is of course that twin cylinder motor, and it does give the bike real character, though not in the way that an old Triumph twin would – nothing is going to vibrate off this bike and it’s not going to leave a pool of oil behind when you park. Good thing we’re not all traditionalists.

It’s a good, user friendly bike that will make the rider feel confident rather than threatened. I thought whilst I was riding it that it would make an excellent DAS bike for learners.

If you’re looking for a first bike after passing your test (there’s a 34PS restrictor kit available for those with a two year limit), and you don’t want Japanese, it’ll suit and won’t scare the pants off you.

If you simply want a sunny day bike with traditional styling, or you’re after a gentle “looking at the scenery as you go” tourer, you could find yourself a good friend in the T100.

Get a test ride – it might surprise you!

About Kevin Williams / Survival Skills

Motorcycle trainer, motorcycle author, motorcycle safety consultant, motorcycle forum moderator, former courier and ever a recreational rider. Is there a common theme here?

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