Read on to find out how the latest Bonneville (which is one of our 10 Great Beginner Bikes) differs from the model that launched in 1959, and how it remains the same.
The Goods, Part I
The base Bonneville is distinguished by black engine cases, a single color fuel tank, and the lack of a tachometer. The Bonneville SE features satin-finished engine cases, a two-tone gas tank with a hand-painted pinstripe and Triumph badge, and a tachometer. The Bonneville T100 adds chrome covers to black engine cases, black instrument fascia and handlebar risers, fork gaiters, tank-mounted kneepads, spoke wheels and “Peashooter” exhaust pipes.
New electronic fuel injection adjusts the air/fuel mixture by measuring air temperature, pressure, engine speed and throttle position. The setup produces more horsepower, better fuel economy, and exhaust that’s five times cleaner. It also happens to be disguised in a unit that looks just like an old school carb on the outside.
The Goods, Part II
Also new for 2009 are revised ergonomics that include a seat that’s scooped and lowered to 29.1 inches, and handlebars that are moved 22 mm back towards the rider and 21 mm lower. New cast aluminum alloy wheels replace the spoked units, and the front wheel shrinks to 17 inches (from 19 inches) while rear suspension travel is reduced to 100 mm (from 106 mm.) In combination with new fenders, the new wheels cut weight by nearly 19 lbs. Mirrors are farther apart for improved visibility, and both the brake and clutch levers are now adjustable..
All Bonnevilles are powered by an air-cooled, DOHC 865cc parallel twin engine mated to a 5-speed gearbox. The twin produces 67 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 51 ft-lb of torque at 5,800 rpm. Up front, 41mm Kayaba forks offer 120 mm of travel, and a tubular steel swingarm is found at the rear. Single disc 310 mm front and 255 mm rear two-piston Nissin brakes supply stopping power. Fuel capacity is 4.2 gallons, and dry weight (without fluids) is 441 lbs.
Swing a Leg Over
Hop aboard a 2009 Triumph Bonneville, and its lowered seat (now 29.1 inches high) and repositioned handlebars make it feel smaller. Riding position is natural and upright (with legs slightly back), though taller riders might feel they have less options for bum placement due to the new scalloped seat.
The Bonneville fires up with a mellow engine note, but acoustic character increases dramatically when mated to the optional Arrow 2-2 exhaust pipes ($1,199). If you love the staccato pulse of a twin-cylinder engine, you might find the Arrows worth the extra dough.
The lower seating position means most vertically challenged riders should easily reach the ground. The clutch is rather heavy, but launching the Bonneville off the line is easy; the engine doesn’t rev too eagerly, and clutch engagement is progressive. Once rolling, the Bonneville maneuvers effortlessly, and the front wheel can be placed with light handlebar input. There’s a bit of suspension bucking on rough surfaces, and the reduced rear travel in concert with shallower seat foam doesn’t help the bike’s ride qualities. But on most decently paved surfaces, the Bonneville provides perfectly acceptable—if firm—levels of damping.
An 80-mile ride through New Orleans revealed a willing demeanor with relatively comfortable ergonomics, though my test bike’s engine felt somewhat jerky during roll-on throttle at low rpms. I also tested a new fuel-injected Scrambler and Thruxton which felt smoother, so it’s likely Triumph will address this fuel injection mapping issue soon.
The Bottom Line
Triumph’s Bonneville has adhered to its winning formula for 50 years, and the 2009 model takes a slight departure by switching to fuel injection. Though the power delivery felt slightly less refined than I was hoping for, its benefits—more horsepower, better fuel economy, and fewer emissions—outweigh its drawbacks. The new engine hardware even looks cool and retro, in keeping with the Bonnie’s decades old appearance.
Its accommodating ergonomics should make the Bonneville appeal to more riders than ever; for a traditional looking bike with modern reliability, the Bonneville is both timeless and contemporary, a winning combination that should help retain its unique status among enthusiasts.