I was eager to participate in this year's rally, but didn't know if my 2009 Triumph Bonneville SE long term tester was old enough; turns out the classic Beemers, Yamahas, and Nortons that participate tend to be complemented by a small handful of late model BMWs, Aprilias, and-- you guessed it-- Triumphs. Perfect.
Some long-needed routine maintenance prepared the Bonneville for road trip duty, but I had a few lingering concerns-- namely in the areas of seat comfort and wind protection. Late May usually isn't a terribly frigid month in Southern California, but the weather turned out to be unseasonably cool on the morning of the 23rd, putting the onus on taking all the necessary precautions in order to stay warm. After an informal rider meeting at the starting point in Echo Park, I threw a leg over the Bonneville and joined the 36 or so other riders-- along with a few chase vehicles for good measure-- and headed up into the expansive Angeles National Forest area.
Freeway speeds revealed one of the Bonnie's few weaknesses: a relative lack of wind protection. Though clad with a balaclava, a jacket liner zipped shut in order to block off cool air, and thermal underwear, my gear was no match for the relentless airflow passing above the bike's instrumentation. This year's event later earned the nickname "Cycle TT On Ice," and some riders even attempted to deal with the cold by shielding their legs with taped-on newspapers. Brr.
Despite the numbing wind, my small group of riders managed to maintain a blazing pace that was both exhilarating and somewhat worrisome; taking my own advice on group riding, I maintained a safe distance and kept abrupt moves to a minimum... but given my growing confidence in the group, my concerns were focused more on law enforcement. Especially on Highway 166, a lonesome, straight line road, I kept a vigilant eye for speed traps... and sure enough, encountered more than one before stopping at the only gas station for miles. Once again, I used personal experience to avoid running out of gas, though that fate did befall fellow rider Oscar Malkhoo, whose curious peanut-tanked BMW was hampered to a cruising range of about 100 miles.
As the miles wore on, the Bonnie's scooped saddle proved to more comfortable than expected, and road manners were surprisingly livable: at higher speeds, the non-adjustable front and coilover rear suspension didn't suffer as much from bumps as it did during lower speeds, a notable consolation given the relentless stream of cold air into the unprotected cockpit. As mentioned previously, the Bonnie feels confident on tight, technical roads, and there's always enough grunt on tap from the 865cc parallel twin powerplant to enable imprudent (though thrilling) amounts of speed. The gear ratios are well-spaced, and even at prolonged triple-digit velocities, the five cogs rarely trigger six-speed envy.
While dynamically satisfying, the long term Bonneville-- complete with carb-like fuel injectors and retro styling that isn't too far off from real deal old school Bonnies-- felt aesthetically comfortable among a pack of older bikes which required constant fiddling, from roadside to gas station, and numerous spots in between. Several riders mentioned that the Bonneville looks right at home with old bikes, and given its imperturbable mechanical underpinnings, I'd say it straddled the best of both worlds: nostalgic looks, and bulletproof performance.
The 2010 So Cal Cycle TT ended on an up note, despite an unfortunate pileup that banged up that pretty Norton Commando, as well as a few other bikes. No riders were injured, and in a testimony to the spirit of the event, this was pretty much the default facial expression at the closing night's dinner.
As for our valiant Bonnie, she rode like a trooper through over 500 miles of spirited flogging... but later developed a check engine light that will be addressed in our next long term update. Stay tuned!
- Total miles ridden: 2,332
- Total miles ridden this period: 1,233
- Total odometer miles: 5,802
- Average fuel economy: 41.0 mpg