A Retro-Appeal All Its Own

Ever since I got my first glimpse of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber at the 2016 Milan show I was eager to get to know it a little better. This was my absolute favorite bike at the show, which is saying something considering everything else that was happening. Now that all the metrics are known, I gotta’ say that my enthusiasm has been justified. A 1200 cc plant pushes the classic-looking frame that, much like Harley-Davidson’s Softail, comes built to look like an old hard-tail. The result is a modern ride with very deep roots that can be traced back to the Speed Twin 5T of the late ’30s. There are plenty of other little historical touches here and there, and though this is no replica piece, it can serve as a sort of rolling museum. Today, I’m going to delve into this collection of Easter eggs and see what all Trumpet has in store for us with this petite little “nostalgi-cruiser.”

Continue reading for my review of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber.

Design

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- image 774573
No matter what else the Bobber has going for it or where it falls short, there is no way around how freakin' cool it looks.

This new-from-2017 Bonneville variant isn’t exactly an exercise in subtlety. In fact, the factory went to great lengths to give this ride a retro-appeal like nothing else in the Triumph line. We aren’t talking about a few trim pieces or suggestive designs either. The antique battery case, loop-type rear fender and drum brake-looking rear hub are far more than cursory features. Of course, they pale in comparison to the excellent little faux-rigid rear end that, much like the Harley Softail frame, uses hardtail frame geometry in an articulated, triangular swingarm that mimics the look, but thankfully not the feel, of the old rigid frames.

A solo saddle mimics the look of the old spring-post seats, but the seat is hard mounted and all the springage in back comes from the coil-over rear shock neatly tucked away beneath the seat. The gap between seat and fender accentuates the look, you know, just in case it wasn’t overt enough for ya, and the seat itself is adjustable for height as well as fore-and-aft position to accommodate a variety of body types.

Mid-mount foot controls and drag-like handlebars put the rider in a relaxed, upright riding position. The shape of the engine is reminiscent of the old air-cooled twingles, and the factory went so far as to design the throttle bodies to look like the old mechanical-slide carbs, but there is nothing to be done for the radiator up front that kind of spoils the magic just a little bit.

Gaitered, right-side-up forks keep the front end looking dated enough, but the front fender is way larger than a proper, homemade bobber would run. I almost hate to gig them for such a small detail, but the designers put so much work into achieving a certain look only to miss something as obvious as that. Oh well, the rad and the fender give me two tiny flaws to pick at on an otherwise perfectly charming little ride.

Chassis

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- image 774362
The Bobber has an eagerness in the corners that experienced riders will appreciate while maintaining enough stability to be noob-friendly.

Both the double-downtube, double-cradle frame and the triangular “swing-cage” rear end come made from tubular-steel stock in a fairly traditional layout if one ignores that special swingarm for a moment. In keeping with the sporty bobber origins, the frame comes built to handle with 25.8 degrees of rake and a 3.5-inch trail with a 59.4-inch wheelbase. This gives the Bobber an eagerness in the corners that experienced riders will appreciate while maintaining enough stability to be noob-friendly.

On paper, the KYB suspension is a bit of a letdown with nothing in the way of adjustment, not even preload on the rear monoshock. As unforgiveable as this might seem, the factory seems to have struck a nice balance between bump-absorbing plushness and corner-carving stiffness, and as far as the preload adjustment goes, since it only mounts a solo seat there will be no variable passenger weight in the equation.

Wheel travel is right around 3.0- and 3.5-inches for back and front, respectively, plenty for around town and even back roads, but you better keep it off the brown. Stay on the black and don’t be jumping any railroad tracks. Laced rims mount the 19-inch front and 16-inch rear hoops, and the rear hub comes with drum-brake-influenced features for even more retro appeal.

As for the brakes themselves, the front gets but a single, 310 mm disc and two-pot Nissin binder, and the rear a single-piston-and-anvil caliper to bite the 255 mm rear disc. The feel is rather firm at the front brake lever, and it takes more effort than usual to get the full effect, but ABS protection front and rear helps ensure you don’t overdo it in a panic stop. Although the weakish front brakes are a bummer, I wouldn’t call that a deal breaker on an otherwise excellent chassis, especially with ABS backup.

Frame: Tubular steel cradle
Swingarm: Twin-sided, tubular steel
Front Wheels: Wire 32-spoke - Steel Rims. 18 x 2.5 in
Rear Wheels: Wire 32-spoke - Steel Rims.16 x 3.5 in
Front Tires: 100/90-19
Rear Tires: 150/80 R16
Front Suspension: KYB 41 mm forks, 90 mm travel
Rear Suspension: KYB monoshock with linkage, 76.9 mm rear wheel travel
Brakes Front: 310 mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper, ABS
Brakes Rear: Single 255 mm disc, Nissin single piston floating caliper, ABS

Drivetrain

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- image 774365
Even though the torque caps out at a low 4,000 rpm, the engine likes to be wound up for short-shifting urban fun.

Although the 1200 cc engine looks a lot like some of the old Trumpet twingles, the resemblance is only skin deep. This here is a liquid-cooled mill that runs an overhead cam to time each of the four-valve heads. It replaces the old 180-degree crank that sounded like an overgrown lawnmower with a 270-degree crank that has a lope at idle and a pleasant rumble at speed. The T-120 based engine delivers its 78.2 pound-feet and 77 horsepower smoothly across the rpm range, and even though the torque caps out at a low 4,000 rpm, the engine likes to be wound up for short-shifting urban fun.

Slightly oversquare, the mill runs a 3.8-inch bore and 3.1-inch stroke with a 10-to-1 compression ration that will have you at the mid-grade pump at the very least. A ride-by-wire throttle manages the induction with multipoint sequential fuel injection to deliver the juice, and it enables the Riding Modes that deliver two separate power curves — one for “road” and one for “rain” — and the traction-control feature that limits power to prevent wheel slip due to insufficient traction at the rear wheel.

All-in-all, the motor seems very rider friendly with enough grunt to really be fun when you want to get a little twisty-at-the-wristy, so I feel confident that the performance envelope will encompass the full range of the experience spectrum.

The six-speed tranny comes geared for around-town riding, and it couples to engine power through a slip-and-assist clutch that makes for an easier pull at the lever and safer downshifts as it prevent wheel hop when scrubbing speed ahead of a turn.

Engine: Liquid cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel twin
Displacement: 1,200 cc
Bore Stroke: 3.8in (97.6 mm) / 3.1in (80 mm)
Compression: 10.0:1
Max Power EC: 77 hp (56.6kW) @ 6,100 rpm
Max Torque EC: 78.2 ft-lbs (106Nm) @ 4,000 rpm
System: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Exhaust: Brushed stainless steel 2 into 2 twin-skin exhaust system with brushed stainless silencers.
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate assist clutch
Gearbox: 6-speed

Price

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- image 774364
MSRP is hanging steady at last year's price with a new two-tone colorway added to the paint choices.

Much like Harley, Triumph charges for paint. The “basic” Jet Black rolls for $11,900, while the grayish Ironstone and Morello Red will set you back $12,150. As classy as those colors are, the two-tone, Cranberry Red and Frozen Silver is my favorite by far at $12,400.

Colors:
2017: Jet Black, Competition Green, Morello Red, Ironstone
2018: Jet Black, Cranberry Red/Frozen Silver, Morello Red, Ironstone
Price: Jet Black: $11,900, Solid Color: $12,150, Two-tone: $12,400

Competition

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 766934
2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- image 774361
Triumph spanks Harley in the electronics department with rider modes and traction control, features that Harley doesn't offer on anything yet.

As I cast about for a head-to-head competitor I came to realize that there still aren’t many rides out there that run with the whole fake-rigid ass end, even if they should. The Sportster 1200 Custom from H-D is one such ride, and I’ve said for years that the guys in Milwaukee should make a “Sporty” version of their popular, Big-Twin Softail frames, and the Bobber proves I was right; there is a market for a small hardtail look-alike bike.

Lookswise, the two have little in common other than dated designs, which of course, is where a lot of their charm lies. Trumpet went to great lengths to emulate a specific range of bikes from its own history, but the Sportster’s looks are also rooted in the early ’50s for a similar era of influence. As much as I love my Sporties, the Bobber looks good enough to make me hop the fence/cross the pond/whatever.

Harley gains a slight edge in the suspension with adjustable preload at the shocks, a good thing to have for a two-up capable ride, which brings me to a point; there are not now, nor will there ever be, a two-up seat for the Bobber. Do Not buy one if you think there is a chance you might want to ride with a passenger. Ever.

Aside from the obvious differences in the rear end, the Sporty also runs a longer, 30-degree rake for a bit more stability — if less enthusiasm — in the corners than the Trumpet. ABS comes stock on the Bobber, but is an eight-bill upgrade on the Sportster, enough to gobble up most of the price difference between the Vivid Black 1200 Custom at $10,999, and the Jet Black Bonneville Bobber at 11,900.

Engine size is comparable, as is torque output though Harley falls off with only 70.8 pounds of grunt against the 78.2 pound-feet from the Bobber. H-D has the classic, air-cooled look and V-Twin configuration, but looks will only get you so far, and the Bobber plant isn’t hard to look at even if the radiator is a definite blemish. Trumpet spanks Harley in the electronics department with rider modes and traction control, features that Harley doesn’t offer on anything yet. Just more proof that H-D needs to get on the RbW/TC/RM bandwagon and go full electric.

In the end, it comes down to looks. No matter what else the Bobber has going for it, or where it falls short, there is no way around how freakin’ cool it looks.

He Said

“Love it, love it love it! Did I mention that I love it? The soft-rigid frame just does it for me, and the solo saddle seals the deal. Performance and handling is better than you get from my Sporty, so I can say that this is a bike that will resist being “outgrown” by many, if not most riders out there. It’s a little pricey for the entry-level market, but you aren’t going to find many bikes below 10K that boast traction control, rider modes and ABS as standard equipment.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "This is really a bobbed down T120, isn’t it? Ever since the Milan show, my husband has been talking about this Bobber, so ask me how nervous I was when we go to the dealer ’just for test ride...no really...just a test ride....really.......I love you.’ It is a nice little bike — I say ’little’ because of the fairly compact wheelbase and low-low seat height. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though, since the Bobber is quite cruiser-tastic. The solo seat lets the world know you came alone and plan to go home alone."

Specifications

Engine & Transmission:
Engine: Liquid cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel twin
Displacement: 1,200 cc
Bore Stroke: 3.8in (97.6 mm) / 3.1in (80 mm)
Compression: 10.0:1
Max Power EC: 77 hp (56.6kW) @ 6,100 rpm
Max Torque EC: 78.2 ft-lbs (106Nm) @ 4,000 rpm
System: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Exhaust: Brushed stainless steel 2 into 2 twin-skin exhaust system with brushed stainless silencers.
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate assist clutch
Gearbox: 6-speed
Chassis:
Frame: Tubular steel cradle
Swingarm: Twin-sided, tubular steel
Front Wheels: Wire 32-spoke - Steel Rims. 18 x 2.5 in
Rear Wheels: Wire 32-spoke - Steel Rims.16 x 3.5 in
Front Tires: 100/90-19
Rear Tires: 150/80 R16
Front Suspension: KYB 41 mm forks, 90 mm travel
Rear Suspension: KYB monoshock with linkage, 76.9 mm rear wheel travel
Brakes Front: 310 mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper, ABS
Brakes Rear: Single 255 mm disc, Nissin single piston floating caliper, ABS
Dimensions & Capacities:
Width Handlebars: 31.5 in (800 mm)
Height Without Mirror: 40.4 in (1025 mm)
Seat Height: 27.2 in (690 mm)
Wheelbase: 59.4 in (1510 mm)
Rake: 25.8º
Trail: 3.5in (87.9 mm)
Dry Weight: 502 lb (228 kg)
Tank Capacity: 2.4 gal
Details:
Instrument Display and Functions: LCD multi-functional instrument pack with analogue speedometer, odometer, gear position indicator, fuel gauge, range to empty indication, service indicator, clock, 2x trip, average & current fuel consumption display, traction control status display, Cruise control & heated grip ready - controlled by a handlebar mounted scroll button.
Colors:
2017: Jet Black, Competition Green, Morello Red, Ironstone
2018: Jet Black, Cranberry Red/Frozen Silver, Morello Red, Ironstone
Price: Jet Black: $11,900, Solid Color: $12,150, Two-tone: $12,400

References

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom

2015 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
- image 729026

See our review of the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom.

Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black

2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black
- image 765192

See our review of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: triumphmotorcycles.com, harley-davidson.com

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