Taking to the open road allows you to avoid the worst of the Guzzi’s fueling issues and forget for a moment the sloppy transmission, which is prone to throwing up false neutrals and is generally disagreeable. As you merge into highway traffic, the idea of emptying the Stone’s 5.8-gallon tank starts to go sour. Below 4000 rpm, the V-twin shudders between your kneecaps, threatening to walk your feet off the pegs and perpetually blurring the mirrors. Reach 65 mph, though, and the engine suddenly hits a sweet spot that continues through about 80 mph, where a new kind of vibration starts to intrude. Keep it in that range and the Guzzi is a happy puppy, though roll-on performance is nothing special—better than the Harley by a fraction but well back of the Bonnie.
An under-polished drivetrain takes away from what is actually a sweet chassis. Compared to the Harley’s, the V7’s suspension might have come off a BMW sport-tourer—it tackles large and small bumps confidently, and is sprung so the chassis has little pitching and a lot of helpful feedback. The brakes are strong and predictable, even if there’s some minor weaving evident on quick stops favoring the front brake. Oh, so this is what bias-ply tires felt like back in the day? A superbike-style bar provides more than enough leverage to flick the Guzzi through tight corners as quickly as you need to—because you’re only going to do so much with 40.5 bhp and a gearbox you soon tire of fighting.
Updated for ’13, Guzzi’s V7 engine may have escaped engineering before fully finished. Poo
Transfer your belongings to the Triumph Bonneville and it’s like graduating from the pull-out bed in the spare room to the master suite. Mechanically, the Bonnie is dramatically better rounded than the Harley or the Guzzi. The parallel-twin engine, massaged since its introduction in 2001 but elementally unchanged, makes the most of its 360-degree firing order (the pistons rise and fall together) and counterbalancer to provide a steady, serene sense of forward progress. Throttle response rates highly, though there is a bit more driveline lash than in the Harley. “The motor happily chugs away smoothly from stop signs with no hesitation or dips in power,” says Courts, smitten with the Bonnie’s performance but not in love with the purple paint. A light clutch pull allied to a modern-feeling five-speed transmission completes a package so at home in the city that riding to work is actually pleasurable.
In many ways, the Bonnie is deceptive. The engine doesn’t sound or feel particularly stout—and, let’s face it, 60.6 bhp is not real impressive for the displacement—but the way it moves the bike is particularly satisfying. It has a wide spread of torque and near-perfect manners, a polite humph from the exhaust, and generally feels willing to do whatever you ask. At 13.46 seconds in the quarter mile, the Bonneville can’t be called fast, but it trumps both the 883 and the Guzzi by more than a second. All of that motion comes with such a low level of vibration that a few of our guys dared to call the Bonnie dull.
Success with the engine is mirrored by Triumph’s chassis tuning. Steering accuracy, suspension compliance, and braking performance are all superior. Not to say perfect, as the Bonnie can thump you on concrete-slab freeways, but in this company the Triumph is a model of civility. At 61 pounds more than the Guzzi, the 498-lb. Triumph conceals its heft extremely well, though the winner of the “chub hider” award goes to the 564-lb. Harley.
You’ll want to take long weekends with Bonnie. As the most comfortable machine here, the Triumph can deliver you to your overnight destination without the risk of semi-permanent physical damage. (The 4.2-gal. tank and meh fuel mileage, not helped by a pessimistic low-fuel light, will keep legs in the 120-mile range.) And if you stack a few good roads between there and home, so much the better. Although the Bonneville’s cornering clearance definitely limits back road pace, it’s the only thing. The Bonnie steers with precision on the only radial tires among these three—you clearly sense the bike is capable of more if it only didn’t drag the pegs so readily.
But that's the wrong kind of thing to complain about, so the hipsters say. From a view that favors aesthetics and clarity purpose, each of these machines scores well. The Harley's stance is aggressive without venturing into outlandish, cool to the point of not caring what you think. The Guzzi, too, presses all the right buttons, and draws on its own rich history without a hint of mockery. If the Bonneville veers to the old-man side of the road-and this may be an impression strongly influenced by the purple paint; the Phantom Black Bonnie is a different animal--it at least redeems itself as by far the best functioning motorcycle in the group. How important that is to your typical hipster is anyone's guess.