Roughly three years ago I approached Triumph America CEO Mike Vaughan with an idea I'd been considering for years: to write an in-depth feature story on the start-to-finish development of an all-new motorcycle. I reminded Vaughan I'd been through the R&D process with several new models during my years with American Honda, and that those experiences would help me communicate to readers at least part of the complex-yet-fascinating story of an all-new motorcycle's tortured path from concept stage to actual production.
Vaughan liked the idea (a good start), and said he'd pass my proposal on to Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. owner John Bloor (even better). Still, I had no illusions about it being accepted. I'd already pitched this particular idea to several other manufacturers, none of whom were interested (or brave) enough to actually take me up on it. Motorcycle manufacturers are notoriously secretive (for good reason), and don't like to even think about having outsiders in their midst.
So imagine my surprise when Bloor, Vaughan and U.K. export boss Ross Clifford agreed in early '98 to play along. They told me the company had recently embarked on an all-new, clean-sheet design, and that they were willing to let me get involved in the bike's actual development-and then write about it. But the motorcycle they wanted to let me watch take shape over the next 30 months wasn't some slightly reworked Daytona or semi-new, modular-based Speed Triple or Thunderbird; they were offering me the inside line on the new-generation Bonneville, arguably the most important machine in the new Triumph's 10-year history, and maybe even the entire 2001 model year. And a motorcycle named after one of the most revered and successful bikes the motorcycling world has ever known.
Initial shock turned to excitement pretty quickly.
As magazine editors and bike testers we get handed the keys to new motorcycles all the time, but rarely are we privy to the development process that takes place two to three years prior to a bike's official debut. While some manufacturers provide peeks behind the development curtain through the use of early concept sketches and clay mockup photos, these are only snapshots of the R&D cycle, and don't-can't, really-give journalists (and readers) much of a feel for the development process.
My goal was to give readers that feel, to provide that look inside the R&D tent. Helping me tell the Bonneville story would be Motorcyclist contributor Alan Cathcart, a guy who's seen the inside of more R&D centers than I could mention. Cathcart became a partner in this story fairly early in the Bonneville's development, and not only added significant meat to this piece, but also helped Triumph engineers tweak the Bonnie in several positive ways with his substantial evaluative skills.
This isn't the "complete" development story on the Bonneville (it'd take an entire book to treat the subject comprehensively), but it should offer readers an idea of the phenomenal amount of work, sweat, insight, expertise, testing, cash and chutzpah it takes to bring an all-new motorcycle to market.