By the end of '98, the engine was beginning to produce the type and amount of power the team envisioned from the start. Various combinations of camshafts and cylinder-head porting and compression were tried over the latter months of '98, the team settling on a combo that would offer as rideable and usable an engine package as possible.
Also by the end of 1998, the chassis team had presented the updated styling prototype (with the changes from the earlier presentations) to upper management and the marketing/ sales staffs, and response was positive. Small tweaks were made, though the bike was now much more "right" aesthetically. Scheming and detailing of the frame structure were now 90 percent complete, which allowed prototype blueprints to be made. Chassis testing (with a donor engine installed) and FE analysis showed the new frame to have even more torsional and lateral rigidity than a standard CB500 Honda twin, itself an agile, stable and competent handler, and a bike that would be somewhat of a Bonneville competitor in Europe.
March to September, 1999 Engine Meets ChassisIn March, 1999 a prototype Bonneville engine was installed in the latest chassis setup, and testing continued. Evaluators then began to focus attention on more detail-oriented aspects of the bike, such as carburetion, vibration control, suspension action, steering, etc. The entire package began to feel more capable and refined as they went. By July, six development bikes had been built, each one undergoing a specific testing regimen. As the evaluations progressed, and the specific teams got closer to finalizing the specs for final production-intent tooling, a final styling review was held, with even better results.
The overall look and general makeup of Triumph's new-generation Bonneville was now set.
A First Ride
I met Alan Cathcart at Triumph headquarters on the morning of October 7 for what each of us considered a truly momentous occasion: our first ride on the new-generation Bonneville. We met with Clifford and Vaughan and caught up on the goings-on since my last visit, each of us looking out the meeting room window and hoping the rain would stop before our evaluation ride later that morning. It didn't-though no surprise there!
The bike itself was typical of running prototypes: flat black in color, external wires leading to data-collection boxes, and looking not much different than a beat-up twin-cylinder courier bike that'd spent years combing London's wet and narrow streets-unless you looked closely, of course. Three other bikes would accompany us that morning: one of Triumph's own Legend TTs, an 883 Sportster and an example of Kawasaki's then-new W650 twin, a bike the Bonnie would be competing more or less directly with when it debuted.
Cathcart had laid out a superb test route for us, one full of winding, medium-speed country lanes, some around-town stuff, and a bit of freeway thrown in for higher-speed evaluation. Despite the cold and soggy weather the ride was good fun and highly informative, and after a stop at a pub for lunch, we made our way back to Hinckley for a debriefing with the R&D folks.
The Bonnie prototype was surprisingly good functionally, especially since it was powered by an early prototype engine and still a full year from production. The engine's power level was acceptable, though it delivered the brunt of that power too high in the rev-band. Cathcart agreed, and while he explained I could see the engine team leader slowly nodding as he took notes, almost as if he already knew the motor's midrange could-and should-be fattened a bit. (He did.) The rest of my comments mirrored Cathcart's, though they were nearly nitpicky; the seat foam was both too thin and too soft, letting my butt sink right onto the seat base; the front brake was only marginally acceptable, lacking both adequate power and feel (though it would improve, the team told me, when the bike's production-spec master cylinder was installed); and both ends of the suspension, I felt, could be firmed up just a touch, maybe 10 percent, for the older (and larger) riders that would surely form a significant portion of Bonneville buyers. Cathcart felt the suspension was about right, both compliant and controlled, but then again he's lighter than I am. Either way, the Bonnie's legs were pretty good as-tested.
I finished up with these words on the evaluation form: "Wet weather kept us slow, but overall, pretty impressive. Needs midrange, firmer seat foam, a bit more front-brake power and maybe slightly firmer F&R suspension. Styling seems right." Cathcart added this: "Warren Beatty would have been happy to be seen riding this in a reissue of Shampoo!" Well said!