A Second Ride
Cathcart and I returned roughly eight months later for a second evaluation ride, and more meetings with Clifford and the project leaders. "Things have progressed nicely," Clifford said over coffee that morning, reiterating what he'd written me via e-mail. When we walked toward the R&D skunk works later on with riding gear in hand, I could see what he meant; the prototype Bonneville sitting in the lot surrounded by production Thunderbirds and Daytonas now looked like an honest-to-goodness production motorcycle, its shiny, production-color paint, chromework and production-spec componentry giving it a highly finished appearance. We'd certainly have more trouble keeping this one away from curious or prying eyes!
Our test route that day was similar to the one Cathcart had laid out months earlier (though it was sunny and warm this time around). And it was obvious from the first few miles that the items we'd noted in our first ride had indeed been addressed. The engine's newfound midrange was noticeable right off, the bike now easier to ride (especially at slower speeds) with peak torque occurring at 3500 rpm rather than 5000 revs as on the earlier prototype (the changes resulting from intake-system and cam revisions). The seat was firmer and more comfortable as a result, and just as we'd been told months earlier, the production-spec master cylinder made a major difference in braking, giving the Bonnie's front disc plenty of power and progressive lever feel (the rear brake remained superb). Suspension settings were as-before, and they seemed plenty compliant and controlled for the bike's all-around m.o.
When the four of us gathered later that afternoon for a debriefing, I had but one critical comment (which says a lot about how good the bike was at that point). It centered on the bike's final-drive gearing, which I felt was a bit too tall and gave the bike a semi-sluggish feel when opening the throttle at both lower and higher revs. Although the Bonneville was more powerful than the W650 we had on hand for this second ride (claimed horsepower for the Bonnie is 62 hp), the bike just didn't jump ahead with the authority I felt it needed. Slightly shorter gearing, I felt, would help.
Clifford e-mailed me a week after I'd returned to L.A. with the following message: "I fed back your comments on gearing to the team. Prior to your second test we'd made the gearing taller to lower engine speeds while cruising by around 500 rpm. After hearing your comments we've reverted back to the original [shorter] gearing to bring back a bit more snap in the acceleration. The engineers were none-too-pleased. But in the end it was agreed to be worthwhile." This was good news (and maybe a little flattering), but somewhat frustrating, too, as I wouldn't be able to sample the benefits until our Bonneville test bike arrives sometime this winter. Still, I'm betting the added oomph is plenty noticeable.
July to October, 2000 The Road To ProductionFrom that test ride in June, team members continued revising and refining each component and system, doing any additional performance-, mileage- or homologation-testing that remained, the bike inching closer and closer to the time when actual production could begin. Team members checked off an ever-growing list of parts ready for a final prototype fitment check to see if they could be given the go-ahead for their actual production.
As production-spec parts arrived and were OK'd by team members, they were installed on an all-production-spec machine in a special room in the factory. When we dropped by the room on my final visit in June, the Bonnie sitting there wasn't too far from completion, with only a few major parts still missing.
"Looks pretty good, eh?" Clifford asked with a grin.
"It looks great," I said, shaking my head, not quite comprehending that what I was looking at was about to become a mass-produced, thoroughly modern, all-new motorcycle for world distribution. It was almost surreal; I'd seen this bike back when it was nothing more than a rough styling mockup; ridden it when it was flat black and courier-bike rough; felt the functional improvements later on-and now it was nearly ready for its coming-out party. Excuse me a bit of melodrama here, but it was nearly like watching one's kid leave for college-or board the elementary school bus for the first time.
I think Triumph's new-generation Bonneville will find success when it hits U.S. showrooms this December. I might be wrong; it's quite possible my closeness to the project is skewing my judgment here. But I don't think so. It's not an exact replica of the T120, and that could hurt it with traditionalists. But after having ridden it and experienced its functional goodness, and having watched the effort, brainpower and funds invested in its development, I somehow can't see it failing.
If it does, it won't be for lack of trying.