The bike's lean stance (and wide bar) make it easy to steer along twisting country roads-its natural habitat-in spite of the kicked-out front-end geometry and longish wheelbase. As you'd expect it's also quite stable 'round faster sweepers and at higher speeds, in keeping with Triumph's claims. The non-adjustable fork is reasonably compliant, and the twin-shock rear end irons out bumps better than expected, though rebound damping could still be improved; it bounces back a touch too eagerly if you hit a dip in the road. The brakes are now excellent, with lots of bite as well as feel from the single front disc, which is single-finger stuff thanks to an astute choice of master cylinder. The rear is easy to use and feels plenty responsive.
Every time I rode the new-generation Bonneville there was a notable improvement in the experience, a sense of added refinement and reduced compromise. Bloor's boys got it right, I think.-A.C.
Ah, the Bonnie, Triumph's fabled T120/R. For most of the volatile 1960s in America, this Triumph-lean of line, pure of function, fast and good-handling-was not only the archetypal sporting road bike, but something much bigger. The Bonnie's impact extended beyond motorcycling. It became a cultural icon, a symbol of a certain kind of life; like the Jeep, Fender's Stratocaster guitar, blue jeans from Levi Strauss.
U.S. Triumph dealers had been pleading for a high-power, twin-carb 650, and when it appeared in 1959, it was named for the Utah site of speed-record runs. Indeed, Triumph had held the absolute Land Speed Record for motorcycles since 1956 (214 mph with a 650-engined streamliner built in Fort Worth, Texas), and for years to come, the company advertised the T120/R as "the fastest standard motorcycle made in the world today."
The Bonneville's engine grew out of the 500cc Speed Twin created by Edward Turner in the late '30s. In high-output 650 form, it was leaning against its design limitations, but it worked, on both the street and the track. It vibrated, but they all did. The vertically split crankcase halves had standing oil above the seam (and often below it). It was all orthodox Brit-bike practice of the day: separate intake and exhaust cams down in the cases operating pushrods and rockers, a chain-driven four-speed gearbox and the general bits-and-pieces approach to component design. But the Bonneville worked the concept to a high polish.
Even 30 years later, it still looks great. You can see the sporting theme expressed in the compact but smooth-flowing tank (with the trademark paint scallops that actually originated at a Detroit custom-paint shop), the chrome headlight shell on fork ears, the narrow fenders, graceful pipes and general lack of frills. No wonder it was the lust object of its era.
The tale would turn ugly for Triumph and the entire British industry in the '70s. But until then, the Triumph Bonneville owned its age, and so became a motorcycle for all the ages. -Kevin Smith