Steve McQueen rocketed to stardom following the release of The Great Escape. Here he poses
Checking the McQueen Edition box gets you an undeniably cool machine that’s more utilitarian warhorse than retro-cruiser. The special edition features mil-spec Matte Khaki Green paint with a stenciled Triumph tank logo and the actor’s inimitable autograph reproduced on the side covers. Sporting a solo seat and black cargo rack, the rough rider also comes with a rugged-looking skidplate, a smaller, black-painted headlamp and many more blacked-out components, including the wheels, handlebars, suspension and mirrors. To underline their exclusivity, each bears a numbered plaque on the handlebar riser and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
The opportunity to ride McQueen Edition #1 direct from the Hinckley factory, before it was delivered to Chad McQueen, took me on my own special ride down Memory Lane. I remember seeing The Great Escape when it was first released, and exiting the cinema with stars in my eyes, marveling at the daredevil riding displayed in the film. McQueen later became a folk hero for me and so many others after appearing in—and bankrolling—On Any Sunday in 1971. Then there was Bullitt: When I lived in San Francisco in the early ’70s, I couldn’t ride anywhere without thinking of the star’s Ford Mustang sailing though the air!
These might look like carburetors, but clever styling conceals sophisticated Keihin fuel-i
The chance to pay tribute to my hero by riding a bike bearing his name was welcome, even if the wintery English countryside surrounding Warwickshire was a poor substitute for California, and I couldn’t manage to zip my cowhide Bates jacket from back in the day around my modern-sized mid-section! At least my old Hermans boots still fit, as did the obligatory Levi’s—nobody wore anything but blue jeans riding a motorcycle in those days. Add one open-face Arai helmet and a pair of Octopus goggles, and I was ready to ride like Steve McQueen!
The McQueen Edition is based on the T100 Bonneville that uses the more traditional wire-spoke wheels. Compared to the standard Bonneville that uses 17-inchers at both ends, the T100’s larger-diameter 19-inch front wheel imparts more relaxed handling, enhanced by more conservative steering geometry and a slightly longer wheelbase. The special edition riding position is slightly different, too, owing to the solo saddle. This is a good thing, as the stock T100’s authentic-looking platform is no paragon of comfort. This solo option uses a different foam density that almost feels like gel (but isn’t) for a more comfortable ride, and the slightly increased seat height offers more legroom. The solo saddle is narrower at the front, however, so it’s still easy even for shorter riders to reach terra firma.
The now-familiar, 865cc, air/oil-cooled parallel-twin is unaltered for this application. The 360-degree, double-up crank emits just the right Britbike thump, though this is primarily noted in the exhaust—twin, gear-driven counterbalancers prevent any vibration from reaching the seat, handlebar or footpegs, even near redline. With a claimed 67 bhp arriving at 7500 rpm and 50 lb.-ft. of torque at 5800 revs, the T100 delivers a broad spread of easily accessible power that makes this a very satisfying backroad bike. The Keihin EFI that first appeared on the Bonneville line in 2008 provides crisp throttle response, and it’s great that Triumph made the throttle bodies look like carburetors, so as not to spoil the faux vintage look. Closed-loop EFI and a three-way exhaust catalyst deliver Euro3 emissions compliance.
Acceleration is smooth and effortless as you run up the five-speed gearbox, which here provides the crispest shift action we’ve experienced on any Bonneville yet. Clutch action is especially light and progressive, so there’s no hint of hand cramps even in the worst stop-and-go traffic. Both the brake and clutch levers are adjustable, and the single 310mm Sunstar front disc has a carrier with what Triumph terms a “swooshing” design. Still gripped by a rather low-rent Nissin two-piston caliper, however, braking performance is merely adequate, though sufficient for this type of bike. The rear brake, which uses the same caliper, is likewise easy to use and responsive, too. Also merely adequate is the non-adjustable, Kayaba 41mm fork and preload-adjustable twin Kayaba shocks. The ride is smooth and controlled enough for typical backroads riding, though we can’t say we’d want to jump it over a 7-foot-tall, barbed-wire fence!