Motorcycle of the Century | 1969 Honda CB750

The Bike That Changed Everything

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Alternative Takes

1960 Triumph T120 Bonneville

It’s ironic that the most iconic British motorcycle of all time isn’t named after Donington Park, Silverstone or Brands Hatch, but a sunbaked salt pan located in the southwestern United States. It was at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956, however, that Jack Wilson’s methanol-burning Triumph Tunderbird 650, ridden by Johnny Allen and nicknamed “The Texas Cee-Gar,” set an absolute motorcycle speed record of 214.17 mph. When Triumph needed a name for its frst dual-carburetor 650cc twin, then its fastest production motorcycle, only “Bonneville” would do.

The T120 Bonneville frst appeared in ’59, but it’s the redesigned ’60 version, with the stifer twin-cradle frame and separate headlamp replacing the old nacelle, that’s considered the defnitive version. With its stately, Edward Turner-designed parallel-twin, long chrome peashooter mufflers, pancake saddle and signature two-tone paint, the Bonneville characterized classic Brit-bike cool. Bob Dylan rode one. So did Paul Newman, Paul McCartney and, of course, Steve McQueen.

The Bonneville’s engine was based on that of the T110 Tiger, but came equipped with dual Amal carburetors instead of a single unit, as well as a performance intake cam. With light weight, abundant torque, decent handling and a 110-mph top speed, the Bonneville was the epitome of ’60s high performance—until the frst Japanese superbikes arrived at the end of that decade. The Bonneville ruled everywhere from dragstrips to dirt-tracks, and a Bonneville even made the frst 100-mph production-bike lap at the Isle of Man TT, in ’68. The performance may have faded but the Bonneville’s silhouette has stood the test of time. Triumph’s current “modern classic” Bonnevilles, shamelessly styled to ape the originals, are among the best-selling bikes on the market today.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!

*Please enter your username

*Please enter your password

*Please enter your comments
Not Registered?Signup Here
(1024 character limit)
I was working my way through Grad school as a mechanic in a Honda/Triumph shop  when the CB750 was released in the US.  We were blown away to say the least.  It made the CB450 and the Bonneville look like toys in comparison.
  • Motorcyclist Online