First Ride Review: 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120

The Street Twin’s Bigger Brother Hits the Streets with More Original Bonneville Style

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120 test ride review
A clear and important step up from the Street Twin, the T120 “twins” are comfortable, capable, reasonably powerful replacements for the vaunted “modern” Bonneville.©Motorcyclist

They Say: "The perfect balance between authenticity and modernity."
We Say: "Authentic style, check. Modern amenities, check. Perfect? Almost."

Designed with respectful nod to the 1959 Bonneville, the new $11,500 Triumph Bonneville T120 replaces the much-loved T100 and makes up the great center of the lineup—fitting between the 900cc entry-level (ish) Street Twin and the up-spec Thruxton. (CLICK HERE to read the 2016 Street Twin First Ride review.) We rode the Thruxton back to back with the T120, so look for that report soon.

While the outgoing T100 was 865cc, the T120 is a whopping 1,200cc. With 39 percent more displacement, the new T120 pumps out 54 percent more torque, and as much as 50 percent more horsepower than the T100, all while getting 13 percent better fuel economy. So says Triumph, which manages these improvements by going to a liquid cooled engine with functional cooling fins, dual throttle bodies, and ride-by-wire technology.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, First Ride review
Footpegs are almost directly under the seat, keeping knees bent in a standard riding position.©Motorcyclist

Hop aboard the Bonneville T120, and immediately you’ll notice the 31-inch-high, well-cushioned, rib-stitched seat, and relaxed, nearly upright riding position. Footpegs are almost directly under the seat, keeping knees bent, but far from fetal position. Handlebars are angled a little back and up, minimizing torso lean, but still hinting at a bit of sportiness. The newly designed chassis with a tubular steel cradle and a twin-sided tubular steel swingarm makes the T120 feel low and slim. At 494 pounds dry, this 1,200cc Bonnie carries its weight low, making parking lot maneuvers manageable.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, seat
Hop aboard the T120 and you’ll notice the well-cushioned, rib-stitched seat with a height of 31 inches.©Motorcyclist

Triumph has incorporated modern amenities in all its new Bonnevilles, while retaining classic style. With dual instrument faces, the T120 gives the rider highly-visible analog speed and tachometer readouts. Each dial gauge incorporates a small inset digital display, showing trip, odometer, gear indicator, ride modes, fuel level, and range to empty. Status of the stock two-level heated grips is also indicated in the digital screen. This is definitely not your father’s Bonnie.

Insert the newly designed key into the ignition, which has been moved up top near the speedometer and tach, and the T120 takes a hot second to fire up after briefly pondering the meaning of life. The ignition turns over, and the sweet sound of the parallel twin, with a 270-degree crankpin layout, awakens with a gnarly purr. The clutch feels light thanks to a torque assist mechanism in the clutch—this technology allows Triumph to use fewer plates and lighter springs for lower effort, with a side benefit of a narrower engine case. First gear engages effortlessly. Away we go.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, dash and gauges
The Bonneville's highly visible dual analog gauges retain classic styling.©Motorcyclist

The new eight-valve, SOHC parallel twin engine pumps out 79 hp at 6,550 rpm. With ride by wire, throttle response is fairly immediate, with a slightly abrupt engagement on-throttle (and similarly abrupt disengagement coming off) with the ride mode set to Road. Switching to Rain mode, which we did to pass through a couple sand washes, relaxes that initial throttle uptake.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, engine
Displacement increases by 39 percent, to 1200cc with more power, more torque, and even better fuel economy by 13 percent.©Motorcyclist
2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, exhaust
Exhaust flows through a cleverly designed catalytic converter that tucks between the headers and exits through these mufflers.©Motorcyclist

Cruising along the Portugal coast at a decent clip, the T120’s 77.4 pound-feet of torque really shines between 2,500 and 3,700 rpm, with a usable range reaching up to 6,500 rpm. Head up into the hills, and the tall-geared six-speed transmission is most usable in first through third gears. A few times coming out of a corner, as the engine dipped below 2,500 rpm, the T120 gave a chugging feel that signaled being just below the ideal torque range.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, side view
Steering is quick enough for the speeds most riders would take the T120, but if you want a more aggressive lean setup, the up-spec Thruxton is what you want. Review on that model coming up soon.©Motorcyclist

In town, the cobblestones and speed bumps are soaked up by the T120’s forgiving suspension. With 4.7 inches of travel both front and back, the KYB fork legs and twin rear springs are soft, but not too bouncy. Pointing the T120 inland away from the coast, it’s time to see how this Bonneville handles itself on twistier roads. The first few turns taken at a spirited pace reveal the soft rear shocks oscillating a bit through the turn. Thankfully the rear is preload adjustable, and after preloading the rear a couple clicks to the middle setting, the T120 continues through the corners feeling better balanced.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, right hand control
The T120 right-side heated grip and hand controls.©Motorcyclist

While the 31-inch-high seat and low foot pegs make for an approachable and comfortable cockpit, the lean angle suffers a bit, as evidenced by how easily the footpegs scrape through the twisties. Side note: this can be remedied by swapping the T120’s lower offset foot pegs for the straight profiled Street Twin’s. Steering is quick enough for the speeds most riders would take the T120, which is to say this Bonneville is better suited for casual strolls through the S-bends than fast speeds and aggressive leaning through the corners. If you want that, take a look at the up-spec’d Thruxton.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, left hand control
The T120 left-side heated grip and hand controls.©Motorcyclist

The T120’s initial brake bite is soft, but engages progressively. Twin 310mm discs up front and a single 255mm disc in the back, each with Nissin two-piston floating calipers bring the Bonnie to a stop in more than adequate fashion. Standard ABS helps when emergency braking is needed, and engages gracefully, without calling too much attention to itself. The bike also comes with switchable traction control, which we left on.

Triumph emphasizes the T120’s “modern capabilities sensitively incorporated,” and, as we’ve mentioned, there are a multitude of examples showing that. One of the most notable elements is how the exhaust has been cleverly designed with the catalytic converter tucked between the twin skin headers. The pipes follow a single uncut shape from exhaust ports around front of and down below the engine, ending in low twin pea shooter silencers. On the T120, these are chrome, but on the T120 Black, they’re… you guessed it… black.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, front brakes
Twin 310mm discs and Nissin calipers up front bring the Bonnie to a stop. ABS is standard.©Motorcyclist

Speaking of which, the color options for the Bonneville T120 are Jet Black, Cinder Red, Jet Black/Pure White, and Cranberry Red/Aluminum Silver. Additionally, there are two color schemes for the T120 Black: Jet Black and Matte Graphite. The only difference between the T120 and T120 Black are the fully blacked-out elements, including wheels, passenger grab bar, engine covers, mirrors, headlight bezel, turn signals, and exhaust; otherwise the two iterations of the T120 are identical in performance and specs.

Of course the Bonneville T120 wouldn’t be complete without a slew of available accessories. Over 160 are offered, including Vance & Hines exhaust, tinted or color-matched windscreens, saddlebags, etc. Similar to the Street Twin, the T120 has an optional inspiration kit. The Prestige kit comes with a chrome four-bar tank badge, ribbed black seat, minimal LED clear lens turn signals, chrome Vance & Hines slip on silencers, black barrel style grips, and lots of chrome: clutch cover, alternator cover badge and inspection plate, and throttle body embellisher.

Triumph’s remake of the Bonneville line does exactly what it needs to do—provide an inexpensive entry-level machine with good build quality in the Street Twin, and now credible, entertaining midrange machines in the T120 and T120 Black. All that’s left is something a little sportier, which comes next with the Thruxton. And with that, Triumph has not only made the evergreen Bonnevilles better but cast them across a wider range of interests and desires. This, we say, is real progress.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120, Cranberry Red - Aluminum Silver color
The two-tone Jet Black/Pure White and Cranberry Red/Aluminum Silver (shown here) colorways keep things classic. The T120 Black can be had in Jet Black and Matte Graphite.©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Previous generation T100, and original 1959 Bonneville are inspiration, but this Bonneville is all new in and out. Virtually nothing carried over from the previous generation of Bonneville.
RIVALS
[BMW R nineT][], [Harley-Davidson Sportster][], [Honda CB1100][], [Indian Scout][], [Moto Guzzi V9][], [Yamaha XSR-900][]
TECH
PRICE $11,500
ENGINE 1200cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 80 hp @ 6550 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 77.4 lb.-ft. @ 3100 rpm
FRAME Tubular steel cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm fork, 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shocks adjustable for spring preload; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin two-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin two-piston caliper, 255mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5° / 4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 56.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.8 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 494 lb. dry
AVAILABLE Spring 2016
CONTACT [triumphmotorcycles.com][]
VERDICT
A clear and important step up from the Street Twin, the T120 “twins” are comfortable, capable, reasonably powerful replacements for the vaunted “modern” Bonneville.