You might have heard the putdowns of old Triumph twins, such as, “For every hour on the road, a day in the shop.” Today it seems only card-carrying members of the flannel-cap brigade love and cherish those old bikes enough to keep them running. But you don’t have to be a master mechanic to experience the virtues of the classic British vertical twin. When Triumph resurrected the Bonneville name from the dust of moto-history in 2001, the machine bearing the name became one of the best sellers in the lineup.
A 790cc engine with twin cams and four valves per cylinder replaced the original Bonnie’s pushrod lump. A counterbalancer vanquished the 360-degree crank’s vibes, mellowing them to silky smoothness. A unit crankcase held a wet clutch and a five-speed transmission. In 2007 the displacement was bumped to 865cc, and in 2009 US-spec Bonnies got fuel injection with the throttle bodies cleverly disguised as carburetors.
The chassis was a model of simplicity-—mild steel tubes bent in a time-honored configuration, twin rear shocks with adjustable spring preload, single-disc brakes front and rear, and a non-adjustable fork. The seat and tank evoked the classic lines of Bonnevilles gone by.
There have been several incarnations of the basic Bonneville, but the basic goodness shines through all of them. The engines are smooth, with flat torque curves if not stunning power. The stylish but thinly padded seats get mixed reviews, and many riders wish the tanks were larger. Still, the Bonneville was likely the launching pad of the growing hipster custom movement, so there’s no denying its classic looks appeal to young riders as well as old duffers.
Overall the modern Bonneville is a paragon of reliability. The understressed engine churns along happily, asking little more than an oil-and-filter change on schedule, and the cams lift out easily for valve adjustments. (A chain runs up between the cylinders to a central gear that drives each cam.) Forget spotty Lucas electrics—the Bonnie’s sparks stay inside the wires, where they belong. Some early spoke-wheel models had problems with the spokes loosening, but the issue hardly ranked as an epidemic. Carbureted models suffered some tuning and running glitches and seemed more susceptible to dirty gas than FI versions.
As a platform for customization and personalization, the Bonnie is hard to beat, with a huge aftermarket cranking out go-fast bits and faux Ace Café clobber for both bike and rider. Poorly done or ill-advised mods are about the only thing you need to beware of when looking at used bikes. Watch out for the usual suspects—oil leaks, dirty or kinked drive chains, hard starting, oil smoke from the mufflers. Many bikes go well past the recommended valve-clearance intervals with no issues, but ask if they’ve been checked. Oil consumption isn’t the modern Bonnie’s weakness, unlike its ancestors, so a used one that smokes or needs constant topping off is suspect.
Classic looks, low-maintenance, the best of British twins without the heartburn.
Underpowered, magnet for talkative old guys who had one “back in the day.”
Oil consumption, loose spokes, envious hipsters.
Stylish, functional, fun. Fitting inheritor of the Bonneville legend.
2001 / $3,375
2003 / $3,765
2005 / $4,160
2007 / $4,620
2009 / $5,115
2011 / $5,810
2013 / $6,565
2015 / $7,390
2006–2015 Triumph Scrambler
Harkening back to the era of Triumph desert sleds raising dust from Barstow to Vegas, the Scrambler uses the 270-degree crankshaft from the America and Speedmaster for better low-end torque. The high handlebar and crossover exhaust spotlight the bike’s off-road intent, but let’s be real: This is a dirt-styled street machine.
2004–2015 Triumph Thruxton
Named after a racetrack where Triumph swept the podium at a 500-mile endurance race in 1969, the Thruxton pays homage to pukka café racers with clip-ons, rearsets, a flyscreen, a race-styled seat, and an aggressive riding position. With its mildly tuned engine, the emphasis is on style rather than performance.
2002–2015 Triumph Bonneville America
The America might just be Triumph’s best entry-level bike, complete with a low seat (28 inches), forward-set foot controls, and cruiser looks. The engine, with its 270-degree crankshaft, puts out good low-end torque and has more than enough poke up top to keep up with freeway traffic. The single front disc could use a partner, though, and all but the rawest rookies will wish for more power.