If ever a motorcycle deserved to be called a classic, the Triumph Bonneville is it. Unveiled at the Earls Court Motorcycle Show in November 1958, it was named after the section of the Utah salt flats where Texan Johnny Allen had ridden a Triumph-engined, methanol-fuelled machine called the Cee-Gar Streamliner at more than 214mph a couple of years before. The original Bonneville had a 649cc, twin‑cylinder engine, a top speed of 115mph and cost less than £300. And its winning combination of performance, looks, sound and style made it quite possibly the bestselling large-capacity British bike of its era – before production came to an end in 1983 with the demise of the original Triumph marque.
No sooner had Triumph gone under than house-construction tycoon John Bloor bought the once great name and quietly set about reviving it, releasing an initial range of six machines in 1991 and growing production to 15,000 bikes annually during the next five years – a level of success that enabled the firm to meet widespread calls to design and develop an all‑new 21st-century Bonneville.
We announced that bike’s arrival on the pages of How To Spend It in 2001, praising it for its combination of modern engineering, classic looks, sweet engine and smooth ride – and the “new” Bonneville has since gone on to become Triumph’s most popular model, with an estimated 20,000 having been sold in the UK and more than 142,000 worldwide.
Indeed, the bike has proved arguably more successful than the machine that created the Bonneville legend, kickstarting an ongoing trend for retro-styled motorcycles with clean, simple lines that can be easily customised to make them stand out from the crowd.
Like many other manufacturers, Triumph has cottoned on to that desire among contemporary, lifestyle-orientated riders for individual-looking bikes and has offered various factory-built Bonneville “specials”, including a limited-edition Belstaff model made to celebrate the clothing firm’s 50th anniversary, a Steve McQueen tribute bike, a Thruxton café racer (£7,899) and a dual-purpose on/off-roader called the Scrambler (£7,899).
The modern-day Bonneville has also proved to have star quality, appearing in movies as diverse as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mission Impossible III and Terminator 3, while attracting celebrity riders from Hugh Laurie to David Beckham.
But time has finally caught up with what many regard as the quintessential “modern classic” motorcycle, because the current Bonneville’s traditional, air-cooled engine is neither powerful enough nor efficient enough to satisfy modern demands.
Additionally, its equipment levels now appear old-fashioned in a bad way, its handling no longer cuts the mustard and the bike is facing increasing competition from other manufacturers keen for a slice of the retro market, such as Harley-Davidson with its Sportster, Ducati with its Scrambler range launched earlier this year and BMW with its R nineT.
All of the above prompted Triumph to set about redesigning the Bonneville from the ground up four years ago in order to create a new family of machines that would take the model into the future while retaining the essential character associated with the name.
Set to go on sale next spring, the “new” new Bonneville is not one motorcycle, but five. The entry level Street Twin will offer a 900cc engine and no-frills, stripped-back styling; then come the more comprehensively equipped T120 and T120 Black with 1200cc engines and enhanced performance; while the ultimate iterations are the 1200cc café racer-styled Thruxton and Thruxton R, which promise to be the fastest and best-handling Bonnevilles ever made. All have state-of-the-art features such as electronic “ride by wire” throttles, anti-lock braking, traction control and LED lighting, neatly wrapped in old-school looks.
Initial reaction to the new designs has been positive, although some die-hards believe the new bikes’ liquid‑ cooled engines are out of keeping with the Bonneville’s retro heart. But Triumph’s engineers have clearly worked hard to cloak any essential modernity with the sort of traditional appearance that is proving hugely popular with the current generation of style-savvy, city-based street bike riders at whom the machines are aimed.
The real key to the success of the new Bonneville range, however, will lie in the ease with which the bikes can be customised by owners to make them stand out from the crowd – because, as How To Spend It highlighted in “The Comeback of the Café Racer” in October 2013, the buzzword in motorcycling these days is “individuality”. And in that regard Triumph has had to address the fact that it offers only a few basic accessories for the outgoing Bonneville, which has enabled numerous after‑market manufacturers to cash in on the demand for custom parts. So as soon as the new models go on sale, owners will be able to choose from a wide range of high-quality, factory-made components designed to give their machines the sort of bespoke looks that fit with motorcycling’s zeitgeist.
For the Street Twin and T120 models, for example, no fewer than 160 “dealer fit” accessories will be available, ranging from fly screens and “bench” seats to drop handlebars and sports exhaust systems. And buyers who can’t quite visualise how to develop a look of their own can opt for one of three inspiration kits that will transform a standard Street Twin into Scrambler, Brat Tracker or Urban guises.
Buyers of the T120 and T120 Black can also buy a prestige kit to up the bikes’ cool quotient, while Thruxton and Thruxton R riders will be offered a range of individual accessories designed to enhance their sporting pretensions – as well as a trio of inspiration kits that includes a high-performance package designed to turn the standard road bike into a full-blown closed-circuit racer.
As this issue of How To Spend It went to press, pricing of the new Bonnevilles was yet to be revealed. The bikes are, however, expected to sell for between £7,400 and £10,000 depending on the model, with individual customising parts starting at less than £50 and rising to four figures for complete inspiration kits.
Anyone keen to be among the first to hit the street on one of the bikes should be able to pre-order through an authorised Triumph dealer.