Longest Test: Triumph Bonnevlle

Until recently, Barry Tavner’s Bonnie has been mocked by most in the office. In the south of France, however, things are very different...

Posted: 2 November 2009
by Barry Tavner

As the mechanical jaws of the Pride of Dover slowly open, the midday sunshine floods over the Bonneville and we embark on our own mini Jupiter’s Travels, though perhaps ‘Moon’s Travels’ would be more appropriate given Ted Simon went round the world on his and all I’m doing is heading to Provence. How hard can it be?

The guys in the office have been less than complimentary about my choice of long-term test bike but it has proven to be the perfect London tool idling along and nipping through traffic. But this is new to both of us and, set to double our mileage together, the Bonny’s lack of wind protection plays on my mind.

There are plenty of aftermarket screens for the Bonneville (one of which is now sitting on my desk) but seeking a real sense of adventure and being something of a purist, I wanted to take the Bonny as Triumph had intended.

Within minutes of leaving the boat we’re on the A26 doing a steady pace of 85-90mph, the lack of screen rapidly shifting from the back to the front of my mind as my head gets battered by it’s own personal squall.

There is nowhere to hide on the Triumph (believe me I’ve tried) but at around eighty you are afforded some comfort and had I A) not been in a rush to get at least halfway across France that day and B) been wearing a new full face lid that didn’t really fit me properly, things might have been a bit more pleasant.

The other thing I can’t escape from is the gurgling from the new Arrow exhaust system. I’d toyed with the idea of putting the baffles back in for the motorway leg but then completely forgot to pick them up on the way through – just ten miles in and I’m am acutely aware of the back of the bike roaring gassy obscenities at me like an angry drunk while the front uses me as a punch bag.

It takes an hour or two before I get used to it all, but I’m actually enjoying the ride; I look ahead at Ben’s motionless, wind-protected body on the near-silent GTR and Ian on the awkward-looking Harley and ponder if I’d want to swap. Happily, the answer’s a resounding ‘no’.

Every time we pull off for fuel (every 115 miles or so) the bike pops and crackles as I change down through the gears, the mechanical resonance bringing smiles to my fellow travellers and car drivers alike. Hell, the Bonny really does sound wonderful with those pipes on. Sod the baffles; I’m happy to have left them behind.

After a good eight hours of Autoroute-induced slumber, the next morning a quick blast towards the Mecca that is the N85 out of Grenoble and the Bonneville suddenly becomes the envy of the group. Mile after mile of twists, turns, hairpins and hills and the Bonnie is all over the clumsy Harley and nipping at the heels of the GTR like a Jack Russell. Ben might gain out of the corners, but keeping up isn’t an issue and soon I find myself braking later and later, throwing the lightweight Triumph through the corners.

Where the pipes were once a constant sonic attack, now they transform into a raucous symphony of pops and crackles on engine braking and guttural rasps as I thrash through the gears, intent on overtaking anything in my path. Later, Ian said he could hear me coming every time I went to rough him up on a hairpin.

In town I don’t really use the gears effectively, simply cruising the torque in pretty much any ratio. But out in the mountains and with no rev counter to guide me, I have to rely on the sound. Once again I find myself exploring a side to the bike that had never previously revealed itself to me.

I’m also enjoying the whole classic bike/open face helmet experience. I spent five years living in the French Alps and it feels good to have my nostrils stung by the heat and strong scent of pine. Where the exposure on the motorway was an issue, now it’s a luxury affording me a relaxed riding position and a view unhindered by suicidal insects. Wednesday delivers yet another clear blue sky and, as we wait for photographer Jason to join us, I watch Niall walk round the Bonnie before coming over and telling me how nice the bike looks. All polished up in the shade of the trees next to the beautiful Lac de San Essien the bike is in its element. It looks incredibly elegant and classy, proving irresistible to both Niall and Rob.

This is some spectacle as the two of them, helmetless with their leathers halfway down, shoot off down the road passing by each time with smiles firmly etched on their faces. It even prompts Niall to enquire about the price. And that’s quite something for a Scotsman.

As we ride through the marinas of the Cote d’Azur, the Triumph really looks the part. But that would be doing it a disservice; it’s so much more than a bike for posing on. To my mind it’s a great all-rounder for those of you with a sense of history and adventure. I feel a little sorry that we haven’t got more time in this beautiful part of the world, as ideally I’d go home via the Pyrenees and continue my love affair with it.

Reality has a habit of kicking in though, and we had the non-stop journey from the south to the north to contend with on the Friday. To be honest it’s dispatched in much the same way as Monday’s slog only even longer and with a dose of heavy rain to boot.

Both Rob and Ian complain of aching backsides upon arrival at Calais but the sofa on the Triumph delivers me in comfort. If you’re happy not to go above 80mph, the Triumph can deal with motorways and comes to life when you’re at your destination. It’s weather-dependent, anything less than 20 degrees will mar the experience, but it was the surprise of this pack.

What I love

  • The seventies styling
  • The seventies sound
  • The nineties handling

What I’d change

  • I’d love to change the bars to the western bars of the late sixties Bonnevilles and somehow minimalise the cables
  • I’d like to de-clutter the lights and number plate which look clumsy
  • Definitely fit a screen for my next trip.

Rating: 4/5

For: Retro seventies styling, engine character and modern handling and reliability
Against:
Lack of wind protection, runs out of puff a bit early and retro brakes compromise performance

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2009 Triumph Bonneville Specifications

Price: £5599
Top speed:
118.47mph
Engine:
865cc, 8-valves, air-cooled, parallel-twin
Bore & stroke:
90mm x 68mm
Compression ratio:
9.2:1
Power:
55.37bhp at 7,250rpm
Torque:
45.44lb/ft at 5,800rpm
Front suspension:
41mm telescopic forks
Adjustment:
None
Rear suspension:
Twin shocks
Adjustment:
Preload
Front brake:
Nissin twin-piston caliper, single 310mm disc
Rear brake:
Twin-piston caliper, 225mm disc
Dry weight:
200kg
Seat height:
740mm
Fuel capacity:
16 litres
Colour options:
Black, white



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Discuss this story

"...just ten miles in and I’m am acutely aware of the back of the bike roaring gassy obscenities at me like an angry drunk while the front uses me as a punch bag."

So much for manly motoring, eh? Really, though, you hit it: a good full-face helmet makes all the difference on a naked bike.

Posted: 31/01/2012 at 14:59

Depends what you 're used to I think. I've never had a bike with a fairing or screen and as a result of riding for 25 years on a succession of gradually more powerful bikes I now have the neck of a bulgarian weight lifter and all without any supplements more illegal than marmite ( some say marmite should be illegal ) I've always been scared to get a bike with a fairing - I've four without- incase I should get too comfortable and it would eventually impair my enjoyment of riding the trident to Barcelona or Nice in a couple of days in the Davida and Aviators.

Posted: 24/05/2013 at 23:40

Talkback: Longest Test: Triumph Bonnevlle