Triumph Bonneville Long Term Test - Report #1

Configurate me!

Triumph Bonneville Long Term Test Bike
Left: Building the perfect Bonnie online. Right: About.com's new, real life, long term Triumph Bonneville SE. Photo Montage © Basem Wasef

I'll admit to a streak of excitement when the Triumph Bonneville SE beat out the Street Triple R and Thunderbird in the Moto Poll for our next long term test bike. Though the contenders would have likely made entertaining companions, at the bike's 2009 launch in New Orleans I was impressed with how the Bonneville's 50+ year-old design has gradually evolved while managing to retain its timeless looks.

When I notified my contact at Triumph that I'd be ordering up a Bonnie, I was instructed to go to triumphmotorcycles.com and build my bike using the online configurator tool. "Hmmm," I thought, "This should be fun."

And fun it was, since the next best thing to actual riding is sifting through accessories in a virtual garage and configuring the bike you'll be living with for the next year. The Bonneville SE starts at $8,599, and after choosing my color (I went with Pacific Blue/Fusion White over Jet Black), I added the Arrow 2-into-1 exhaust ($1,099), chrome grab rail ($219.99), and bar end mirror kit ($119.99.) Unfortunately, neither Triumph's elegant leather city bags ($349.99) nor the more functional fabric saddlebags ($249.99) were compatible with the Arrow pipes, since their upward sweep interferes with placement. I decided to ditch the bags and stick with the Arrows, since their mellow note sounded so great at the launch.

Total price for my Bonnie? $10,038.97

After sending in my order, I played the waiting game, and eventually received the email that my Bonneville was ready; though it was equipped as I had ordered it, it was actually an accessorized demo bike with 3,470 miles on the clock. Down at the press fleet center in Placentia, California, I signed the loan agreement, snapped a couple of pictures, and pushed the bike out into daylight.

The 865cc parallel twin fired up but dipped into an uncertain idle, prompting me to pull the fast idle knob and let the engine warm up for a moment. Shortly thereafter, I pushed the knob back in, clicked the shifter into gear, and let out the clutch lever-- all of which triggered my sense memory for the Bonnie. But nary 20 feet out of the press fleet center, the bike sputtered and died.

I pushed the bike back and, sure enough, it was out of gas. "C'mon, guys!" I thought to myself, as a technician added a couple gallons of unleaded and sent me on my way.

Once back aboard the Bonnie and aimed north on the congested 5 freeway, it seemed that the bike's rich supply of torque was heightened by the Arrow pipes. The Bonnie's exhaust note was neither shrill, nor annoyingly loud-- if anything, the Arrows just seemed to extract a bit more character from the parallel twin. There were also a couple of less-than-perfect aspects of the Bonneville I was reminded of, among them the scooped out seat that made the bike's ergonomics feel a tad more compact than I would like. Riders of shorter stature might appreciate the 29.1 inch seat height, but I felt the setup might lead me to opt for a more padded (and therefore taller) saddle, and perhaps reposition the pegs.

Though the T100 model has a slightly taller saddle and more forward bend to the handlebar, I wasn't a huge fan of its larger fenders and chrome bits; I'm more of a polished alloy kinda guy (though the T100's spoked wheels are pretty sweet.) I thought Thruxton bars would have been a cool addition to my SE, but Triumph doesn't sell them separately.

Splitting lanes along the 5 freeway, the Bonneville felt every part the confident and capable steed, offering a smooth, stable ride, even eliciting a "Nice bike!" comment from a cop who was redirecting traffic around a fender bender. The bar-end mirrors didn't seem to vibrate at speed any more than stock units, and though I tapped one SUV's mirrors while squeezing through a particularly tight spot, I think their cool look is well worth the slightly wider profile.

Perhaps the best part of my first day with the Bonneville was parking it in the garage and staring at it for a moment, wondering how and where it will take me over the course of the next year. It's a journey I'm certainly looking forward to.

Mileage Log

  • Miles ridden this period: 83
  • Total miles ridden: 83
  • Gallons consumed: n/a
  • MPG: n/a
  • Total odometer miles: 3,553