In 1987 my dad took me to our local NAAFI in Germany to buy a new television. The NAAFI was a shop for soldiers where you could buy pretty much anything. Four hours later we pulled up outside our flat in a brand new car*. My dad, scratching his head but happy, had clearly gone out with all good intentions of getting exactly what he wanted. He did indeed get exactly what he wanted, it just happened to not be the thing he set out to buy. That may well be the most tenuous intro to a launch I’ve ever written, but what I came home from the Triumph Bobber launch with is not what I set out to collect. Step this way and find out why.
Manufacturers have done more than just capitalize on the resurgence of shed built metal in the last few years, they’ve knocked the shed down and built a belt fed sausage factory, churning out model after model and, to a degree, diluting the original ethos of what makes these kinds of bikes cool. To be fair and speaking from experience, building a bike in a shed is bloody hard work. It involves way more time than you can spare, costs ten times more than you think it will and invariably involves needing talent that no amount of YouTube tutorials will ever afford you. Triumph knows this, which is why they’re now offering the 2017 Bonneville Bobber. If you don’t like the taste of oil and your own blood, this may well be the perfect ‘factory’ custom bike for you.
The Triumph Bonneville Bobber is not cobbled together from existing bits of existing Triumphs, it’s important that we clear that up before we begin. Yes, the motor has been borrowed from the T120 Bonneville, but pretty much everything else is ground up new.
If you’re not up to speed with what a Bobber is, it’s an old school way of making bikes perform faster by removing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. It was a great way of going faster without actually having to spend money on go faster parts. In the post war biking boom of the 1940s, when nobody could afford a car but everyone wanted motorised transport, bikes were plentiful. Suddenly the Western world was full of adrenaline hungry men home from the war. They got their kicks doing the most dangerous thing they could find, motorbikes were that thing. Especially once the excess metal had been cut off and lobbed in the nearest bin.
Predominantly Harley Davidsons and Triumphs, Bobbers have never really slipped out of fashion with bikers, but this is the first time I can remember a manufacturer building as faithful a pastiche of the original design. Whatever your taste in bikes is, the new Bobber will draw you in for a closer look when you see one for the first time. It might be the swing cage rear end, it might be the deep and liquefied ruby red paint or it could be the elegant floating ally seat pan. Whatever the visual trigger, I guarantee that even the stone coldest sports bike man will flinch when he sees one. The more you look the more you realise there is to appreciate, don’t just take my word for it.
Thanks to zero requirement for pillions and an almost not worth mentioning luggage carrying capacity, the Bobber can be unashamedly selfish in its dynamic approach. This reflects in the state of tune of the 8-valve SOHC parallel twin and the suspension. Both are slightly sharper feeling than I expected and certainly more focused than in the T120 Bonny donor.
Styling wise, the Bobber reminded me of the Ariel Ace, but it also reminded me of one of those three-wheeled Morgans. Traditional but edgy, a contemporary classic or some other clever combination of words that make you think new and old. Basically, if Roland Sands woke up tomorrow in 1940’s Hinckley and wanted to build a Bobber, this would be the result. That floating single seat design is the highlight, but it’s the combination of clever design features that work together to fool your eyes. Take the wiring for example, there isn’t really any. Not to look at, anyway. Triumph worked hard to stash it all away. You’d be hard pushed to tell that this bike has traction control, ABS, multiple riding modes, and a built in coffee machine. There isn’t a jumble of wires lurking round the headstock as you might imagine, neither is there a stash of buttons on the bars that’d keep an astronaut happy. It’s subtle, not simple and I really like that. The swing cage is another example of clever thinking. The side on profile ticks all the Bobber boxes, but a closer peak reveals a tidy monoshock nestled under that floating seat. The whole rear end moves as one unit, separately from the rest of the bike. It looks cool on the side stand and even cooler when you’re following one down a twisty road. Check this video out and you’ll get a feel for what I’m getting at.
I opted to ride the bike with the seat in the forward position and with the speedo in the laid flat style. Apparently this would suit urban/aggressive riding. I laughed out loud when I heard that too, then I rode it. The peg position is unadjustable but comfortable, the reach to the bars easy and the seat way more comfortable than it looks. Within 50 metres of leaving the hotel car park I was bending the number plate with a wheelie and laughing like a Jackal, I’m joking of course, I was switching the heated grips on as it was absolutely freezing. Fog had descended onto Madrid, the already alien road network was now covered in a layer of slime, visibility was down to as far as you could throw a melon and the other drivers were peering through portholes rubbed in windscreens. It wasn’t much fun at all. Normally I’d chuck a line in here about how the bike made up for it, but I was struggling to force a smile as we rode, my two year old daughter had stolen my SuperBike neck buff out of my kit bag back at home without me realising.
I was riding the coolest looking production bike in recent years, with a pair of NEXT underpants on my head. Once we’d escaped the fog and a couple of degrees of heat had crept into my bones, the Bobber came alive.
Running at a long tightening right hander in forth gear, I added a fraction of lean at a time while pulling that wincing face that you pull when you’re waiting for a bit of bike to gouge an arc into the road. Dragging pegs on a sports bike is cool, doing it on a cruiser just feels like kicking a puppy. Pointless. When I didn’t feel metal touching down I added a load of throttle and railed from the apex, again expecting the worst. A common trait for cruisers is the tendency to want to stand up or run wide when you’re in the middle of a corner. It’s something to do with the length, the way they carry their weight and the fact that they normally have a comedy rear tyre that is far too wide for actual motorcycling. When the Bobber didn’t do this either, choosing instead to hold the line I’d asked it to with complete conviction, nobody was more surprised than I was. As the gaps between the corners got shorter, the pace increased. Again not something I expected to happen on a cruiser launch, but happen it did. Just as we were finding a bit of rhythm, we arrived at the first photo stop and lost all momentum. Gah.
After checking in with a few of the other journos, it became apparent that this Bobber handled nothing like any of us expected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about tearing up the rule book here, it just handles better than it looks in a way that is almost expected but always very welcome from recent era Triumphs. Obviously we were able to grind the pegs pretty much at will, but the Bobber was displaying an almost playful nature, it seemed to love being hammered through the gears and back handed through corners.
The Bobber is running Avon Cobra rubber, developed specifically for this bike. I’ll be honest now and say that normally I couldn’t care what tyres a cruiser has, as long as they have air and are round. With the Bobber, I found I was jumping off at photo locations and feeling for heat in them like I’d just finished a mid summers fast group at Brands. The tyres performed really well, stacks of grip and feel, even in the wet corners that the sun couldn’t reach. The traction light barely a flicker on the easy to read clocks proved how capable the tyres were, with only the odd chirp of resistance on the way down the gears letting me know that I was being a twit.
I could carry on talking about how well the Bobber handles, but you’ll all think I’m on the take from Triumph so I’ll just say that you need to go and ride one to see for yourself. When you do get a test ride, don’t just take your best jeans and jacket, take your race face and head for the twisties, you’ll be able to hustle this thing way faster than you thought and you’ll come back smiling. You can thank me later.
It was hard to keep a practical head on when the roads and the bike were spoiling us, but I did remember to see how far I could get the thing before the fuel light came on. It was exactly 75.6 miles from full to gasping on the fuel light. Triumph’s claim of 138 miles per tank is (in their own admission) one created from an optimum conditions test. We didn’t test fuel range in optimum conditions, we rode these bikes flat out for as long as we could, pretty much from the moment the pretty little keys were slipped into the pretty little ignitions, located down by your right knee. In the interests of consumer journalism, I also wound the thing out in top gear on the motorway (erm, it was closed to the public that day) and found I couldn’t get it to nudge over 115mph. Granted I was on a bit of an incline and it accelerated plenty hard enough to about 110, at which point it just seemed to give up. That breathlessness could be felt at the top of third and forth gear earlier in the day as well. Again, I feel that it’s slightly unfair to say this as the pace we rode was more Robber than Bobber, but it is what it is. In no way would the performance of the motor, or the slightly weak front brake put me off spending my own money on one of these. The way it handles was a welcome bonus to an already very tasty looking proposition.
This video review we made with Bike World TV is very good, watch it and then carry on reading.
The initial allocation of 450 Bonneville Bobbers had pre sold before the NEC bike show. Triumph has already earmarked another batch for us. If you have £10,500 and want to buy British, you’ll struggle to find anything as capable or as cool at this price point. Yes yes, I personally would prefer a Thruxton R, but my day-to-day riding requirements don’t demand as much performance as is abundant on the Café Racer. You’ll find all the technical specifications on the Triumph website here, where you’ll also find details of your nearest dealer. With details of the new Triumph Street Triple coming in early January, it’s going to be hard not to sound like we’ve been handed a bag of Triumph money. Like its 1930’s namesake the Bobber is yet another fine example of British bike builders getting something just right.
*It was a Nissan Prairie, by the way. It had sliding rear doors and I was obsessed with Mr. T and the A-Team. I may have had some influence on his purchase decision that day.