Reflecting On An Iconic Motorcycle, Reviewing Its Current Iteration
I tuned in to view the Triumph Virtual Launch of their 2021 Bonneville models, enthralled by the variety the British brand is offering in the legendary lineup this year. Standards, a cruiser, a bobber, and all the farkles available to make your Bonney your own. These are truly “modern classics”, evoking the rich history of the model and its maker, as well as offering all the modern tech expected by today’s riders.
I’m a Triumph Bonneville “fan boy”, I’ll readily admit. I grew up around them as a kid in north Georgia, USA, my father owning a pair of Triumphs across the 1970s, a ’68 Bonneville (pictured below), ’67 TR6, and enough extra parts hanging from pegs around his garage shop to practically build another. He bought his first Triumph in 1958, a 1954 Tiger 500, stripped, chopped and bobbed. I’ve owned several over the years as well, and my current main squeeze is a 2017 Bonneville 900 Street Cup. Triumph is in our family DNA.
Dad’s 1968 two-tone Bonneville, and my own beloved 2017 Bonney Street Cup.
Triumph’s iconic Bonneville has a rich history, as does the Harley-Davidson Sportster, dating back to 1959 when the first Bonneville debuted. Introduced as the Bonneville T120 by the now defunct Triumph Engineering and later Norton Villiers Triumph of Meridian, West Midlands, England, the bike was a 650cc parallel twin fitted with a pair of Amal monobloc carbs and a high performance inlet camshaft. The bike became a hit nationally and abroad, for its outstanding performance, reliability and ease of customization.
The Bonneville derived its name from the famous Bonneville Slat Flats in Utah, USA, when Triumph was regularly hitting the salt and shattering land speed records. In 1954, Jack Dale pulled a “Rollie Free”, stripping down to a set of swim trunks, goggles and some semblance of a helmet, then throttling down the salt track on a Triumph Thunderbird topping 148 mph. A year later an American flat track racer named Johnny Allen strapped himself into the 15-foot long Triumph “Devil’s Arrow Streamliner” and firewalled it down the 7-mile Bonneville course to claim a “bone-shaking” land speed record of 193 mph. Johnny and crew returned in 1956 to shatter the record again in what came to be called the “Texas Ceegar”, tripping the clock at 214.4 mph.
Jack Dale making his near-naked run in 1954, then Johnny Allen and crew with their Streamliner in 1955.
Named in honor of all the Triumphs that hurtled down the fabled salt course in Utah, the English marque bestowed the moniker “Bonneville” on their new entrant in 1959, and a legend was born. Bonnevilles would go on to dominate in road racing, dirt and flat track, on the sands of the Daytona 200, in hill climbs and hare scrambles. And they flew off the showroom floors, across the globe.
The Triumph Bonneville has seen many updates and improvements through its various iterations over the years, from its first run of 1958-1983, a brief resurrection between 1985-88, and now back full throttle since 2001. Triumph Motorcycles in Hinckley, England completely redesigned the Bonnevilles in 2016, with water-cooled 900cc and 1200cc powerplants, and an array of state-of-the-art electronics. Though Triumph doesn’t officially call them Bonnevilles, the Thruxton, Speed Twin and Scrambler models still sport the classic Bonney look and share their 900 and 1200 mills.
The complete Triumph Bonneville 2021 lineup, and a couple of my faves in the current herd.
The Triumph Modern Classic line is impressive indeed. The Bonnevilles still evoke the nostalgia of the bikes gone by, and still elicit remarks from folks who recognize the distinctive lines, whether the observers ride themselves or not. I’ve lost count the number of times people have walked up to my bike and remarked something like, “Is that a Bonneville? I remember those…” then proceeded to tell me their story, or that of their father, grandfather, uncle, etc. The Bonneville inspires memory and emotion like no other bike on the planet.
So Kudos, Triumph. You’ve hit it out of the park with these Bonnevilles. They harken back to the originals, they appeal to the modern riders, young and old, new and veteran, and they are equipped with every modern tech needed, yet nothing they don’t. Most of all, they make me want to grab my helmet and gear and go throw a leg over my own Bonney, awaiting me in the garage. And I guess that’s the highest compliment I can pay.
For the complete Triumph Bonneville lineup, click here:
*All photos by Triumph Motorcycles, except the 1968 Bonneville
The 1959 original Bonneville, surrounded by her 2021 descendants.