Our Take On The Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville At The Bar

There are motorcycles and then there are absolute legends. While there are many motorcycles that belong in the former category, the latter is a very exclusive club and one of the best examples of a motorcycle that can stake its claim as a legend is the Triumph Bonneville.

The birth of this legend and its years in production had its ups and down. Today we will look at the remarkable journey of this truly spectacular motorcycle and its evolution over the years.
Triumph Engineering – Lost But Not Forgotten
Today, Triumph Engineering are a defunct organization but back in the late 19th century and early 20th century they were the pioneers when it came to motorcycles in Britain. The company was founded by a man named Siegfried Bettmann who was originally from Nuremberg in Germany but had immigrated to Coventry, England in 1885. Initial funding was provided by Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.

This wasn’t his first entrepreneurial venture as he had earlier started the S. Bettmann & Co. Import Export Agency which grew into the Triumph organization. A man named Moritz Schulte joined the company as a partner in 1887. The company started out with bicycles and sewing machines that they imported from Germany and then rebranded and sold under the moniker of “Triumph”. This continued till 1889 from when they began to produce their own bicycles. It was also around this time that the owners of Triumph decided to start manufacturing motorcycles and in 1902 they came up with their first prototype. It was basically a bicycle fitted with an engine and was very rudimentary by today’s standards but it was a very important leap forward towards the inception of the Triumph Bonneville. The early motorcycles from Triumph were based on design elements used by other manufacturers of the time but by 1905, they had produced their first in-house designed motorcycle.

From there on, it was an upward rise with production numbers increasing rapidly over the years. The First World War came as a blessing for Triumph as a lot of progress was made in the engine department and what followed was a period of great innovation and mastery of motorcycle manufacturing.

In 1937, Triumph debuted the 500cc Speed Twin which started the journey that would lead directly to the Bonneville. The Speed Twin was a game changer in many ways as it had the first true vertical-twin engine seen on a motorcycle. This led to the introduction of the 6T Thunderbird in 1950 which then led to the Tiger T110 which can be considered as the direct predecessor to the Bonneville.

T120 Bonneville

Triumph T120 Bonneville At Show

Triumph T120 Bonneville At Show

The early 50s were a great year for Triumph as they started getting plenty of international notoriety especially due to their multiple wins at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US. This success led to Triumph launching the original Bonneville with the name of T120. It was powered by a 650 cc parallel-twin engine. It could reach a maximum speed of 115 mph which was slightly underpowered compared to many of its rivals. This led to Triumph updating the T120 with a stiffer and more compact chassis. The suspension was made stiffer as well while the swing arm was made stronger. All of these modifications improved performance by a considerable degree and made the T120 beat its competition by becoming the fastest production motorcycle of the time.

It would have been a lot more successful had it not been so limited in the design approach. The T1120 had a clunky headlight and fenders that the American market did not find very appealing. The 1960s version of the T120 somewhat corrected this by introducing a new frame. It also had the revolutionary oil-in-frame technology that improved performance and handling. These later versions of the T120 became popular as cafe racers and Triumph experienced mainstream success like never before.

Triumph T140 Bonneville

By the 1970s, the T120 had lost its badge as the fastest production motorcycle and while they stuck to a 650cc engine and only offered cosmetic changes, rivals were offering much more powerful motorcycles that were faster and handled better. This forced Triumph’s hand to innovate yet again and that led to the birth of the T140. It was based on the same oil-in-frame T120 of the 1960s but featured a bigger engine at 724cc which eventually kept increasing to 750cc as newer sub models were launched. This was also the first Bonneville that featured the gear lever on the left side.

The 1980s saw the advent of electric starters and increased performance. All this was, however, not enough to combat the stiff competition faced from Japanese manufacturers like Kawasaki who were selling faster motorcycles that looked better and felt more refined. By 1983, the T140 was no longer a profitable motorcycle and production shut down making the T140 Bonneville the last symbol of a once celebrated and revered British motorcycle industry. This was, however, not to be the end of the Bonneville.

Rebirth and later generations

A British developer by the name of John Bloor bought out the old Triumph manufacturing units and kept producing a modified T140 called the Harris Bonneville. It too wasn’t successful and by 1988, the Bonneville ceased to be in production completely.

John Bloor still wanted to revive the Bonneville name somehow under his company by the name of Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. He achieved this goal in 2001 when a 790cc motorcycle by the name of Bonneville 800 was launched. Soon more powerful versions like the 900 and 1200 were launched with modern features like EFI and carburetors. Currently, it is going strong and the modern Triumph Bonneville’s pay a nice homage to the legends of the past.

Final thoughts

There was more than one occasion in the past where it felt like the Bonneville name was done for but the Triumph Bonneville is still alive and kicking which is a testament to its enduring legacy and legendary status.

While the modern versions of this bike are great motorcycles, the T120 and T140 will remain the true trailblazers when it comes to Triumph motorcycles.

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