HINCKLEY TRIUMPH BONNEVILLES
Not many motorcycle manufacturers have the ability to leverage their heritage quite as well as Triumph. Harley-Davidson, Ducati yes, but it gets a bit hard after that.
It’s something the major Japanese makers have only recently discovered. They have heritage and credibility on which to call and, indeed, about which to boast, but are only just starting to learn how to go about that. It’s a rare game of catch-up for Japan Inc. and that is a nice advantage for Triumph to have.
Its ability to market its heritage is all the more impressive when you consider that the Triumph of today has little to do with the Triumph of old.
Take a good look at that logo.
Looks just like the one that has graced the tanks of bikes since the very start of the breed, way back in 1887, when the Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd was first registered, doesn’t it? But take a closer look. It is actually completely different and that’s because the modern Triumph (commonly referred to as ‘Hinckley’, after the region in Leicestershire, where the factory is located) is a totally new entity.
Fact is, the old Triumph went under in 1983 and the Hinckley versions started production in 1991, when six models were produced – the Daytona 750 and 1000, Trophy 900 and 1200, and Trident 750 and 900. Interestingly, all were three and four cylinder, when the Triumph of old was best known for parallel twins, in particular the Bonneville, and never produced a four.
Introduced in 1949, the 34kW (46hp) 650cc T120 Bonneville (so named because of Triumph’s involvement in speed record runs at the iconic salt flats in the US) was destined to become one of the most loved motorcycles ever produced, enjoying an incredible model run right up until 1975.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Holding off from building a parallel twin represented a deliberate move by Triumph owner John Bloor to compete in the modern world. The aim was not to become a boutique retro producer but to relaunch the brand with up-to-date machinery produced using the latest technology and facilities. It was a brave decision, but one that has been proven to be eminently wise, with Triumph now a major player in the global motorcycle market.
Of course, that thinking changed once Triumph’s position in the market had been established. The management finally relented to the overwhelming, worldwide call for a parallel-twin motorcycle from Triumph. The project began in April, 1997 with the concept agreed and chassis and engine design teams beginning work. By December, 1998 a prototype engine was running on a test bench and by July, 1999 the first six development bikes were built. In July, 2000 final testing was completed and, that September, the bike was launched at the Intermot show in Munich.
And there could be only one name for the new bike. Yes, it seems the concern about building retro machinery had passed and, in 2001, the first of the Hinckley Bonnevilles made it to our shores.
Powered by an air-cooled, 790cc, DOHC, parallel twin good for 45kW (61hp) at 7400rpm and 60Nm (44ft-lb) delivered at 3500rpm, it had a 360-degree crank in an effort to reproduce the characteristics for which the old Bonnevilles had become renowned.
In keeping with the bike’s design brief, the frame was a steel double cradle design. Brakes were adequate but not startling, with a twin-piston caliper and single 310mm rotor at the front and a twin-piston caliper and 285mm rotor at the rear. There was a five-speed gearbox mated to a chain final drive, while suspension was pretty rudimentary, with non-adjustable fork and a preload adjustable twin shock rear-end.
A good touring range was on offer from the 16-litre tank and the low seat height at 775mm offered a nice option for the shorter of stature. Dry weight was a flickable 205kg.
The bike gained very quick acceptance, although there were a lot of early naysayers suggesting the bike was too heavy to properly reflect the Bonneville of old. These criticisms faded and a market of older riders and born-again bikers lined up to buy it.
In 2006, the engine capacity was upped to 865cc (although, oddly, the Thruxton, T100 and Speedmaster were given the bigger engine in two years earlier).
For 2009, the Bonnie range gained Keihin electronic fuel injection, cleverly disguised to look like carbs. Economy was improved, and emissions drastically cut. Seven-spoke, 17-inch alloys became an option to the more traditional looking 19-inch, wire-spoke wheels. Handling was improved, and the smaller wheels made for a much broader tyre selection.
The Bonnevilles, right across the range, have always done exactly what it says on the tin.
The fact is they are not terribly exciting if sports riding is your go but, put the ‘for race use’ pipes on one, and you can rort about like Steve McQueen and feel a million bucks for a very reasonable outlay. Engine reliability is very good, with no real major bugbears.
It has to be said that some of the chrome is a little down-spec and built to a price. You’ll need to keep the bike out of the weather and the metal polish close at hand.
Some reports suggest that spokes on earlier Hinckley Bonneville rear wheels can snap. Check by tapping with a hard object like a screwdriver tip, and listening for a dull sound, indicating a loose one.
Those spokes should be tightened with a spoke wrench but get a professional to do it, as varying tensions can warp the rim.
The Bonnevilles are very competitively priced. Triumph has positioned itself as a price leader in this market category, so there are good deals to be had.
There has always been a large range of add-on gear available across the range of variants. Triumph has a strong reputation in this area and things like a host of screens, seats, sissy bars, rubber kneepads, performance pipes, grabrail and panniers pepper the accessories catalogue.
This allows for a degree of personalisation and is a big plus. A new Bonnie is on the drawing board for 2016 which will have a bigger, liquid-cooled engine and a new frame.
It won’t hurt the value of the existing range, though, so now might be the time to pick up a bargain.