WORTH IT?:'It's designed to look as cool as possible while conveying you from point A to point B,' writes Dries van der Walt as he reviews the Triumph Bonneville T120.Image: Supplied
Johannesburg - In the 1960s, British parallel-twin motorcycles were having their heyday. With the Japanese Big Four’s dominance of the market still a few years away, desirable bikes included legendary models such as the Norton Commando, BSA Thunderbolt, and of course, the Triumph Bonneville.
The latter, which has been in production since 1959, started out as a 650 cm³ parallel twin. The T120 that was discontinued in 1975 in favour of the bigger-engined T140.
In 2001, Triumph revived the Bonneville name, and the T120’s nameplate, which in the 1960s referred to its top speed in miles per hour, now indicates its engine capacity.
Bike of the Year
It is part of Triumph’s current Bonneville range which includes the Thruxton R, winner of the 2016 Pirelli SA Bike of the Year award and at least one other international Bike of the Year title. Having never ridden a Bonnie before, I was quite keen to take up Triumph’s offer to review the T120.
Gallery: Triumph Bonneville T120
My initial impression of the bike was that it was much smaller than I had expected. I am no stranger to modern compact superbikes, but for a 1200 cm³ roadster the T120 seemed tiny – considerably lower and narrower than my own Kawasaki Z1000SX. The next thing I noticed was how cleverly Triumph has dis-guised the bike’s modern underpinnings.
The radiator is all but invisible, the fuel injection unit looks like good old-fashioned side-draft carburettors, and the “peashooter” exhaust pipes are about as retro as you can get.
Retro as the looks may be, there are concessions to the modern world, such as an LED stoplight and running lights, heated grips and digital displays in the retro chrome-trimmed clocks. Mechanically it is a modern bike with disk brakes, ABS and traction control. Gone is the Sixties’ “will it actually stop?” anxiety and the “hope for the best” suspension – while the Bonnie doesn’t exactly handle like a sports bike, the decidedly retro-looking suspension copes reasonably well if you don’t ask too much of it.
Triumph has positioned it as a “gentleman’s conveyance”, and it is most enjoyable when you limit yourself to gentlemanly progress. One of the most pleasant surprises for me was that the T120 not only looks but also feels the part. I was concerned that the modern amenities may have dulled the edge of the retro feel, but the Bonnie feels much more like a throw-back to earlier days than like a modern bike – and that, on a retro machine, is not a bad thing.
Not to say that hooliganism is totally out of the question, though – with 105 Nm torque on tap (and about 90% of that available practically at idle), a good twist of the throttle will see the T120 reach highway speed with almost unseemly haste. You can easily spin the back wheel or hoist the front if you are that way inclined, and the low-rev torque will propel it out of corners with surprising earnest.
Despite its old-fashioned looks, the Bonnie is very comfortable. It is a bike that I would easily tackle a long ride with. The comfort also comes into play if you are commuting in dense traffic, while the low-rev torque and low centre of gravity will almost have you believe that the T120 was designed expressly for commuting – which, of course, it wasn’t. It's designed to look as cool as possible while conveying you from point A to point B.
If you want to know what the bikes of yesteryear were like, you could buy a genuine classic following the suggestions in our recent article on the subject. Or you could save yourself the frustration and cost of sourcing rare parts and dealing with old technology by buying a Bonneville. Not only will you have a brand new bike with modern technology, but you will also have that is so cool-looking it is guaranteed to attract attention wherever you go.
Engine and transmission
Type: Liquid cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel twin
Max Power: 59kW @ 6550 rpm
Max Torque: 105 Nm @ 3100 rpm
Transmission: six-speed sequential
Wheels and tyres
Front Wheel: 18 x 2.75
Rear Wheels: 17 x 4.25
Front Tyre: 100/90 R18
Rear Tyre: 150/70 R17
Front: Kayaba 41mm cartidge forks, 120mm travel
Rear: Kayaba twin shocks with adjustable preload, 120mm rear wheel travel
Front: Twin 310mm discs, Nissin 2-piston floating callipers, ABS
Rear: Single 255mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper, ABS
Dimensions and weight
Dimensions (LxWxH): 1 445mm x 785mm 785mm
Dry Weight: 224 kg
Tank capacity: 14.5 litres
Fuel consumption: 4.5 litres/100 km (claimed)
Price: R147 500 (base)