Bonneville SE Review
Although the Triumph Bonneville does not boast the performance pedigree established in the 1960s by its identically named predecessor, the English motorcycle retains the styling panache and has rebranded itself as a do-it-all everyman’s motorbike. Now available in three flavors-the standard, the upscale T-100, and the lower-riding SE-the Bonneville line casts its widest net yet.
The New Orleans area may not initially appear to be an ideal testing location for anything but a cruiser, yet the Triumph Bonneville SE proves itself to be an ideal motorbike for navigating the wide variety of road conditions in The Big Easy, and a satisfying ride in the fascinating bayou country that surrounds it.
In town, the Bonneville SE’s low seat-height improves the level of confidence when working your way around potholes and traffic. There is no shortage of traffic signals in New Orleans, and they seem to be quite happy to be red. Resting at a stop is as easy as leaning against a lamppost in the French Quarter. At 5′ 10" with a 34-inch inseam, I am flatfooted astride the Bonneville SE when not underway.
Cruising the Bonneville SE down famous St. Charles Avenue from my Canal Street hotel, past Loyola University, to the levee along the Mississippi River at Leake Avenue was the purest of joys. Pulling away from those stops, the clearly oversquare (90mm bore, 68mm stroke), yet nicely torquey 865cc Triumph-a claimed 50 ft/lbs at 5800 rpm-is an unconscious pleasure. It is not an automatic, but it has the easy-to-ride feel of a large scooter.
Twist the throttle and off you go. The clutch is light and intuitive, shifting is effortless, and the task choosing between the five ratios is undemanding due to the wide powerband. The Triumph Bonneville SE’s 495 pounds (wet, claimed) are carried fairly low, in spite of the engine’s vertical twin configuration, so it is highly maneuverable in-town.
Combining all these factors, and a natural seating position that provides a respectable view of the road ahead, makes the entire riding experience transparent. You will have to deal with a decent amount of rubbernecking in your direction, however, as the authentically Triumph retro styling (complete with fuel injectors masquerading as carburetors, and a fast-idle knob acting like a choke) and two-tone tank paint job are eye-catchers.
Following the meandering Mississippi west on a variety of roads, I found myself taking the unintimidating Bonneville SE on a quick side-trip to the top of the levee, which gave a nice view of the surroundings. Eventually, my stomach began to growl as I entered the Kenner area. I spied Da’ Family Joint on 3rd Street and parked the Triumph SE on the sidewalk, in clear view of the dining area. Again, heads turn and questions about its heritage become the topic of conversation. I ordered and happily consumed a delicious fried chicken lunch, prepared by the husband and served by the wife who together own and operate this soul food establishment.
On the open road, the Bonneville SE glides along nicely. With only 66 horsepower at its disposal, and that’s at 7500 rpm, you do not have an unlimited power reserve on the highway, but it is great for the now-lightly traveled roads along the east of New Orleans. Surveying the devastation that has persisted in the coastal rural areas years after Hurricane Katrina, the Bonneville SE was a willing guide on US 90 and its tributaries into neighboring Mississippi.
The air-cooled motor will wind up to 100 mph when no one is looking, but it is more at home loping along nearer the speed limit. The vibration delivered from the 360-degree firing interval is persistent, consistent and appealing. A 4.2-gallon fuel tank gives you the opportunity to do plenty of exploring between gas station stops.
Handling is in line with the modest power output. The 17-inch wheels are shod with narrow, higher profile tires (110/70 front; 130/80 rear) that emphasize comfort over pure performance, which is in line with the Bonneville’s intended mission. Back home in the Santa Monica Mountains, the SE is a pleasure in the tighter confines, just so long as you do not push too hard.
The Kayaba (yes, Japanese) suspension is adequate, as is the single-disc front brake. Again, this is a friendly motorcycle, not the race-bred Bonneville of old. Certainly, if that is what you have in mind, the Speed Triple and Street Triple sit right next to the Bonnie on the showroom floor of your local Triumph dealer.
It is easy to be unimpressed by such a disarming motorcycle. The Triumph Bonneville SE doesn’t wow you. Instead, it makes you happy that you have learned to ride. You are on a motorcycle that looks cool, works like it is supposed to, and makes your ride easy. This is about enjoying the ride. Think of it as an upright cruiser, but with peppier performance and handling.
Motorcycle Riding Style
Helmet: Arai Profile
Jacket: Dainese Chiodo-TT Pelle
Gloves: Dainese X-Ile
Jeans: Cortech Mod Denim
Boots: Cortech Solution WP
Motorcycle photography by Riles & Nelson