2005 Triumph Bonneville T100 | Innocence RebornIf you are over the age of 40 and reading this magazine, odds are you have a Triumph story from your past. Whether it’s a tale about lusting after the British beauty, envying someone who rode one, or being lucky enough to have owned one of the iconic machines, the sleek, sexy Triumphs were at the eye of the motorcycle storm that swept through the States in the 1960s and ’70s, leaving myriad, indelible memories in their wake for the haves—as well as the have nots.
My own Triumph story was born from the image of Steve McQueen jumping a stolen enemy motorcycle over an imposing barbed-wire fence in the classic 1963 World War II movie, The Great Escape. Audiences everywhere collectively gasped as McQueen launched himself into the air, sailed over swirls of barbs in widescreen, and then they exhaled in a mix of astonishment and envy when he touched down in the lush grass on the opposite side.Never mind that the second fence attempt was unsuccessful, crashing McQueen (actually, his stunt double Bud Ekins) into a tangle of wire and fence post. What people remembered, what people were talking about, was the jump. Metaphorically, that said it all; motorcycles meant freedom. And what was McQueen riding? A Triumph. That did it—from that moment on I wanted a Triumph.Young movie-goers today, with their steady diet of ever-increasingly insane stunts, would yawn at his daring stunt of four decades ago. Thankfully, for those of us old enough to remember McQueen’s airborne sojourn, Triumph gives us our innocence back with an opportunity to dabble once again in the forbidden fruits of our youth with the quintessential retro: the Bonneville.A few years back, Triumph led the retro motorcycle craze by reintroducing the Bonneville to their lineup, capitalizing on the immense popularity of the original machine. The 2005 Bonnie continues to honor the revered lineage with a tasteful reproduction—sans oil leaks and stubborn response to the kickstarter—of a motorcycle inspired by nostalgia but built with the engineering afforded in modern times.The new machine retains the classic, clean lines, twin chrome pea-shooter exhaust pipes, and the sensuous teardrop fuel tank. However, they are now married to a punchier 865cc, air-cooled parallel-twin engine that delivers more low- and mid-range torque thanks to re-engineered camshafts and increased fuel flow through the twin carburetors.There’s a new offering of paint, as well: an elegant Opal White on Tangerine Orange, which is accented by pinstriping that, just like the old days, is applied at the factory by hand in a time-honored craft called gold lining.To get the nostalgic ride moving, pull on the manual choke and turn on the petcock (remember those?). Allow yourself to cheat the old days a little, forget about kickstarting, and hit the electric start. The second the engine comes to life is when the differences between old and new become strikingly apparent.The most noticeable element Triumph got rid of on the new generation Bonneville is vibration. Unlike the Triumph of old that transmitted the shake and rattle of the engine up through the bars and into the rider’s hands, the new engine purrs along, allowing the mirrors to be used for seeing what’s behind rather than rendering the reflections as small impressionist paintings.Once underway, the next welcome modern characteristic you’ll notice is the smooth, easy pull of the clutch and the positive feel of the 5-speed transmission. Producing just 63hp, the Bonneville isn’t going to win any shouting matches, but if ever there were a motorcycle that prospective owners will not be comparing spec sheets on, this is it.The bike’s narrow physique and low seat make it very easy to maneuver at low speeds. At the first run through a twisty section of road, it becomes evident Triumph hasn’t forgotten how to build a machine that handles. The Bonneville is a fun machine to ride, given its positive response to light inputs on the handlebars and the ease at which the machine holds its line in corners. Also, the bike’s lithe feel makes it seem much lighter than its reported 451 lbs.A single 310mm disc brake with two-piston caliper up front is adequate, but far from great. If you are not accustomed to using the rear brake, you will quickly adjust and find that an even application of both the front and the 255mm disc in the rear stops you quickly enough. However, for any serious cafe racing some modification would be warranted.Just like the Bonneville of old, the new bike is a smart, uncluttered machine that is a joy to ride. It is a gentleman’s weekend motorcycle or a light daily commuter, a machine you can throw a leg over to go down to the corner for a coffee or head out on a pristine Sunday morning for a ride in the hills. If you aren’t a social person, you may not want the Bonneville. The bike gets a lot of attention when parked and people repeatedly ask, in friendly voices, “Is that an old one or a new one?”—a testament to the Bonneville’s legend.The new Bonneville handles well, is light, and—unlike some machines today—is not the least bit intimidating in stature or power. It isn’t a powerhouse or a speed weapon. Again, this machine isn’t about that. What it is about is simply enjoying being up on two wheels in retro fashion—without having to remember to place an oil catch pan under the bike when you park it.It’s reassuring to see an inherent value in nostalgia was shared by enough people, and important enough to a manufacturer, that the company would choose to produce a motorcycle that harkens back to, dare I say, a simpler time. With the Bonneville, Triumph has built a motorcycle capable of visiting the exuberance of youth on those teetering at the brink of middle age and beyond. Whether it’s an opportunity to relive cherished memories or to finally fulfill that lingering dream of getting out onto the open road, the British manufacturer once again gives us a chance to have a Triumph story.What rider doesn’t love a look back at the motorcycles that preceded today’s tech-savvy creations? Welcome to the Ultimate Motorcycling retro review archives; we’re revisiting some of our favorite reviews from year’s past, highlighting the machines that laid the rubber for what’s on the today’s showroom floors. Enjoy. – Ron Lieback, ed.