Trace the threads of motorcycling’s history and there are certain indisputable qualities that sit as the underpinnings—self-expression and community, to name two. These desires drove men nearly 100 years ago to take wrenches, saws, and tin-cutters to their rigid-frame bikes—building up and stripping their motorcycles to the bare necessities, leaving only what was needed to push the speedometer farther. The first bobbers were created because they had to be.While there is no direct comparison to the bobber builds rolling out of American garages nearly a century ago and the new 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber—it isn’t the hardtailed, oil-leaking hot rod machine that built the foundation—it develops its own brand of authenticity. The Bobber captures the identity of the genre that directly influenced it. It has a sleek profile, exposed steel twin-cradle chassis, a lean fuel tank, wire-spoke wheels, and tidy fender stylings. The seating position is sporting, yet decidedly classic, and could redefine how we see performance, as well as comfort.
[Visit 2017 Motorcycle Previews]The elegantly sculpted and cantilevered saddle of the Triumph Bobber is one of its most defining characteristics with the single shock cleverly hidden underneath. Riders will discover, a low-slung, 27-inch seat height, with mid-controls and a neutral bar height. At 5’ 10’’, with a 32-inch inseam, I immediately discovered that the Bobber has a relaxed position, but not one that eliminates use of the rider’s legs.I rode with the seat adjusted to its most forward position—you can easily shift the seat back, or raise and lower, with a few twists of an Allen bolt. Movement in the saddle is uninhibited and soreness, after a full day’s worth of riding, is almost non-existent. The home-built bobbers from the days of yore, though critical to motorcycling, were anything but comfortable.In the pilot’s seat, you will find straightforward controls, and clip-on mirrors that don’t vibrate to the point of uselessness.There are certain machines where, upon first look, the amount of effort invested is recognized immediately. To that end, the Triumph Bobber sits well above its $11,900 beginning price point, if we consider the highly refined detail found throughout the Hinckley creation.Each weld, each bolt, each fixture, and each color choice has clearly been agonized over to ensure that the fit and finish is unmatched for its class. Case in point—the gorgeous clock that, aside from having all the functionality that a modern rider demands, employs accoutrements such as brass inlays. Like the seat, it is adjustable—lay it flat or prop it up, it’s your call. Brass, brush, and matte finishes can be found on the Bobber, adding to its immaculate appearance.Even if its looks and charm didn’t sell you on the idea of the Bobber, flipping the ignition of the 2017 Triumph Bobber will solidify its presence. The sound emanating from slash cut exhausts is glorious, confounding the large, obnoxious catalytic converters that have been cleverly hidden away in the silencers. Not obscene, the tone heard from the vertical-twin with a V-twin inspired 270-degree firing order, captures what a motorcycle should be. It is powerful and intimidating, and yet warmly inviting.A core component to the bobber genre is a powerful, unfettered powerplant, and the Triumph Bobber is no exception. The throttle response and power delivery are flawless.I ran the Bobber through the quiet Spanish countryside, head down, eyes wide, and consuming its power, only to be cut off by the rev limiter, which I found more than once. Without any doubt, the powerplant is one of the most engaging aspects of this machine.The liquid-cooled, SOHC, 1197cc parallel twin that produces a claimed 77 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 78 ft/lbs of torque at 4000 rpm is used in all iterations of the new large-displacement Bonneville line introduced last year. Though mechanically identical to what powers the lively little T120, you would be hard-pressed to make that determination with complete confidence simply through riding.Featuring a split-air-intake (routed around the shock), a less restricted exhaust system, and a revised fuel map focused on delivering more low-end and mid-range power, the Bobber version of the engine has massive amounts of character. The Triumph Bobber produces a claimed 10 percent more torque at 4500 rpm compared to the T120. This translates into powerful, satiating, mid-range superiority.An almost masculine quality has been teased out of the big Bonneville engine—one that hurls its pilot into a turn, eagerly coaxing you to roll the throttle on as early as possible, and exiting each corner with a truly remarkable amount of drive. Shifting the six-speed transmission is precise. With the torque-assist clutch, the clutch lever can be actuated with little effort.For the spirited rider—someone who rolls on the throttle in excess—the Bobber satisfies to no end. For the less experienced and, dare I say, even the beginner, the Bobber can assume a completely manageable, tame roll.Having a powerful, tractable engine is only one crucial piece of the whole. Perhaps the most surprising strength of the Bobber is its stellar handling, given its status as a styling exercise. Featuring a hearty, 59.4-inch wheelbase, the Bobber touts a stout stability. At no point did I experience any sort of chassis flex while cornering or feel that I was overriding the bike.A relatively modest rake just under 26 degrees encourages the remarkably agile Triumph Bobber to tip into corners with zero hesitation—spot your entrance, drop in, add throttle, roar out of the apex. It’s a recipe handed down for generations, and one not spoiled by the Bobber.What aids all this is the KYB suspension—41mm forks and a horizontally mounted single shock. Sprung firm, yet completely forgiving, the Bobber can easily deal with the rigors of Spanish riding, even without damping adjustments. Although, I would have appreciated at least spring-preload adjustment, consider the Bobber’s objective—it is a solo machine.Random, harsh speed bumps, cobblestone roads and potholes, all of which could easily induce a cringe, are no match for the Bobber. Better yet, when pushed, the suspension isn’t lackluster. The Bobber holds its line well, but is open minded, allowing forgiveness for rider miscues. Triumph has also done a fine job with damping; even with the most hurried braking, I failed to detect any egregious fork dive. The Bobber’s claimed dry weight of 502 pounds does help, as its light for a mid-size cruiser.All of that information is translated to the rider. From the 19-inch wire-spoke wheel up front, to the 16-inch rear, the Bobber doesn’t produce vague front and rear feel. Helping that are the Avon Cobra tires, which performed to my liking in both dry and damp conditions.With those elements in mind, the Bobber quickly shapes up to be a motorcycle that lives outside its confines. Its one restriction is cornering clearance, as the low-slung design is intrinsic to the Bobber aesthetic. Riders will quickly learn the lean-angle limits of the Bobber; once that point has been established, it isn’t particularly hindering.I’ve sung the praises of the Bobber thus far, knocked on the proverbial door and asked, “Excuse me, sir/madam, do you have a moment to talk about the Triumph Bonneville Bobber?” It does have issues, and they are almost exclusively located at your right hand’s fingertips.Found on the 2017 Triumph is a single 310mm rotor, clamped upon by a dual-piston Nissin caliper up front, and a single 255mm rotor with an accompanying Nissin caliper in the rear—the same array found on the smaller 900-class Bonnevilles.Front brake feel is firm, and linear, requiring at least a two-finger pull. For casual riding and urban use, this is adequate, but only so. When piloting the Bobber, you will undoubtedly be coaxed into riding at pace—much the same way many of us coyly shy away from a decadent desert—only to quickly relent our conservative stance when faced with a truly enticing set of Spanish twisties.The Bobber encourages that kind of behavior at a gluttonous rate. Sadly, the front brake lacks the initial bite and strength that riders who partake prefer. It led to careful consideration of my actions while out on the road, utilizing more rear brake than I typically employ. While I can lament about the less than stellar front brake, if I wanted to ride a classic-styled bike fast, I probably should have just bought a Thruxton R.Helping the rider along, the Bobber gets the same electronic aids found on other Bonnies. ABS, switchable traction control, and two riding modes are standard. All of these functions, despite what Neanderthals claim, do not work against the rider. In low traction environments, such as wet roads, traction control steps in and monitors the situation without hindering the ride.A key aspect of motorcycling is customization—personalization and expression becomes an extension of the lifestyle. Triumph will be boasting over 150 components for the Bobber, ranging from new saddles to authorized exhaust systems.Giving buyers a taste of the possibilities, Triumph has put together two inspiration packages. The Old School Bobber package takes a traditional, ape hanger laden route in the bike building process, and the Quarter Mile Bobber for those that want to tap into café vibes.Between the phenomenal engine and stellar handling, the 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber, despite its apparent narrow focus, is not a single-minded machine. It can be ridden, as you’d like it, without feeling as if you have compromised the intent or purpose. It can be what you, the rider, needs it to be.The Triumph Bobber will easily thrum along the highway, cruising without a hiccup, or it can be a performance-minded machine, should you be bold enough to test your mettle. It will test yours, as I still know that I’m leaving some of this bike’s ability on the table, if the tales of sport bike hunting from Triumph support staff are to be taken into consideration.The first two-wheeled love. The battle-hardened canyon compatriot. Comfortable urban brawler. The more I ponder the Triumph Bobber, the harder it is to define. Above all that, the 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber represents the core user-friendly tenets that are well defined in the Bonneville line up. We can nearly have it all.This story is from our digital December issue found at the Ultimate Motorcycling App on iOS or Android.RIDING STYLE
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!