2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black Test | Riding the Road to Ronda
“Oh, man. We’re just gonna go!” —Johnny Strabler, The Wild One
Well, a big thank you to everyone who kept saying “rain, rain, go to Spain”—it did. I can’t complain too much because, although I was on the Costa Del Sol in Southern Spain, it was also mid-December. Even the traditionally warm Spanish climate sometimes sees rain in winter.
At any rate, and although the rain did stop play for a couple of hours, after it had passed I was green for go, and the 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black had to put up with me wringing its neck for the rest of the day.
Dating back to Moorish times, Ronda is a mountaintop city in Spain’s Malaga province, set dramatically above a deep gorge. More to the point for me, it is accessed from Marbella by the A-397; a smooth, twisting snake of tarmac that writhes its way some 63 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast to said town of Ronda.
The asphalt roads in this area date back to the Franco era. Generalísimo spent copious amounts of pesetas on his home province, and that included paving the A-397 with some of the best tarmac in Europe.
The road is quite fast in places, but the sweeping and often blind corners are nicely challenging. Many of them have a decreasing radius, so it’s definitely worth keeping your wits about you if you’re hauling.
“This is where it begins for me, right on this road.” —Johnny Strabler
Riding the A-397 on a machine chock-full of heritage charisma had me feeling retro-cool and instantly at home on this latest Bonneville iteration from Triumph. It’s tough to see how anyone else couldn’t feel the same either.
The 27-inch solo seat height is low enough that most people will be able to flat-foot when astride the Black, and the seated ergonomics in general are just as friendly. The flat handlebars and mid-placed foot controls create a forward roadster riding position that is essentially upright, with a slight lean into the wind. The handgrips are nicely shoulder-width.
Like the standard Bobber, the seat is adjustable from the standard up-and-forward riding position to a more conventional down-and-back cruiser position. The single, round, instrument pod can (without tools) be angled almost flat, or brought more upright and towards the rider.
Overall, the Bobber Black feels comfortable for normal riding, and has the slightly aggressive stance needed if you’re feeling a bit keen on a particular stretch of road on the day.
Thumbing the combined starter/kill switch on the right handlebar lights the Bobber-tuned Bonneville 1200HT motor almost instantly. The fuel injection quickly settles the liquid-cooled, SOHC eight-valve vertical twin into a nice-but-raw sounding, throbbing idle.
The 270-degree firing order gives a pleasing vibration when riding, and a lovely burble to the exhaust note. Triumph’s clever engineering ensures that the twin slash-cut mufflers and double air intakes play their part, while still managing to stay Euro-4 compliant. Incidentally, the motor doesn’t need a service until 10,000 miles.
The Bobber tune gives this engine 10 percent more power and considerably more torque over a broader range than the standard Bonneville T120 motor. If you twist the throttle in earnest, the motor will pick the bike up and fling it forward pretty much as quickly as you desire.
I’m loath to tell you that, even with the Bobber tune, the motor puts out 76 horsepower at 6100 rpm because that sounds rather anemic for a 1200, yet the Bobber motor feels anything but. It revs quickly and picks up speed rapidly—this feels like a fast bike if you want it to be, for sure.
Likewise, the 2.4-gallon tank also doesn’t sound like much. However, the motor averages 69 mpg in normal usage, so the useful range of the Bobber is nearly 140 miles—and that’s more than acceptable.
Letting out the light-feeling torque-assist clutch, you’ll find the gearbox on the Black is predictable and methodical. It isn’t a rapid-fire ratio-swapper like on a sportbike, but the gears engage smoothly and precisely. I never found a false neutral or had any problem when shifting the fairly short-throw lever.
Riding pretty hard on the road to Ronda, I found myself swapping between third and fourth gear most of the time, letting the Black motor’s prodigious-feeling torque output—over 75 ft/lbs from 3000 to 5000 rpm—make up for my laziness with shifting gears. This simply isn’t a motorcycle that needs lots of gearchanges—put it into a tall ratio and let the motor do its thing.
The beauty of Triumph’s fuel injection quickly makes itself apparent, as it is smooth and predictable at the throttle. There are two riding modes—Road and Rain. While both provide full power, Rain mode is considerably less aggressive on initial throttle opening.
Even though the A-397’s asphalt was cold and a bit damp from the morning rain, I still opted to stay in Road mode, as the throttle connection is so smooth; the Bobber Black is that easy to operate.
About half way along the road to Ronda, you simply have to stop at the lovely little Venta El Madroño café bar—the espresso and cappuccino are exquisite. The patron is friendly and, although his English is about as good as my Spanish (hola/gracias), he has a friendly smile and knows how to make truly excellent coffee. I assume he’s a bike guy, as lots of motorcycle pictures in various states of lean-angle adorn the walls. On a cold and damp December afternoon, the fire crackling in one corner provided some very welcome warmth.
Leaving the warm fireside of Venta el Madroño, I headed higher and on towards Ronda. I found that the more I asked of the Black, the happier it seemed to become. Gripped by a nicely sculpted top clamp, the 47 mm front Showa cartridge fork is a beefy upgrade to the Bobber’s 41 mm KYB equipment. Although the Black’s suspension isn’t adjustable, the ride is firm—quite sporting actually—yet it is very compliant as well.
As I wound further into the mountains the temperature dropped further, and at one point wasn’t much above freezing. Fortunately, Triumph had thoughtfully installed a factory accessory heated grip kit ($280). Set to maximum, the grips provided enough heat to prevent my hands getting too cold. I was impressed that they integrated fully with the machine, and the Off/Lo/Hi readout appeared on the instrument dash.
The Bobber’s hardtail-looking cage-style swing arm does of course disguise that it has a nice linked shock that is equally as firm-yet-compliant as the fork. The suspension was so ideal for my 186-pound weight that I found myself gaining in confidence on the Black with every passing mile.
Cornering clearance is most definitely adequate. It isn’t that hard to touch down the mid-controls, but I realized that I’d rather gone into hooligan mode when it happened. With any semblance of normal riding, the Bobber’s pegs stay nicely off the asphalt. Incidentally, they are footpegs and not floorboards, and they do fold. Even when they touch down, it is more off-putting than a real problem.
The fat Avon Cobra tires—130 at the front and a 150 at the rear—mounted on 16-inch wire-spoke rims really want to grip, and I had no complaints. The Avons stuck well and gave predictable, neutral handling to the Black; it turned in very easily. There is minimal effort required to ride this machine, even at a brisk pace. The Black does exactly what you ask it to—and looks really good while doing it.
Fairly early on in my ride across a damp patch, I grabbed a handful after passing a slow car. The rear tire squirmed and twisted for quite a few seconds as I was hard accelerating, despite the one-level traction control being active. Nothing dangerous you understand, but clearly the torque of that hot-rod 1200cc motor needs some harnessing if you get a bit grabby with your right wrist.
Picking up the throttle on corner exit is as smooth as silk. Happily, the excellent suspension prevents any real squatting at the rear, so the Bobber Black doesn’t run wide or do anything objectionable when coming out of a corner hard on the throttle.
A Triumph engineer told me that it was much easier for them to get the suspension right on the single-seat Bobbers as they didn’t have to allow for the extra weight of a passenger—something that forces engineers to compromise on a much wider operating window than if the bike is single seat. It makes sense to me, and there’s no doubting the result.
The other obvious change on the Black is the adoption of 310 mm front brake rotors with Brembo axial two-piston calipers—a significant upgrade over the Bobber’ single front disc. Full-time ABS comes standard with the Black, and that’s a good thing.
The non-radial front master pump has a user-friendly initial bite. Once you get past that soft engagement, the Black’s front brake feels powerful and provides as much stopping power as you might need.
There aren’t any nasty surprises, even if you grab a big handful in a panic situation—as I unfortunately had to do. Some bonehead stopped abruptly in front of me just as I was exiting a corner on the A-397, and I went into emergency mode. The Black didn’t do anything crazy and came to a controlled stop with no drama, although I could feel the ABS pumping a little at the lever. I had a few choice words to the offender, but in truth I was being a bit dramatic as the Black brakes kept me nicely out of any real danger.
Despite its performance chops, the Bobber Black is very much about the looks. Yes, it’s black, and it comes in two flavors—Jet Black and Matt Jet Black. The Matt version is $250 more than the gloss, but I’d have trouble picking between them as they both look sexy as hell.
As for the rest of the motorcycle, although I could give you a list of every component that’s been darkened, suffice it to say that it’s pretty much everything on the bike. One exception is the über-cool exposed battery cover with stainless steel attachment bracket, and it looks seriously retro. Nice touch, Triumph.
There are myriad other little design cues that help the old-school image. In particular, I loved the ribbed fenders and the wire-spoked wheels with that fat front Avon. I also loved the carburetor-styled throttle bodies, rubber fork gaiters, bullet-style LED turn signals, side-mounted ignition switch, and in particular I really liked the Triumph branding on the gas cap. Little details like that make me want to park up, don a leather biker’s cap over an asymmetrical jacket, and lean moodily over the front like Brando in The Wild One. When someone asks me what I’m rebelling against, I’ll just snarl, “Whaddya got?”
Triumph added cruise control to the Black. It’s not found on the standard Bobber, and I ain’t complainin’. Its one-button push function is simplicity itself, and it works perfectly. I tried it out while rumbling along the coast highway back to Marbella, and I found it useful. Kudos to Triumph for giving this bike practical touches to go with the great looks.
Triumph is committed to the Bobber range of models. There are over 120 different heritage and utilitarian accessories that were developed at the same time as the bike, so they integrate perfectly. They add to the authenticity of the bike’s post-WWII bobbed look, and some of them add functionality as well. From ape-hanger handlebars, logo engine covers, and a cool handlebar clamp, to different luggage combinations and several types of upholstered seats, add nice opportunities to an already gob-smackingly good-looking motorcycle. Incidentally, these accessories are all fully warrantied, and available from any Triumph dealer.
Before I even threw a leg over the Bobber Black, this bike spoke to me—maybe I should say it punched me in the face and forced me to look at it. Its darkly naked, bullish aggression filled me with rebellion and the urge to bellow “Freedom!” while pulling away.
Unsurprisingly, Triumph has used engineering tricks from its considerable playbook to also produce a motorcycle that works one hell of a lot better than Brando’s 1950 movie version.
The 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black is an absolute joy to ride, whether you’re posing around town practicing your scowl, or blasting along the open road and enjoying the exemplary handling in the twisties. I won’t ruin your image and tell people it’s a cinch to ride, if you don’t. So get your angriest face on and let’s go cause some trouble. “I wish I was going someplace. I wish you were going someplace. We could go together.” Let’s do it, Johnny.
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro Kylo Ren
- Communications: Sena 10C
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Old School
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Classic
- Jeans: Spidi J&K Pro Tex
- Boots: Tour Master Coaster WP
For specs and a photo gallery, click to page 2 below.