The Battle of the Bobbers: Britain Takes On America
Although the bobber is an American creation with roots dating back to the 1920s, the concept of a stripped and cut-down motorcycle is a sensibility that spread around the world. Now far from its performance origins, bobbers are custom platforms with appearance taking precedence over performance.
Representing America in this Battle of the Bobbers is the 2019 Indian Scout Bobber, which will be defending its home turf against a British invasion by the 2019 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black. Despite sharing the Bobber name, these are two motorcycles that are strikingly different and offer distinctive takes on the venerable genre.
Indian kept things simple when converting the standard Scout into the Indian Scout Bobber. The pegs were pulled back 1.5 inches—though are still far forward—a flat-track bend handlebar was tapped (with prerequisite bar-end mirrors), the rear suspension dropped an inch, and dirt-tracking Kenda 761 tires mounted to the cast rims. Additionally, the Scout Bobber gets LED lighting, a two-tone leather seat, and side-mounting for the license plate.
Triumph started with the Bonneville T120 and made some serious changes, the biggest being the replacement of the dual-shock suspension and bench seat with a hard-tail look that features a single shock under the cantilever-mounted solo seat. Also, suspension travel is shorter at both ends on the Bobber Black.
The rear fender, with period-appropriate support, hugs the wire-spoke wheel shod with Avon rubber. From there, the T120’s 18-/17-inch wheels are swapped for plumper 16-inch wheels on the Bobber Black. Basically, the only significant common item on the Bobber Black and the T120 is the parallel-twin powerplant, and even that has been retuned for increased midrange power for the Bobber Black.
There is an intermediate link between the Triumph Bonneville T120 and Bonneville Bobber Black—the standard Triumph Bonneville Bobber, which is the Bobber Black’s sibling. Despite the name, the Black version doesn’t only have more black paint. The Bobber Black substitutes the standard’s 19-inch front wheel for a 16-incher, a second 310mm disc is added to the front wheel, Showa 47mm cartridge forks are employed, cruise control is added, and the headlight is an LED.
The Indian Scout Bobber and the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black are contrasting takes on the bobber ethos. The Indian’s V-twin motor certainly is the proper architecture for an authentic bobber, though the non-unit appearance of the Triumph’s parallel-twin powerplant is a nice touch. Both engines are water-cooled—Indian makes no effort to hide that, while the Triumph motor has faux cooling fins, and the throttle bodies look vaguely like carburetors. The Bobber Black’s hard-tail look, floating seat, and tire-hugging rear fender cause passers-by to ask how old the motorcycle is; when they hear 2019, they usually think their question was misunderstood. Without a doubt, the Triumph has more of a vintage look than the Indian.
The ergonomics on the Indian Scout Bobber and Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black couldn’t be more different. The Indian has you sitting inside the motorcycle, with your feet and hands well forward—although the ergonomics are modified from the standard Scout, the Scout Bobber still has a modern cruiser feel in the solo seat. The Bobber Black, more than any motorcycle we can think of, has you sitting on it. With you sitting fully upright, your knees at a 90-degree bend, and a slightly low, wide handlebar, the Bobber Black feels much smaller than the Scout Bobber.
Of the two, the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black is definitely the most comfortable. An upright seating position is always going to serve the human body better than the stylish jackknife shape you are forced into on the Indian Scout Bobber.
When it comes to riding around town, the difference in ergonomics isn’t that big of a deal. The Indian is comfortable enough for short hops, and you will look cool on it. After a while, you settle in as best you can. The seat is comfortable, fortunately, with a bit of padding. Sitting fully upright with a 1.6-inch higher seat, the Triumph gives you a nice view of your surroundings, and you are more visible in an urban environment. The Triumph doesn’t give you the rakish profile of the Indian, but that is easily made up by everyone thinking you’re on a 70-year-old motorcycle. The two bobbers project a markedly different image.
Both motorcycles are effective city dwellers. You can work your way through traffic easily enough thanks to the low center of gravity of each motorcycle. As mentioned, the Triumph offers a superior view of the proceedings, and while it is easier to put your feet down securely on the Indian, the Triumph’s 27.2-inch seat height is not unwieldy. The two motorcycles weigh about the same, so that is a wash.
Neither motorcycle is a big fan of rugged urban streets. The forks on both motorcycles do better than the short-travel rears, with the Bonneville Bobber Black’s linkage-assisted three inches of travel proving superior to the scant two inches offered by the twin-shock Scout Bobber. Both motorcycles have 150/80 16-inch rear tires providing a bit of cushion from the harsh realities of politicians misspending road tax dollars—at least in Los Angeles.
The grunting 1200cc Triumph SOHC motor gives the Bobber Black an advantage over the high-revving 1133cc Scout Bobber DOHC engine. From idle to about 6000 rpm, the Triumph puts out more torque and horsepower than the Indian, and that’s the rev-range you run in town. The Triumph has an advantage rolling on the throttle in all instances, unless you are motivated to get the Indian revved up over 6k—maybe on a freeway onramp. It is worth noting that both motors are oversquare, though the Indian has a 1.4mm larger bore in spite of its 67cc displacement handicap.
If you’re a fan of engine modes and traction control, the Triumph is a clear winner. The Bobber Black gives you a choice of Road and Rain modes—both have full power, though the Rain mode has slower throttle response. Traction control on the Bobber Black can be disabled, though we see no reason to do that. Oh, and if you go out on the highway, the Bobber Black also has cruise control. With no adjustments available on the Scout Bobber, you just hop on it and go.
Although one might expect the upright Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black to have an advantage over the cruiser-inspired Indian Scout Bobber when it comes to performance in the canyons, that expectation isn’t matched by reality.
There is definitely something strange about the Bobber Black’s handling in the twisties. The T120, which the Bobber Black is based on, handles quite nicely on curving roads. Unfortunately, the extra 2.3 degrees of rake, 2.5 inches of wheelbase, 16-inch wheels, and different ergonomics do the Bobber Black no favors.
It never feels settled, and turn-in isn’t particularly encouraging, though the Avon Cobra tires felt fine. There is nothing about the feedback from the chassis that inspires the performance aspect of the bobber genus. Just get used to tooling around in the canyons on the way to a favorite destination, and know that you’re looking cool doing it even if you aren’t going fast—no one expects you to push the envelope on your 1940s motorcycle.
We certainly didn’t anticipate much in the way of handing from the Indian Scout Bobber due to its uncomfortable seating position, leisurely 29 degrees of rake, and spacious 61.5-inch wheelbase. Somehow, it works, and you can operate in corners at a good clip. The Scout Bobber prefers big sweepers—stability is the key, and you have an opportunity to let the motor stretch its legs and run. The fat 16-inch Kenda 761s provide plenty of traction, even if they have a dirt-track heritage.
On the tightest corners, the Triumph has a bit of an edge—everywhere else the Indian flies. Cornering clearance is mediocre on both motorcycles, as you might expect, though there is still enough lean angle on offer to have some fun. The tires on both motorcycles are more than up to the job at hand.
Braking is not much of an issue around town, but it can make or break a ride on backroads. Although it has just one 298mm disc up front, the Indian Scout Bobber has the edge over the twin 310mm rotors on the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black. The standard Bobber has a single front disc, and we aren’t impressed by its performance; it’s a surprise that going to twin discs didn’t make a huge difference. It could be an issue with the Bobber Black’s geometry and ergonomics. The Scout Bobber slows down with more authority and confidence. The Indian also has rear brake advantage, as it has a 298mm rotor compared to the 255mm on the Triumph—both have the same 150mm rear tires.
The controls are a toss-up, except for the lighter clutch pull on the Triumph. We are big fans of assist-and-slip clutches, and the Bobber Black has one that works nicely. Shifting is predictable and effortless on both motorcycles, and we were good with the brake pedal and hand controls—throttle, brake, and clutch. Triumph has more buttons due to its electronics, and they are generally intuitive to use. Both motorcycles go with the traditional placement of the ignition key near the motor—left side on the Indian and right side on the Triumph.
Don’t even think of turning either of these motorcycles into a weekend touring mount—they just aren’t made for that duty. The Indian Scout Bobber will be uncomfortable before you get to the city limits, and the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black’s upright seating position gets fatiguing at highway speeds.
You are free to ignore our advice and add factory panniers to either motorcycle, though we think those items are there so you can carry cargo around town. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that Indian will allow you to set up the Scout Bobber to accommodate a passenger.
So, the 2019 Indian Scout Bobber and 2019 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black leave you with an interesting purchasing dilemma. The Scout Bobber is less comfortable and is not as strong in-town, yet handles quite well and the motor is fast if you give it room. The Bobber Black has plenty of charisma and strong real-world power for urban riding, but its handling and upright ergonomics discourage you from taking it out into the hinterlands. As with all our comparisons, it’s not about what we like—it’s about what suits you. Looking at the attributes and liabilities of the Scout Bobber and Bonneville Bobber Black, we expect any buyer to be making compromises and tough choices.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: Arai Defiant
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Vintage Rocket
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Classic
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Footwear: Fly Racing M16 Riding Textile Canvas
|SPECIFICATIONS||2019 Indian Scout Bobber||2019 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black|
|Type||V-twin||Parallel twin w/ 270-degree crank|
|Bore x stroke||99 x 73.6mm||97.6 x 80mm|
|Maximum power||100 hp @ 8100 rpm||77 hp @ 6100 rpm|
|Maximum torque||72 ft/lbs @ 6000 rpm||78 ft/lbs @ 4000 rpm|
|Valvetrain||DOHC; 4 vpc||SOHC; 4 vpc|
|Clutch||Wet multiplate||Wet multiplate w/ assist|
|Front suspension; travel||Non-adjustable 41mm fork; 4.7 inches||Non-adjustable 47mm Showa cartridge fork; 3.5 inches|
|Rear suspension; travel||Spring-preload adjustable shocks; 2.0 inches||Linkage-assisted non-adjustable KYB shock; 3.0 inches|
|Tires||Kenda 761||Avon Cobra|
|Front tire||130/90 x 16||130/90 x 16|
|Rear tire||150/80 x16||150/80 x 16|
|Front brakes||298mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper||310mm discs w/ Brembo 2-piston floating calipers|
|Rear brake||298mm disc w/ single-piston caliper||255mm disc w/ Nissin single-piston floating caliper|
|ABS||Optional ($800, tested)||Standard|
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES|
|Wheelbase||61.5 inches||59.5 inches|
|Rake||29 degrees||25.8 degrees|
|Trail||4.7 inches||3.5 inches|
|Seat height||25.6 inches||27.2 inches|
|Fuel capacity||3.3 gallons||2.4 gallons|
|Curb weight||554 pounds||550 pounds (approx.)|
|COLORS and PRICES||Thunder Black: $12,499 MSRP||Jet Black: $13,150 MSRP|
|Thunder Black ABS: $13,299 MSRP||Matte Jet Black: $13,400 MSRP|
|Thunder Black Smoke: $13,799 MSRP|
|White Smoke: $13,799 MSRP|
|Bronze Smoke: $13,799 MSRP|
|Prices as tested||$13,799 MSRP, as tested||$13,150 MSRP, as tested|