Built to be ridden and not just look good. The iconic Triumph motorcycles are here to stay. Production of the Bonneville bloodline spanned three generations over three separate production runs. Models of Bonnevilles were ridden by legends such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Steve McQueen in legendary movies, apart from countless others.
The first two generations were made the defunct Triumph Motorcycles in Meridien, West Midlands were in 1959 – 1983 and then 1085 – 1988. The third and current series is by Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. based in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
The name Bonneville is derived from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA where manufacturers and enthusiasts such as Triumph, among others attempt to break the motorcycle speed record.
Manufactured by Triumph Engineering and later Norton Villiers Triumph (under BSA), the original Bonneville or Bonnie as it’s popularly known started life as a 650cc, pre-unit parallel-Twin, based on the Triumph Tiger 110. The equally iconic 1-3/16” Amal mobobloc carburetor was fitted. The configuration enabled the Bonnie to hit 115 mph without more modifications. That’s how the Bonneville became got its T120 designation.
The engine became a unit-construction in 1963, along with a myriad of changes to stiffen the frame.
The T120 Bonneville was replaced by the T140 Bonneville in 1973. The engine went to 724 cc all the way to 744 cc. Five speed gearbox, disc brakes and electric starter were fitted along the way, along with the change of the gearshifter from the right to left side. The Meridien factory closed in 1983.
Triumph Motorcycles was then bought by John Bloor and licensed production to Racing Spares in Devon to manufacture T140 Bonnevilles. Called the “Devon Bonnevilles,” the didn’t make it to the market until 1985 and weren’t sold in the US. Production again ceased, in 1988.
Bloor decided to take it upon himself to continue the Bonneville legacy by launching the Bonneville 800 in 2001. The 790 cc engine had an uninterrupted run until 2007 when the 865 cc engine from the T100. 2008 marked the year when British Bonnies (2009 for America) were fitted with fuel-injection. Beautifully designed throttle bodies that mimic classic carburetors were also fitted.
2016 marked another major change for the Bonnie, when Triumph introduced the all-new, liquid-cooled, 1200 cc, 270-degree crank engine. The 900 cc version followed the next year. Additionally, the bikes gained modern electronic rider aid such as Triumph Traction Control (TTC) and ABS, besides modern frames, chassis and brakes.
As of 2017, there are nine 900cc and 1200cc models in Triumph’s Bonneville family all with distinct personalities while adhering to the beloved classic Bonnie line.
At last, Triumph’s “modern classic” collection has found a well-deserved home and will continue to do well into the future.