Factory customs have been around for quite some time now but this year the whole Bobber genre seems to have cranked up a notch. We’ve seen the Yamaha Bolt, the Harley 48, and of course Honda’s 300 Rebel. But the launch of one bike, in particular, seems to have set the benchmark, the 2017 Triumph T120 Bonneville Bobber.
At the last count, Triumph had launched a staggering 14 new models during 2016 including the long-awaited T120 Bonnevilles. The 1200cc Bonnie filled the gap perfectly between the good looking, but lackluster performing 900, and the stomping 1600cc T’birds. Hitting the street in four variations, the superbly detailed retro-cycles with their all-new torque-heavy motors, really hit the spot with the motorcycling press.
At first look, the bike’s designers appear to have been swayed by form over function, having faithfully followed classic Bobber lines with a hardtail-style rear end, single saddle, chunky wheels, and a tire-hugging rear fender. But in real terms, none of this has detracted even remotely from the Triumph’s comfort or real-world rideability.
It has even managed to retain some sensible mods like a decent tank range (approximately 11.5 liters) and mid-mounted footpegs, which in actual fact are much more in keeping with the spirit of the Bobber than a minuscule tank and a feet-forward riding stance.
All throughout the bike, clever design and new technology have added to its usability with neat touches such as the sliding seat. The aluminum seat base which is 690mm from the floor at its lowest setting has just over 8cms. of horizontal adjustment. This may not sound like much, but in real-world terms allows you to play around until you’ve found your ideal seat to footpeg ratio, meaning your hands automatically come to rest on the drag-style handlebars. Even the central mounted clock console can be adjusted to go from almost flat to virtually upright.
Again, a seemingly minor detail but a really well thought out one, as once you’ve got the seat to your liking, it allows you to move the clock to just the right angle giving all the information you need without craning forward.
Externally, the new range of T120 engines now follows the aesthetic and design detail of their namesakes very closely with the primary drive side and the classy triangle-shaped timing chest lovingly recreated. The 1200cc engine is also an impressively large lump and looks like it’s been shoehorned into the frame.
The clean curves of the sturdy looking frame follow the contours of the rounded side-covers perfectly, it even sports that must-have Bobber accessory, the battery box. And it’s while looking at the bike side-on and admiring that seriously cool gap created by the floating saddle that something occurs to you.
Here is a bike that not only has the usual array of modern electronic components but also boasts ABS modulator, switchable traction control, ride-by-wire throttle, heated grips, cruise control, and immobilizer. So where is it all hiding?
With only a tiny Bates style headlamp there’s no space in there, so obviously, it’s all squeezed behind those curvy side panels. Easier said than done, but typical of the design detail that’s gone into giving the Bobber its clean classic looks.
As beautiful as the Triumph Thunderbird Bobber is to look at, it’s only when you sling a leg over, start the engine and let the clutch out, that you can get a real feel for it. So, with the seat slid back, the clocks eased upright and a view of long sweeping bends over the brushed aluminum drag bars it was time to hit the road.
The first thing I was waiting for was the staccato boom from the short, sliced baloney silencers and the induction roar from the carbs, but this is where reality catches up. To conform with new sound and emission rules on both sides of the Atlantic, the bike is fitted with fuel injectors that hide behind Amal lookalike carb bodies.
A hidden catalytic converter lies beneath the frame and there’s enough packing in the silencers to stuff a mattress with. According to Triumph, the bike sounds its absolute best at 90mph! but to be fair, despite lawmakers around the world trying to kill the fun, the 1200cc Triumph still manages to sound pretty good on the move.
The liquid-cooled engine and drive components are the same as those used in the standard T120, with the addition of a slightly improved torque output at the lower end of the rev range, thanks to a re-working of the intake and exhaust. This seems to really suit the engine well and pulls more energetically through its six gears than the standard T120.
Although heated handlebars and cruise control are optional extras on the Bobber, it does come with traction control and two switchable riding modes as standard, Rain, and Road. Either mode gives the engine full power, (approximately 77hp) but just modulates the power delivery.
The bike also features a ‘Triumph Assist Clutch’ which gives an incredibly easy lever action and even performing clutchless changes at full throttle, the gearbox felt positive and very smooth.
Apart from the shared components of the engine, everything else on the Triumph T120 Bonneville Bobber is unique to the bike. This is particularly evident in the frame, which features a mono-shock rear suspension and a hardtail lookalike rear section that Triumph calls a swinging cage.
Rolling on 19’’ front and 16’’ rear tires on black spoked rims, the bike handles surprisingly well, not overpowered by the engine and not feeling under-braked despite only sporting a single disc upfront. The first thing to scrape is the hero blobs on the outside of the footpegs, but keeps a great line, turning in and out of bends without any drama.
This machine makes a bold statement and despite all the hidden electronics, it still adheres to the classic Bobber. The engine is perky and full of low-end torque and the chassis solid and predictable.
Triumph has undoubtedly raised the bar, the question is, what will the other motorcycle manufacturers do to stay in the race?