Friday, January 1, 2010

35,000 Mile Bonneville

This was my Triumph Bonneville on October 8th 2007 when I rode it out of the showroom at the late lamented Pure Triumph in Fort Lauderdale and put my first twelve miles (18 km) on it. I knew that it was not going to stay looking that good for too long.The Florida Keys are a harsh environment for machinery, salt air and hot humid conditions lead to rust and oxidation and all that good stuff. The trick is to hose your motorcycle down with fresh water, polish copiously and ride the thing as often as possible. This is one of my favorite pictures of my favorite ride, taken at Sugarloaf Key near the airstrip.
I like the desert expanse of limestone in the picture but everyone else wants to see palm trees when one is in the (sub) tropics. This next picture I took on Big Coppitt Key alongside the Overseas Highway when I was going through a phase where I wasn't using the saddlebags every day. I discovered that I really need them, or one of them at least, to carry my waterproofs as rain happens at the oddest of times. Mostly in summer and normally fairly predictable, but even predictable rain needs to be protected against. Besides which the fabric bags are no trouble at all when riding so they live on the bike all the time these days as we shall see. The top case is critically useful to compensate for the small fabric bags. It locks, it's completely watertight and it is a secure place for my man purse when I am commuting or parking the Bonneville. I like to walk away carrying nothing if I possibly can. I bought it for $90 at the Key West Yamaha shop. It is square and un-fancy which I like as there is no wasted space like there can be under compound curves like the more stylish Givi cases.My most dramatic ride came shortly after 6am on the morning of June 1st 2009, a date, to coin a phrase (somewhat inappropriately I know), that will live in infamy. I dropped the Bonneville traveling at 45 miles per hour (in a 45mph- 70km/h) zone, tripped up by an unmarked strip of new asphalt several inches taller than the lane I was riding in. As I switched lanes to get out of the way of oncoming traffic I went down and slid wrecking my Parabellum sport wind shield and wrecking my non armored pants. My leather gloves and mesh jacket saved me from other blood letting. My Bonneville spent a couple of weeks and a thousand bucks getting put straight at Pure Triumph shortly before they unexpectedly closed their doors forever. They did me proud while they lasted. By the way a passing motorcyclist, astonished by my apparently purposeless fall stopped and helped get the bike back up. I dusted myself off and rode home, a little twisted and totally bummed but I am pleased to say I needed no further help. Unlike the helpless drones who seem to call 9-1-1 to nanny their lives along for them while I am at work...Sorry, New Year's Week is rather dire at work and I am feeling the effects.
I was grateful to my long suffering wife for buying a brand new Bonneville for $7700 out the door, but of course I had to start adding stuff and immediately I added the center stand ($250) and the fork gaiters ($100 installed I think). The tank knee pads were included with the bike saving me $70 there. Then I got the Renntec luggage rack for $130 as I recall and I was only going to add Triumph fabric saddlebags ($250) but the lack of a top case bothered me.
I was dog-free at the time and every day was an adventure, seen here at sunset at Long Key on my way home from a ride to the mainland. The Parabellum Sport Shield ($270) has been an excellent investment, solidly mounted, nicely curved and offering excellent wind protection.
I have not been riding my Triumph Bonneville so much lately. It's been a combination of being ill with shingles, getting a new dog and at the same time finding myself home alone with Cheyenne while my wife the teacher has been off with friends on her winter break in the Bahamas. I have been forced to spend more time with Cheyenne and commute with the Nissan so the dog can sleep in the car while I am at work. She isn't yet weaned from her fears, not enough to leave her home alone for 14 hours overnight. Which is a long way of saying I probably haven't ridden 200 miles in the last month, a situation that will soon change and I expect to revert to my usual 1200 miles a month of mostly commuting in 2010. To use my 2007 Triumph Bonneville as a daily rider I have added utilitarian accessories and weighed the bike down with windshield bags and a top case that fanatics of chrome and go-fast parts abhor. However I like using my bike as a true alternative to the car, and the worst feature of adopting a Labrador has been the increased use of the automobile. Had Cheyenne not been a pound dog rescue, I probably would still be dog free...
In the 21st century motorcycling scene in the US most riders are recreational users of two wheels and their machines are "toys" (horrid expression!) and the motorbikes are expressions of personality. Rarely are they"useful" and furthermore they are hardly ever multiple use machines. Many riders keep an off road bike, a speed demon and a touring machine all side by side. For someone like me who lives in a corrosive climate with no enclosed garage keeping a motorcycle standing around without using it is a short cut to ruin and rust. So for me the Bonneville's designation as a "roadster" is a term that makes it a rarity these days, a machine capable of touring, commuting and looking good on the weekends. The model of Bonneville I bought on October 9th 2007 is no longer sold. This used to be the basic Bonneville, a motorcycle with just one paint color, minimum chrome, no tachometer but the same engine and chassis as the more expensive T100. I preferred to save $2,000 and I am no fan of chrome so the choice was easy. Nowadays the basic Bonneville is a simplified version of the so-called SE a machine with smaller wheels and a lower seat. The T100 continues to be sold with its two tone paint scheme and chrome with the original larger diameter wire wheels. These days all Bonnevilles are fuel injected and they get close to 50mpg (I get about 43 with my carburetted model).
The complaint I hear about the Bonneville from the nit pickers on the Triumphrat forum (see links at the bottom of the page) is that the motorcycle is built to a price as they say, as though that is a bad thing. Yet Triumph offers a ton of accessories as do after market sellers and if you want a more expensive motorcycle you can spend as much money as you have, to "upgrade." I am content with my machine which I have equipped to my eccentric taste. I added a helmet lock to the Renntec rack. I can put my helmet securely under the cargo net and with a little dexterity I can clip the chin strap to the lock which sits at the back of the seat:the cargo net, a ten dollar accessory is worth it's weight in gold. When my wife rides pillion I can fold it back out of the way, otherwise I use it to secure anything including reusable nylon grocery bags when I am out shopping. The net makes the Bonneville as useful as a scooter:
I used to be a fanatic of hard saddlebags but I have come to appreciate my nylon fabric bags offered directly by Triumph. They cost about $250 which includes the struts to support the bags. After my wreck I bought the bags alone for $140. There is a rack and hard bag combo sold by Hepco Becker of Germany but the set costs $1300. I have also considered buying a pair of Givi E21 hard bags but they don't hold much and in my opinion they don't look as good as the fabric bags which I think fit the "period look" of the bike. The most annoying thing about these bags is that the corners flip up when underway, like this: Which, when you are obsessive compulsive like me means you are constantly flipping the corners back down, like a woman nervously adjusting her skirts. On the other hand the bags are well made and with judicious use of silicon spray I have found them to be waterproof too. I do cover them with their built in rain covers when I remember but they have stayed dry inside in the worst downpours. Also they are not too large and they don't interfere with the pillion footrests. I use the small outer pouches to hold odds and ends like mosquito repellent and zinc sunscreen because around here you never know when you will need them.
Next the famous Triumph tank knee pads. I stuck these on myself after my wreck when the tank got repainted. They come in a package with an alcohol impregnated pad which you use to clean the surface of the tank. Then peel off the back and stick them on. Get it right first time because, like life, there are no second acts here. Once on, they are on for good or bad. They look good and they work well, you can feel the ribbing when you press your knees in. In this picture you can also see the old fashioned three way fuel petcock, down for on, horizontal for closed and up for reserve (about a gallon). They took a lot of time explaining this feature to me when I bought the bike as though I wasn't old enough to know all about such arcane things. It's on the left hand side of the tank so you can take your hand off the bar and switch to reserve as you ride, at the first sign of spluttering (around 134 miles usually in my case).On the older carburetted Bonnevilles like mine the tank badges are made of metal and screwed on. There are lots of different designs you can use, made to resemble different eras in Triumph's history. This basic model is the "eyebrow" version and it works for me. New triumphs with fuel injection have them made of plastic to save interior room in the tank which now has to accommodate the fuel injection sender pump. Either way works for me though I do like my simple carburettors.These are the plaited gaiters that cover the fork sliders and have to be added as accessories. they are a bugger to install as the fork legs have to come out but some people stick them on themselves. They just sit there and do their jobs of keeping grit off the forks and making the bike look "period" which is nice extra. I have always valued fork gaiters which have gone out of fashion on modern motorcycles.I loved the looks of the Bonneville, always, and when I test rode it I loved the feel of the bike, compact, with a proper upright riding position and a flat seat that doesn't squish you in place like modern banana seats. The air cooled engine is noisy by modern standards but the transmission is perfect. Except for the final drive chain. Who, except for a dirt rider or a boy racer wants a chain drive bike? Not me! Then of course I looked around and the alternatives were a belt driven Harley which is a good choice if you can stand the styling. A Sportster has hydraulic tappets so there are no valve adjustments and the belt drive is superb. But I don't like the looks, they don't make my heart go pitter patter like the Bonneville. So I resigned myself to chain drive and set about looking for an automatic oiler. The Scott oiler is popular with its electronic delivery system at $200. I got this plastic bottle with a hose from England's Loobman for $35 delivered:The water droplets are a result of me washing the bike by the way. One gives the bottle a squeeze and off the oil goes down the hose to the sprocket and the oil (I use fresh, basic, cheap engine oil for maximum penetration) slides onto both sides of the sprocket teeth. Dead simple, inexpensive and completely effective:I squeeze the bottle as often as I remember though it is recommended at every fuel fill up and after riding in rain. I do it as often as I feel like, too often probably, but my chain at 35,000 miles is like new:To check a chain grip the links at the sprocket and if you can pull it back far enough to see daylight it is time for a change, which costs about $200 for chain and sprockets. I find modern o-ring chains to be nothing like the dreadful old chains we used to use when I was a kid that chewed themselves up in five or seven thousand miles and seemed like they needed constant attention:I have toyed with mounting a Quiet Power Drive belt conversion for the Bonneville but at a thousand dollars it seems rather expensive. My chain is very low maintenance especially now that it is worn in and I rarely have to adjust it. I wash it in kerosene with a stiff brush every 1500 miles ( or after riding extensively on gravel) and only adjust the tension when the motorcycle snatches in low gear around town. A half turn on the adjusters fixes that. It seems like it might take me 250,000 miles (400,000 kms) to spend a thousand bucks on chain and sprocket replacement at this rate!My factory mirrors still carry the evidence of my fall last June but corrosion doesn't seem bad at all considering. they show the road clearly behind me and I have felt no desire to change them. I'd prefer them if they came powder coated in black for corrosion resistance but i won't waste money buying fancy aftermarket mirrors when these work so well. Another bone of contention among Triumph polishers is the bluing of the exhaust pipes and these young riders want double walled exhaust pipes. Modern lean running engines tend to blue more than the old days but so what? Bluing is the sign of a bike that's used. Anyway most people replace the factory mufflers saying they are too quiet (they are!) but in these modern times quiet pipes make you an unobtrusive neighbor and an unobtrusive speeder on our crowded roads. Quiet pipes get you there faster. Blue pipes make no difference where it counts- on the road. Notice there is some corrosion developing on the engine case around the mounting nut. I find that inevitable down here and when it gets too ghastly I will replace the covers with powder coated black ones, mad for the Bonneville "Black" model.Behind the pipe you can barely see the oil radiator which cools the engine oil, again because these modern engines run lean and hot. In temperatures under 60 degrees (15C) I find it keeps the engine too cool and I sometimes think on these cold winter nights I should cover it with some tin foil. I just tend to warm the engine up at length on cold cold starts. If I don't a weird buzzer goes off if the engine is too cold. Perhaps the oil remains too thick or something. I just pull over and wait for it to warm up.Speaking of corrosion these rust marks are the only sign on the muffler of my spill last June, the saddlebag took the brunt of the fall on that side in the rear. The handlebar clamp has developed some weird striations. I've thought about getting it powder coated black but I am not motivated enough. I also managed to lose a bolt cover for the Parabellum mount and now have a bare Allen bolt head staring back at me. Lucky I'm not the fussy type or these details would keep me crazy. I worry more about keeping up with the maintenance and every 12,000 miles the Bonneville goes to the Triumph dealer for a proper going over. No expense spared where it counts! I've forgotten where I got this neat little package but I seem to recall it cost $20 which is what I keep in it along with the bike's registration in a Ziploc bag. The other side of the license plate holder is a side stand plate for use on soft ground which I show pulled half out in this picture . I use it rarely but it's nice to have. A very handy little upgrade if I say so myself. The Bonneville is not fully equipped in term of instruments. I got all sorts of grief about not having a tach when I added an aftermarket model. Then when I threw the bike down the road that went west with the windshield. Perhaps I will give it another shot sometime but for now I am blowing it off, in line with the rest of the economically restrained shopping we are not doing. I do have a Formotion clock and temperature gauge. I like to know the temperature because, like sailors with wind speeds, we motorcyclists tend to exaggerate if we don't really know. The clock is necessary because, despite popular belief, "island time" in the Keys is a figment of the imagination of the unemployed, the snowbirds and vacationers.
I like that nothing here is battery Dependant which makes me a freak in the electronic age, but with a trip mileometer and some common sense I don't need a reserve light, a fuel gauge or a a GPS/Ipod/Blue Tooth outlet thanks. This is not a mobile office, it's a motorbike. Commuting with Cheyenne I find I am listening to altogether too much NPR, and now Karl Cassel has retired I have to get used to a new newsreader. Life is just full of change. Another criticism of the Bonneville is that it only has one front disc. That doesn't bother me but when i was kid a and hard core riders wanted two discs they bought another fork leg, reversed it and mounted it on the other side to get twin front discs. I am not a hard core rider like riepe's Mac Pac load of BMW people. They have to ride hard to prove they aren't panty waist BMW people. I am secure in my single disc manhood. This next addition should be controversial.
Giovanni told me about a new Tucano Urbano shop in Terni when I was in Italy two years ago. He was intrigued by a little doo-hickey that you slip over the shifter and it will prevent your Italian patent leather penny loafers from getting nasty motorcycle scuff marks...It works too, though in North America where manhood versus all the gear is the debate i don't think there is any market for a compromise tool like this: It works quite well with pink crocs but I don't usually ride in those and when I took the picture it was cold enough (59 degrees/14C) I needed socks and long pants.

So there you have it: an excessively long essay all about my boring old Bonneville, posted no doubt out of a sense of guilt, inadequacy and shame that I haven't been riding more just lately. Blame Cheyenne and my wife, not me. Here's to more riding in 2010 for me and for you. If you want to see proper chrome-and-glitz Bonneville porn check out some of these websites where people make lovely looking bikes that you would be afraid to ride any day but Sunday in blazing sunshine. Nice to look at, a drag to own, I think: