Monday, August 30, 2010

40,000 Mile Bonneville

Three years ago I went to the Pure Triumph dealer in Fort Lauderdale and paid $8,000, out the door, for the motorcycle that I like to say is the best motorcycle I have owned in 40 years of riding.
I have almost 40,300 miles, well over 60,000 kilometers on my 2007 Triumph Bonneville, and though Pure Triumph went out of business, Triumph itself is increasing its own share of motorcycle sales worldwide.My Bonneville is my daily rider. It lives under my stilt house in the Florida Keys and most of my miles have come from commuting 27 miles each way on the Overseas Highway. It starts runs and stops every time I ask it to and as much as I read about other people's motorcycles I have no desire to change.

I did however have a tussle over whether to buy the Bonneville or the Thruxton, the sports version of the bike. The Thruxton back then cost $2500 more and came with clip on handlebars and upgraded suspension and supposedly a bit more power from the standard 65 horsepower eight valve twin. After I had owned my Bonneville for a couple of years, I rented the Thruxton in Orlando and studied the difference between my standard roadster and the sports bike.This is the website of the rental company:

Newer model Thruxtons use a raised handlebar arrangement that is somewhere between the standard and the clip ons seen here on this 2007 model. The clip ons are what I used to ride with when I was a kid and for nostalgia reasons they looked good to me. After a day crouched over the Thruxton's expensive tachometer I decided I had the better deal with the standard Bonneville.I really like the looks of the Thruxton, the upgrades don't mean much to me in my kind of riding and my desire for luggage would make most people cringe if they saw this machine with a bikini fairing and bags.In my youth when motorcycles were simpler I craved complexity. I wanted a machine with weather protection, plastic sheeting to make the ride more aerodynamic for the machine and more comfortable for me. Now that I am older by some quirk of aging I crave simplicity. Many people on the Triumphrat forum bitch about the plastic side panels on the Bonneville. Me? Never would I bitch. They don't rust or rattle, they look good and do the age old job of filling the hole created by the triangle in the frame. Without these side panels a 1970s motorcycle would look incomplete. The classic engine of a motorcycle when I was a child looked like this, a rounded tank, air cooling fins on the cylinders and a side panel:That my 21st century Bonneville still looks like that pleases me. Modern motorcycles with acres of plastic, hidden engines and spiky lines look ugly to me. And my taste in large plastic windshields looks ugly to many fans of the Bonneville, but I cannot resist the comfort of my Parabellum screen. At $280 delivered it is simple, sturdy and squeak free. It is indispensable.
The modern Triumph factory in England builds modern motorcycles and gives them old fashioned names. They are after all producing machines under the banner of the oldest motorcycle brand in the world and they are well aware of that fact. It was only a decade into the new management's existence that they dared re-invent the Bonneville, the motorcycle named after the Utah salt flats where Triumph's parallel twin became, briefly, the fastest motorcycle in the world.The original logo looks slightly different than the modern one, but if you are a Triumph aficionado you know what I mean. If you aren't, it doesn't matter, the modern logo looks close to the original and flash in it's own right . I never was a great fan of Triumph motorcycles when I was young and I never owned one. Sure they were a historic brand but they looked as though they had reached the end of the road. In the 1970s Japan was giving us powerful motorcycles that didn't vibrate and went 3,000 miles without needing a service. And even then the service consisted of a valve check and an oil change. In my youth Triumphs were an adventure- you never knew if they would start and if they started if they would get you home. If you wanted reliability you went elsewhere.Because I was even then a daily rider, lacking a car, I needed reliability but I needed a motorcycle with character so I never did own a Japanese bike. I couldn't afford a BMW so I went with Italian, motorcycles that themselves suffered from a frequently exotic image marred by lack of modern touches- no electric starters, no turn signals and weak electrics along with poor paint jobs and frequently uncomfortable riding positions. But they always got me home and fast usually. My modern Bonneville needs a check up every 12,000 miles with a quick look at the valves, a professional job for me as they are double overhead cams and beyond my skills, though at 38,000 miles they needed no adjusting. The modern oil change comes every 6,000 miles and the oil filter is easily accessible, thanks to the absence of plastic fairings.In my childhood I always craved shaft drive, clean and reliable and able to go 15,000 miles between greasing. Chains died regularly every five to seven thousand miles and needed constant lubricating and cleaning and adjusting. I was reluctant to buy a chain driven motorcycle and I only went for the Bonneville because there existed a thousand dollar belt drive conversion. Yet to my amazement after years of riding shaft driven motorcycles including a Honda Goldwing and a Yamaha 650 and a Suzuki 650 single with belt drive I discovered modern o ring chains are well nigh indestructible. Mine is 4o,000 miles old and is still looking clean and new. Thanks in large measure to my Loobman self oiler. This weird plastic jaw drips oil onto the rear sprocket which flings the 30 weight engine oil on the chain, the chain guard, the rear wheel and rear mudguard, but the chain feels almost no friction.

I fill the supply bottle with clean engine oil every now and again and give it a squeeze before I set off for work. Too often probably but it works a treat lubricating the chain as I ride.

Aerostitch sells these jewels for $47 and they are perfect, simple, easy to install and they work as well as the $200 electronic pressure regulated drip machines by Scott and others. Or check out the $550 belt drive conversion at New Bonneville's website.
That conversion takes all the drag out of chain ownership. I am replacing my chain at my mechanic's insistence for my next long ride. He says the chain has gone twice as far as he would have expected and it would be prudent to put $250 of chain and sprockets on the motorcycle before I take off for my Fall ride. One other little tool I bought when I was in Italy was an 11 Euro shifter pad. It is by Tucano Urbano and is designed to help Italians keep their penny loafers looking sharp when they are out riding as it reduces pressure on the foot and won't leave ugly scuff marks on the shoe.One reason I love this silly little gadget is every time I look at the image of a naked foot I think about the ATGATT mumblings by the noisy newbies on motorcycle forums across North America. Imagine having a shifter designed to help you avoid wearing an ugly motorcycle boot! (It works fine with a boot in case you were wondering). Another big change in my middle aged outlook has come with luggage. As a callow youth I used to take long trips on my motorcycles as a matter of course. I hated hitch hiking and railways were boring so I rode what I could afford, a café racer 350 with adapted luggage, army surplus canvas and a butane stove to heat my noodles. I always craved the slick BMW (there's a theme here!) hard removable luggage and factory designed wind protection. Now I am old and I prefer soft bags, well siliconed to keep the contents dry. These 160 dollar bags from Triumph work for me for my relatively short trips these days. I have been experimenting with carrying just my waterproof jacket and pants and leaving the other odds and sods, and the bags themselves at home. These chrome brackets are a hundred dollar Triumph option. They would also allow me to add larger bags for longer trips. In the event I am pretty sure I would get larger soft bags as modern materials make them every bit as effective as hard luggage for my kind of touring. My indispensable luggage is my $100 Emgo top box, a cube with no compound curves or rounded edges which means it's interior space is fully usable. They are sold by the Yamaha dealer in Key West and can be seen everywhere in town. It is not pretty like expensive Givi boxes but it locks, it's quickly removed and it is entirely waterproof. It is also considered by Bonneville fans to be ugly. Oh well! I also use a cargo net on the passenger seat for extra stuff as needed. The rack is a New Zealand item by Renntec designed for the Bonneville and sold for $130 on the New Bonneville website (see link above).I wish the Bonneville came with black mirrors like the Scrambler model but they aren't compatible as the Scrambler has different handlebars. These chrome ones have done well in the harsh salt laden air of the Florida Keys but if I were motivated I would probably have them painted black myself. This mirror also survived my wreck last year and the scars of my 45 mile per hour slide are still visible as rusty smears.The Bonneville is not sold as an expensive replica of an historic bike, and some riders like to upgrade suspension and add chrome and crap at every turn to personalize their bikes. My Bonneville is as I like it and as I want it. I would like to have the wheels professionally laced to enable them to take tubeless tires (easier to repair a flat roadside) but at a thousand bucks the price is too much. To ride my Bonneville is easy. The clutch is light, the acceleration is enough to zoom past cars up to 85 miles per hour. I have seen 105 on the clock but above 90 the Bonneville is cruising rather than surging. The seat height at 30.5 inches feels higher than one might expect but I can get both my 28 inch legs to touch ground. At 500 pounds ready to ride the Bonneville may feel heavier than it looks but historically speaking it isn't far off what a historic T120 weighed. I get 43-48 miles per gallon, much like the original, and newer fuel injected bikes get better mileage I'm told. I have to switch to reserve around 130-150 miles depending how gently I have been riding. The tank has about one extra gallon in reserve. The fuel injected bikes don't have fuel petcocks and a low fuel light comes on when there is a gallon left in the tank. At a steady 80 miles per hour on the freeway I get around 42mpg (American).If I wanted a factory tachometer it would cost around $350 but when my accessory tach bit the dust in my wreck I didn't bother to replace it. The Bonneville pulls in fifth gear from 35 miles per hour no problem so torque is not an issue. For $2000 less one could buy a fuel injected Enfield 500 single, a modern replica of the original the Indian factory has been churning out for years. I find the new Royal Enfields pretty bikes that tug at my heart strings but I had my fill of Indian workmanship with my awful Stella scooter and the Bonneville is so easy to ride around town I think of it as a geared scooter in its own right. Plus it is capable to taking me round the world at the drop of a hat if I were to so choose. In an age when people think they need three motorcycles in their garage each specialized in some aspect of the sport the Bonneville does everything for me. It copes with gravel roads, it tours, it commutes, it's fun and it's looks appeal to the nostalgic in me.I considered other motorcycles when I bought the Bonneville. The BMW 650 single I have ridden extensively and find it too peaky for my taste lacking the torque I crave. The Kawasaki Versys is my kind of bike except it is just too fugly (and the seat is too high like most dual sports). I love the Ducati Classic 1000, but servicing is a chore every 7500 miles and Triumph makes spares readily available which Ducati is not well known for. The Suzuki 650 twin is too angular for my taste and the Suzuki Bandit 1250 which was my second choice lost out just because I don't need four cylinders and a hundred horsepower for my kind of riding. A recent new arrival I like very much is the Honda Deauville NT700 which suffers from lots of plastic but is eminently sensible and comfortable. Another also ran is the reasonably priced Harley XR1200 which lacks a passenger seat and decent accessories for someone who wants bags and a decent windshield. The self adjusting valves and belt drives of modern Harleys are a huge selling point for me.In the end I am very happy I found the Bonneville. My preference is subjective and that is probably why I like it so much. 65 horsepower, a noisy air cooled parallel twin and looks that make it hard to discern if it is four years old or forty are a lot of quirks for modern riders to absorb. Yet the bike sells well and in a decade of production it has only under gone one major revision, a boost from 790 to 865 cc. Fuel injection was mandated by European smog laws and the new SE Bonneville has smaller (uglier) wheels to make it more accessible to shorter riders. The fuel injected T100, which is the chromed and tach'ed version of mine, as well as the original black version with wire spoked wheels are still offered for sale alongside the smaller SE.Motorcycles in the US are still considered toys, not tools, and in a toy market one looks to prestige and power to make a mark. I leave the statistics to others but the success of my Bonneville lies in this simple fact: it is a fun ride. After 40,000 miles I still get a twinge of excitement as I get ready to go to work, and my wife has stopped nagging me to take the car if it looks like rain or its too hot to ride. She shrugs in graceful surrender because she knows that riding the Bonneville is something I enjoy too much to avoid with some feeble excuse about the weather. Thats the mark of a successful bike in my world.