Saturday, November 26, 2016

95,000 Mile Bonneville

I was looking at oil dripping over the lower areas of the bike last week and wondering if after 9 years and 95,000 miles my favorite motorcycle ever, had blown a serious gasket. So by way of emotional compensation I went to look up past rides and found this, one of my favorite pictures of the Bonneville in action on the Overseas Highway. I remember stopping for a cup of tea and enjoying the bright summer sunlight and the color and the ride aong the only road through the Keys.
I bought the bike brand new in October 2007 from the late lamented Pure Triumph of Fort Lauderdale for exactly $8,000 including the center stand and tax and delivery. I got a short test ride and I thought to myself "This feels like a scooter with gears" so light and easy was it to ride "I must have this." There was no doubt in my wife's mind when I got back to Pure Triumph that a "new" Bonneville was coming into my life. "Is it as reliable as your Japanese bikes?" she asked, and all I could say was that the reviews were excellent. A week later my bike was ready for pick up. I made a reputation for myself at the dealership as I showed up ready to ride 170 miles home. The mechanics in the shop called me "the rider."
Perhaps I had been taking my motorcycle for granted but the catastrophic oil leak manifested itself as a puddle one day, thus saving me from running the engine dry. I envisioned a future of expensive repairs and with one Vespa to be released shortly after a fourth (or is it fifth?) round of renovation with the other Vespa needing to go into the shop for refurbishment I faced the prospect of having to drive the car all the time.
      I wasn't sure what to do so I did what I could. I changed the oil filter and the oil and hoped the non name brand filter had sprung a leak. A week later the oil remains in the sump so it appears that a crisis was narrowly averted. We ride on. One thing I like about the Bonneville is the lack of bodywork. The oil change is easy and the filter just falls away dripping on nothing. The final drive chain needs no adjustment between tire changes when I let the mechanic change the tire and thus adjust the chain. I use a Loobman oiler to keep the chain lubricated and it gives me no trouble at all and last 40,000 miles...I like riding not wrenching.
I put a windshield on and some luggage and I called it good. I ride on original suspension and burn original light bulbs, I clean it from time to time with S100 and Brasso for the chrome but I'm not fussy. It only has value for me as my daily rider and for sale I would get nothing. The rectifier burned out at 75,000 miles and $150 later we were back in business. One side panel broke its plastic mounting hole which i covered with a washer and is now sitting tight. I just keep riding and filling it with mid grade fuel which returns 43 miles per US gallon, and never varies unless I ride the freeway.
We've ridden some freeways the Bonneville and I. I went to visit Jack Riepe in Pennsylvania and he polished the windshield for me with some proprietary toothpaste only to have it rain cats and dogs all the way to the Autotrain in Virginia the next day. 
I've ridden all over Florida on the motorcycle I call "The Bonneville" or "The Triumph." I have never found any reason to name inanimate objects in my life and I find the need to give human names to lumps of metal rather quaint.  It's just a Bonneville and I invest it with sentiment after so many hours in the saddle.
It's hard to articulate why I like the Bonneville so much but after half a century of looking I found the one I like. To me it looks like a bike should, even under dust rust and grime. It runs impeccably even though I know suspension, clutch and sundries will need replacement soon. The speedometer makes an annoying whirr for the first mile in temperatures under 60 (rare in South Florida) and I changed the valve guides a few years ago when Jiri the Mechanic took off the head to de-coke the combustion chamber. He blames ethanol for the crud in the combustion chamber. 
I have read where the Bonneville is considered overweight at 500 pounds ready to ride compared to an early model machine built at Meriden which weighed in 60 pounds less. Some people want more horsepower than the 67 said to be churned out here. All I know is I can outrun most family sedans easily, headwinds are no problem and cruising at a steady 75 may use fuel at 38 miles per gallon but you get there. Sure the tank could be bigger, 160 miles will run you dry- I know. The seat works for me though some think it's a plank, the riding position is neutral and the bike is easy to throw around corners not like a boy racer but respectably enough. In traffic it cuts and weaves like a scooter.
I rode a couple of Iron Butts, ridiculous long distance rides, great fun very tiring and very satisfying too, though doing them late in the year was absurd, especially riding to Binghamton in Fall, I froze in the fresh New York air. The bike ran fine of course.
Image result for yamaha fj 1300
I figured maybe I should lust after a Harley or a "proper" touring bike like the Yamaha 1300 pictured above. But 600 pound motorcycles feel unnecessary to me espccially as I am not touring most of the time. I see a regular commuter on an FJ1300 Yamaha on the Overseas Highway so what doesn't work for me works for others. I tried renting an Indian Chief for a day to see if "the other" cruiser company had got the format more comfortable for me.
Nope, I rode around Central Florida with my arms thrown wide gripping the huge handlebars, my feet splayed like a whore on a  couch and my ears ringing to the incredibly loud sound of the factory mufflers. I missed my nimble, silent Triumph. Especially as this beast had six gears and I was shifting all the time and it drank gas at the rate of 30 miles to the gallon. Next week I'm renting a Scout in Las Vegas just for fun but I have no hope of a motorcycle better suited to my needs coming along.
Related image

I like the new water cooled Triumphs, especially the 900cc Street Twin (above) in red. It has less horsepower than mine but it gets sixty miles to the gallon, has tubeless tires, lower seat height and weighs 25 pounds less; all for around $8,000 factory dollars. The simplicity and absence of chrome makes it appeal to me more than the "proper" water cooled Bonnevilles with 1200cc to their name and much greater performance. I also like the longer oil change and valve inspection intervals. But in the end my old air cooled ride has plenty of miles left to go and I plan to ride every one of them. Rusty permitting.
The hardest thing about dog ownership is leaving the dog, Rusty now or Cheyenne (above) then, behind. So what am I to do? Get a sidecar? Not yet. But when I become too feeble to ride on two wheels I will consider that and I can't think of a simpler more reliable motorcycle to hack than a Bonneville. I am not an engineer so I don't understand the desire for a Russian combination driven by an engine that needs to be rebuilt every thirty thousand miles. I'd rather be in the wilderness with a Bonneville and a come-along, than a Ural and two wheel drive to get out of a  hole. Besides I can't conceive of putting myself that far from civilization in the dirt  that you need two wheel drive on a motorcycle prone to failing.
I suppose in the end the fact that I ride instead of repair is a big draw to this motorcycle. Good looking unlike modern standard motorcycles, reliable and easy to ride the Bonneville is perfect for 59 year old me. So easy I am always tempted to jump on at the least excuse.
Triumph Bonneville, Parabellum windshield, Long Key.