Every working man with a taste for two wheels has faced the same dilemma: you want a motorcycle that's fun, fast and affordable, but it's got to have soul. Budgetary constraints add further complexity to the conundrum--you can't spend a dime over eight grand. You've considered the used market, but prefer buying new to keep cards like maintenance history and warranty stacked in your favor. You looked at metric cruisers based solely on their reputation for reliability, but a lack of heritage scratched the best of these machines off your short list immediately. Where then can a blue-collar biker turn to find the machine of his dreams?
Two motorcycles with over a century of history between them come to mind: the Triumph Bonneville and the Harley-Davidson Sportster. In their prime these machines owned the field in their respective arenas: Triumph in the deserts of Baja, and Harley on America's dirt tracks. In the '60s and '70s, both bikes were willing donors for the chopper scene. Today both models have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity on the back of some very targeted niche marketing, with Triumph attracting the ton-up crowd and Harley staking its claim with aging skate punks. Metaphorically speaking these bikes are firing on both cylinders, and with base stickers in the 8,500 range, it's obvious who each manufacturer sees as their main competition.
Full disclosure is in order. We love Sportsters. Billdozer and I have owned four of them in six years: two mostly stock, and two ground-up customs. My partner in crime also has plenty of experience with Triumphs: a '60s unit-powered chopper and an '06 Bonneville with a bonanza of aftermarket mods. Bill rode the latter machine the long way on EDR III, a 3,500 mile adventure over some of the most unforgiving highways in the western hemisphere. Although we haven't ridden a 2010 example of either machine (hey Triumph and H-D media services, are you listening?), we're confident enough with our experience on prior models to share our opinions in this comparison.
The first machine we looked at was the 2010 Bonneville. Triumph has broadened their Bonneville series to three models this year: The base Bonnie pictured above, the SE and the T-100 Classic. All three models feature the same 865cc DOHC parallel twin engine, frame/fork and foot/hand controls, but boast different wheel and spec packages. The base Bonnie and SE roll on new-for-2010 17-inch alloy mags and showcase new reverse megaphone exhaust pipes. The T-100 retains last year's 17/19 spoked steel rim package and cigar-shaped mufflers. All three models have their charms, but I prefer the unadorned elegance of the new base model. I know Triumph's chrome tank badge is steeped in tradition, but I can't look at it without seeing George Michael's crotch in the "I Want Your Sex" video. Thankfully, the new Bonneville is built to a pricepoint that precludes such ornamentation.
When it was time to haggle on price, Billdozer took the reins. Things sounded promising between he and our salesman until the manager got involved, and that's when we hit a roadblock. After firm negotiating by both parties, Bill reached an impasse at $8,400 OTD--5% higher than our self-imposed max. We thanked the floor guy for his time and drove to the Harley dealership down the street.