Welcome to ChopCult's first new bike shootout. For this battle, we selected the 2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight and the Triumph Bonneville T100. Totally different looking bikes, but both on a similar mission; reliable two-wheeled fun for about ten grand. We'll do this feature in three parts: Triumph, Harley and the Conclusion. We only spent a couple weeks with the machines, but during that time we took them through the paces, from canyon carving to highway cruising and the daily commute, we lived with the bikes and swapped them amongst a diverse group of riders to assemble real-world opinions and feedback. Here's part one, the 2012 Triumph Bonneville T100.
Triumph introduced the New Bonneville in 2001 and followed up in subsequent model years with different iterations on the same basic chassis and motor platform. These once esoteric street machines for the retro set grew in popularity, pulling a burgeoning aftermarket support system along with them. Today a rider can customize his Bonneville, Scrambler or Thruxton Hinckley Triumph with a rash of cool parts and accessories from British Customs, Speed Merchant and others. For this road test we obtained a Bonneville T100 model in Cranberry and New England White two-tone paint with a hand-laid coach stripe in metallic gold. The look is classic Triumph in every sense of the word.
Nothing says "I didn't want a Harley" like a Triumph. I personally bought one new in 2006 and rode the piss out of it until my friend Nitro augured it into a mountainside and took over the payments. That bike had carbs and took a jet kit, air box removal and pipes to make it feel like something more than a sewing machine. Six years later, the new Bonnie features a fuel injection system that looks like carbs, but act much differently. I like the visceral connection between the throttle and engine on carbureted bikes, but in stock trim this 2012’s fuel injection is crisper and more forgiving. It starts right up and immediately feels less anemic than its older brothers. One negative aspect of the fuel injection is the slightly larger, more bulbous gas tank. While still attractive, it's not as nice as the carbureted models because it has to accommodate the fuel pump. Having said that, the larger 4.2-gallon size is practical on long trips.
When I picked this unit up it had been a few years since I piloted a modern Bonnie. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I nearly forgot how good a motorcycle this Hinckley Triumph was and is. Classic two-wheeled transportation in every way, the T100 is a machine every motorcycle company should emulate. It's just a regular old motorbike, and that’s totally OK. It's not particularly fast or sporty, but for the average rider it's the perfect tool for the job. Triumph figured out ergonomics for daily riding decades ago, and today’s T100 takes them all into consideration. My short, 5-foot-9 frame was just as comfortable as Black Rob at six-three. This we were convinced this was due to the bike’s mid-controls and a long, flat seat. Bars and risers are traditional and easy to change to further dial in ergonomics, and the rear passenger pegs make a comfy second position for feet during long hauls.
Clutch pull, brake modulation and steering are all quicker and lighter than comparably priced or sized Harleys. Both novices and more experienced bikeriders can acclimate to the T100's ergonomics and controls. Twisties are fun as long as you have reasonable goals; it’s certainly not a sport bike. The suspension feels nearly as old as the paint scheme looks. It's 1970's technology with cheap shocks in the back and simple sprung/damped forks up front—no adjustments other than preload in the rear, invented when, 1960? Better suspension is easily available through the aftermarket if a rider wants to increase handling performance, but the econo spec keeps the price down for anyone who just needs a motorcycle and isn't concerned with track times and knee dragging. As bad as we make it sound, in stock trim the suspension is adequate and comfortable, but decidedly antiquated.
Chassis woes aside, the T100’s 865cc twin-cylinder engine feels far from antique. It starts easily and idles quietly, a little too docile perhaps, but some good slip-on exhaust tips will change that quickly. Gearing is smartly spaced and hitting the ton is not a problem, even hauling my lard ass around. Snicks through the gears are not quite modern Japanese light, but far from the clunky Harley shifts. Highway cruising is a relaxed affair and the bike doesn't feel stressed at all when keeping up with the insane drivers on California freeways. The quicker steering and higher revs are a change for anyone used to an American V-twin, but to someone like Black Rob who rides a vintage CB750, it felt familiar but with far more power and much longer pulls between gears. Triumph spent the money in the right places. This powerplant is proven to be reliable and modern in every way except looks, and that’s a good thing.
Speaking of looks, the two-tone paint is a complete old-dude magnet. You have been warned. I got so sick of answering "what year is that?" on my 2006 T100 that I swapped to a solid black tank. That killed the comments from most geriatric cagers who insisted on regaling me with stories of their misspent youth on a Bonneville. Nothing against them, but I'd rather just pump gas and get on with it. I did however, always ask inquisitive codgers if they still had their old machines squirreled away somewhere. You never know where cool old bikes are hiding. Bottom line: the 2012’s livery positively screams "Free Viagra" so be careful—it may not generate the kind of attention you’re looking for.
Being the most expensive Bonnie at a suggested $9,000 this bike is still quite a good value. An SE model at $7,699 with 17-inch mags front and rear is an even better choice. Most riders buy way more motorcycle than they really need or can handle, but the modern Bonneville line up is a much more realistic solution–plenty of manageable power, predictable handling, comfortable riding position, authentic heritage and looks unlike anything else you can buy brand new.
Engine and Transmission: Air-cooled, DOHC, parallel-twin, 360º firing interval, 865cc
Bore/Stroke: 90 x 68mm
Fuel System: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection with SAI
Exhaust: Stainless steel headers, twin chromed silencers.
Final Drive: X ring chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Oil Capacity: 4.5 litres (1.2 US gals)
Frame: Tubular steel cradle
Swingarm: Twin-sided, tubular steel
Front Wheel: 36-spoke 19 x 2.5in
Rear Wheel: 40-spoke 17 x 3.5in
Front Tire: 100/90 R19
Rear Tire: 130/80 R17
Front Suspension: Kayaba 41mm forks, 120mm travel
Rear Suspension: Kayaba chromed spring twin shocks with adjustable preload, 106mm rear wheel travel
Front Brakes: Single 310mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
Rear Brakes: Single 255mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper
Instrument Display/Functions: Analogue speedometer and tachometer with odometer and trip information
Length: 2230mm (87.7in)
Width: (handlebars) 740mm (29.1in)
Height without mirrors: 1100mm (43.3in)
Seat Height: 775mm (30.5in)
Wheelbase: 1500mm (59.0in)
Fuel Tank Capacity: 16 litres (4.2 US gals)
Wet Weight (ready to ride): 230 kg (506 lbs)
Maximum Power: (measured at crankshaft to 95/1/EC) 68PS / 67bhp / 50kW @ 7500rpm
Maximum Torque: 68Nm / 50 ft.lbs @ 5800rpm
Fuel Efficiency: 43 MPG City / 57 MPG Highway *Estimated from fuel economy tests on a sample motorcycle conducted under ideal laboratory conditions. Actual mileage may vary based upon personal riding habits, weather, vehicle condition, and other factors.
Price: $8,599 (All Black Model) / $9,099 (Two-tone Color) *Actual price determined by dealer. Price excludes taxes, license, options and $495 in destination/handling charges Prices and specifications subject to change without notice.
More info: Triumph Website