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2017 Triumph Bonneville T120 review, road test

1st Aug 2016 11:38 am

The legendary Bonneville T120 makes reappearance and it’s still classy as ever. With a new, bigger 1,200cc engine and some modern electronics thrown in, we find out if it rides as well as it looks.

  • Make : Triumph
  • Model : Bonneville
For some of the seasoned purists of motorcycling, modern motorcycles are seen as a form of sacrilege; what with all the fancy electronic-aids and plastic bits all over. And for a lot of these riders, the Triumph Bonneville range has provided a serious dose of retro motorcycling combined with modern engineering and reliability. However, with the current entry-level Bonneville, the Street Twin, more modern than ever before, does its larger sibling, the new T120, do a better job of retaining the classic essence of the original from the ’60s? Its proper archetypal British bike looks certainly seem to suggest so, but a more thorough evaluation was undoubtedly in order.
We honestly weren’t expecting the massive 1,200cc motor to delivery great fuel efficiency figures, so you can imagine how surprised we were when our city run showed a mileage figure of 20.2kpl, which ended up going to a whopping 27kpl on the highway! Combine that highway mileage with a 14.5-litre fuel capacity, and you’re looking at a range of nearly 400km between fuel stops. The T120 really does make a strong case for itself as a touring machine then.

Take a close look at the new T120 and the lineage is quite apparent. There’s a tasteful and well-balanced amount of chrome scattered all over the motorcycle. It still has that nice round headlight with an added triumph logo over the bulb reflector. It also comes with a rather interesting LED daytime running light that forms a ‘U’ shape inside the bottom contour of the headlight; not exactly retro but it looks great, albeit a little unfinished. The metal front mud-guard is held firmly in place by a sturdy metal bracket that displays an embossed Triumph logo. And staying true to the original T120 from the ’60s and ’70s, there’s also an 18-inch rim up front with wire-spoke wheels, followed by a 17-inch one at the rear.
Swing a leg over the saddle and you’re greeted by a modern version of a retro instrument cluster. There are the signature large twin-analogue dials for a speedometer and tachometer that fit snugly within a brushed metal bracket that looks ever so pleasing. The dials also contain tell-tale lights for ABS, Triumph Traction Control (TTC), engine warning and low oil. There are digital displays on the dials for the odometer, two trip meters, a fuel gauge, fuel consumption and distance to empty. This is one of the features a classic bike purist would probably shrug off; but there’s no arguing with convenience. There’s also a nicely tucked away USB charging socket under the seat that would simply add to that argument.
On to the design highlight of the T120, the bulbous metal tank looks just scrumptious; it’s well sculpted and houses recesses with rubber pads for your knees. It doesn’t scream for attention, it just sits there in all its authenticity; with a nice, chunky chromed Triumph logo. The fuel-injectors on the other hand have been well shrouded to appear like the older, round-slide carburettors. But I doubt this would fool our aforementioned purists. The seat is properly reminiscent of the ’60s; it’s a long, flattish seat that gives you ample space to move around and should be pretty comfortable on longer rides. This ends in a pretty thick, metal grab-rail that really fits in well with the whole retro look. And let’s not forget the twin, pea-shooter exhausts that look exactly like they did in the ’60s.

The all-new 1200cc, liquid-cooled, parallel-twin engine is nothing short of a gem. This is the same mill that sets the Thruxton R thumping but in a completely different state of tune. The T120 gets the High Torque (HT) version, while the Thruxton R gets the High Power (HP) version. The T120’s engine drills out a reasonable 80hp of peak power at 6,550rpm and a whole 105Nm of peak torque at 3,100rpm. What this does translate to, is plenty of pulling power in every gear and a rather linear power delivery. But this is something that can really throw you off guard. Linger in the lower rev-range and you really enjoy the relaxed nature of the engine, with oodles of torque to amble about. Whack the throttle open, and once the tacho-needle edges past the 3,100rpm mark, speed starts to really build quickly. Even when testing out acceleration on rain soaked roads, the T120 managed zero to 100kph in just 5.68 seconds. Not really something you’d expect from a motorcycle that looks like it should come equipped with a cup of English breakfast tea and maybe a crumpet.
The six-speed gearbox on the T120 feels very precise, although it’s slightly clunky in the lower gears. But to maximise the potential of all that torque, it comes with fairly tall gear ratios and you could easily see the speedo-needle nudging on 90kph in first gear alone. Despite the tallish gearing though, in fourth gear it can go from 40 to 60kph in a scant 2.74 seconds and even in sixth gear, the run from 70 to 100kph in just 5.79 seconds. As they say, there’s no replacement for displacement. What’s also responsible for such delectable linear power delivery is a new 270-degree crankshaft layout, which also makes for a lovely burble from the twin pea-shooter exhausts. It’s certainly a symphony that fills you with the nostalgia of what parallel-twin engines must have sounded like half a century ago.
The T120’s dose of modernity includes some neat touches such as a ride-by-wire throttle, which has made way for a competent, but rudimentary (and switchable) traction control system. The traction control ensures you don’t spin the rear wheel on loose surfaces, but when it does cut in, it’s a bit abrupt which can be a little unnerving mid-corner. But while this same traction control system is also available on its smaller sibling, the Street Twin, the T120 gets riding modes as well. Granted that there are only two modes, Road and Rain, and they aren’t as nuanced as what you get on modern sportbikes, you’ll be glad to have the lowered throttle response of Rain mode when riding in the wet.

Hit the twisties and you’d be surprised at how well the stiffer chassis allows the T120 to flow into corners. However, the bike does not seem very keen to turn quickly. It certainly feels more nimble than its predecessor, the T100, thanks to a significant reduction in wheelbase to 1,445mm and tighter steering geometry (with the head angle now 25.5 degrees as opposed to 28 degrees on the T100). But its rather chubby dry weight of 224kg and larger 18-inch front wheel means that steering feels heavy while pitching it into the turn, although once it’s leaned over, the bike feels quite planted. Overall, this makes handling quite predictable, but before you run across any of the chassis’ or tyres’ shortcomings while cornering, the extra-low footpegs end up scraping the tarmac. So while the T120 is not a corner-carver from any angle, its stability and comfort (thanks to those lowered footpegs and extremely accommodating seat) means that it works quite wonderfully as a highway machine. So strapping on saddlebags and taking it touring over long distances is well within the T120’s comfort zone. And for the most part, ride quality is quite well-balanced too. The Kayaba 41mm cartridge-forks at the front and the Kayaba twin shocks at the rear work quite well over most bumps, but ride over some really sharp ones and the bike’s hefty weight and slightly low (for Indian conditions) suspension travel of 120mm make the shocks bottom out.
Out on city roads, the T120 does show its heavy nature as compared to the Street Twin, especially when you’re trying to manoeuvre it at really slow speeds or manhandle it around parking spaces. But once you get used to the weight, it shouldn’t pose any significant problems in the urban landscape. And its low(ish) seat height of 785mm (though nowhere as low as that on the Street Twin) ensures that even shorter riders are at home in the saddle.
The twin 310mm discs up front are equipped with Nissin two-piston calipers, while the rear comes with a single 255mm disc. Both are equipped with ABS and provide some really predictable and strong braking. Grab on the brakes and they feel a bit vague initially, but the bite really comes on later. Even in wet conditions, the T120 managed a 60-0kph distance of 23.38 metres while 80-0kph took 39.13 metres, with the bike feeling rock solid all the while. A part of this can be attributed to the new Pirelli Phantom Sportcomp tyres, which have been specially designed for the Street Twin and the T120. But in the T120’s case, they just seemed to work a lot better, mostly thanks to its heavier weight and well-balanced 48-52 weight distribution.

The T120 is one of those bikes that manages to execute the perfect blend of the past and the present. It still has the old-school charm, along with all the technological development that makes motorcycles so much easier to ride today. In essence, it has matured in the proper way an iconic motorcycle should. It’s great fun to ride, it can engage in light commuting as well as touring, and it has an absolute bomber of an engine. Above all, it looks as cool as ever. And with a price-tag of Rs 8.70 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the Triumph T120 really is a lovely motorcycle. Who knows, maybe just like its predecessors, this once could still be standing half a century later as well.

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