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Triumph Bonneville T120 review, test ride

11th Mar 2016 7:43 pm

We get astride one of Triumph’s new Bonneville family’s most retro member, the T120 Black, and see if it was bitten by the modernity bug as well.

  • Make : Triumph
  • Model : Bonneville

Designed to look like it came from the 1950s, but engineered to be a proper 21st century motorcycle – that’s exactly what the Triumph Bonneville has been for over the last decade and a half. And the brief hasn’t really changed even as the British bike maker unveiled the fourth generation of this iconic motorcycle last year. Of course, since the last generation of the bike, which introduced this retro-modern theme, the Bonneville has represented a range of motorcycles based on a common platform. The latest iteration has been no different, with the boys at Hinckley giving us five separate versions in the form of the Street Twin, the T120, the T120 Black, the Thruxton and the Truxton R. We got a chance to sample the range-starter, the Street Twin late last year and we came back quite impressed at just how well Triumph has been able to maintain the balance between heritage and fun. So to ride its bigger and more retro brother, the T120, we landed up in the coastal town of Cascais in Portugal.

Retro revelation

Just like the T100 was the more classic-themed version of the last generation Bonneville, the T120 retains its more old-school design philosophy. And the differences between the two are now even starker, considering just how modern(ish) the Street Twin looks. Now the version that we rode is actually the T120 Black, but the difference between this one and the standard T120 is purely aesthetic. The Black gets a lot of, well, black bits, and unlike the standard T120, which is available in a larger variety of colours, this one just comes in black and grey. At the risk of overusing the word “classic”, the T120’s classic design touches include wire-spoke wheels, twin pea-shooter exhausts, twin-throttle bodies designed to look like carburettors, a dark tan leather single-piece seat and even its larger 18-inch front wheel.

A mighty heart

While the T120 might look like a bike from a time long past, the story about its internals couldn’t be further from the truth. Triumph developed not just one, but two liquid-cooled motors for the new Bonneville family, so while the Street Twin gets the smaller 900cc parallel twin motor, the T120 is packed with a much larger 1200cc unit. Surprisingly though, this new larger motor is more compact than the one from the outgoing model. This engine is designated HT (for High Torque), so outright horsepower, which at 79bhp is 18 percent more than the T100’s, isn’t really the focus. There is 10.7kgm of peak torque available at just 3,100rpm, and ample available even lower than that. So the T120 can effortlessly amble about town at near-idle revs, but when you give it some stick and get the tachometer needle past the 2,500rpm mark, the bike lunges ahead with much bravado. Stay for a couple of seconds on the gas, and you’ll need to hang on to dear life thanks to the relentless acceleration.

For a bike that looks so old-school, there are surprising amount of electronics on it. It gets ride-by-wire, which really makes the power delivery crisp and lag free than ever before. Only a couple of times when making small and sudden changes in throttle, did the bike feel slightly jumpy. Otherwise, the engine response is as smooth as silk.

Other electronic additions made to the T120 are riding modes. You get Road and Rain, with the former giving you the standard throttle response and latter dialling it down, making it more elastic, for when you encounter loose surfaces. And you also get a traction control system, which honestly doesn’t even come into play that often thanks to the predictable and tractable power delivery. It’s only when I got too throttle-happy on either loose or bumpy surfaces that the traction control even remotely cut in. Still, I’m sure it’ll be a far more useful feature on our erratic road conditions back in India.

Under the skin

The new chassis that has been created specifically for this new motorcycle is a far cry from what was present on the earlier. A chat with Triumph’s chassis development engineer, David Lopez, revealed that the focus was to make the new bike feel lighter and more nimble than the outgoing T100 even though now it’s a fair bit heavier (224kg) because of the larger motor. Some of the largest differences are to the tubular twin-cradle frame with a significant reduction in steering head angle from about 28 degrees to 25.5 degrees, which has brought the wheelbase down to a significantly smaller 1,445mm.

The new geometry really adds some much-needed nimbleness to this bike, while the larger 18-inch diameter front wheel size keeps the front end from becoming twitchy. Add to that the grippy, specially developed Pirelli Phantom Sport comp tyres (100/90-18 front and 150/70 R17 at the back) and an improved 48-52 percent front-rear weight distribution, and you’ve got a fairly competent handling package.

The one grouse we had with the bike’s handling was due to that larger front wheel, which preferred to track straight, initial turn-ins felt a bit lazy. It took a couple of kilometres to get used to easing the bike into corners and then throttling out, riding a wave of torque from the motor. Also, the footpegs, which have been lowered for a more comfortable riding posture, do tend to scrape quite easily in the corners. What was rather impressive however was the ride quality. The 41mm Kabaya cartridge forks at the front and the twin Kabaya shocks at the back, with their dual-rated springs, provided great damping over rough roads. On the larger undulations though, the bike wallowed a bit, but this was immediately brought under control when I adjusted the rear shocks from their default softest setting to a couple of notches of added preload.

Man-machine interface

To make the T120 more comfortable than the earlier T100 model, there have been quite a few subtle changes all around the bike. The handlebars are now a bit taller and closer towards the rider while the footpegs have lowered and moved slightly forward as well. Both these factors combined with the significantly improved seat design (which has a wonderfully low saddle height of just 785mm) make this one of the most comfortable motorcycles out there. Whether it’s a long commute through traffic or several hundred kilometres of touring, I really believe that the T120 will be able to handle it with much aplomb.

Road trip or nostalgia trip?

At first glance, the Bonneville T120 can give the impression that it’s an old-school bike designed to deliver nothing but old-school charm. But as Triumph’s boss of engineering, Stuart Wood put it, it’s all about finding the right compromise between the heritage and the contemporary. And this is one scenario where the word “compromise” certainly doesn’t carry any negative connotations. The T120 really does bring together the best of both worlds and seems to do it better in either scenario than ever before. And as Triumph revealed at this year’s Auto Expo in Noida, customers in India can get their hands on this bike for Rs 8.70 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). It should be noted though that the bike we rode in Portugal is the T120 Black, while we’ll only get the standard T120 in India. The differences however are purely cosmetic with the T120 getting the all-black treatment and a choice of just two colours while the standard bike gets four different colour options and lots of chrome. And we Indians certainly love our chrome, don’t we?

Priyadarshan Bawikar 

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