Triumph Bonneville T120: Road Test Review

Published On Aug 9, 2016 By Tushar Kamath for Triumph Bonneville T120

The all-new Triumph Bonneville T120 is here, and how! A new engine joins hands with new tech for the ultimate modern day old-school experience

The Triumph Bonneville holds a very special place in my heart. Why? Well, the now defunct Bonnie was the very first twin-cylinder motorcycle I ever tested. It was also the first time I put anything above 500cc between my legs (stop giggling). Did it make me feel special? You bet! But there're more reasons why Triumph's icon is so… iconic.

While premium motorcycles are usually loud and brash, the Bonneville has defined the term 'hiding in plain sight’. It's an unassuming and easy to ride motorcycle that can please the seasoned among us while nurturing a novice. That's why I respect the Bonneville, and with the T120, the Brits have attempted to give it an entirely new life. They’ve worked to fix old flaws and added a lot of firsts for the age-old nameplate.

Have they succeeded, or is this a distinction without a difference? Time to find out!

Design & Features

Ever so often, along comes a model with a cult-like loyalty base. These fans do not take kindly to major changes and the Bonneville's designers faced a similar problem - make it look different so it isn't a case of old wine in a new bottle, but not so much that the fanboys cry 'anarchy’.

Triumph has somehow pulled it off and the T120 is still a perfect blend of retro and modern design. The round headlamp gets integrated DRLs and the twin-pod instrument cluster isn’t as bulbous anymore. You still get analogue instrumentation, but it’s complemented by LCD displays that read out data like the fuel level, trip meter, distance-to-empty and fuel efficiency.

The T120 is supposed to be inspired by the original 1959 Bonneville, but honestly, there’s not much by way of similarities. What you do get, though, is improved quality levels and a lot of attention to detail. Whether it’s the Triumph logo headlamp bulb cover or the brand insignia on the spark plug leads and foot pegs, there’s evidence that the designers took their time while putting pen to paper. Even the radiator has been painted in the most devil-pleasing shade of black to hide it from view.

It does, however, take a keen eye to spot the differences vs the old model since the fuel tank, side panels and seat look quite similar. That said, the relatively minor changes hide a lot of new tech that’s been added to the T120. The faux carburettors hide fuel injectors that now get ride-by-wire, and the new throttle system has also enabled integration of ride modes (road/rain).

While the 18-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels get a classic spoke layout, they’re adorned by disc brakes that get not only ABS but switchable traction control as well. Additional goodies include heated grips as standard (I hear the Ladakh lot celebrating already), a USB charging socket under the seat and an LED tail light, which complete the old-timer’s modernization.

Engine & Performance

The Bonneville may attribute its name to a holy land of speed, but today, it's best known for relaxed riding and mature torque delivery.

New generation updates usually see minor output changes, but Triumph has gone for an all-out overhaul. The 'high-torque’, 8-valve, 1,200cc parallel-twin engine produces 80PS of power and 105Nm of torque (vs the old 865cc’s 68PS and 68Nm), both of which are delivered earlier in the rev range as well. What's more interesting is that it even gets liquid-cooling.

Hit the starter and the motor cranks to life with a bassy burble, typical of British classics. Vibration is well-managed and, as expected, getting off the mark doesn’t need much throttle input. The clutch latches on quickly and while it’s not the lightest around, city riding is no hassle. There is a heavy ‘clank’ when you engage first gear and in no time, you’re in the chunk of the torque band. The engine encourages low rev upshifts and thanks to the impeccable mid-range, overtakes don’t command a downshift.

The 6-speed gearbox is uber-slick and while the rev-happy engine is sprightly in city, getting even a little generous with the throttle sends the T120 surging ahead into triple digit speeds. That said, the Bonneville is still an approachable machine to ride, even with it now entering litre-class territory, provided you understand that it can throw you back into the pillion seat if you get too ambitious.

So with the uprated output, is the improved performance noticeable? Yes, of course, but just don’t straddle the bike expecting an earth-shattering difference. You can hit north of 140kmph with a lot more ease, but it’s easy to tell that the engine is most comfortable cruising around 100-120kmph. Liquid-cooling does a great job of heat dissipation at speeds and in moving traffic, but get caught in a crawl and the radiator does blow hot air straight at your shins.

Overall though, the engine is one of the reasons why the Bonneville makes for a great upgrade if you already own a middleweight. You can have a good amount of fun before you even cross 2,000rpm. There are alternatives with more titillating on paper numbers, but few that give you performance that’s as usable.

Ride, Handling & Braking

One of my complaints with the old Bonneville was its stiff suspension setup. I’m happy to say that the ride quality has improved, with the 41mm front forks and twin (pre-load adjustable) rear shocks making the T120 more compliant than ever before. Before riding through the lush greens of NH4, the bike was taken through disturbingly damaged roads, and not once did it bottom-out, even with my heavy frame weighing it down. Due credit to the slightly raised spring travel at the rear which makes it more pillion friendly. The riding posture is relaxed and the 785mm seat height will be comfortable for the average-heighted as well.

The T120 is still a neutral handler, though we didn’t get to push it to its limits due to heavy rains. Instead of the old Metzelers, it now rides on Pirelli Phantoms which offer good dry weather grip. While they’re great on rain-lashed highways as well, things do get a bit tricky in corners as the torque tends to be a bit much for the tyres to handle on wet tarmac. That said, you can switch to rain mode to tame the delivery, and the traction control doesn’t intervene unless you twist the throttle like a hooligan.

Flickable? Afraid not. The Bonneville is noticeably front heavy and the steering isn’t a ‘point and shoot’ affair. However, you can easily lean in at sharp angles and glide through corners all day long. Its mannerisms are quite tourer-like in that way, though there is a good amount of buffeting at triple digit speeds. While the 224kg (dry) weight doesn’t really show around twisties or on the open road, the T120 does warrant a little effort in the city. The turning radius is quite large as well, but come on, it’s not exactly a commuter, is it?

Stopping power comes from twin 310mm discs up front and a single 255mm disc at the rear. The front brakes offer progressive bite and are confidence-inspiring even in the rain, but there is a lack of feedback. The rear brake, on the other hand, needs more bite and feels wooden. It works well at slow speeds but I found myself primarily using it to balance out any hard braking inputs at the front on the highway. Like the traction control system, the ABS isn’t too intrusive either and the setup does trust your judgement.

Verdict

The T120 is still the well-rounded package you’d expect a Bonneville to be. Triumph has done well by giving it some much-needed updates, while doing little to tick off the loyalists. It still offers performance that is usable and approachable, along with a design that is timeless, subtle, and quintessentially British. 

At a price of Rs 8.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it’s an affordable litre-classer that falls into a niche within a niche. Its price-rivals are both too modern and sporty (Kawasaki Z800, Ducati Monster 821) or too conspicuous (Harley-Davidson 1200 Custom) for the traditional British classic buyer. It won’t be the first choice for younger audiences, but for the middle-aged rider who is looking for a mature, sensible and understated package that can misbehave when asked to, it’s hard to do much better.

Words Tushar Kamath | Photography Eshan Shetty

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