Triumph Bonneville History– Icons Never Die

  • By: Jamie
  • Date: 19/06/2022
  • Time to read: 25 min.

Introduced in 1959, few motorcycles can claim a past quite like the legendary Triumph Bonneville. Discover the history of the Bonneville and its lineage through to the present Triumph modern classic range….

In 1978, my father, an original Meriden Triumph employee decided that at the age of 39, it was time to stop being bossed around in menial jobs, and time to start being the all-knowing, all-seeing omnipotent smart arse that did the bossing; he trained to become a teacher. 

That in itself isn’t all that remarkable, an unforgettable occasion aside from one thing; he’d convinced my mother that commuting from the Midlands to Liverpool and back each week, only really worked if he did it on a bike. That’s some superstar level of manipulation right there, and it worked.

A short trip to a local dealer later, and CAC 726T was his – a beautiful candy apple red & black export model spec Triumph Bonneville T140V/E (it was produced in February 1978, which meant it was a mixture of the T140V & E). I was seven years old. Forty years later, I still remember that time, purely because of the Bonnie. (In fact, you can read about my first experience of a Bonnie here).

Dad was a badass. The Bonnie represented everything that was cool; the style, noise and even smell was just an overload of my seven-year-old senses, I can still to this day remember the ticking noises as the headers cooled down, and leaving a large portion of flesh from my fingers on one of the header pipes after touching it because I was fascinated by the blueing.

I remember him coming home in his brand-new leathers – flared leather trousers, jacket to match, both fitted with a red satin-style lining, a black Kiwi full-face helmet, under which he wore his Reactolite Rapide sunglasses. Dad was more than a badass, he was a god, certainly someone to be revered, and being built like a brick sh!te house only reinforced that.

That Triumph Bonneville changed my life forever, and it’s still in the family.

Triumph Bonneville
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Dad’s Bonneville

Triumph Engineering Co. LTD

The ‘original’ Triumph company was founded in 1885, and very nearly reached their centenary, finally closing the gates in August of 1983. Originally based in Coventry, the company was founded by a German, Siegfried Bettmann. 

A number of name changes happened in quick succession; Triumph Cycle Company (1886), and the New Triumph Company Limited (1887) which was created with funding from the relatively new Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.

It took until 1902 before Triumph created their first motorbike, which in all reality was nothing more than a bicycle with a Belgian-sourced ‘Minerva’ engine strapped to it. Despite the very humble beginnings, it did mean that Triumph were on their way.

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1905 Triumph

As part of their plan for domination, Triumph motorcycles were regularly used in racing, timed events, and reliability trials, with Jack Marshall finishing second in the 1907 single cylinder TT, followed by a win the next year. This meant that sales boomed for 1909, with more than 3,000 machines being sold.

Of course, Triumph produced a number of great bikes, and within the history of the company, there are some significant events such as the move to Meriden, which is perhaps where most people understand to be the spiritual home of Triumph, but they only moved to Meriden after being bombed out of their Coventry factory during the blitz, in 1942.

It’s also worth noting that Triumph were one of the major suppliers to the Ministry of Defence during the First World War, which meant that by the end of the war, Triumph were the largest motorcycle maker in Britain.

Shortly after WWI, and due to them being an engineering company at scale, their manufacturing facilities and know-how turned to car making, in low-volumes to start with, but the Triumph Super Seven (1927) started to change things, and Triumph recognised that car manufacturing was the way forward, the two arms of the company (cars & bikes) separating in the ‘30s.

Triumph Bonneville – Early Days

Bonneville – of course the name derives from the famous salt flats, on which even today, speed record attempts are frequent. Triumph wanted something to give the impression of speed, of their ability to produce powerful bikes, to show that ‘speed’ was their game and they were masters of it.

Essentially, the name commemorated the 1956 world speed record of 214mph of Johnny Allen, set using a Triumph ‘streamliner’, which gave birth to the “World’s Fastest Motorcycle” tag, and it sold.

The Bonneville name first found a home in 1959, when Triumph took a Tiger 110, gave it a little more power thanks to the upgraded Amal monobloc carbs (optional for the T110) and a high-performance inlet cam. It’s said that the Bonnie was the inspiration behind the Harley Sportster – something small, with decent power that didn’t feel like an overweight, bloated cruiser, but the reality is that the smaller Sportster preceded the Bonnie by around two years.

It retained the ‘pre-unit’ construction and 650cc capacity, but the tweaks were good enough to see 115mph (ish) in standard form, which at that time was an incredible speed. (Let’s not forget that this was before disc brakes, ‘proper’ suspension and decent rubber had made their way on to bikes). This first incarnation kept the Triumph nomenclature, and was known as the T120, as a reference to the 120mph top speed.

Pre-unit Construction

The pre-unit construction is effectively two separate components, consisting of the engine, and the gearbox. It came about because although ‘unit’ constructions were available (Singer Motors LTD offered a full unit construction as far back as 1911), they were generally deemed to be more unreliable, and more expensive to manufacture.

Incorporating a gearbox within the crankcase meant that the castings would be reaching the limit of what was possible, while retaining enough strength to be oil tight, and rigid. The smaller castings allowed for easier manufacturing, they were stiffer, and less prone to warpage (which of course, means oil loss – something that many of the manufacturers of the ‘60s & ‘70s never really cured).

Better still, the fact that there were two entirely separate oiling systems made it easier for production, both in terms of design and manufacture.

It was a simple solution (albeit rather messy) to a larger problem.

Triumph Bonneville T120

The T120 was the first official Bonnie, produced between 1959 – 1974, originally by Triumph Engineering, and in the latter part of its life, by NVT – Norton Villiers Triumph.

Although Triumph did make some minor alterations in the first few years, such as dropping the traditional headlamp nacelle*(believing that it didn’t look sporty enough) and changing the frame for a duplex construction (which itself needed updating shortly after), the T120 remained pretty much unchanged for the first four years of production, certainly in engineering terms, but for 1963, Triumph rolled out an updated & upgraded Bonnie. 

The new Bonnie was of unit construction, meaning that the engine and gearbox were as one, which amongst other things, meant compactness, which in itself had the benefit of being stiffer. Triumph maximised this by adding additional bracing on the frame, mainly at the swingarm and headstock.

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1964 Bonneville 120R

As the model rolled through the years, Triumph kept introducing minor changes such as improved front forks, combined with a slight change in the headstock angle, sharpening the steering and giving the bike a sportier feel.

The final upgrade for the T120 came about when Triumph started producing the oil-in-frame versions, rather than a separate tank.

Growing Up with The Bonnie

I’ve mentioned just what a profound effect that my dad’s Bonnie had on me, but as I’m working through these different memories, it has struck me just how popular the Bonnie was; nearly everyone within the group of friends of my dad and brother, had a Bonnie.

There was the chocolate brown ‘Bournville’, the blue one, the ratty one, the LOUD one, the fast one … these were the performance bike to have, and they were commonplace in my world. They were special, without being specialised. 

Even today, three of those original Bonnie owners from the 70s and early 80s still own a Bonnie.

The 60s Bonnie

When Triumph switched over to a unit construction, and swapped from the duplex frame to a single downtube (the duplex frame had problems with cracking, which led to extra bracing being used to counter the problem, only for the bracing to make the vibrations worse), the sales numbers rocketed, especially over the pond. The Americans couldn’t get enough of them; 6,300 machines sold in 1963, but just four years later, that number had rocketed to nearly 29,000.

The Bonnie was the King of Cool, and that’s perhaps best personified by the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen.

McQueen is legendary (well, for everything really) in the Triumph world, although it’s the bike scene in the Great Escape that really made his name with the wider world. McQueen loved his bikes, in particular his 1963 Bonnie that had been modified by another bike legend, Bud Ekins.

His Bonnie was part ‘Desert Sled’, part off-roader, and you can see the life that it’s led; this isn’t some superstar’s weekend toy, this is pure utility. It’s had the life beaten out of it, and looks so much better for it.

Steve McQueens desert sled
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Steve McQueen’s Desert Sled

Back in 2016, the modified Bonnie that belonged to McQueen and shown above, with the title (registration document) in the name of Solar Productions (McQueen’s production company) went up for auction at Bonhams in Las Vegas, it sold for £84,608. 

Triumph Bonneville Thruxton

In 1964, Triumph unveiled their new model at the Earl’s Court Show; the limited edition 650cc Bonneville Thruxton, a factory-modified Bonnie racer.

Although it took until ’64 to release an official model, Triumph had been taking production bikes from the assembly line since the late ‘50s, and modifying them to compete in the long-distance race held at Thruxton each year, it was only when the race took on more significance that Triumph made a specific model for long-distance production racing.

Triumph Bonneville Thruxton
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Bonneville Thruxton

Initially, Triumph intended on building 50 Thruxton racers, but in actual fact, only 49 were built from the off; as if by magic, the 50thcylinder head and carbs vanished from the line without a trace. Obviously someone went home with a faster Bonnie that night. 

The Thruxton was around 10% more expensive than the standard Bonnie, but for that, you were getting a pretty heavily-modified Bonnie, including tweaks to the valve gear and lubrication system, revised steering geometry and fork damping, dropped handlebars, rearsets and a racing seat.

The exhaust system was also modified for performance and ground clearance. An Avonaire fairing came as an optional extra.

In 1969, Malcolm Uphill won the IoM Production TT race on a Bonnie, with a race average of 99.99mph, and recorded the first ever 100+mph lap by a production bike, just squeaking through at 100.37mph. The Bonnie was truly the performance bike of the day.

As I wrote last time, Triumph were leagues ahead of the competition, to the point where they became complacent, and that was their downfall – when the Japanese caught up, they blew Triumph away and they never looked back.

The A-list Bonnie Riders

As a ‘yoof’, I had mixed emotions regarding the celebrity culture of motorcycling, of course if it was a hardcore rock’n’roll star it was fine, but if it was some namby-pamby actor, or worse still, a leather-clad pop singer, then all was definitely not right in my world.

What I failed to grasp at the time, was that for whichever the reason they’d chosen to promote their biking lifestyle, it was exactly that; promoting bikes and bikers, which can only be a good thing. With that said, it must be acknowledged that with a higher profile lifestyle choice, comes higher profile prices.

British bikes, Triumph in particular, have always been popular with the A-listers, be they Hollywood superstars, musical legends, or indeed, royalty. They may not have chosen a Bonnie specifically (although many have), but Triumph motorcycles in general.

While some of these are movie appearances, you should understand that quite often, it’s down to a decision made by the lead actor, and that in real life, they still owned or rode Triumphs.

Steve McQueen

Let’s start with the King of Cool: Steve McQueen is of course known for his love of motorcycles, and his skill. While it was his friend Bud Ekins that performed that jump in The Great Escape, it was McQueen himself that did most of the riding, including much of the Germans chasing him. 

McQueen had a talent, he could have raced professionally, and he’d spend hours racing round the desert, and it was down to McQueen that the USA entered a team for the ISDT (International Six Day Trials) in 1964, actually picking up his Triumph from Meriden while en route to the trial (which is why the famous machine, no. 278 has a UK registration number).

Marlon Brando

We all know that Brando played Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, a 1953 movie in which he rode a Triumph Thunderbird 6T. The film was a great success, but here in the un-enlightened UK, we were made to wait fourteen years before seeing it; it was banned and rated X.

Originally, Triumph weren’t impressed with the publicity surrounding the movie, they objected to having their products shown in such a way, but you’d have to argue that the exposure in the movie helped to establish them as the epitome of cool.

Richard Gere

Gere can be seen riding a T140E in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’, and legend has it that Triumph supplied two of the Bonnies, one for the film, one for Gere himself. He can also be found riding a T120 Bonneville in the ‘Mr Jones’ movie.

Having investigated this further, there is some speculation that the T120 was actually a T140, dressed to look like a T120.

Bob Dylan

Dylan has always been a huge fan of riding, but after moving to Woodstock, he bought himself a Triumph T100 Daytona, which was pretty much his sole form of transport until a crash that ended his riding career.

Clint Eastwood

Traditionally known for his love of Nortons – buying a Norton Ranger for sightseeing while in London filming ‘Where Eagles Dare’, Eastwood is mostly seen riding Triumphs in his films. Most notably a 650 TR6 for the chase scene through Central Park in ‘Coogan’s Bluff’.

David Beckham

In 2014, Beckham and his friends rode modified T100 Bonnevilles for a BBC documentary that went into the heart of Brazil. The Bonnies were modified to Becks’ own spec, including off-road tyres, high-level 2 into 1 pipes, different handlebars & seat and chopped mudguards, all finished in matt black paint.

Hugh Laurie

The bumbling, stumbling fool of Blackadder, and later, star of ‘House’ was once the highest paid TV actor in the world. His chosen form of transport? A Hinckley Bonnie.

Prince Harry

HRH Harry is a huge bike fan, and a genuinely down to earth guy – I’ve spent a little time with Harry, and I have a proper mancrush on him. He rides everything he can get his hands on, including a Triumph Daytona 675.

Other notable mentions … I could quite literally list at least another 30 celebs that use Triumph bikes, but to keep it short:

Keith Richards, Sonny Bono, James May, Paul Newman, Jay Leno, Jeremy Irons, Prince William, Lee Marvin, James ‘one speed’ Dean, Ewan McGregor, Bear Grylls, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Cruise, Tom Hardy, Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney, Pink & Michael Fassbender.

When Triumph used the ‘Ride a living legend’ tagline for promotion, it was anything but hyperbole.

The Bonneville T140 Era

In the early ‘70s, Triumph were beginning to realise that the Japanese were looking to steal their thunder and start offering bikes that were both fast and reliable. The 650cc Bonnie was getting a little long in the tooth, and being outperformed, something needed to change.

A capacity increase from 650cc to 750cc (actually 724cc, followed by 744cc) meant a minor increase in performance, but Triumph wanted their competition to understand that they meant business, so the new machine was labelled as the T140. Perhaps if they were being a little more truthful, it would have been something like the T116.5?

The problem was, that even with the larger engine, the Bonnie only made around 49hp, compared to some of the competition, that just wasn’t enough; the Honda 750/4 of the early seventies made around 68hp (reliably) and that really was just the start of it.

In 1975, Triumph developed an experimental one-off, nicknamed ‘The Quadrant’, a 1000cc version of a Bonnie with four-cylinders (made by machining the triple’s crankcase, barrels and cylinder head, then mating them up as one unit). Despite the increase in performance (around 125mph top speed), there was only ever one made, probably due to costs.

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A 4 cylinder Bonneville

You get the impression that over the next ten years, Triumph were clutching at straws, introducing new model designations for the slightest update:

T140V 1973

The T140V was the new breed, with the ‘V’ meaning five, as in 5-speed. The very first models shared much of the T120 componentry, including the cable-operated drum brakes. The early V’s were initially 724cc, but Triumph soon upped that to 744cc and added a front disc.

Triumph intended that the T140 was to be export only, but when they displayed it at the 1973 bike show, the crowds loved it. This led to a full UK production run, with a retail price of just £679. (I say ‘just’ but that was a lot of money back then, but when compared to today’s prices, that’s ludicrous).

T140RV 1975

The RV was the export version of the V, and essentially Triumph re-engineered the engine to swap the gear lever from the right-hand side, to the left.

T140J Silver Jubilee 1977

For the 25thanniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign (1977), Triumph wanted to mark the occasion with something special, of course it was out of a sense of patriotism, not sales. 

The J was pretty much standard Bonnie fare, just dressed in different clothing: The pinstriped paintwork features patriotic red, white and blue on a silver base. Coloured panels were applied to the wheels, while the engine covers were brightly plated, and the seat had a very distinctive blue colour.

Each machine was sold with a Certificate of Authenticity, and originally, the side panels had the sticker of ‘One of a Thousand’ applied, just beneath the Union Flag. Demand was so strong, that Triumph went on to produce another 1,400 units of the Jubilee, all for export. These had ‘Limited Edition’ applied instead of the One of a Thousand.

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Limited Edition Bonneville Silver Jubilee

T140E 1978

The E was the updated model which was emissions compliant – Emissions (those chaps at Triumph knew how to code their models … in fact, wait for the ‘ES’!). 

It featured quite a few redesigned components, including cylinder head and Amal carbs, and not long after production of the E started, it switched over to Lucas (of Joe Lucas, Prince of Darkness fame) electronic ignition.

Following up from the mechanical changes, there was new Lucas switchgear, different side panel design and passenger grab rails that incorporated a small parcel rack. (I actually remember the parcel rack vividly, thanks to a memory of my dad fighting with one in his tool shed when he tried to move it … he ended up with a black eye, the rack launched about 100ft down the garden). This was quite a significant redesign, perhaps worthy of a new model designation.

For 1980, Triumph introduced the ‘Executive’ limited edition of the E, which came with Sigma hard luggage, a Brearley-Smith ‘Sabre’ fairing, and a special two-tone paint scheme.

T140D 1979

The D was made for the U.S. market, and was initially a styling exercise based on the popular Yamaha XS650 twin. It featured black paintwork with a gold pinstripe, seven-spoke Lester magnesium-alloy wheels, and a tuned two-into-one exhaust.

T140ES ‘Electro’ 1980

The clever marketing chaps and chappess’ at Triumph really pulled it out of the bag for the ES … Electric Start.

T140AV 1981

After much glad-handing and back-slapping, Triumph knew they were on to something with their designation of models, so we have the ‘AV’ or ‘Anti-Vibration’ model.

Essentially, Triumph fitted rubber anti-vibe bushings, although they do say that the balancing of the crankshaft was also revised. As daft (and as simple) as it seems, the bushes worked, and the bikes were initially snapped up for Police use. 

T140LE 1981

Just 250 of the LE’s were made, to celebrate the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to Princes Charles. Similar to the Jubilee, it was a regular Bonnie, with shinier paintwork.


The TSS was a whole new departure for Triumph, the bike looked radically different to what had gone before it, and it featured a lot of changes.

The ‘W’ suffix related to Weslake Engineering, on which the new TSS’ cylinder head (eight valves) was based. It also had a revised crankshaft design (to help with vibration), electric starting, a new 4-gallon tank, twin front brake discs, Marzocchi rear dampers and allow wheels.

Other T140s

Of course there were other smaller changes, the following list is from the Triumph Bonneville Wikipedia page:

  • T140V: The initial model of the T140. The ‘V’ indicated a five-speed gearbox. Produced between 1972 and 1978.
  • T140RV: Export version of T140V.
  • T140J: Limited edition of 1,000 each (plus 400 for Commonwealth export) of the T140V in USA and UK specification, produced to commemorate the 1977 Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
  • T140E: The letter ‘E’ stood for emissions, enabling export to the USA market. This model featured redesigned Amal carburetors soon replaced by, Lucas electronic ignition to meet emission regulations.
  • T140D: Limited edition. T140D offered with Lester, later Morris, cast wheels in black/gold scheme only. The US version had a special siamesed exhaust system unique to this model. The ‘D’ stood for Daytona Beach, USA, where the model was conceived.
  • T140ES: Electric start or ‘Electro’ Bonneville.
  • T140AV: Anti-vibration engine mountings.
  • T140LE: Limited Edition. 250 ‘Royal’ Bonnevilles were built to commemorate the 1981 marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.
  • T140W TSS: The Triumph T140W TSS. Introduced in 1982. Eight-valve cylinder head and revised crankshaft to reduce vibration. The TSS stood for ‘Triumph Super Sports’.
  • T140TSX: A custom-styled T140, the Triumph T140 TSX featured Morris cast wheels, the rear being 16-inch diameter, stepped seat and special finish.
  • Harris T140: Built under license 1985 to 1988 by Les Harris after the Meriden factory closed and featuring significantly more Italian and German component parts.

Moving With The Times

I remember very clearly, hearing the news that Triumph was to be shut down, it had gone bankrupt. I would have been 12 years old, my middle brother (who would have been 14 at the time) even wrote to our local MP (my mother still has the reply somewhere).

The news was devastating; our bedroom walls were adorned with pictures of Triumphs, there were two Bonnies within our family, a handful of others in our circle of friends, I’d spent hours covering the surfaces of my school books with badly drawn imitations of the logo, Triumph motorcycles were life.

“Bloody Jap crap” was my dad’s view on why Triumph had gone belly-up, but the reality was that they were so far behind the curve, not powerful enough, too unreliable, and of course, the fact that employees were too complacent, with a degree of ‘light fingery’ (see the point made about the Thruxton).

In 1983, construction company owner John Bloor, was at an auction for the former Meriden works, with a view to purchasing the ground for a new housing project. Not only did he buy the site, but also the Triumph brand itself. When he eventually built the housing estate, he made a point of using the Triumph name to commemorate the site, with road names such as Bonneville Close and Daytona Drive. In 2005, a plaque was installed in Bonneville Close, to mark the location of the original Triumph factory.

The original Triumph factory
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The Hinckley Era

It has to be said, Bloor’s ownership of Triumph was met with some scepticism; people generally assuming that he’d bought it as his own plaything, that he may ‘knock out’ the odd model or two, but it really wasn’t going to amount to much – a rich man’s trainset.

Everyone assumed that it would be a niche market. Who wants to buy a twin-cylinder, unreliable bike that was based on a twenty year old design, with barely enough horsepower to be fun?

However, what many people missed was Bloor’s love of the marque, and his propensity to make money. Bloor licensed the Triumph brand while he made preparations, which not only helped to keep the marque alive, but it also allowed him the time to work through the process properly, so that when he was finally ready to go, he did it without cutting corners.

After investing around £80m into the relaunch and infrastructure, Triumph opened their brand-new, state of the art factory in 1991.

Around the time that Bloor was looking to manufacture the bikes, I was working for a well-known motorcycle tuning company, one of the guys there was in the process of buying a brand-new Kawasaki GPZ1000RX from our local dealer, of which my middle brother happened to work at.

The delivery of the bike was delayed by a week or two, without any real reason as to why, although I later found out that Triumph had ‘borrowed’ the RX so as they could strip the engine, see the internals and take some measurements.

As to how much that process influenced their engineering philosophy, no one will really know, but if you’re going to compete with the Japanese, you may as well see what they have, up close and personal.

Hinckley Bonnevilles

Similar to the Meriden Triumphs, the new range of Bonnies has the Bonneville at the heart of it, although for all intents and purposes, it’s a separate model … you have the bikes badged as Bonnevilles, then move to the Thruxton, Speedmaster and Speed Twin etc, but they’re based on the Bonnie, so I’ll include them here, but truth be told, it’s a bit of a minefield with all the different nomenclature and suffixes.**

Triumph Speed Twin

1200cc, 96hp & 112Nm

The 1200cc Speed Twin brings together all the modern custom style of Triumph’s Street Twin with even more stunning finishes and detail, all the comfort and timeless DNA of the Bonneville T120 but with more engaged ergonomics, and all the power and torque of the Thruxton R in an even more accessible modern setup.

The Speed Twin delivers a new standard in class-leading handling, and sets a new benchmark for how a custom roadster should ride and feel.

Triumph Speed Twin

Triumph Street Twin

900cc, 64hp & 80Nm

The Street Twin’s easy-going accessibility, authentic character, and urban style have ensured its reputation, and this newest modern classic now enjoys a significant 900cc Bonneville engine upgrade for a power increase of 18% over the previous generation.

In addition, you now also get an even higher specification with Brembo front brakes and cartridge forks, first-in-class technology including two riding modes, and accessory fit TPMS capability, improved rider ergonomics, plus an abundance of extra contemporary custom styling.

Triumph Street Twin

Triumph Street Scrambler

900cc, 64hp & 80Nm

The new Street Scrambler’s updated 900cc Bonneville twin engine adds even more power to its thrilling high torque delivery, which is up by 18% peak power output to 65PS with a rev range that’s higher by an extra 500rpm.  This is complemented by a host of premium upgrades including higher specification Brembo front brakes, cartridge forks, and more dynamic scrambler ergonomics for more control and comfort. 

An advanced level of technology, with three new first-in-class riding modes, enhanced scrambler styling and more premium detailing, make this versatile easy-handling motorcycle even more purposeful and even more beautiful.

Triumph Bonneville Street Scrambler

Triumph Bonneville Scrambler

1200cc, 96hp & 110Nm

For the first time ever, the new Triumph Scrambler 1200 line-up introduces the ultimate combination of 1200cc Bonneville twin power, class-leading ‘state-of-the-art’ rider-focused technology, beautiful modern custom styling, and peerless original design DNA. A whole new benchmark for category-defining capability, this motorcycle delivers everything required to take your riding fun to the most exciting level on the road and off it.

Triumph Bonneville Scrambler

Triumph Bonneville T100

900cc, 64hp & 80Nm

Inspired by the iconic ’59 Bonneville, the T100 motorbikes are modern classics with a distinctive character that incorporates more of the original Bonneville DNA, along with many of the stunning finishes, features, and details of the larger Bonneville T120 and T120 Black.  The T100s offer thrilling performance from the 900cc high-torque Bonneville engine, delivering greater torque, better fuel economy, and a rich deep exhaust note. 

Triumph Bonneville T100

Triumph Bonneville T120

1200cc, 79hp & 105Nm

A genuine style icon, with real pedigree, presence, and performance.    

Combining the modern power of the Bonneville 1200cc high torque engine with authentic style and detailing, crafted to follow the timeless silhouette and cues of the original Bonneville, the T120 is an enduring icon beautifully evolved.

Building on the classic looks of the T120 Bonneville, T120 Black brings an altogether meaner and moodier urban style with a distinctive brown seat and blacked out details including rims, grab rail, exhaust, and a sophisticated paint finish in Matt Graphite or Jet Black.

Triumph Bonneville T120

Triumph Bonneville Bobber

1200cc, 76hp & 106Nm

Inspired by the pioneering post-war Bobber movement, when hot rods were customised to create a totally unique and instantly recognisable style, the Bonneville Bobber range has combined stunning hand-crafted style and innovative elegant engineering with category-defining capability, comfort and control to introduce two of the most astonishing motorcycles ever produced. They’re precision-built Triumph motorcycles that enjoy peerless authenticity. They’re Brutal Beauties.

Bonneville Bobber

Read Ancient Hippy’s 1 year Bobber review

Triumph Bonneville Thruxton

1200cc, 96hp & 112Nm

The Thruxton and Thruxton R are the real deal; the ultimate modern classic café racers. Each equipped with the 1200cc ‘Thruxton spec’ engine, these thrilling motorbikes have the handling, agility and capability to complement the beautifully imposing authentic Thruxton styling, ensuring both models have all the poise, power and performance to live up to their legendary name.

Triumph Bonneville Thruxton

Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster

1200cc, 76hp & 106Nm

The Speedmaster introduces a stunning new motorcycle icon to Triumph’s modern classics line-up. Innovative, sophisticated and elegant, this is a beautifully-crafted high performance 1200cc motorcycle comprising Bonneville character, engineering and design DNA, high equipment specifications, and modern capability… all with an authentic British custom attitude. This is a bike with confident curves, superior control, and designed to deliver a truly remarkable riding experience.

Bonneville Speedmaster

My Triumph Experience

I’ve been riding bikes since I was about twelve years of age, as you may have seen from one of my other posts. I’ve owned a fair few bikes, and I’ve ridden dozens more, but I’ve only ever had one experience of riding a Triumph, and that was a loaner from my local dealer when my ZX12R was having some work done.

Initially, I’d chosen a Thruxton; the appeal of riding a modern ‘classic’ was too much, and I was seriously considering swapping my Twelve in for a part-exchange against one, the sales department were of course only too happy to stick me on one.

When the day came, their Thruxton was out of service, so I ended up with a Bonnie. From memory, I’d say that it must have been a T100. I was genuinely excited – I wanted to see how good these modern Triumphs were, and in the words of their old marketing dept, I wanted to ‘Ride a living legend’. This was a Triumph, albeit a new one.

Going from a 187hp (Power Commander, Akrapovic system and one or two other mods – 168RWHp) 4-cylinder sports bike to the Trumpet was … different. Yes, it was around ten years ago, so I was younger and more foolish, but all I can remember is the feeling of disappointment as the feeling of ‘more show than go’ hit home.

My day of planned cruising came to an abrupt end; I went back to my workshop, parked the bike and didn’t ride it again until it was time to collect the Kwak. Perhaps now, as a more mature rider, I might appreciate it more, but I don’t think so.

I’ve spent hours online, trawling over the new Bonnies to get a better understanding of them, so that I can write this article. I absolutely love the look of all the new models, I can definitely see myself owning one, especially the Speed Twin or Thruxton, but as I check through the specs, the same thing hits me time and again … lack of power.

Yes I know that it’s relative – the first time on a ZZR1100 felt like I’d taken control of a rocketship, the last time I rode one was just after I’d bought my ZZR14 … I was surprised at just how slow and dated it felt. Like, slooooooooooooow.

80-odd horsepower may be plenty for some, I’m not arguing that, but for me personally, it would always feel like I’ve chosen style over substance (read: performance). The first time some willy in a nippy car pushed me along to the point that I couldn’t just drop a gear and leave him as a speck in my mirror, I’d be looking to sell it. Maybe I just need to do some more growing up.

Of course, if the option was to have one as a second bike, for high-days and holidays, I’d jump at the chance (actually, it would on the list, below the Metisse Steve McQueen Desert Racer), but that’s a long way off.

The Bonneville Legend Lives On

John Bloor, Triumph Motorcycles … like the Phoenix from the ashes, Triumph has risen again, and in spectacular style. Honestly speaking, if someone had said 30+ years ago that Bloor would transform the manufacturer into a world-beating brand, there’s a chance that a few smirks, snorts and sniggers would have passed your lips, they certainly did mine (but I was just a spotty youth with sawdust between my ears).

Bloor has taken the legend, particularly the Bonneville, and made it exactly what it should be, all the while retaining an eye to the past, while making it modern, desirable, and more importantly, reliable. I’m a huge fan of what the factory has achieved, I believe that they’ve hit the market just right with their range of bikes – there’s something for everyone really, and they all look to be a quality product, with the brand behind them.

When you buy a Triumph, you’re buying into a lifestyle, and while you could say the same about many of the manufacturers, there’s few that actually deliver that reality. Of course, Harley-Davidson perhaps are the greatest proponents of that ethos, but they don’t have the reliability, and let’s be honest, a big slice of the Harley-shaped cake is all about marketing … darts, playing cards, shot glasses … better known as tat.

Maybe when I’ve grown up some more, I’ll own a Triumph, but for me, it has to be a T140 variant, because that’s what the hero, my dad, rode when I was growing up.

* My father swears blind that his first Bonnie (bought in 1961) had a headlamp that could be removed easily for racing purposes. A great idea, aside from the fact that the electrical plug would fall out of the bottom (thanks to the vibration) every now and again, leaving you “arse-clenched, eyeballs on stalks as you’re running around the North Circ at 100mph with ZERO b’stard lighting”.

** I have a reasonable understanding of the older Bonnies, but if I’ve missed something, or added something extra, then please feel free to let me know via the comments… always happy to be corrected. 

Triumph Bonneville Infograph

Triumph Bonneville infographic showing key moments in the Bonneville's history
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The history of the Triumph Bonneville
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  1. Hi, thanks for this great article. Do you have a favorite model? What do you think of the T140D from 1979?

  2. So really interesting,it must have taken a lot of research and time to enable you to produce this article.
    Having lived through the period of Triumphs I have never owned one but did ‘collect’ an early one being a Blue Thunderbird for an office friend after he had run out out of petrol travelling to work!
    I had been riding a 197cc James Commando at the time so you can imagine the feeling on riding the Thunderbird[Sprung Hub Model] back,the noise/power etc was ‘frightening’.
    Looking forward to reading other reports.
    Many Thanks,Malcolm Leaver

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