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Triumph America : British Built American Cruiser

In 2002 Triumph introduced two new models to their line-up, the Triumph America and the Triumph Speedmaster, the intention was to directly focus on the US market and inject two bonafide cruisers.

The America was the more classically styled traditional cruiser drawing inspiration from American cruisers of the 50’s and 60’s.

Although this was still a very British, very Triumph addition to the market. It drew the most inspiration from the Triumph’s of the 60’s and 70’s like the Thunderbird that riders in the States would modify to be more cruiser like.

History

The America had quite a lead up before it hit the production line, the development phase was the most important and crucial part of the process in order for the bike to be a success.

Development of the America actually started back in 1998 as Triumph had already lined up the Bonneville to be released in 2000 and they knew they could use the Bonnie engine for their cruiser.

It had been carefully developed to be a quality engine with a lively amount of power for a fun riding experience.

It was apparent to us,” says Triumph America CEO Mike Vaughan, “that with cruisers being more than 50 percent of the U.S. market, we needed to do something there. We pretty much had all the street categories covered. We had the Adventurer, but it wasn’t doing the job.

Cruiser Magazine 2002

The bike’s shaping and design was done in the UK. The designers however, spent a long time developing and testing ideas in the US. This process included ‘styling’ focus groups that were attended by cruiser owners.

The motorcycle wasn’t intended to be a Harley Davidson clone but a British alternative to turn die-hard Harley fans heads.

Let’s get into our review of the America to see how successful Triumph were with their America project.

Triumph America Review

Engine and Transmission

The best place to start with any review is with the engine, and this is exactly what Triumph did when they went to the drawing board to come up with the America concept.

What they decided to do was work with the already developed Bonneville engine, this had been through rigorous testing. There was definite pressure for them to start from scratch and build a V-twin but to go down the route of an engine that was ready, meant that time and money would be drastically saved.

This would also end up being a statement for Triumph, that they were going to build a serious cruiser but do it their way, in their style, with a classic parallel twin engine. This would be an unmistakeable British Triumph cruiser.

It is perhaps this notion that separates the America the most from the Japanese cruisers of the time that very much look like Harley clones.

So, the actual engine initially used was the 790cc parallel twin with a 270 degree crank which gives a distinct exhaust note, this differed from the 360 degree crank from the standard Bonnie engine.

Aside from the V twin/parallel twin discussion the engine caused a stir upon release for other reasons. The new motor felt a little lacking in power compared to the old Bonnie engine from the 60’s. It is smooth, quiet and paired to an equally smooth transmission.

It is a mild mannered motor which by nature is in contradiction with big American cruisers, that are traditionally rowdy, rumbling machines.

Arguably it is a bit of a shame that the engine is as smooth and mild mannered as it is. The lack of power particularly at the top end is the one flaw that some riders notice most.

It will happily chug along and sound awesome at 60-70mph, but after that you know that it is a bit breathless and not packing as much as you would like or have come to expect from a big cruiser.

Overtaking up to 100mph is totally doable and will get past traffic on the highway safely and confidently but the bike whines and doesn’t want to stay up there too long.

On the reverse side you could say that cruisers (certainly from this time) weren’t built for fast performance but for chugging along, ‘cruising’ to your destination, laid back, relaxed, comfortable bikes.

In 2007 though the engine got an overhaul and was boosted to 865cc, it provided a bit more poke and grunt but nothing game-changing. It would later receive EFI which increased the smooth power delivery over and above anything else but performance wasn’t significantly improved.

A V twin is aggressive by nature, this America engine is the opposite, if it was a human it would be a Matthew McConaughey type surfer dude.

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes

Next up designers at Triumph looked towards the chassis, a ground up design that was crucial to get right, this needed to look and feel like a proper cruiser not a Bonnie in disguise.

The America was the longest and lowest Triumph to be produced since the very early days of Triumph, a 700mm seat height and 1,655mm wheelbase.

Big, wide, chunky forks were placed on the front in typical cruiser fashion and standard twin rear shocks fitted to take care of any bumps in the road. The steel double cradle frame is quite unremarkable but does the job of holding everything together, it is strong, rigid and of a good high quality.

The suspension on the America is impressive and ahead of what else was coming out at the time. It soaks up the bumps, protects your lower back and gives adequate feedback.

In terms of the brakes, these too are more than adequate to match the overall performance, on both the front and rear wheel are two-piston Nissen calipers.

Styling

Maybe the most impressive and important thing about the Triumph America is the bikes styling. This was the thing that Triumph researchers spent a lot of time on with focus groups in the US to make sure they got it right for their target audience.

120 versions of the America were drawn up before these were narrowed down to 15 designs and then the final one that was released. It was serious business.

So, Triumph equipped the America with all the essential cruiser features – forward controls, a low seat height, larger fuel tank (than the Bonneville), a huge headlight and pulled back wide handlebars.

They then added a huge helping of chrome such as the slash cut pipes and chrome air filter covers, on top of the larger fuel tank a big chrome centre console was fitted which is where the details like indicators and warning lights were housed. No tacho was fitted just a large white faced speedo sat up front.

Details like the air filter covers and big chrome encased light are what made the bike stand out and gave it a premium feel and expectation.

Even when the bike was switched to fuel injection, dummy carburetors remained which reinforced the parallel twin as the bikes centre piece.

Initially released in just red or black two tone paint schemes other colours were to follow including a pacific blue and crystal white found on the Limited Edition versions.

How does it ride?

So far then we have a strong big chassis and one that strives to go against convention as much as it fits in with it too, but how does it handle?

Well, once you put your leg over you realise just how low the seat actually is, most riders will be able to paddle the bike around with ease. You stick your arms out in front of you nice and wide and reaching for the forward controls begin to move off.

Instantly you realise how comfortable the seat is, and if you are of average height and build how comfortable the riding position is overall.

The only time the bars might feel a bit too wide is when you need to do a tight turn, I made the mistake of thinking my arms were longer than they are on a tight U turn when I rode my friends America.

You get the best out of the bike cruising around sweeping backroads, in the UK, North Wales or Scotland roads are the best for this kind of riding. No traffic, great views, and long winding roads.

In the US however, you have a lot more of these kinds of roads to choose from, wide, long and sweeping bends is where the America peaks.

Riding on the highway you will start to feel vibrations and lack of energy above 70mph, nothing too drastic kicks in until you are reaching the bikes limit and then it is a test of wills, who will last longer you or the bike?

Ground clearance is surprisingly good, so you won’t be scraping your pegs or exhaust without trying really hard to do so.

You can set the bike up for a passenger, but the bike is better suited to solo riding where you can really enjoy the spacious experience.

Performance

Upon it’s release the America was divisive and in many ways it still is. There is no denying the bike is a looker, but for many it just didn’t have the performance backing it up, which reviews from the time confirm.

It did however have a production run of 2002-2015/6, which is a good stretch and when you read our buying guide you will see that the depreciation hasn’t been all that much from the bikes when they were new.

This indicates that the bikes are still appreciated for what they are and there is still a demand for them!

The Triumph Bonneville America was not built with the British in mind, but to crack the massive American motorcycle market, which is why it was officially the longest and lowest Triumph to roll off a production line since the firm was born in 1902. And that’s ideal for long, straight highways rather than England’s green and pleasant lanes.

And at first glance the Bonneville America is a bike that would appeal to any red-blooded Harley fanatic. In fact the way it looks is the best thing about it.

MCN review

Triumph America Specs list – (2002 original model)

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder

  • Capacity – 790cc

  • Bore x Stroke – 86 x 68mm

  • Compression Ratio – 9.2:1

  • Cooling System – Air cooled

  • Starting – Electric

  • Induction – Twin 35mm carburettors

  • Transmission – 5 Speed

  • Final Drive – Chain

  • Max Power – 62 horsepower at 7,400rpm

  • Max Torque – 60 Nm at 3,500rpm

  • Top Speed – 111mph

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Steel, double cradle

  • Front Suspension – 41mm fork

  • Rear Suspension – Spring twin shocks with adjustable preload

  • Front Brakes – Single 310mm disc, Nissen 2 piston caliper

  • Rear Brakes – Single 255mm disc, Nissen 2 piston caliper

  • Rake – 33.3 degrees

  • Dry Weight – 496lbs

  • Wet Weight – 550lbs

  • Wheelbase – 1,655mm

  • Height – 1,184mm

  • Width – 955mm

  • Length – 2,424mm

  • Seat Height – 720mm

  • Fuel Capacity – 17 litres

Triumph America Variants

In 2007 the Bonneville America received an upgraded engine capacity to 865cc and the 2008 the UK version was equipped with fuel injectors.

The electronic fuel injection was implemented so that the UK version could meet European legislation standards, the fuel injectors were concealed by dummy carburetors to ensure the style of the bikes remained the same.

The US version did get EFI in 2009 following the lead from the British bikes.

Other changes in 2007 included new style chrome silencers, new cast alloy wheels, adjustable clutch and brake levers and all black engine with chrome covers. There were also further subtle style adjustments made.

There were a couple of Triumph America variants through the production run:

Triumph Bonneville America Classic Touring

This was first seen in 2010 and came standard with a series of touring accessories so the bike was ready to take on long distances on the open road.

Features included: A windscreen, passenger backrest, and leather saddlebags.

Styling was also reviewed with a bit more chrome added such as chrome wheels, which gave the America an even more classic cruiser look.

Triumph Bonneville America LT

The America LT was released in 2015 in essence it took the earlier Classic Touring model and improved things a bit further.

The windshield was now detachable, leather panniers were showerproof, and the passenger backrest made a bit bigger for added passenger comfort.

Triumph had adapted the bike to make it a great bike for commuting around town and also taking on long distance road trips inclusive of some highway miles. It was intended to be the best of both worlds.

Triumph Bonneville America/LT Limited Edition

The last variation came in the form of two Limited Edition models of both the standard Bonneville America and the Bonneville America LT.

Only 25 models of each bike were produced which makes each one a very rare bike. Each bike was numbered and came with a certificate of authenticity that had John Bloor’s (Triumph’s owner) signature on.

Essentially the models were pretty much standard but with exclusive paint schemes and executive trim to make them stand out.

Buying an original Triumph America

Prices in the UK vary for a Triumph Bonneville America from around £3,500-£6,500.

Prices for the US version tend to be between $5,000-$6,000.

There are fewer LT models available and those that are tend to be at the higher end of the pricing, but the benefit of this is that you get the basic touring necessities so you are ready to undertake long rides from day one.

Pre-2008 in the UK and pre-2009 in the US the bikes had carbs, after which they received electronic fuel injection so depending on what you prefer you just need to be mindful of the dates.

The parallel twin engine on the whole is extremely reliable, easy going and build quality is excellent so there should be no issues with the motor. There are a few things to be aware of though when buying a used Triumph Bonneville America:

  • The bikes came with plenty of chrome parts so rust and corrosion can be an issue if the owner hasn’t taken the time to keep on top it.

  • A helpful tip is to check the inside of the petrol tank for rust this will give you a sense of how well the bike has been cared for.

  • It is well known that cruiser riders have a tendency to modify their bikes more than most and so you can expect to find some changes on many bikes for sale. This can be things like the exhaust, seat, handlebars, mirrors etc. Be in the know of what equipment was standard for the model year you are looking at, so you spend your money on an original bike if that is what you want.

Restoring a Triumph America

Restoring a Triumph Bonneville America is a pretty easy and fun job, they are quite simple bikes to tackle as a project and parts are readily available for everything you could possibly need.

Fowlers Parts in the UK is a good start and Triumph E Store is pretty well stocked in the US. Failing that Revzilla and eBay are great for aftermarket parts and components.

With a pretty good range in sale prices too you can pick one up on the cheaper end of things then do it back up, likely being able to sell the bike at the higher end of the price range as a result.

The America makes a great base for a custom build, they are cheap to buy, parts are reasonable and several manufacturers have extensive catalogues for parts that will fit.

Take a look at these two examples on British Customs that used the America/Speedmaster as the foundation.

Aside from building a custom Bobber, the America and Speedmaster format both are suitable cruisers to be used for custom trike builds. There are several companies that have bolt on type trike conversions, and the size of the motorcycle makes a pretty good looking simple trike.

Is the Triumph America a good investment?

I would suggest that the America will never be considered a classic, certainly not like the standard Bonneville it is based on.

I have been looking at the America for myself on and off over the last few years and so I can safely say that prices haven’t gone up or down, they have remained about the same now for the last 5 years and I would think there will be very little variation for quite some time.

The best thing about the America is that you can pick up a good solid cruiser at a reasonable price and adapt it to suit your needs, forget about it as an investment opportunity and just get yourself a good ride.

Verdict

A while back my partner and I were in a dealership talking to the dealer and next to each other was an America and a Speedmaster. I was immediately taken with the America, the size, the comfort, the riding position, all of it. Contrarily my partner Scott loved the Speedmasters layout.

When the right bike comes up I will without a doubt be purchasing a Triumph Bonneville America. Sure it isn’t the fastest, the biggest, the meanest, but it is a damn fine quality British cruiser that looks the business and has reliable performance to match.

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