Triumph Bonneville is the name given to three separate motorcycle models from this notable British motorcycle marque. It is named after the Bonneville Salt Flats in the state of Utah, USA, where Triumph and other motorcycle companies made attempts on the world motorcycle speed records. All share a parallel-twin four-stroke engine configuration. The current version, produced since 2001 by the modern successor of the original company, is a completely redesigned and reengineered evolution of the original design.
Since the arrival of the current 'Hinckley Bonneville' (produced in Hinckley, England), the earlier T120 and T140 (produced in Meriden, England) have been referred to as 'Meriden Bonnevilles', to more easily distinguish between the versions.
The original Triumph Bonneville was popular (particularly in its early years) for its performance compared to other available bikes. Although its motor was later enlarged to 750 cc, in the late 1970s and early 1980s sales greatly suffered in competition with more modern and reliable Japanese motorbikes from Honda
and other manufacturers.
The original Triumph Bonneville was a 650 cc parallel-twin (two-cylinder) motorcycle manufactured by Triumph Engineering Co Ltd
and later by Norton-Villiers-Triumph
between 1959 and 1974. It was based on the company's Tiger 110
and was fitted with the Tiger's optional twin 1 3/16 in Amal
monobloc carburettors as standard, along with that model's high-performance inlet camshaft. Initially it was produced with a pre-unit construction
engine which enabled the bike to comfortably achieve 115 mph without further modification, but later (in 1963) a unit construction
model was introduced which was stiffer and more compact, including additional bracing at the steering head and swing arm. The steering angle was altered and improved forks were fitted a couple of years later, which, together with the increased stiffness enabled overall performance to match that of the Bonneville's rivals. Later T120 Bonnevilles used a new frame which contained the engine oil instead of using a separate tank; this became known as the oil in frame
version. The T120 engine, both in standard configuration and especially when tuned for increased performance, was popular in café racers
such as Tribsas
and particularly Tritons
The early 650 cc capacity production T120 Bonneville, often known as the duplex frame
model, was replaced in the early 1970s by the T140 Bonneville, the same basic machine but with a 750 cc engine. Refined from the later 'oil in frame' version of the T120, the first few T140s, designated T140V, featured a larger-capacity engine of 724 cc, a five-speed gearbox option and indicators, but still retaining drum brakes and kick-start. Shortly after, the engine was further bored out to 744 cc and front disc brakes were fitted (using single discs until 1982). In 1975, along with engine modifications, the gearchange lever was moved from right to left to comply with new regulations mandated for the American market. Several T140 models followed featuring various modifications and refinements until production ceased with the closure of the Meriden works in 1983.
Although this should have been the end of the Bonneville, as it turned out it was not. Rights to continue Bonneville production for a further five years were obtained by businessman John Bloor, who operated a company called Racing Spares in Devon, run by Les Harris. These continuation bikes are known as the 'Devon Bonnevilles', which did not reach the market until 1985, and were not sold in the U.S. Production ended in 1988.
A completely new Triumph Bonneville was debuted in 2001 by the newly-formed Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. Built in Hinckley
, England, the new "Bonnie" strongly resembles the earlier models in style and basic configuration, but with entirely modern engineering. At the debut the new version was given a 790 cc parallel-twin engine, with the up-spec T100 receiving a 865cc motor (from 2007 on, all Bonnevilles receiving the 865cc motor). Through 2007, all motors were carbureted; electronic fuel injection was then introduced to the 2008 models in Britain and to United States models in the 2009 model year, in both cases to comply with increasingly stringent emissions requirements.
All the bikes in Triumph's current "Modern Classics" line are based on the new Bonneville, including the T100, Thruxton, Scrambler, America, and Speedmaster.
In 2006, Triumph launched the "Sixty-8" line of Bonneville accessories, offering vintage and modern-style items including seats, seat covers, cam covers, sprocket covers, petrol tank covers, tank badges, panniers, and other items to allow Bonneville owners the opportunity to customize their bikes for considerably less cost than traditional customizations.
Many different versions of the original Bonneville were produced; suffix letters were given to denote the exact model. Listed below in chronological order are the main types and their features:
- Home and general export model.
- Export model for the United States of America.
- Export model with high-level exhaust pipes.
- 1964 export model of the T120C for the U.S. East Coast.
- Five-speed transmission.
- The initial model of the T140, the 'V' stood for five-speed transmission. Produced between 1972 and 1978.
- Export version of T140V.
- Limited edition of 1,000 (plus 400 for export) of the T140V, produced to commemorate the 1977 Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
- The letter 'E' stood for emissions. This model featured redesigned Amal carburettors and Lucas electronic ignition to meet emission regulations.
- Limited edition T140E offered in black/gold scheme only.
- Electric start or 'Electro' Bonneville.
- Anti-Vibration engine mountings.
- Limited Edition, 250 Royal Bonnevilles were built to commemorate the 1981 marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.
- The T140TSS, revealed in 1982, featured an eight-valve cylinder head and a revised crankshaft designed to reduce vibration.
- A custom-styled T140 with a 16-inch rear wheel and stepped seat.
The 1960s saw a stream of Hollywood and home-grown celebrities riding Triumphs and establishing the marque's global cult status: Steve McQueen (The Great Escape
), Marlon Brando (The Wild One
), Clint Eastwood, James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause
) and Bob Dylan (who famously crashed his Bonneville, sustaining serious injuries in 1967), to name a few. In England the Triumph was, and still is, infamous for its connection to the "Rocker" culture centered around the Ace Cafe. The Triumph Bonneville was also cemented in legend by its use in the numerous land speed record attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats
beginning in the 1950s.
In 1968, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel used a Triumph Bonneville for his attempt at jumping the Caesars Palace fountain.
Richard Gere rode a black Triumph Bonneville in the popular 1982 movie An Officer and A Gentleman.
Triumph motorcycle placements have been seen in a number of recent movies, including Mission Impossible II, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Daredevil, Tuck Everlasting, Torque, "The Punisher" and Terminator III.
Many high-profile pop stars such as Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Laurie, Nicholas Cage, Pink, and Joseph Fiennes have been seen riding Triumphs.
The Triumph Bonneville is mentioned briefly in the Jethro Tull song Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976):
- He once owned a Harley Davidson and a Triumph Bonneville.
- Counted his friends in burned out spark plugs
- And prays that he always will.
- But he's the last of the blue blood greaser boys
- All of his mates are doing time
- Married with three kids up by the ring road
- Sold their souls straight down the line
"Machine Man" by the metal rock group Judas Priest includes the line: Licensed to kill, on my 650 Bonneville.