Photography by Alessio Barbanti and Mateo Cavadini
SEVILLE, SPAIN— It took Triumph 15 years to produce a second-generation new Bonneville (not the original bike of 1959), but when company engineers put pen to paper (or more accurately, fingers to keyboard) and redesigned almost the entire Bonneville line last year, the results were well worth the wait.
Those redesigned Bonnevilles were new from the contact patches up, with revised frames and three available liquid-cooled parallel twins that replaced the outgoing 865 cc air-cooled twin.
There were two 1200 cc variations with different outputs and six speeds (in the T120 and the new Thruxton), and a 900 cc version with five speeds. The only Bonnie still using the 865 cc air-cooled twin in 2016 was the Scrambler, though this is no longer the case — we’re getting to that.
Triumph launched the 900 cc engine in the Street Twin last year, and despite its entry-level Bonneville status, it proved to be a very likeable, attractive and competent machine, as you can read about here. And it came in at a remarkably low price of $9,900.
Triumph followed up on the smaller Bonneville later in 2016 with the T100 and T100 Black. These were essentially Street Twins with classic styling touches, like spoke wheels, chrome trim, twin gauges, and peashooter mufflers, evoking the style of the original Bonneville of 1959.
The Street Twin family grows for 2017 with two new models, the Street Cup and the Street Scrambler, which were just launched here in Spain.
The Street Cup’s engine and frame geometry share identical specs with the Street Twin, so the changes are mostly aesthetic, but with a café racer penchant. This is a good thing because the new Bonneville platform features a solid chassis and an engine with much more power than the previous air-cooled twin.
Although at 55 hp the new engine is down about a dozen horsepower on the 865 cc engine, it is tuned for a stronger midrange, so there’s more than 20 per cent more power from 2,000 to 4,250 rpm, and more importantly, there’s 18 per cent more peak torque at 59 lb.-ft., with much more torque available below 5,500 rpm. If you want even more power in a Triumph café racer you’ll have to settle for one of the more expensive Thruxton models.
The Street Cup retails for $11,400, whether you choose the yellow/silver or black/silver paint scheme. The café racer bits include a sportier, sculpted seat with a removable seat cowl, a colour-matched flyscreen, a three-piece clubman-style handlebar made of aluminum and steel, bar-end mirrors, longer, firmer shocks that raise rear ride height by 11 mm, and there’s the dual-gauge instrument cluster from the T100.
The exhaust pipes are also shorter than on the Street Twin, and a bit richer in sound. Oh, and there’s a USB port under the seat to power your phone or other devices, and there’s an optional USB port relocation kit if you attach your GPS-enabled smart phone to the handlebar.
The taller rear end and the thicker seat combine to raise the seat height by 30 mm over the Street Twin, to 780 mm (30.7 in.), but it’s still an easy reach to the ground for me. The footpegs are in the same position as on the Street Twin and are not rear-set, and the handlebar is a relatively easy reach that places you in a slight forward lean, though the riding position is much more relaxed and accommodating than on the Thruxton, new or old.
One rider who measured about 5’6” found the handlebar a bit of a stretch, while another asked why the footpegs weren’t set farther rearward, which is a common café racer trait. According to Triumph’s chief engineer, owners of the first generation Thruxton reported that the riding position was too aggressive, so the Street Cup, which incidentally is not a replacement of the air-cooled Thruxton despite its similar styling, gets much more accommodating ergonomics.
As mentioned earlier, the shorter mufflers produce a rich, low-pitched drone, which sounds similar to a 90-degree V-twin since the parallel twin uses a 270-degree crankshaft. The mechanically assisted clutch is beginner-bike light, and it takes a light nudge at the shifter to get the bike into first; subsequent gear changes are feather light. First gear is tall, but the clutch is easy to modulate.
At speed the engine is exceptionally smooth, and the bike lunges forward forcefully in the lower three gears with just a slight twist of the throttle. It’s not a brute when it comes to power delivery, but it’s stronger in the bottom end than most bikes I’ve ridden that boast a similar displacement. You do feel the power flatten out as the tach needle sweeps past 5,000 rpm, but the bike will cruise effortlessly all day at 140 km/h — not that you would, of course.
The jacked-up rear end quickens steering a touch, but it does so without introducing any instability. Slightly firmer rear springs provide a more controlled ride than on the soft-ish Street Twin, and the footpegs are high enough off the ground to allow a spirited pace before the feelers touch. Only rear preload is adjustable, but road-racer types can opt for Triumph’s accessory piggyback shocks (made by Fox), which also feature damping adjustability.
The bike feels light and narrow, and the handlebar was wide enough to offer ample leverage to flick the bike around easily as we filtered through the traffic of Seville. We rode through the city toward the surrounding mountain roads that included long, fast and smooth sweepers and tighter sections with successive switchbacks.
These roads really emphasized just how nice the new Bonneville chassis is. The bike is easy to ride, and inspires confidence with stable handling, light, neutral steering, and an overall amicable demeanour. If you don’t like the Street Cup within the first few kilometres, you probably don’t like motorcycles.
The Street Scrambler is the only 900 cc Bonneville model that’s more than cosmetically different from the others. Like the Street Cup it has longer shocks, but it also has a fork that is 21 mm longer, and it’s the only one that has a 19-inch front wheel, as opposed to the other bikes’ 18-inchers. This provides added ground clearance for the braver scramblerists who decide to venture off road.
To emphasize its dirt worthiness, it also rolls on Metzeler Tourance dual-sport rubber, has a skid plate to protect the undercarriage, serrated metal footpegs with removable rubber inserts, removable passenger peg mounts, fork gaiters, and a high-mounted exhaust system.
Other unique styling touches include a tall, wide handlebar, a two-piece ribbed seat with a removable passenger pillion that can be replaced by an included aluminum luggage rack, and a number plate on the left-hand side. The Street Scrambler starts at $11,600 in black, add $250 for matte green, and $600 more for the red/silver colour scheme.
The Street Scrambler seat sits tall at 792 mm, and the footpegs are lower and a bit farther forward than on the other Bonnevilles. This combines with the wide handlebar to place you in a very dirt-bike-like riding stance. The tall handlebar also facilitates standing up on the pegs when you pretend you’re McQueening through the desert.
The lower footpegs do, however, touch down sooner than on any other 900 cc Bonneville, despite its taller stature. You can still maintain a sport-bike-shaming pace though, and it’s actually easier to manhandle the Scrambler through twisty roads than it is with the Street Cup, due to the added leverage of the handlebar and the upright riding position. All this despite its more relaxed steering geometry.
The suspension is a bit firmer than on the Street Cup to deal with some modest off-road jumps, but all of the Street Twin-based bikes have 120 mm of wheel travel at both ends, regardless of the length of the suspension components — so leap off jumps with discretion.
We did take the Street Scrambler briefly off road, and it didn’t do anything scary. The ABS and traction control can be turned off (only the traction control turns off on the Street Cup), and the Scrambler’s broad, flat powerband makes power slides on hard-packed dirt roads a throttle blip away.
Riding these two new Bonnevilles only reaffirms my affection for all of the iterations of this Brit bike.
The Street Scrambler is a great looking example of the genre. It rides better than the Yamaha SCR950 and costs thousands less than the BMW R nineT Scrambler, though it’s a toss-up if it looks better or rides better than the Ducati Scrambler — in that case it’ll probably come down to if you prefer the more classic look of the Triumph or the more contemporary look of the Ducati.
The Street Cup is more comfortable than the new or old Thruxton, and is more manageable than either the 1200 cc Thruxton or the BMW R nineT, though admittedly, the Moto Guzzi V7 II Racer has the edge in the looks department.
I do, however, now have a favourite Bonneville, and that is the Street Cup. It’s affordable, attractive, user friendly, and since café racers are conducive to modification, I’d throw on those Fox shocks, install firmer fork springs, and bolt on the accessory Vance & Hines mufflers. Then I’d go chase some sport bikes for fun.