Costa rides Triumph’s Bonneville Bobber

When Triumph introduced the completely redesigned Bonneville line earlier this year, the company was certain to follow up with additional models to the T120 and Thruxton, which use an all-new, liquid-cooled parallel twin. The folks from Hinckley did just that for 2017, introducing the Bonneville Bobber, which is a custom bike unlike any other recent Triumph.

Sure, like the slew of recently introduced scramblers and café racers (of which you can find examples from Triumph), it’s part of the retro-bike revival that is proving popular among Y-gen riders, but I think it’s one of the coolest-looking retro bikes out there.

Triumph held the press intro of the 2017 Bonneville Bobber in Madrid, and we were there.

Flat bars, short fenders, and no room for passengers. As the T-shirt says: “If you can read this, I’m riding a Bobber.”

Did You Say Bobber?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term bobber in relation to motorcycles, it was coined in the mid 20th Century to refer to hard-tail motorcycles that were stripped of all unnecessary items (some of them were actually necessary, like the front brake); they had low, flat handlebars, and the fenders were “bobbed”, or cut very short. And bobbers were mostly rider-only machines, uncluttered by such trivial things as pillion seats.

Likewise, the Bonneville Bobber features minimalist styling with visual cues that hark back to those rigid-tail customs of yesteryear: the nearly flat handlebar, and a tapered rear portion of the frame that blends into a triangular swingarm, accentuated by a tire-hugging rear fender with a solo saddle hovering above it. That solo saddle is the only seating choice; there are no provisions to add a passenger seat or pegs. The styling is something you might expect from a low-volume boutique bike builder, but this is a production bike built by Triumph.

It doesn’t end there, because there’s a fine attention to detail that makes the bike stand out whether you’re looking at it from a distance or up close. Wiring is almost completely out of sight. The engine is liquid cooled, but you won’t see a single coolant hose. What looks like a transmission cover on the right-hand side actually conceals the rear brake master-cylinder reservoir and the coolant overflow tank. The mechanical parts meant to be seen are emphasized, while the rest of the parts are well hidden.

The riding position is more cruiser-like than standard bike, but fortunately not an extreme, feet-forward kind of cruiser. It’s a modest reach to the handlebar, and the footpegs are placed just enough ahead to put your knees at a right angle. The seat is adjustable fore and aft over about 50 mm of range, and the bracket on which it slides slopes rearward, so it also drops a little bit. The adjustment is semi-permanent in that you must loosen a couple of bolts to adjust it.

Costa might be in sunny Spain, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t freeze his butt off. Morning temperatures were only just above freezing.

The seat is low (690 mm/27.1 in. at its lowest), so it’s a very easy reach to the ground. I only sat on a parked bike with the seat in the rearward position and found the reach to the handlebar too long, so I kept the seat on my test bike in its forward position the whole day and found the riding position quite accommodating. Despite its rather skimpy appearance, the seat is wide, well shaped and supportive, providing a comfy perch for the entire daylong ride.

But who cares how cold it is when you’re properly dressed and the road is clear and looks like this?

So, what’s it like to ride?

The Bobber is powered by the same 1200 cc High Torque six-speed twin as the T120, but it has a twin airbox and shorter mufflers, and is tuned to produce 10 per cent more bottom-end torque than the T120. It’s a smooth engine, with more than 70 lb.-ft. of torque available from about 2,800 rpm to just over 5,000 rpm, peaking at 78 lb.-ft. at  4,000 rpm. That’s a very useable powerband that makes the Bobber a blast to ride in town. Switchable traction control is standard, as are two ride modes: Rain and Road. Horsepower is reduced a touch, by two horsepower to be exact, at 77 hp.

The mechanically-assisted clutch is beginner-bike light, and the gearbox clicks into first with a light touch. First gear is surprisingly tall, requiring some clutch slipping to get going, but the torquey engine manages that quite easily. Rolling on the throttle in the top four gears pushes the bike forward forcefully, pressing your butt hard into the sculpted seat.

Costa coaxes the Bobber “enthusiastically” along the winding roads outside Madrid.

The Bobber exhibits light, neutral steering and exemplary stability, which coaxed me to ride it enthusiastically along the winding roads just outside Madrid. It powers out of corners with authority, producing a rich, deep exhaust note in return (we were told that the mufflers were shortened for this reason), though slowing for the entry into those corners takes a fair amount of braking effort.

To achieve a clean-looking front end, there’s a single 310-mm front disc, squeezed by a twin-piston caliper — not the most efficient setup, but adequate for the type of riding for which the Bobber was designed. It also has standard ABS in case you do squeeze hard enough to lock a wheel.

Damn – that’s a fine looking bike.

Triumph’s press literature claims “A bobber without compromise,” but there is actually a compromise made in the name of styling, which is in cornering clearance. Suspension travel is reduced from the T120’s 120 mm at both ends, to 90 and 77 mm front and rear on the Bobber. This means the Bobber’s non-adjustable suspension is firmer, but also that its footpeg feelers touch at modest lean angles. It has much more cornering clearance than Harley-Davidson’s Sportster Forty-Eight, which is one of the bikes Triumph is hoping to steal sales from, and it corners better than the average cruiser, but if you ride with any gusto on a regular basis you should stock up on those peg feelers.

Another, perhaps lesser, concession made strictly for appearance’s sake is that the slender fuel tank has been trimmed down to a paltry 9 litres from the T120’s 14.5L. Taking into account the factory’s claimed fuel consumption of 4.1L/100 km, the Bobber could go about 220 km before it runs dry.

The gas tank is about as small as you’ll find on a road-going motorcycle, but it’s still good for a little over 200 km.

Really, it’s About the Styling

All of this makes the back-to-basics Bonneville Bobber a choice machine for someone looking for an urban runabout that will turn heads, but that is also entertaining on longer hauls.  It has more grunt than the Sporty Forty-Eight, has more sex appeal than the Yamaha Bolt, is more svelte than the Indian Scout, and, frankly, looks cooler than any of those cruisers.

This bike has apparently been greatly anticipated, and according to Triumph, initial deposits on the Bobber are twice what they were when the liquid-cooled Thruxton was introduced earlier this year. At $13,700, it’s priced to compete more with its American rivals, and it looks equally good regardless of which of the four colour schemes you choose (black, red, green/silver or matte grey), though colours other than black come at additional cost of up to $500. And if you want to personalise it, there are already more than 150 accessories available from Triumph, as well as two Inspiration kits (prices TBA, but probably around a couple of thousand bucks), which are a pre-selected assembly of parts designed to make altering your Bobber a bit easier.

The Old-School Bobber.

The Old School Bobber kit, seen in the photo above, includes an ape-hanger handlebar and the required installation hardware, brushed mufflers, a brown leather seat, a swingarm-mounted storage bag and various trim bits. The Quarter Mile Bobber kit (my preferred Bobber variation) that’s seen below includes clip-ons, a black exhaust system, even shorter fenders, a black leather seat, and black trim pieces. You can also get optional heated grips (which worked just great in the single-digit temperatures during our ride), and very non-bobber-like cruise control.

The Quarter-Mile Bobber.

For me, the Bobber would be an addition to my garage; a second or third bike that I’d take to social gatherings, or on shorter, fair-weather rides, when I feel like donning my open-face helmet and jeans and just putting about meaninglessly (well, that’s the gist of most of my rides). Although there are other bikes I’d take on long or fast rides, the Bobber actually rides better than it looks, and it looks pretty damn good.

Click on any of these photos for a closer look:


  1. “Great 2nd bike” – well said Costa, I agree. I quite like the look of it except that tank seam – unacceptable for a bike @ $13700. And that’s almost a grand more than a Harley Roadster – my current fav. 2nd bike in the same 1200cc class.

    Surprised no mention of where it’s assembled in most of the reviews I’ve read – it seems to matter to some people –

  2. Bobbers aren’t my thing, but this looks like the best interpretation I’ve seen from a manufacturer.
    The Indian Scout is about 50lb heavier, but looks massive because all the space is filled up. Triumph has left some air between components which visually lightens it.

  3. It’s always good to see that when a journalist chooses his own riding gear, they often choose Aerostich. I’ve neen to their store many times, you should do a story on it.

    • Jimo, we actually planned to do that a while back; I toured the back of their manufacturing facility and took a lot of photos, and promptly lost them all in a hard drive crash.

Join the conversation!