In 1959 the Bonneville T120 was brand new on the motorcycle scene. The 650cc engine producing 46 hp was considered a monster at the time and the bike was one of the fastest in production. The T120 monicker implied a top speed of 120 mph, but when actually tested by several magazines it was reported only to have hit 108 mph. Still, it was an impressive machine all the same.
Although not a T100 per se, it’s this design that was emulated in the T100 and other Bonneville bikes going forward as you’ll see.
The “bodywork” or specifically the full fenders on the original bike were suited well to riding in rainy England, but weren’t popular with Americans and their overall much drier climate. This resulted in many modifications to the bike’s fenders and headlight nacelle by owners on this side of the pond to make it more palatable.
That wasn’t the end of the list of gripes against the original bike through subsequent years. At higher rpms the air cooled, parallel twin engine vibrated quite badly and even after several years of Triumph working on all kinds of different fixes, the problem got worse in many cases instead of better. They just never had the answers back then and this generation of the bike ended in 1983.
2002 – 2005 Bonneville T100
In celebration of their 100th anniversary as a company, Triumph brought out a limited edition T100 in 2002 with a 790cc air-cooled, 360 degree crankshaft, parallel twin engine rated at 61 hp.
Adorned with a “Lucifer” orange and silver paint job and an anniversary badge with throwback styling to the 1959 T120 being apparent on the new bike.
It turned out to be even more limited production than the advertised 500 machines planned by Triumph due to a fire breaking out and destroying the main factory in March 2002, halting production for months. As a result very, very few true 2002 models were produced before the fire making them extremely rare to find now.
There were more Centennial Bonnevilles trotted out once the factory was rebuilt and production resumed in September 2002, but due to the late time of year they are actually considered 2003 models.
If you ever spot one of these bikes have a close look to see if they are a legit 2002 bike meaning the production date should read 03/02 or earlier on the frame stamp. I don’t know that they’re worth a lot more money as such, but are definitely collector’s items.
2007 – 2016 Evolution
Significant changes came to the “Bonnie” lineup over this time period.
Engine displacement increased to 865cc
Fuel injection added in 2008 but disguised by throttle bodies that resemble carburetors
Horsepower numbers increased to 67 at 7400 rpm
In 2005 Designer Paul Smith did a series of nine T100 one off paint jobs and displayed them in his shop. Two of the designs were chosen for very limited production (50 of each only) and sold by Triumph. If you ever see a T100 sporting either of these paint schemes then you’ve really found something rare. Paul Smith Bikes
2009 being the 50th anniversary of the original 1959 Bonneville a celebration was in order again with another batch of 650, limited edition T100s built. Only 650 were built to honour the original bike’s 650cc engine displacement. These motorcycles bore a striking resemblance to the 1959 colours and included a unique brass plate in the middle of the handlebars identifying them as anniversary bikes along with a certificate of authenticity signed by Triumph owner John Bloor. Brass Plate50th anniversary T100
Finally, we arrive at this year’s 2017 T100 which has undergone a radical change again in Triumph’s endless pursuit of the perfect standard style motorcycle it seems.
Increasing the engine displacement to 900 and liquid cooling it improved fuel efficiency 29% over the previously air cooled bikes.
They added a host of technology to it;
fly by wire throttle control increasing responsiveness
USB charging port under the seat
Immobiliser security system
switchable traction control
torque assist clutch
cruise control as an option.
They also replaced the 360 degree crank with a 270, I assume to further try and rid this model of the much maligned highway speed vibration which plagued the older ones back in “the good old days.”
Gauge Cluster Wizardry
I was very impressed with the amount of information available in the display windows found under the speedometer and tachometer, although I found the numbers too small to read at a glance despite the clean and organized layout.
Nonetheless, having a gear position indicator, fuel level, instant and average fuel efficiency, distance to empty, dual tripmeters, odometer and clock all available blew my mind when I considered the appearance of this Bonneville isn’t all that different than one from the 1960s.
Everything not matching the old style Bonneville is hidden so well that when I first glanced at it I didn’t even notice the radiator tucked discreetly in front of the engine.
The Only Fly in the Ointment
There’s only one thing I don’t like about this bike and it’s the position of the gear shifter.
It’s mounted too low and forced me to point my foot downward and at an angle uncomfortably in order to shift up. If I owned one I would immediately see if I could get an aftermarket shifter arm that is shaped differently or if I could reposition the stock one up higher somehow.
I would also switch to a less bulky style of boot to wear while riding.
Throw a leg over the 31 inch seat, grab the bars and right away you’ll smile at how light and easy to throw around the Bonneville feels.
The seat isn’t overly comfortable or uncomfortable for that matter, just adequate.
The engine fired up instantly, purred beautifully and quietly until the throttle was cracked open and a satisfying snort announced from the twin, peashooter styled exhaust pipes.
Once I started rolling I found at any speed I was impressed with how solidly connected to the road the bike felt and stable as well. It seems almost to invite the rider to take both hands off the bars because of the confidence it inspires in its rider.
The engine is VERY smooth, quiet and torquey! The power is totally manageable, but not boring. This bike is a pleasure to ride and for a beginner would be good for many years. It grows on you the longer you ride it.
There was a slight vibration in the handlebars at highway speed, but not enough to numb any fingers or my hands at all. I would class it as minor vibration, and I mostly noticed it because I was waiting and watching carefully for anything due to the reputation of Bonneville bikes.
It also has an indescribable coolness to it found among all the long time bike builders like Triumph, Harley Davidson and Indian making them feel special to ride and own. Knowing that Triumph bikes have been riding around since 1902 and were pioneers smacks significant to bikers like me who appreciate longevity and the wisdom it brings to a make.
It’s got “soul” for lack of a better word. I think people either see it and dig it or they don’t and they are forever content with the Japanese bikes. No disrespect meant to them as they are more reliable overall, have cutting edge technology and also are so much fun to ride.
When it comes to styling though, I think the American and European bikes are a cut above the Japanese ones and the T100 has this in spades.
150 different add ons are available from factory including; windshields, leather stitched panniers and seats, Vance and Hines peashooter styled exhaust slip ons, compact LED turn signals, chrome accents and a 4 bar Triumph tank badge to name a few.
Older Triumphs and even some of the newer ones have been plagued with electrical demons difficult to exorcise.
There also have been complaints of oil leaks from various locations and chrome plating failing from time to time.
The 2017 T100 is a bit of a question since there are some pretty new and major changes to it that remain to be seen at this point whether it holds up or not.
The majority of newer Bonneville owners really love their bikes, and don’t report many major issues from what I could find.
I did find a recall for the 2016 and 2017 Bonneville for the seal around the fuel pump which can fail allowing gas to run down along the wiring to the main harness and potentially causing a fire to break out. Recall Bonneville
I can’t see that happening very easily as it would take quite a whalopping short circuit to arc strongly enough to ignite the fuel, but better safe than sorry.
The Italian MG V7 III is a beginner friendly bike with easy handling and an original look all its own thanks to its transverse V-twin engine.
It’s got the same retro look as the T100, and almost all the same technology available with the exception of the clutch torque assist feature.
It even has a leg up on the Triumph because of its 6 speed transmission and shaft drive in place of the T100’s chain drive. Less maintenance is always the way to go in my opinion.
The starting price for the V7 III Stone is also $2000 less than the T100, and there are several different trims and colours to choose from including the very flashy Anniversario model.
Lots of good reasons to consider the MG if you’re in the market for a retro bike.
It doesn’t have the history the Triumph does, but isn’t a newcomer either as the transverse engine was first built in and MG back in 1967.
744 cc air cooled, fuel injected engine
51 hp (38 kW) @ 6,200 rpm
44 ft lbs (60 Nm) @ 4,900 rpm
6 speed transmission
30 inch seat height
470 lbs dry
Power to weight ratio of 0.108
Priced $9390 for the V7III Stone up to $11,300 for the flashy Anniversario
I was happy to find a Japanese-built motorcycle in the SCR950 with some retro attitude to include in this comparison. It was a pleasant surprise!
Billed as a “Sport Heritage” model by Yamaha and the grandchild of the X, the SCR is a bit different in a few ways than the T100 and the MG. It’s got more of a 70s look compared to the Triumph’s 1959 stylings and also calls out to the off roading habit that many scrambler or cafe racer class bikers embrace. That’s why it comes equipped with tires featuring a more aggressive tread pattern. The bars look and feel like they were stolen off a WRF450 without the pad. Dirt and gravel roads? No problem.
Equipped with the proven, air cooled 942 cc V-twin engine found in Yamaha’s popular Bolt, the XCR makes the same torque as the T100 and could have a beautifully, wicked growl if equipped with aftermarket exhaust.
It’s pretty much devoid of bells and whistles with the fanciest features being an LED taillight, digital gauges, self cancelling turn signals and fuel injection.
Having said that, Yamaha was taking a “less is more” approach with this bike focusing instead on reliability and simplicity. Having a belt drive and service intervals being few and far between there’s little that can or will go wrong with this design. Bulletproof.
When you sit on it and bring it off the side stand it does feel top heavy because of the tall engine and frame. The almost 33 inch seat height is partly to blame but there’s no missing that this is a much heavier bike at 547 lbs than the T100 and it feels that way until you get moving.
I saw it on special at the dealership today for just under $10000, so it’s priced a couple of thousand lower than the Triumph and par with the entry level MG model.
It’s strong competition from a reliability and pricing perspective to be sure, and it has enough horsepower and torque to be a bike you could be happy with for some time.
The styling isn’t on the same level as the other two bikes (in my humble opinion), but is nifty and has its own kind of swagger being different than a lot of what you see on the road.
These bikes are really only an honourable mention as neither are in production anymore and the W800 never was available in Canada or the US.
The W650 was available in Canada only from 2000 to 2001 from what I can tell, but in production from 1999 to 2007. Weak sales over here and the rise of the Triumph Bonneville models prompted Kawasaki to pull out of North America and instead concentrate on selling it in Europe. If you get the chance to see a W650 on this side of the ocean take it as it’s quite rare and quite a nice piece of iron.
To look at this bike you would wonder why on earth Triumph didn’t sue Kawasaki for trademark infringement as they are incredibly similar looking when it comes to styling.
As it turns out, the reason they didn’t is that the W650 was a reborn and updated 1966 Kawasaki W1replica. The reason it looks so British is because Kawasaki based the look on the BSA A7 bikes back in the 1960s.
In an internet search to see if I could locate a W650 to see in person I came up almost empty only locating one for sale in Ontario which is thousands of miles away.
The W650 was a sweet little bike from what I’ve heard, but lacked top end punch due to the smallish 676 cc parallel twin engine.
It was discontinued in 2007 everywhere because the carbureted engine couldn’t pass European emissions standards.
Kawasaki probably took it as an opportunity to beef up the model and replaced it with the W800 instead which was fuel injected. The W800 is actually a much better match for the T100 than the W650 was as it had a 774 cc engine with better power and technology on it.
Meeting the same demise as it’s little brother, 2017 was the final W800 production year because of tightening emissions.
It’s really too bad Kawasaki didn’t have more success with these bikes as they would give the Triumph a real run for its money today if they had been updated to keep pace.
Who Should Buy the Triumph T100?
This is such a pleasant bike to ride and combined with the heritage and tradition of Triumph has such a wide appeal when it comes to ownership.
If you are into brand longevity and a bike with a handsome, clean and polished, retro-appearance without giving up modern creature comforts and the best technology in your ride, this bike is an easy pick for you.
This bike feels very “British” to me and it’s apparent to anyone looking at it. Proper, charming, recognizable anywhere, enduring, proud and it loves “footy” and fish and chips.
The styling and brand name stand out in a crowd because there aren’t nearly as many Triumphs on the road as there are other manufacturers’ bikes, so it can be a bit of conversation piece too. Having said that, Triumph has seen sales climbing the last while and so that may not remain the case very long.
The Cafe Racer class overall is about touring around in the city or country with frequent stops along the way to smell the roses and enjoy refreshments at a restaurant with fellow riders. However, there’s no reason to think this bike isn’t comfy enough to ride all day long on a tour.
It’s a do everything well kind of motorcycle that will keep your interest for many years. It’s a keeper.
Meet Clint a Triumph Bonneville Owner of 3 Years
Clint is a young Biologist from Airdrie, Alberta who owns a 2001 Bonneville. We met up to take some pictures and talk about his ownership experience a bit to give me some added insight.
While it’s not specifically a T100 model he owns, the bikes are similar enough to be able to gauge what it’s like to own.
This was his first on road motorcycle. Clint only had limited previous riding experience with a Honda XR80 dirt bike when he was a kid before buying this Triumph.
Why the Triumph Bonneville?
He wasn’t specifically looking to buy a Triumph when he started bike shopping, but he did want something with cool retro styling and a comfortable riding position.
The Bonneville fit the bill nicely and the price was right for his budget so he jumped in with both feet.
Especially important in making the final decision was that the styling got his wife’s all important stamp of approval too. Sometimes she joins him as a passenger on his rides.
Happy wife, happy life? Believe it!
He bought it used but having low mileage from the original owner —a Brit coincidentally— who had only made a couple of small modifications; a factory passenger backrest and a tachometer.
Clint himself hasn’t made any changes to it as of yet.
He says ownership has been what he expected it to be: a fairly comfortable bike suitable for learning to ride on that stands out in a crowd and attracts compliments from onlookers.
He has been a little surprised about how enthusiastic older Triumph owners have been about his bike. Truly, Clint is a pioneer in bridging the generation gap.
He has done some longer rides with the bike successfully within Alberta and neighbouring British Columbia, but mainly uses it to ride to work or for casually around town or the surrounding countryside.
Any Complaints or Issues?
Not a whole lot really.
He says the seat could be more comfortable for longer rides if it had a gel insert or something different used for the padding inside without compromising the look.
Now that he’s a more seasoned rider he wouldn’t mind a little more power as well as a sixth gear, but these aren’t deal breakers for him by any stretch.
One problem he encountered is a fairly common Triumph one: electrical.
One day on a longer ride in the Alberta Badlands he lost all power suddenly. After pulling over and checking he found it was due to a blown fuse. He had to change it numerous times during the trip in order to limp it home where he could properly troubleshoot the problem.
The gremlin was identified as a wire located behind the headlight grounding out on a steel clamp.
The clamp didn’t have any kind of protective coating on it to stop the wire from rubbing and it eventually grounded out the circuit and popped the fuse. Not so easy to find, but since rectifying this issue things have been running smoothly for him.
Would you buy it again?
Clint had no qualms saying he would happily buy the bike again and recommend it to other learning or experienced riders.
His friends he rides with are aboard Kawasaki Vulcan and Vulcan S models. The Vulcan S in particular is a fair bit faster with its 6 speed transmission and Ninja engine, but he’s very satisfied with his choice of steed all the same since it wins hands down on style.
I asked him if he was sticking with the Triumph or looking for a change in the near future.
He’s starting to look at some other options now that his riding skills have improved, but he’s not in any hurry since the Bonnie is still fitting the bill.
Some of his friends are looking at Adventure class bikes and so he too is sizing them up to see if there may be some appeal there for him too.
The Triumph T100 Bonneville: Beginner Motorcycle?
Yes, I would happily recommend the T100 to the average beginner rider, but not a really nervous beginner.
The Triumph is perfect for someone who is confident in their driving skill with a car and in their ability to learn to do the same on a bike.
There’s a great variety of beginner riders out there ranging from those who have never even sat on a bike to those who grew up riding dirt bikes and are very capable when it comes to controlling a motorcycle.
It stands to reason there’s no one size fits all beginner motorcycle, but this one sure is close.
What Other Reviewers Think About It?
Here’s a great review from “Jolly Old England” youtuber The Missenden Flyer on the new T100. It seems only apropos to get the perspective from someone speaking with a similar accent to the builders of the bike, eh?
Of note is the way he pronounces “Triumph” in such a way it sounds like he’s saying “Tromf” to me.
His first person view riding through the city and countryside showcase the sound of the engine, smoothness and power well.
I quite agree with his comments about how light and flickable the bike is along with the comfort and power.
He doesn’t care for the mirrors or brakes, but I had no issue with them.
The second video shows his views after living with the bike for an extended time and provides some insight into fueling, washing and riding at night. Good stuff and well done!
Next up is youtuber Marlon Slack.
Another member of the British Commonwealth from “Down Under” with his very honest and humorous review of the bike and the previous air cooled T100 thrown in for added perspective.
What’s great is that he really didn’t care for the air cooled 865cc T100 and doesn’t try to hide it. Honesty is the best policy and I share his fondness for the increased torque in the new bike at the cost of horsepower numbers.
Horsepower represents how fast you are going when you hit the wall, while torque represents how far you take the wall with you after you hit it if you get my meaning. Torque is more useful than horsepower in my opinion within reason of course.
He agrees the T100 is much improved, easy to ride and suitable for a new rider although he mentions the T120 has some features he would like to see on the T100.
Summary: The Triumph Bonneville T100 – Yay, or Nay?
So smooth, stable and stylish what’s not to like?
Triumph owner John Bloor’s passion for producing beautiful and performance oriented bikes is clear to me and I really like the results so far. They keep getting better every year with newer and better innovation and style.
Smooth mix of power and torque
Liquid Cooled engine
Very good fuel efficiency
Light clutch lever pull
Great retro styling
Excellent technology standard and optional
Good selection of aftermarket add ons available
Historical lineage going back to 1959
A bike that a learner or intermediate rider can own long term
Price point is higher than comparables
Possibly too powerful for really “green” beginners
Chain drive requires more maintenance than some owners like
Retro styling won’t appeal to everyone
Fuel pump recall
This is the first year of the liquid cooled 900cc engine