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2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black Test

In-Depth Review | First ride in Spain on Triumph’s outrageously styled new Bonneville Bobber Black model launched at the EICMA Milan Show in November, now available worldwide in January.

Nothing succeeds like success – and Triumph’s commercial savvy in creating the T120-based Bonneville Bobber and launching it a year ago as a factory-built answer to today’s so-cool garage-built Customs, has been richly rewarded. But the British manufacturer’s original guesstimate on how many it would sell proved way wide of the mark, leaving it struggling to keep up with demand. Triumph has so far sold two-and-a-half times more Bobbers than it originally projected, which surely caused owner John Bloor and his management team more than a few headaches – of the right kind.

But now those production problems are going to worsen, because one year on from the Bobber’s debut Triumph has extended its range with what amounts to an Evo version that’s sure to find even greater favour with customers around the world, as a modern British take on a Yankee-style hot rod that’s cool-looking, capable and even more competent. That’s because the unwieldly-titled Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black – let’s just call it the Black! – which it launched at the EICMA Milan Show last November and will reach dealer showrooms globally early in 2018, incorporates the few improvements the original Bobber needed, as well as a styling update that makes it look even tougher and harder than before. But just like Henry Ford’s Model T customers, owners of the Evo Bobber can have any colour they like so long as it’s black. This means that all the chromed or polished alloy items on the stock Bobber are now either anodised, powder coated or painted black, including the exhaust headers and silencers, footrests, gear linkage and foot lever, brake and clutch levers, the handlebar plus its anodised risers and clamps, the aluminium seat pan, engine covers, cam cover and sprocket cover, the headlight rim, and the wheel hubs. That’s a lot of black!

Successful tribute to 1940s/’50s bobber street racers, reinterpreted in a modern context to provide chic allure and stylebike cool – but blacked out to the max with zero chrome

The new bike has been given an entirely different front end, adding a second rigidly-mounted 310mm Sunstar front disc, which like its partner is now gripped by a twin-piston Brembo caliper, rather than the Nissin on the solitary floating front disc of the original Bobber. That bike’s 43mm KYB fork has also been replaced by a beefier 47mm Showa cartridge item that’s still however non-adjustable, while offering the same 90mm of wheel travel as before. However, the same KYB rear monoshock that’s adjustable for spring preload is retained. But while the second front brake resolves the original Triumph Bobber’s biggest dynamic problem – at 228kg dry it was essentially underbraked with just a single front disc – the Black’s final front end change is basically a visual one.



For in a stylistic effort to recall the early cutdown bob-job custom bikes that returning GIs created out of excess military motorcycles post-WW2, it now wears what practically amounts to a rear tyre up front, with the original Bobber’s 19-inch front wheel swapped for a 16-incher, shod with a chunky-looking 130/90 Avon Cobra AV71 tyre, matched to the original 150/80-16 rear. Dry weight of the Black is now 237.5kg, reflecting the addition of all this componentry. But also ramped upwards is the original Bobber’s GBP 10,600 sticker price including 20% UK tax, with the Black instead retailing for GBP 11,650 in Jet Black gloss, with the Jet Black Matte costing an extra GBP 125.

Second 310mm front disc now added to stop a bike weighing 237.5kg properly, with Brembo brake calipers replacing previous Nissins

The chance to be in the first group of journalists to ride the Evo Bobber along one of the most enjoyable and demanding biking roads in Europe, the legendary A397 running between Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol and the historic city of Ronda, spectacularly located in the mountains above the Mediterranean, demonstrated how good the finished product now is. This sinuous length of challenging road steeped in automotive and motorcycling history is a great test of how well a bike handles, as well as how much grunt its engine delivers. Let’s just say the Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black passed this test with flying colours.

Triumph’s retro-looking Custom model encapsulates the minimalist styling ethos, muscular stance and purposeful attitude of a period bobber, with well executed authentic styling of a bike that’s still only available as a single-seater. The low 690mm seat makes the Black accessible to riders of all heights, and is adjustable elliptically over a 30mm range, albeit only with tools, delivering a choice between Up and Forward or Down and Rearwards, I chose the forward position which delivers extra legroom at the expense of a slightly more close coupled stance which nonetheless felt really comfortable on the road, plus there’s a simple quick-release function for the single round dash to adjust its angle to suit your stance. The footrests are positioned quite far back rather than feet-forward Custom-style, but at 1.80m/5’ 10” tall I never felt cramped during my day bobbing around southern Spain, and the wide, flat handlebar delivers a really relaxed stance. It’s a nice bike to ride, letting you chill out when you want to, or carve curves when you feel like it, plus build quality seems very high, as is customary for bikes built in Triumph’s trio of Thai factories, where all Bonnevilles have now been made for some years.

6-inch front wheel now replaces previous 19-incher, shod with fat 130/90-19 Avon Cobra AV71 front tyre, yet steering and agility are remarkably almost unchanged

Though the non-adjustable Showa fork has a limited 90mm of travel, with 77mm from the KYB rear shock, together they offer quite good ride comfort, as well as adequate if not exceptional compliance. Visually, it appears at first glance that the Triumph has a traditional hardtail rear end devoid of any suspension, until you discover the KYB monoshock nestling snugly beneath the seat in what appears to be a direct-action cantilever rear end, thanks to what’s termed a ‘swing cage’ operating the rear suspension. But the Bobber’s cleverly packaged laydown monoshock has a linear-rate link hidden low down which gives good control over rear wheel damping, plus the specially-developed Avon Cobra rear radial provides enhanced suspension via added flex in its sidewall, which you can feel working as you cross any of the plentiful speed-calming concrete or plastic ‘sleeping policemen’ in the streets of Marbella and surrounding villages.

Although the rangy 1510mm wheelbase helps calm everything down properly riding over bumps with that restricted suspension travel, the Black is most at home cranking from side to side through a succession of sweeping third-gear bends, and thanks to its long stride is super-stable at any kind of speed. Because of its low-down cee-of gee that further helps it ride bumps well, it’s also pretty nimble in rounding tighter turns in city streets or mountain hairpins. It has no right to handle as well as it does with that chunky front tyre fitted! Steering geometry is unchanged from the original Bobber shod with a skinny 100/90-section 19-inch front tyre, with the same 25.8º fork rake and 87.9mm of trail, yet even with the fat 16-inch front wheel on the Black it if anything handles slightly better than the original bike. I have no explanation for that – but more remarkably, nor did any of the Triumph staff present at the launch, beyond the fact that the rolling diameter of the two models’ front wheels is essentially identical even with such different tyres fitted. But honestly, there’s no difference between them on turn in, or corner speed, though you must tug fractionally harder on that wide handlebar to make the Black change direction quickly from side to side.

I think in fact this improbably good handling may perhaps be thanks to Avon’s expertise in designing the Black’s bun-sized front tyre, because unlike the identically-sized front Continental on the Moto Guzzi V7 Bobber, this still gives good feedback, whereas on the Italian bike it’s quite impossible to tell what the front tyre is doing in a turn, because its deep sidewalls completely dial out any front end response on account of being less stiff and more mushy than the Triumph’s front Avon. For the similar-looking front Cobra on the Black, coupled with the good settings of the Showa fork, gives you enough confidence in the Triumph’s front end grip to really go for it on those sweeping bends that abound on the Ronda road. This is no triumph (oops!) of style over substance, but a well-engineered package where function for once mostly follows form. However, while the Avons deliver relaxed, confident steering as well as excellent grip, you must just accept the restrictions placed on the Black’s turn speed by the fact that you’ll ground out its flip-up footrests at fairly minimal lean angles while exploiting its intuitive handling that’s equal to a lot of sportbikes.

Powered by revised version of T120 Bonneville’s liquid-cooled sohc 8-valve 1197cc parallel-twin motor, though air-cooling persists via finned cylinders and heads

The Black is powered by the same HT/High Torque version of Triumph’s T120 Bonneville motor as the Bobber, but this liquid-cooled 1197cc eight-valve 97.6 x 80mm parallel-twin engine with 270º crank and chain-driven single overhead cam has been remapped to give 10% greater torque lower down than in T120 guise, to give the Bobber duo greater rideability. This retuned version employs the same twin 44mm Keihin throttle bodies as usual cleverly disguised as carburettors, but has a different dual airbox intake system, for an ultra-flat torque curve which makes it almost irrelevant which gear you throw at the Black out of the six available. A four-speed gearbox would be sufficient on a bike you can gas wide open in top gear from just 2,300rpm upwards with zero transmission snatch, and on which 103Nm of torque is already delivered at 3,000 rpm. Peak grunt of 106Nm is obtained just a thousand revs higher, but there’s just 76Nm available by the time the revlimiter you have no business ever encountering in real world riding cuts in at 7,000 rpm on the ride-by-wire digital throttle. So go with the flow and surf that torque curve by short-shifting your way through the six available ratios.

The Keihin ECU offers two riding modes, Road and Rain, each delivering the same full 76bhp/57kW power output at 6,100 rpm, just with a different degree of urgency via separate dedicated throttle maps. Using the sweet-shifting gearbox to keep the engine turning in the slightly fatter part of the horizontal torque curve between 3,000-5,000 rpm is the way the Black asks to be ridden, with the switchable single-stage traction control on hand to keep the wheels in line when you accelerate wide open from low revs. Doing so delivers a decidedly thrilling hot rod roar from the Bonneville motor’s double-skinned stainless steel twin exhausts, with slash cut silencers and its signature catalyst box under the gearbox. Another new feature on the Black is the single-button cruise control that’s incredibly easy to use.

Improbable suspension compliance and ride comfort despite reduced wheel travel from non-adjustable 47mm Showa cartridge fork and rear KYB monoshock with linear rate link

The Black’s T120 motor has considerable reserves of performance even if at heart it’s a flexible friend spinning at just 2,500 rpm at 60mph/100kmh in top gear, while 4,200rpm gives 100mph/160kmh. As well as a smooth, linear power delivery with zero vibration at any revs thanks to its twin balance shafts, this bike is ridiculously forgiving and easy to ride, now that the extra front disc has been added – a fact I was repeatedly grateful for when descending the A397 on my return from Ronda to Marbella. Downhill panic stops for any of its second-gear hairpins no longer require you to stand on the much more effective rear 255mm disc and single-piston floating caliper to haul the Black to a halt like on its single-disc Bobber sister, although you’re still aided in stopping by the reserves of engine braking retained in the settings for the ‘torque assist’ aka slipper clutch. ABS is obviously included as standard for Euro 4 compliance.

This has a really light lever action that makes riding the bike in town and/or traffic quite untiring, so your left hand won’t cramp up in the urban use I bet most bobberisti (as they call Bobber owners in Italy – yes, really!) will mostly put their steed to, especially with its 9.1-litre fuel tank that’s unique to the Bobber duo reducing range to little more than 100mi/160km before the fuel warning light illuminates on the good-looking, very readable single round ‘clock’. This has an analogue speedo dial with a digital panel you scroll through via the I-button on the left ‘bar, accessing the gear position indicator, revcounter, odometer with twin trips, fuel level, range to empty, average and current fuel consumption, a clock, service indicator, riding mode and traction control settings. There’s no ambient temperature reading, though, which would have been nice. But there's a huge range of more than 150 accessories in the dedicated aftermarket catalogue developed specifically for these models, so you can get the Bobber Black exactly how you'd like it. Heater grips were welcome for our December dance through the Costa del Sol’s countryside. One option included for the first time is an ape-hanger handlebar kit complete with forward footrests and longer control leads. However, now included as standard on the Black is a new five-inch LED round headlight complete with a very distinctive daytime running light, plus the indicators and rear light are now also LED, too. 

Triumph’s retro stylebike has been a sold-out success around the world since its introduction a year ago. The debut of the Bonneville Bobber Black will ensure that the British firm’s biggest problem will continue to be meeting demand for a model that’s as good to ride as it is to look at. Oh – that and deciding what to build next on this new Custom platform for the Bonneville motor, incorporating its all-new frame and dedicated engine tune. How about a Street Tracker, gentlemen? 

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