I received the following email from a follower of triumphbonneville.org, and decided to turn it into a blog post because there are probably others out there asking or thinking a similar question.
I was hoping you could lend me some advice. I am considering purchasing a Triumph Bonneville as a second bike. I currently own a Harley XL1200 that I have turned into a “Bobber”. It’s got a small 2.5 gallon peanut tank and is used mostly for around town rides and bar-hopping on weekends with friends. I am looking for something that I can use for long day trips and possibly the occasional overnight trip. I would want the option of throwing a set of soft bags over the seat when needed but I don’t have any interest in a windshield.
I have been riding for 15+ years and have owned only Harley’s. As much as I love Harley Davidson products, I am in the mood for something a little different. I love the history behind Triumph and the classic look of the Bonneville but I’m afraid I will be disappointed with the lack of HP and torque as compared to Harley or Victory. The other issue is I’m only 5′-6″ tall, so finding something that will fit me without having to spend a lot of $$ to make it fit is a challenge as well. Victory makes several bikes that actually fit me perfect while the Bonneville would have to be altered by changing shocks, front springs and the seat.
I guess what I want is for someone to talk me into buying a Bonneville! I’m not afraid to make some modifications to the engine if it will increase the HP and overall performance. The other issue is I really don’t know a lot about Triumph. For example, things like which modifications I can or can’t make. I would hate to buy one, get it home and find out I can’t do certain things I would be able to with a Harley. For instance, can I buy a kit that would allow me to move the controls forward or back on the Bonneville? Do they sell longer risers? These things I know I can do with HD or Victory but with the Bonny I’m just not sure. Another consideration is resale. The Bonneville models hold their value much better then the any of the Victory bikes.
So in the end, my head says Triumph and my heart says Victory. Based on the type of riding I described, do you think the Bonny is a good choice? Any other advice you could lend would be much appreciated.
So, good overall questions… and here we go.
Riding Size & Comfort
The modern stock Triumph Bonneville has a 4.2 gallon tank and gets around 40-50 MPG (highway) on regular gas. That means it can handle day trips quite well with a 1-2 hour ride (120 – 180 miles) between gas stops. All models except the Thruxton have a longer seat that can easily accommodate throw over bags or a pack of some kind for longer trips. I use a Triumph/Kriega combo backpack/travel bag (R30) strapped on to the back of the seat with Rok Straps. As far as riding height for a shorter person, I would suggest looking at the Bonneville SE (2012 and earlier) or the current Bonneville (mag wheel model) which has a seat height of 29.1 inches… I think easily handled by a shorter person. You could also buy a Bonneville T-100 (31.5 inches) and change the stock seat to one more like those on the SE or basic model. I don’t think lowered suspension is necessary. Best solution… go test ride a Bonneville SE/Bonneville.
Power to Weight
The stock Triumph Bonneville 865cc parallel twin delivers 67 BHP. The bike weighs around 500 lbs. This establishes a power to weigh ratio which is what you really need for comparison purposes.
It’s hard to find HP spec’s for Harley’s online. Harley’s own website does not publish this information. I believe the Harley Sportster 883 engine (closest comparison to a Bonneville) delivers around 53 HP and weighs around 565 lbs.
Even though the stock Triumph Bonneville out performs a similar sized Harley, many of us Bonneville owners do several things right off the bat to increase power:
- Remove the Air Injection System. Costs about $25 in parts.
- Open up the air intake: remove baffles, airbox, use free-flow air cleaners, etc. This mod can cost up to a couple hundred $ depending on how far you want to go.
- Install free-flow exhaust systems. This costs around $500 to $600. Predators and Dominators are the most popular options.
All of these modifications can be easily handled by bike owners with common tools. The parts required are available from multiple retail sources online, including:
Additional higher performance and racing upgrades include:
- Racing carburetors
- Reprogrammed EFI, or CDI
- Billet manifolds
- Heavy duty clutches
- 2 into 1 exhausts
- Big Bore Kits (995cc, 1100cc, 1200cc)
- High performance heads
- High performance cams
- High performance suspension and braking
I’ve found the best source for these items is Bonneville Performance and a few others. These modifications can add 5-15 HP to the stock 865cc engine right off the bat, or get the total HP up over 100 with the high performance heads, cams and big bore kits. The bottom line is that you can do pretty much anything you want to this incredible parallel twin engine! I think of it much like a Chevy small block (in the auto hot rod scene) when it comes to performance options… and the available options are increasing every year because of the popularity of this bike!
Yes, there are options available to move the foot pegs and controls around, to a limited degree. You can change control styles and materials as well. You can get many different styles of handle bars, controls and risers to get the feel and control you are looking for. What I said about performance upgrades applies to accessories as well. You can do pretty much anything.
Learning about Triumphs
Finally, I did not know a lot about Triumph’s either when I bought my Bonneville in 2008. However, besides your incredibly helpful local Triumph dealer, there are many great resources and communities online that can help you in this regard. One of my favorites is TriumphRat.net – probably the largest and oldest Triumph discussion forum online. For Bonneville owners I’ve found the Twin Talk section to be the most helpful. I find the participants there to be very helpful, experienced, and willing to educate and share with us newbie’s.
So, should you buy a Bonneville instead of a Harley or Victory? I can’t say for sure what is best for you, but my advice is that if you compare “apples to apples,” consider value for price, and account for the availability of upgrade options, (their high resale value was already mentioned) the Bonneville sure seems like a logical good choice to me!