Ross on the Triumph Bobber
By Ross Sharp - 15 Dec 16
I’ll be honest, one and a half bottles of Rioja honest. I wasn’t really looking forward to the Triumph Bonneville Bobber launch. I’m in a physical mess after a race season of crashing, bashing and smashing, even sitting in a chair is a balance between discomfort and wincing. But I’ve always wanted a bobber. A hangover bike as I like to call them. Sunday morning after too many ph neutral craft beers and an artisanal flatbread with slow cooked, 60 day aged, pulled…. a kebab, the last thing I want to do is jump on some rip snorting hell raiser or recalcitrant shitter from a time reliability forgot. I want to be cosseted whilst nursing the prospect of a good time. So, I prepared for the Triumph Bobber launch properly. I watched Greasy Hand Preachers on the aeroplane and blew the froth off a few Cruzcampos. I’ve seen that film a good few times, in fact I donated some coins to their Kickstarter. It’s wonderful. But it reminded me of perhaps the most crucial thing I squander in the pursuit of rebelliousness, creativity and individualism. Time. If you have enough of it to be reading this then you’re one up on me. I’m so transfixed with wanting to prove to myself that I’m some master engineer or craftsperson like those chaps in the film that I rarely enjoy the event of actually riding a motorcycle. Sure, I ride the things but actual unadulterated enjoyment, the legal side of a racetrack? That’s rarer than a hen picking unicorn poo out of her teeth. Madrid being 4 degrees colder than London didn’t exactly boost enthusiasm, but Triumph’s road testers did. An ardent bunch who pile 500 miles a day onto mules and test bikes to ensure our ride would be a pleasure. These aren’t marketing guys, that’s not their remit, they’re straight talking folk who know more about motorcycle performance than I’ll ever come close to grasping. Their “we won’t spoil it, have a go and see what you think” was fooling nobody, as they weren’t wearing full face lids indoors. Looking like Cheshire cats with a decent MDMA supply, they’d completely given the game away. I won't lie, the first few miles were forgetful. There was a proper pea-souper enveloping Madrid and I was completely unprepared. “It’s a foreign land, close-ish to the Med, bound to be warm” I thought. What a twit. One man was using spare boxer shorts (tomorrows not yesterday's I hope) as a neck tube whilst another stared at a cotton top willing it to morph into one made from sheep. Thankfully the press bikes were all fitted with heated grips, good ones too. It wasn’t long before the chap in high-vis leading our group became unsighted at a roundabout and I carried straight-on, into a 30 minute roadside wait with some of the journos from across the pond. Every fog-lined cloud and all that. The break offered a moment to have a proper poke around the Bobber. I was on the look-out for errors, room for improvement and parts that were crap and needed changing. This made me a little bit cross as there weren't enough. I’m often lambasted for being a grumpy malcontent but that’s simply not the case, I just hate sloppy workmanship and engineering excuses to placate accountants. OK, I could make some radical changes to the Bobber but the basics were spot-on. Remember, I’m talking about a production bike here, from a giant factory, homologated to be sold around the world. I won’t insult your intelligence or creative acumen by pointing out the obvious, standard fare of new wave scene upgrades that are perhaps necessary. The fancy bits that one can order from the extensive Triumph catalogue are well made and finished, ugly parts are all hidden and wiring is pretty minimal. As we’ve reported before, Triumph’s people, from the factory floor to the boardroom, are just like you and me. They take stuff apart, modify their own bikes and have on occasion schooled the custom elite with clandestine projects. The wifi routers in Hinckley are probably connected to Bike Shed and Bike Exif more than often our own. As a result there are already two alternative Bobber setups available, before you even put down a deposit. More on that later. As if by magic the first coffee stop aligned with the fog lifting. As we gained altitude confidence grew, not just mine, the group's pace picked up as digits thawed and caffeine coursed through veins. The hangover bike was stirring. With blue skies and sun belting, the smooth, sinuous switch back shapes became mirrored on rider’s faces as a strange yet common phenomenon occurred. Despite modern cameras being capable of operating shutters at intergalactic speeds everyone, myself included, rode harder and faster into the path of the photographer’s giant lenses. Star of the Greasy Hands film and personal hero, Shinya Kimura, had taught me the art of looking fast whilst going dead slow but there was a problem, the Triumph Bobber wouldn't let me go slowly. What would you do? There’s a man with a walkie talkie telling you the road is clear both ways and there’s about a mile of unhindered overly EU funded Tarmac to enjoy before his colleague calls us in. You know you should give the snappers an easy time and guarantee some good shots for the feature but the Bobber simply wouldn’t comply. Like a naughty one night stand from youthful, beachside holidays gone-by the Bobber begged to have it’s pegs chafed and pipes smashed-in. Initially I thought the engineers had their measurements all skew-whiff as the pegs touched-down rather early, shortly followed by the exhausts. But it’s not a calculation error, it’s just that they’ve conjured-up such a wonderful chassis that you find yourself taking unexpected liberties. The frame is specific to the Bobber and not one reworked from T120 tubes. The rear suspension cage and linkage is pretty clever considering it needs to cope with riders from both ends of the BMI and the shock has a super short stroke, providing just 76mm of wheel travel. The rear feels firm yet compliant and doesn't become harsh once the road surface ran out of funding. I ventured into a few potholes to mimic the mean streets of London and struggled to engage the bumpstop, even giant speed humps could be taken seated and at a fair lick without inducing an osteopath booking. If you want relaxed and your hangover is a stiff one, no problem, keep your bum in one place, loosen your arms and enjoy the completely panic-free, neutral handling. But seeing as Triumph had taken the time to search-out some glorious mountain roads it seemed rude not to make the most of the engineers’ hard work. After the first few acclimatising boot scrubbing moments I adjusted my feet rearward, heels resting on the exhaust guards. This felt perfectly comfortable and the reassurance that the Bobber wasn’t going to toss in a sick note, tuck the front and go home left me happy to keep my feet in that position for most of the day. Even so, the hero blobs didn’t make the lunch stop and I'll need to send a tube of Autosol to Hinckley to say sorry for ruining the beautifully linished stainless mufflers. With all of this unanticipated excitement I thought the quest for performance had perhaps overruled ergonomics, but the Bobber is properly comfortable. There’s no weight on your wrists, which is good otherwise I’d have complained, more than usual. And there’s zero need for your knees to hug the tank to offer the upper body support under braking. The tank is super slim anyway, with feet straddling that wide engine your legs remain fairly splayed, creating the perfect channel for cold air to hit you in the baby-maker. Two pairs of pants or a sporran will help the rest of this week’s launch riders but I fear it's too late for Dutch. And I'm not exaggerating about the comfort. Listing ailments, gripes and groans is something I look forward to doing in old age when family come to visit. Suffice to say that I forgot about most of mine for a few hours and was reluctant to stop for food and water. Somehow the floating aluminium seat is sculptured in a way that sorts out a myriad of physics in one go, even the most floppy-cored rider was able to maintain a decent posture all day. For those who stole my share of tallness the seat is adjustable, using basic tools. I didn't try this option but the mechanics of it are considered and unobtrusive. I’m sure there will be ladies riding the Triumph Bobber but this this next bit is for the gents thinking this bike could be for them. When you’re next riding your bike imagine that the seat ever so gently, and I mean Bupa nurse gently, cups your gentleman’s region. Starting at your gooch and continuing backwards to the point wear your arse becomes your back. Normal 13 stone, once athletic in their twenties gents. The Polish weldist who fabricated Bike Shed’s HQ would have needed to borrow Peter Fonda’s seat to achieve such a feeling, so I don't mean him, or you if you’re mummy told you “it’s genetic”. Bodyweight is concentrated on your sitting bones, cosseted by fair amount of padding in the floating saddle, none of it in places that’ll cause annoyance or discomfort. The salad dodging caveat applies strongly here as I’m Mr Medium who didn't quite make the six foot threshold and know that four Krispy Kremes is one too many. This means that accelerating and decelerating impart barely any force on your limbs and extremities, freeing up the rest of the body to enjoy the ride. And boy did I do that.
To me it felt like Hinckley’s engine man had slipped a few extra grams of beryllium into the flywheel. Yes it’s the same 1200cc high torque engine as the T120 Bonneville and despite the nine month gap since that bike’s launch and a summer’s weekend borrow of one from the factory, the Bobber felt different. Not my mind paying tricks, Triumph’s Head of Engineering confirmed that flywheel inertia had been increased ever so slightly. I might be a so-called bearded hipster galavanting around Shoreditch but as Shakira once warbled, apparently “the wrists don't lie”. Or was it hips?
In the real world this sliver of extra mass combined with a specific engine map means chunter-free short shifting and hanging ten on the wave of torque (facts and figures at the end). You’d need to be a hamfisted spaz to make the chain slap on this bike but even if you did leave it that late to make a call to the engine room for some power, it’ll arrive in a demonstrable, silken surge.
I enjoyed that for a time but then the reason I don’t own an actual bobber showed it’s hand. I’m still young and slightly immature. Dutch might be able to vividly remember post-war times when the original bobbers were built but I still own a Vanilla Ice album, on vinyl. That makes me young enough to still want to ride like an idiot and have fun. The twin airbox inhales from just beneath your bum and the intake roar is intoxicating high-up in the rev range. It sort of reminded me of watching BMW M3s and MK1 Golf GTis attacking the Bergennen hillclimb, you hear that rampant, aggressive wale before the exhaust note has a chance to catchup. And the Bobber’s exhaust is a peach, delivering a solid, bassy thud while remaining classy, and then pops discreetly on overrun. Schoolboy stuff but it works. And this is the stock pipe, do your own thing and bypass the under-frame cat and you’ll have a snarling beast on your hands. Down & Out’s Bobber was on display in the hotel foyer but sans keys, which was a shame as that expels gas and noise unimpeded through free-flowing headers and shorter cans.
During the lunch stop one of the chief testers had mentioned he’d only touched pegs 3 times during the final reconnaissance run. With an adjusted riding style, lifting an arse cheek slightly off the side of the saddle, the cornering capability of the Bobber became even more apparent. There was a section where I slowed up to a crawl from the rider ahead and then gunned it to make the most of the serpentine route. I wont’t lie, lady-like man squeals came out.
The clutch is super light thanks to someone with a B.Sc Eng doing clever things and despite only having two working fingers on my left hand I found town riding a doddle. Gearing is tall and seeing as Triumph were picking up the fuel bill I rolled around the slow stuff in first. The engine didn’t labour and fuelling felt perfect. The ride-by-wire throttle is unobtrusive and I stuck mostly in Road mode. Rain takes the edge off across the board but even in pretty crappy conditions I didn't use it for more than a brief trial. Clumsy downshifts didn't unsettle the rear like they did on the T120 and the traction control collects mistakes while massaging the ego. Coming off a damp roundabout and across some road markings I released all the ponies from the stable, the TC allowed a gentle powerslide but didn't tell me off or make me look silly.
Maybe I’m biased as this is my sort of bike. I’d probably highside before setting a decent time around Brands, I’m not quick, but I like to pretend. And I love twins, proper, large displacement parallel or v-twins. And this one is an absolute banger. It has loads of torque and there was a drawing in the press pack with coloured lines that shows how many, but personally I liked the bit after the torques had sloped off for a fag. During the twisty stuff I left the sucker in second, rolled off and on the throttle as the bends ebbed and flowed, occasionally snicking third for the longer straights. I’m usually very courteous but Mr Bloor has a load of Nectar Points to use up so I figured I’d enjoy myself and not worry about fuel efficiency. If that’s important to you, the Bobber sips fuel like your gran does sherry. Want to commute on the thing? The 9-odd litre tank will last a fair while and even with my scant disregard for economy the trip computer had recorded north of 50 MPG. It’ll do way more than that if you aren’t an idiot. And it’s fully Euro 4 compliant so even if Sadiq Kahn gets his punitive way, owners of the Bobber will be able to enjoy London tax free.
The brakes are good enough, but I’m a two digit operator and prefer a bit more bite, especially on a machine so capable of naughty speeds. Traditional aesthetics might have won over practicality on this one, and there’s no denying that a single disc looks more retro, but I’d probably graft-on a caliper sporting an extra brace of pistons. The rear is a perfect partner for filtering through London’s rolling traffic jam.
The Bobber’s capability doesn't end there. Select the sixth cog, sit back and enjoy police enticing speeds in complete serenity. OK so there’s no fairing to hide behind but if the conditions were right I’d have no qualms about strapping some bags to the back and heading off to the South of France. There’s even a cruise control option available.
And that last feature will probably send some people we know into a state of apoplexy. For me though their exasperation misses the point and I can't be bothered to spend energy debating what is or isn't allowed or what categorises a motorcycle’s position in the world. Triumph’s Bobber is flipping brilliant, whether you want it to be or not.
Yes, there are things I’d change and yes the Inspiration Kits (pictured above) fly in the face of the built not bought ethos but that detracts from commending the Triumph crew for what they’ve achieved. They’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, but what they have done is pull the rug right out from under the other manufacturers.
Click here for Triumph Bobber 2016 Specs
For Dutch's opinion and ride reports on previous Triumphs Bike Shed Archive
For further info and to pre-order the Bonneville Bobber check out Triumph Motorcycles
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