Triumph Modern Classics

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

In 1959, Triumph's legendary 650cc Bonneville began rolling from showroom floors. Named after the Bonneville Salt Flats, where speedster Johnny Allen had piloted a Triumph-powered streamliner to record velocities three years before, this model would go on to become one of the iconic machines in the history of motorcycling.

Right from the start, the Triumph Bonneville's seamless balance of form and function mesmerized just about every segment of the motorcycling community throughout the 1960s and '70s. Whether rebellious "rockers," renowned racetrack heroes, Hollywood elites, or everyday riders, very few two-wheeled enthusiasts were ever immune to the Bonneville's twin-piston charm. When Triumph finally bolted the doors of its Meriden, England factory in 1983, the Bonnie, having then grown to 750cc, may have been gone, but it was certainly not forgotten. Prized equally as collector's item and hip, everyday ride, the former British company's flagship model inspired a loyal, never-say-die following that lives on to this day.
When Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. of Hinckley, England reemerged in 1990, their solid foundation of modern multi-cylinder bikes was quite impressive. Despite this, the motorcycling public refused to allow the spirit of the machine that moved so many to fade into oblivion.

In 2001, the Bonnie was reborn with a 790cc parallel twin and a host of familiar styling cues thoroughly steeped in the Age of Aquarius. With the dawning of 2009, that single bike has evolved into a five-model line that now boasts 865cc and the Modern Classics moniker. And it's a good name indeed; the retro feel is right on the money. Strains of "Quadrophenia" and "Highway 61 Revisited" seem to pour from almost every crevice. Though mechanically contemporary, these machines possess a mojo that entices longing stares from both the hip crew of today and those sporting touches of gray.

Bonneville and Bonneville SE

There have been plenty of attempts to recreate yesterday's favorites on up to date platforms. Some have worked fairly well, though most usually garner a half-hearted "nice try." But in this instance, the team from Hinckley has the WABAC machine dialed in almost perfectly. Immediately, upon throwing a leg over the new Bonneville, I was taken by how closely it's overall ambiance compares to those of the 1970s. The flat seat, slender fuel tank, and fall-into-the-hands handlebars all conspire to throw open the sparkle helmet and bellbottom floodgates. A low 29.1-inch seat height and comparatively small dimensions also season the throwback formula. With my spine straight and feet perched on centrally mounted foot pegs, it's nice to be atop a "proper" motorcycle once again. Even at 5'-10", I'm comfortable and not the least bit cramped. The tall-stemmed, round rearview mirrors that offer great vision are neat too, and they add an extra glint of old-school chrome.

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For the complete article of the riding impression(s) and technical specifications, please purchase the July/August 2009 back issue.