Few motorcycles are as iconic as Triumph’s Bonneville. The T100 is the most affordable model to wear the Bonneville badge, and like most modern Triumphs, it offers compelling features despite its modest price tag. But does it do its famous name justice, or is it only paying lip service?
To find out, let’s take a closer look at the Bonneville T100’s bones, starting with its engine. The T100 is powered by a 900-cc parallel-twin with an eight-valve cylinder head and a 270-degree crank angle. This last part is notable because it imparts a great deal of the engine’s character. Traditional parallel-twins with 360- or 180-degree crankshafts can be a little dull and bland. The 270-degree crank adds some roughness and vibration and makes it sound a little more like a V-twin. In other words — and weirdly — it makes the engine a little bit worse in order to make it much better.
This engine produces a reasonably tame 55 horsepower and 59 pound-feet of torque. While that sounds a little less than stellar for a 900-cc engine, it does mean that the Bonne T100 is understressed and almost laughably easy to ride, even for beginners. It’s a powerplant that you’ll never have to think about… unless you’re thinking about how nice it sounds.
The engine sends its power into a simple five-speed gearbox, which feels like an obvious cost-saving measure (read: cheaping out) on Triumph’s part, since the rest of the industry has moved on to more sophisticated six-speed transmissions. Still, the engine’s tractability means that even at freeway speeds, the Bonne doesn’t feel like it’s working too hard. The gears are well-spaced, and fewer gears means less shifting — a bonus for a rider with a lazy left foot. The bike’s clutch is a multiplate wet unit with slip assist, meaning you’re not going to have to worry about being too deliberate with your left hand on shifts. The bike forgives even ham-fisted clutch use.
The T100 sports the classic Bonneville tubular steel frame and a competent, though basic, suspension from KYB. The front fork tubes are 41 millimeters in diameter and non-adjustable. The rear shocks (yes, there are two — it’s an old-school bike, after all) are adjustable for preload only. The brakes follow the theme of being unimpressive but adequate. The single front caliper is a two-piston Nissin unit that grips a 310-millimeter disc. The rear gets a single two-piston Nissin as well, but with a 255-millimeter disc. Anti-lock braking is standard.
The electronics suite on the baby Bonne isn’t extensive, at least not by Triumph standards. Beyond the previously mentioned ABS, there are a couple of basic user-selectable ride modes thanks to the inclusion of a ride-by-wire throttle. Instrumentation is surprisingly great thanks to the two highly legible analog dials with twin backlit LCD screens. The LCDs offer a gear position indicator and a fuel gauge, both of which are must-haves in my book, particularly on a bike aimed at newer riders.
The rest of the motorcycle is a typical modern Triumph in that it’s beautifully built with very nice materials. The fit and finish overall is great, and nothing feels cheap. I find both of these things important on a first bike because sturdiness is confidence-inspiring, and new riders need all the confidence they can muster.
Also confidence-inspiring is the bike’s relatively low 31.1-inch seat height (the seat is pretty cushy, so functionally, it’s probably even lower) and sub-500-pound weight. Both of these things make the T100 easy to maneuver around at low speeds and when parking, the latter of which being the time when a bike is most likely to be dropped. All but the tiniest of riders should have no issues with this smaller Bonneville model.
At speed, the Bonneville is predictable, comfortable and surprisingly fun to ride around town. Its relaxed throttle combined with its general narrowness means that threading through stopped cars or slower traffic is a cinch. The LED running light and loud-but-not-obnoxious stock exhaust add to the bike’s conspicuity — a big bonus when riding in the city.
On more open roads, you feel the bike’s lack of power, but for cruising, it’s great. It’s happy to maintain freeway speeds and is surprisingly agile considering its basic suspension and tires. It’s not necessarily a bike I’d push hard, given its simple electronic safety features, single front brake and somewhat old-timey design. Still, it’s an engaging and responsive partner.
Like most modern, heritage-inspired bikes, the Bonneville T100 doesn’t impress with its performance figures, and it’s not the most thrilling ride on two wheels, either. What it does — and does well — is convincingly sell nostalgia to those who never experienced it the first time around, and does so in a way that avoids any uncool, trying-too-hard vibes. It’s effortless, and it makes you feel good.
That vibe — along with the excellent materials and build quality — is why the Bonneville T100 isn’t a cheap motorcycle. The starting price of $10,450 means you could find more performance for your money elsewhere. Instead, you’re buying a piece of culture and an aesthetic with that money. If Triumph’s resurgence since the Bonneville was reintroduced 20 years ago is any indication, people want to be part of that culture.