I am not old enough yet to be a fan of the retro motorcycles but I do have feelings. And this Triumph Bonneville T100 is designed, it seems, exactly for the purpose of playing with those feelings. Very clever, Triumph… But I am having none of it. This is going to be a stone cold hearted review of the new 2016 Triumph Bonneville T100. You’d better grab a cuppa and sit down, old chap.
Design, finish and build quality
It is rather obvious what Triumph was going for, isn’t it? There are other colours, but the blue and white is perhaps the most emblematic of them. Triumph had a similarly coloured (actual, old) T100/T120 – I forget – at the unveil in London just to make sure that no one could escape the connection the design team was making between that iconic Triumph and this pretty new fling.
Of course, that was the T120, the T100 came later. The T100 is a shrewd little thing in that sense. The Triumph Street Twin is a very impressive motorcycle to wear the mantle of being the most affordable Triumph motorcycle. However, the T100 feels vastly more special for a simple reason.
The Triumph Bonneville T100 takes the 55PS engine from the Street Twin and slots it neatly into the slightly better-spec frames and suspension from the T120. In the process, it also adopts the vastly more evocative design of the T120. What Triumph nix to control the price are a few bits. The heated grips et al aren’t really important in our conditions, but the T100 gets a single front disc, ABS, traction control without modes and it loses the centre stand and grab rail. The one in the pics you see is an aftermarket Triumph accessory.
Normally, we look at things that are removed from the specification as a bad thing, but it makes the T100 a simpler motorcycle and that fits in with how it feels – and we shall return to that.
The design looks fantastic. Triumph’s old Bonnie looks nice too, but the detail and attention to the design that the company is showing now is extremely welcome. All the little bits, from the front fender staying in chrome to the design of the 790mm high seat, are all carefully executed to generate the idea of a bike 40 years or so older than it is.
And it is a successful design. Despite the modern touches, like the detailed design of the key, or the insides of the headlight etc., the T100 looks and feels like a carefully restored motorcycle and it genuinely looks beautifully proportioned. Finish levels are excellent and the build quality, despite my heavy handed use, promises graceful ageing if any.
Engine, performance and economy
The Street Twin engine appeared to be a weakling at 55PS from a 900cc parallel twin but it proved to be excellent, remember? The T100 is no pushover either. But the striking thing about the T100 isn’t its performance, it’s the feel.
This is a silky, silky, silky smooth motorcycle. Every part of the powertrain feels like it’s coated in butter or honey. The gear changes are soft and effort free while the slotting of a new gear is communicated effectively. The torque-assist clutch, as Triumph calls it, produces a clutch lever so light it will make a few 150cc commuters blush at the lever effort needed. And then there is the engine itself.
It murmurs to a start and settles into a gentle hum. Blipping for downshifts or effect produces a restrained but clearly audible twin-cylinder thrum, but most of what you hear is the wind brushing past your helmet as you waft along, seemingly on a cloud of cool air.
Performance is effortless. You can choose to rev the motorcycle – it’s particularly nice between 5,000-7,000rpm but it feels best to dig the laid-back vibe and chug along. The gearing and the torque allow the motorcycle to trundle wonderfully along at 1,200rpm in top gear, and that’s how it produces a stunning 21kmpl in the city.
To be honest, there isn’t any wind protection and that means you will repeatedly hit 120kmph when you’re feeling hot and bothered, but the wind resistance on your neck and helmet will quickly calm your passions and make you settle back into a 100kmph cruise. There is latent highway ability in the T100 but you’re going to need either a screen of some sort, or you’d better find a group of slow machines out for a tour.
Ride, handling and braking
Despite losing the second disc that comes on the T120, the T100 feels right. The brakes are easy to modulate and work without excessive bite and the force arrives progressively. Impressive? No. Good? Oh yes and very much in the same vein as the rest of the motorcycle. ABS, when triggered, pulses the lever firmly enough to let you know but again, the sensation is restrained.
Ride quality is interesting. If you live within the quiet cocoon of the T100’s laid-back performance, you will notice that this is an exceptionally smooth motorcycle. It handles bumps well and the ride in general is extremely comfortable. However, as you push the speeds, you will also realise that the suspension is marvellous in that narrow band but outside that, it isn’t all that golden. What I mean is that if you up the pace enough – the engine certainly has the wherewithal – then you will notice that the T100 bounces up and down a fair bit and now and then, you will bottom the suspension out. To me this is more interesting than a problem because the motorcycle is very persuasive at keeping the rider within the band where all its systems come together so astonishingly well.
Cornering, again, is effectively handled. The bike is neutral in stance and you can lean over to the pegs smoothly without fuss. But again, when I upped the pace, the feel of the Pirelli SportsComp tyres wasn’t as grippy as some of the sportier Pirelli compounds we’ve tested. Not that this is a surprise. Again, Triumph’s tyre selection is smart. These Pirellis work really, really well at the normal speeds, and when you up the pace, many things, including the suspension will tell you that you’re out on the edge and should back off. If you don’t, a yellow light on the dash and traction control will ensure you come right back to where things work the best.
On the whole, the dynamics package is designed to blend into the feel of the motorcycle. I would say there are motorcycles with a lot more ability in this price band for the money. But the Triumph Bonneville T100’s superpower isn’t going around corners or absorbing moon craters and therefore, the design of the dynamics package feels correct for the purpose.
I had imagined that the 2016 Triumph Bonneville T100 road test was going to be a dispassionate enquiry into the ability of this motorcycle. Well, close but no cigar. The nostalgic feel of the T100 is spot on. Despite my need for speed, I found myself cruising peacefully at the speeds it likes without feeling impatient or disengaged from the experience. That is a huge tick for the motorcycle in my book. It means if you’re looking for modern engineering in a retro-flavoured motorcycle, the Rs 10.86 lakh (on-road Mumbai) T100 is a solid bet. If you have the money, the extra torque of the T120 might feel even better but the T100 is firmly not in the T120’s shadow in my book. Heck, many Street Twin buyers would do well to test ride the T100 before they decide because the T100 is a very, very likeable motorcycle.
From my personal standpoint, retro motorcycles aren’t my flavour. The narrow range, especially in the ride quality department, where the T100 is at the height of its powers is a bother. It means that the few times I might need to ride hard, to keep up with buddies or just to cover the miles, the Triumph is going to feel a little less than perfect.
But my god, this is a beautiful motorcycle on almost every other count if you’re in the right frame of mind. It goes rather smoothly and evokes lots of sensations, and it makes you ride it the way it likes to be ridden. Not a lot of motorcycles can do that.
Images by Anis Shaikh