Triumph T120 Bonneville vs BMW R ninet Pure vs Honda CB1100EX
Sometimes it is the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure. The ping of an air-cooled motor, power figures that don’t look like a darts score and good old-fashioned torque. If you hanker after those good old days, then help is at hand as the modern retro scene is alive and kicking as these three bikes prove. Built with relaxed riding in mind , each achieves this goal while also adding a flavour of yesteryear through elegant styling and simplicity. When it comes to a bike for enjoying a chilled ride, one or two-up, through country lanes, modern retros simply can’t be beaten. But which offers the best overall experience? Nothing says retro better than a Bonneville and the T120 Black certainly looks the part. The attention to detail that Triumph have lavished on their new Bonnie is second to none and everywhere you look there are nods to 1960s models such as the fake carbs, peashooter pipes, rubber knee pads, the list goes on. Yet behind this retro façade is a thoroughly modern machine. So you would image it would ride like a modern bike as well. But it doesn’t, it rides like an older Bonnie.
If you are used to a modern machine, dynamically the Bonnie feels very weird. The front end appears to be steering through treacle and it requires a lot of rider effort and input to get it into bends and then hold it there. If you hadn’t ridden any of the competition, and had grown up on older machines, you would be forgiven for assuming this was just how all retros handled. But they don’t, as the Honda and BMW demonstrate, and this fact doesn’t win the Bonnie any friends. And to be honest its motor is also a bit of a disappointment when compared to its rivals’ performance.
Triumph have two variants of the water-cooled 1200 motor – the HT (High Torque and the HP (High Power) - the Bonnie has the HT and the Thruxton the HP. The problem is that where the HP is engaging and spirited, the HT is a bit flat and lethargic. The power is delivered in such a linear fashion that it sucks the soul out of the riding experience, leaving it desperately needing a shot of zing. It’s very pleasant, and ticks the smooth and torque-laden box very well, but it could be so much more with a bit of character. And that kind of sums up the Bonnie.
Styling-wise, you can’t fault the Triumph, it’s stunning and is the bike that passers by will stop and stare at. But on a ride it requires effort to get it to comply and then doesn’t reward your exertions with any kind of excitement, ultimately leaving you feeling a bit short-changed and disappointed. And as the Honda and BMW demonstrate, retro doesn’t have to be dull.