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A day trip to Nostalgiaville

RETRO biking is now all the rage. puts the Triumph Bonneville to the test and also the marque’s other expected hit, the Triple Speed Three.

Back in the halcyon days of the mid 1960s when men were men, ate bread and dripping and drank brown and mild or best bitter – none of this modern-day sissy lager stuff – the name Triumph, especially Bonneville, was a passport to having your drinks paid for – everybody wanted to be associated with you. The Bonneville was the original "ton-up" (100 mph) bike and you were king of kings.

Edward Tuner had designed the Bonneville (among other models in the range) and got its name from the American salt flats where it took the land speed record and put Triumph firmly on the world map of motorcycle manufacturers.

Fast forward to the start of the 21st century and Triumph are still in the forefront of motorcycle manufacturing, albeit in the intervening years they almost sank without trace; Laguna Motorcycles, with the opening of their new premises on the old Queenborough Road towards New Romney, loaned this iconic air-cooled, twin cylinder 865cc bike.

It’s been many years since I rode a Triumph parallel twin and from memory the things vibrated, spat oil everywhere and generally needed to be fettled and cosseted before they gave you partial reward of fast, precise-handling and speed; although to be fair as a 'young-un' I could never afford anything that was less that 15 years old and that had passed through goodness-knows how many different owners.

By coincidence three days prior to picking up the Bonneville I’d been to the ultra-modern Triumph factory at Hinckley to see the machines being assembled and it took me by surprise. The whole complex is almost like an operating theatre – minimal noise, ultra-sleek production lines and a workforce that appears dedicated to the task in hand – Laguna Motorcycles organise a trip four times a year and if you get the opportunity to visit, take it.

Back to the Bonneville, long gone is any throwback to kick-starting, it’s all on the button these days and the Bonny with its manual choke burbled into life at the flick of the button and just sat their quietly ticking over. I was somewhat pleased that it wasn’t going to be a case of tippy-toe whenever I had to stop, the saddle height (30.5ins) was perfect and the handlebars at around 33in wide gave a cruiser-type riding position.

Shod with German-made tubeless Metzlers on the chrome-spoked front 19in wheel and rear 17in the T100 inspired confidence, the motor although 865cc is what I call a "soft" engine, meaning the rear wheel doesn’t immediately step out the moment you twist the throttle and is very forgiving, there’s not oodles of grunt or torque a-la Harley for example.

The five-speed gearbox was excellent without a single false neutral being encountered in more that 400 miles of riding in all kinds of weather and traffic and once a few miles were put on clutchless upward changes proved no problem although the cable-operated clutch was effortless in use.

The single front disc had the T100 nose-diving as the lever was pulled nearer the handlebar – it wasn’t too sharp – while the rear disc proved equally competent at bringing the bike to a halt.

The almost vibration-free motor sits in a duplex frame with an oil cooler mounted fairly high up and out of harms way; the Bonneville is a sensibly-made bike not pandering to modern design – it has full-depth metal mudguards deflecting most of the road crud away from the engine and the rear suspension has chromed, twin-shock five-way adjustable units which are a tried and tested option.

There’s only a sidestand with this model so any chain adjustment or wheel removal could prove awkward. Also the warning lights proved difficult to read in bright sunlight.

That said, the ride is classic, timeless and effortless, either solo or two-up. The legal 70mph showed just a tad under 4,000rpm with the tacho starting to redline at 7,000rpm and overall I managed 143 from a full tank of fuel; although for the first-time ever I actually ran totally out of fuel including reserve!

Someone, who shall remain nameless at Laguna’s, had put the manual tap onto reserve and I didn’t spot the error until I went to switch onto reserve. While I’ll tell you that under power the T100 is light and highly manoeuvrable it’s more than a little on the heavy side pushing uphill for over a mile to get some fuel in the pouring rain, with thermals on, late at night – and you thought it was all riding enjoying life!

Finished in black and red with the world-famous name emblazoned on the tank, nostalgia comes in bucket-fuls with the Bonny; it harks back to a time when speed cameras were science-fiction; a ride to Margate on Bank Holidays to sort out a few Mods was a must and mum’s baking tray was a constant companion in the garage to catch oil dripping from my old Triumph.

There’s none of that with the modern T100 – mum can even have the tray back!


Triumph T100 Bonneville

TEC SPEC: Air-cooled vertical twin cylinder DOHC, twin carbs; 5-speed gearbox

MAX BHP: 66@7,200rpm

WEIGHT (DRY): 451lbs (205kgs)

FUEL CAPACITY: 4.4 galls US (16.6 litres)

PRICE: £5,899 otr

SUPPLIED BY: Laguna Motorcycles, Queenborough Road, Ashford; Telephone 01233 636699.

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