If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday 31 May 2010

Triumph report

I have now covered just over 1000 miles on the Bonneville, and thought it might be a good time to make some observations.

I like it. I like it very much. In comparison with the bike it replaced, the Honda Pan European, it is light, easily handled, and although slower and much less powerful, it is a lot more fun to ride. It's in much better condition - two years younger and with a third of the mileage, it should be - with everything working and very little sign of hard use. There is a slight scuff on the tank and the exhaust nuts are rusty, but apart from that it's just normal wear and tear. It lacks things like the trip computer, heated grips, adjusters, modifiers, settings, calculations, knobs, nozzles and sheer bloody complexity of the Honda, but that, in my eyes, is a Good Thing. Working on it is a breeze, with no bodywork plastics to worry about - everything is in plain view, and all the mechanical stuff I have done with it so far (not a lot, I admit) has been completely straightforward.

It's the comparison with the XT which is troubling me. I have fitted a pair of no-name cheapo fabric panniers (bought on a whim from a colleague several years ago and never used) to use while I am waiting for the proper cases to come up on eBay, and now it seems that there is nothing the XT can do that the Triumph can't do better. I love the XT for it's go-anywhere, do-anything versatility, for its punchy motor, which makes traffic and minor roads easy, and for it's general scruffiness, which means that if I scratch or drop it, I won't lose any sleep. But the XT has had some hard use, and while of itself it is fun to ride, in comparison with the Triumph it is rough, sloppy and harsh. Where I always took the XT in preference to the Honda (unless the Honda's strengths of speed, long legs and comfort were required), now I am taking the Triumph in preference to the XT.

All of which makes me ask the question - what is the XT for? I honestly don't know. I think I will deal with these thoughts in a separate post.

I have found a few limitations with the Triumph already. The seat is too low, it cramps my knees a bit, and is hard and unforgiving after a hundred miles or so. The riding position is upright and excellent for general riding about, but motorways are hard work. The idiot lights are dim to the point of invisibility, which means finding neutral in sunlight is awkward and I am constantly leaving the indicators on. The bolts holding the seat on are allen bolts hidden away under the rear of the seat and are a real nuisance to deal with - a compete design fail. The suspension is firm and a little twitchy, but manages to be too soft at the same time. It transmits every imperfection in the road, but the front dives alarmingly under heavy braking and the rear end can wallow a bit on long corners.

Other than that, it's all good. Build quality seems excellent, with lots of nice quality touches and a general feel of robustness and good design. With the (strictly illegal) Triumph Off-Road silencers it sounds marvellous, a proper Brit bike burble and growl, and yet the noise doesn't offend. Power is a modest 60 bhp or so, but delivered in a lively and useable way. I have had to decline some overtaking opportunities that would have been a real banzai rush on the Honda, but other than that it's enough for me. Things like the suspension, seat and idiot lights are all fixable when the money is right.

Conclusion, then. Will it fulfil the reason for its purchase - to take me on tours, here and abroad, at relaxed and reasonable speeds, with all my kit? Yes, it will. Does it make as much sense riding at 30 mph on a pretty back road as it does at 70 on a main road? Yes, it does. Does it make me feel as if I should always be going faster in order not to waste its capabilities? No, it does not.

Am I happy with it? Yup.


  1. Thanks for the review Richard.

    I'm going to have to think about this. I've been having Triumph-like thoughts to mark my (prospective) Triumphal return to biking but, although you make the machine sound good, I don't like the sound of those Allen bolts. That shows poor design indeed. What else, besides what else you mention, will turn out to be wrong?

    If only Dyson made motorcycles. OK, they'd be plastic but at least they'd come apart very easily for maintenance.

    A biking story for you. You should never have a biking comment without a biking story to accompany it. I was on the old 1/4 tone (plus me) Yam FJ 1200 heading south out of Glasgow city centre. You know, I'd forgotten altogether about the lights at the end of the Jamaica St bridge. Quite forgotten. Then I suddenly remembered them when I saw how red they were.

    Well, I did what I could on a post-rain city-slimed road. What I could, all things considered, turned out to involve too much or the front anchor or too much of the rear. I forget.

    Anyway, for about fifty yards I slithered to a stop at a near perfect 45 degree angle to the white line all the way.

    Stopped at the red, I was still mulling this a dispatcher pulled alongside on his G.I. Kwakker 750 (at 90 degrees to the white line). He shouted across to me, 'Did you mean tae dae that?'

  2. Thanks for the comments, Jim. I like the biking story - reminds me of the time I fell asleep on my GT250 on the way to work in the middle of rush-hour Hull (up all night week after week with a daughter who slept two hours a night). I just managed to avoid the rear of a lorry with a very similar technique. I didnae mean tae do that either.

    Don't take the seat bolts issue seriously. It is a minor annoyance and easily rectified with a couple of longer bolts, either from an aftermarket supplier of from your local bolt shop. The seat clips under the tank at the front as normal, and these bolts go through the bracket at the back - the only problem is that they are hidden by about 3" of overhanging seat, and getting them in place is a fiddle. That, and the dim idiot lights, are constant complaints on the forums, but that's about it. Put another way, if that's the worst that can be said, the bike can't be bad.

    If you are coming back to biking (good for you!) I would recommend the Triumph wholeheartedly. It's user-friendly without being too tame, looks great and the line has developed a good reputation for reliability. And you feel you are on a real bike, not some plastic wannabe racer.

    This post was more a musing about the place of various bikes in my life than a serious review of the machine, so take it all with a pinch of salt. I plan to write a proper (i.e. more objective) review in due course, but I can tell you now it will be favourable.

  3. Ok Richard.

    The XT 500 I remember well. a friend of mine had one 30 years ago and, well, it just took over his life. He was offered a lift in a limo - a limo - to Gleaneagles - no thanks - I'll see you there - taking the XT. Etc.

    I'd thought of the big Honda ST but I like a machine that can nip through the traffic and I'm not sure that the Honda is the man for that job, not with me on it anyway.

  4. "no thanks - I'll see you there - taking the XT" - could be me talking :)

    The big Honda is a fine bike, don't get me wrong, and it is suprisingly good at low speeds and in traffic. It carries its weight low and once you are doing over about 5 mph the weight disappears. But it is very heavy (about 300 kg wet) and a pig to manoeuvre about. When I had the choice, it was the XT every time, unless there was a big distance to cover on good roads. Then, it was awesome. But riding it at a steady 60-70 was almost impossible - it was barely ticking over and begged me to open it up. And, of course, I usually obliged.

    Not an ideal bike for a returnee, I would have thought. Endo will have something sensible to say, if he's listening ...

  5. Aye, it's a toughie this born-again biker business. Ideally I should be twenty years younger. Then I'd have no problems, eh?

    Oh no. I couldn't go through all that again.

    Maybe I should try for an old FJ on ebay - there's always one or two on the go...

    The more things stay the same the more they stay the same I reckon.

  6. endemoniada_881 June 2010 at 00:51

    Enjoyed the Trumpet review: glad you're still pleased with it! I'd have to agree with all the observations, particularly on the suspension front. It'd be interesting to hear what one's like with the *ahem* probably legal pipes - one of the major things that I found quite offputting was the absence of any real noise with standard 'zorsts. Looked the cafe racer part, sounded like a polite sewing machine...!

    Nice story, Jim, and good to hear you're thinking of getting back into it. Plenty of choice out there...don't know how long you've been away, but if the FJ (1100?) is a yardstick, it's about on a par with most modern 600s - except on size and weight, obviously!

    Also, no idea how much you enjoy spannering in the garage, but buying a 20 - 30 year old Japanese bike these days is a good way to find out...they all seem very tired now. Not so bad with the really simple machines, but the big, heavy multis seem to be endless spares and money pits (yep, bitter experience).

    Personally, on the urban/commuter front, I'm a real convert to the enduro-motard style of bike recently - had a TDM850, still got a Versys 650, both of which are quite outstanding real-world bikes. Big, but easy to ride, with enough power to tour and enough handling to make short work of traffic. Or for a more sporty all-rounder, a turn-of-the-century VFR is well worth a look.

  7. Thanks Endemoniada,

    A turn of the century bike! Blimey. I have been away from it for a long time. Must be 13 years.

    Always fancied the old ZZR 1100 - aspirational that was. But, yes, too true - the money pit, the pit stop, the standing by the side of the road for hours (assuming you haven't been pitched into a loch or worse at 90 mph as the engine seized...). I'm getting too, er, 'impatient' for that malarkey.

    Might need to take a look down the nearby deals on two-wheels store real soon.

  8. endemoniada_881 June 2010 at 16:58

    They're dangerous places, those bike shops. Always said so: can't be trusted not to accidentally find a large sum of money suddenly needing to find a new home...

    ...which, by happy coincidence is what I've been doing today. What with one thing and another (actually, quite heavily inspired by several articles and conversations on this very blog - and one that hasn't happened yet, but is alluded to above: the "what's the second bike for?" argument) I've been thinking about my RF900 for a few days.

    It's a lovely bike: smooth, turbine-fast and surprisingly tractable in the twisties. That's the upside. The downside is that it's a 12 year old budget-design Suzuki that's only been averagely maintained over the years. Quite simply, it needs more TLC to keep fettled than I have spare time to devote to it. It's had a few electrical and mechanical gremlins, all of which have been addressed, but there are bound to be more. And it's near to MoT and consumable replacement time.

    So, there I was at my local dealer's, which happened to be on the way to B&Q (I was on a mission to purchase a replacement outside security light) and it all crystallised around a silver 2003 VFR800-VTEC. Which is now mine. I'll be sorry to wave the RF goodbye, but getting back on a V-4 will do much to console me.

    Part of the reason for replacing the RF is, quite simply, that nobody makes aftermarket parts for it (and very few ever did in the first place). Which rather meant that anything involving luggage required taking the Versys. That's now solved: I've also ordered up some SW Motech panniers (as discussed elsewhere), and frame rails for both the VFR and the Versys. When that arrives, I'll eBay the Givi gear off the Versys and hopefully offset a reasonable chunk of the cost. (Yes, to be fair I could have economised by just getting Givi rails for the VFR, but you're only young once).

    Which should leave me with two equally competent multipurpose bikes, one for going much more faster with and one for commuting and general-purpose hooliganism. (Oh, and a blown-up TDM that still needs stripping for parts). Sounds like a good plan to me...

  9. Endo, you BAD PUPPY!

    I see you intend to put luggage on both bikes. Is that wise? It was the need for luggage on the Triumph that led me to question the usefeulness of the XT. I suppose you can have a 'faster' all-rounder and a 'slower' all-rounder, but I wouldn't like to justify that in front of a Commons committee.

    Good move on the SWM panniers. I could tell that was coming. I doubt if you will miss the RF very long. It is one of those bikes that are 'really good for what they are' - in other words, competent, even surprisingly so, but don't light anyone's fire. I wouldn't mind a Viffer one day myself. I think that's the nearest I would get to a sportsbike these days.

    The ZZR is an interesting case. At its launch, it was stupidly fast, tyre-shreddingly expensive and conspicuous hedonism in the metal. Today they are regarded as pipe-and-slippers tourers - and the bikes haven't got any slower.

  10. Pipe and slipper tourers. Yes, that's about right for my sedate state of chronicity. O-60 in three will do me now. Got to take things a bit easier when you get past the half-century.

    That business of suddenly being able to find large amounts of money I know well - or at least being able suddenly to afford large amounts of debt.

    It's the WD40 I tells ya. There's something extra in that stuff. I love the smell of WD40 in the morning.

  11. endemoniada_881 June 2010 at 21:35

    Bad - I know! I can resist pretty much anything except temptation...

    And motorcycles, of course.

    I think luggage capacity on both is a good idea, on balance, especially since the mounting rails are the cheap part of the deal! One set of cases, transferable between the two bikes gives the maximum spread of options. I did the thinking about relative usefulness and in all honesty can still see a functional difference - the Versys will remain primarily my winter bike (but can do other things), the VFR will take over the mantle of summer fun bike (but can also do other things). I do highly recommend VFRs - even for us slightly younger 'uns - this'll be my third, although the other two were older 750s.

    You're probably right about the RF. I like it a lot, but it isn't breathtakingly special - just another straightforward, honest, fast motorcycle.

    Good point about the ZZRs. Like so many big bikes of that era, they're still pretty ferocious beasties, however quick the press and public are to rebrand them as comfy armchairs. Hanging on to one of them with the taps open frankly isn't much different to hanging on to a brand new hypersports with the taps open! Except there's room for more than one arse-cheek on the saddle and you don't end up with your knees resting against your visor pods while you do so...

    Keep sniffing the WD, Jim - you know you want to! And I can only admire your self-restraint over the need for speedy acceleration!

  12. 0-60 in three? That's still bloody quick - unless you meant three minutes. Agreed about the debt. One minute you are sure that getting into debt for five grand would be the worst thing you could think of. Next minute, it's the best idea you've had all day. Walking past a bike shop was the difference.

    And WD40 - golly, I could use that stuff as aftershave. ACF50 just smells nasty, and GT85 smells of furniture polish, but WD40 is the real thing. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  13. Bike shops have areas of curved space around them caused by the great mass of relativistic velocity that they contain. You try to walk past but your straight line down the street is their curve into their doorway. As they are the comptrollers of spacetime and you aren't there's not a damned thing you can do.

    The switch from 'can't possibly afford that' to 'actually it will save me money - bus fares are just going up and up' operates on the same phenomenological principle as Rubin's Vases.

    The trick is not to try to escape the shop and the hydrocarbons, the rubber, and the leather - ah how much more fragrant your moll will smell in that than she does in the Chanel that she made you buy her for xmas - the trick instead is to stay there until the illusion reverses again and you remember that eating is quite beneficial.

    You just have to keep your pen in your pocket for long enough. So to speak.

  14. You are impossibly wise, O Phenomenological Guru.

    Waiting in the dealership until the illusion 'flips' is a good idea. You could have a good look at all the leather jackets and stuff while you were waiting.

  15. Interesting. As you know, I've been dealing with "new bike doubts" myself, although of a different sort.
    The one thing I suspect the Bonnie does differently to the XT is make you feel different.
    Whether that's about image (and we all do it), or riding style, or performce, it can't feel the same to ride at the Yamaha can it?
    In terms of practicality, it may be a close run thing, but one will make you happier than the other, no?

  16. It certainly doesn't feel the same as the Yamaha, no. But the Yam and I have history. It was bought as a winter bike, unseen off eBay, as a sacrificial tool to save the Duke from the mud of the site where I was working. It's needed a lot of work, and some BS&T from me, and I am extremely fond of it. With the Duke, it was a 50/50 thing, horses for courses, but when I got the Honda, I took the XT for preference every time. It is so much fun to ride, and has bags of character (in contrast to the ST, which was brilliant but boring). So the Triumph has a mountain to climb in terms of getting a place in my affections, but it is slowly getting there, which surprises me. Once I have the hard luggage, the 'purpose' of the XT will hardly exist (unless I get another job at a greenfield start-up), and the hard bit of my brain has already faced up to the logic of getting rid of what is, essentially, the lesser of a pair of duplicates. But I could no more sell the XT than sell my dog. I suspect I will wait until I have cleared a bit of room in the garage and then take it off the road for some long-deserved TLC and a re-wire at the least. But sell it - how could I? It's a friend. And I would get bugger-all for it in any case, and nothing like what it is worth to me. I think this will be the subject of a separate post in due course.

    I liked your recent post on getting confident with the K, by the way. That chimed a few bells with me.

  17. endemoniada_883 June 2010 at 00:10

    There is, of course, the exponential danger involved in staying too long - once natural orbital decay takes you over the event horizon and into the bit at the back of the shop where all the really special bikes are lurking...well, that's all too easily game over. I don't believe it's any accident that the workshop counter in my local dealership just happens to be at the back of the shop, either! The only truly safe way is to have a friend with a Taser standing by...

    Oscar India, my experience of multiple bike ownership is that it works quite well as long as a) they're completely different types of machine or b) they're all equally unreliable. In the latter case, whichever one works at the time will do. In the former case, they can make you equally happy in different ways at different times, doing different things. If there's not much variation between them, then pretty much inevitably one does end up as a permanent favourite.

    I'm guessing (not that it takes much intuition...) that there's far less contrast between the Bonnie and XT than there was between the Pan and XT, and it's that narrowing of variation that raises the immediate question. There may well still be enough situations where each one is "better" or "more fun" than the other, but they'll most likely be more nuanced and far less quantifiable. If it were me, it'd probably come down to weather - I wouldn't want to ride my newer, shinier or racier bike in the wet and it would make me happy knowing I wasn't! Equally, if you do social stuff, it could be something like both local owner's clubs are worth belonging to...

  18. endemoniada_883 June 2010 at 00:16

    Due to the convoluted nature of space and time, and being easily distracted, the above post was actually started before Rich posted at 23:30... so if it makes less sense than it should, that's why!

  19. Your guess/intuition is right. At the risk of being utterly unreconstructed and palaeolithic, it's like women and dogs. If you have a woman and a dog, no problem. You use the woman for one kind of thing and the dog for the other. You don't worry particularly how each performs their role, as long as the role is performed. But if you sell the dog and get another woman, then looks and job performance become critical. The one who is prettier and better at (insert whatever task you feel is appropriate or decent) is the one who will get all the attention. The uglier, less capable one will be neglected, and you may as well get rid of her. The trouble arises when you are fond of the ugly one, and have fine memories of late-night drinking sessions and you-and-me-against-the-world moments. You've put a lot of time and effort into making her happy, and in turn she has become a well-behaved and reliable companion. Logic doesn't come into the equation.

    I have been caught out with the post timing thing too - it times the post when you start writing, not when you press 'send'. I have added updates to things before the original was avialable before now. God bless the Internet.


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