A few days ago, I mentioned I had bought a new motorcycle and asked people to guess the make and model, hinting that my decision-making process had been driven more by heart this time ’round than by practical concerns. If you’re one of the folks who guessed a Triumph Bonneville T120, give yourself a cookie.
I’m impressed by the number of you who can identify a bike simply by looking at its brake discs. It’s a Bonneville T120 Black, to be specific, purchased because I figured an all-black motorcycle wouldn’t look as awful if it had to go without a wash for a while. I’m already questioning this logic but it’s too late now and, you know, hey, dirt adds character. I’m looking forward to wrapping those matt pipes after I’ve scratched them to hell with errant boots and lazy cleaning…
My search for a new moto took a number of weird twists and turns. There were those strange few days when I daydreamed about getting another Suzuki V-Strom 1000, for example. Let’s not speak of it again. That my mind is able to go naturally in such terrible directions is one of the reasons I’ve never done hard drugs.
Those thoughts had been driven by the side of me that wants to be practical. Because practical is ‘safe;’ practical people don’t die in horrific accidents. Practical ‘makes sense;’ a practical motorcycle saves time and money in the daily commute. But, of course, practical is bullshit. A Hyundai i10 is practical. At £9,100 brand new, the South Korean car costs less than pretty much any bike with a 1000cc capacity; it is more fuel efficient, safer, warmer, carries more stuff and has a stereo. If you want practical, buy a Hyundai.
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Such tropes are easier to express than to live by, though. Plus, I really like gigantic bikes. So, in the run up to moving house my thinking was locked in trying to find the biggest, most farkled bike that would still fit the limitations of my situation. My thinking changed when the actual move came. I moved my wife’s bike into our shed (a friend who lives a half mile away had agreed to let me temporarily* house the Tiger Explorer in his garage) and it was easy. No huffing, no puffing, no smashing into things, no almost dropping the bike as I spin it because the weight is too high. No stress.
“I need a bike like this,” I thought.
And suddenly the gates in my head were open. I thought about how much I’d enjoyed the impractical Harley-Davidson Street Bob during my five months with the bike. I had ridden to Prague and all around Britain on that thing, ridden in pouring rain, ridden in cold – and I’d loved it. Sadly, the Street Bob just wouldn’t work for my current situation. Believe me; I thought about it. Although not impossible, its dimensions and weight would add another layer of difficulty to an already very difficult process.
A Triumph Bonneville T120, however…
As quickly as the thought of a Bonnie came to my head I was sure of it. I had swooned for the Bonneville T100 when I spent a few weeks with it back in 2017. And the previous-generation 865cc Bonneville had, along with the Harley-Davidson Iron 883, been responsible for rekindling my interest in motorcycling. Of course I should get one.
“Yes,” said my wife when I told her what I was thinking.
Normally her response to any bike I mention is, “Yeah, sure. Do what you want,” but this was a clear “yes.” The next day, she text me at work: “Maybe you should drop by the dealership on your way home and talk to them about the Bonneville.” When I finally brought it home she ran to sit on it. When we went for a ride together this weekend she was asking to ride in around in a parking lot. This bike is 100-percent wife-approved, and that’s always a good thing.
The T120 comes with heated grips and a center stand as standard. A current incentive deal being run by Triumph meant I got cruise control and a few cosmetic bits (sump guard, tank pad) for free. Moving it into my shed is straightforward and relatively stress-free, and in less than a week I’ve connected with the bike more than I ever managed in two years of riding the Tiger Explorer. I’m a Bonnie guy now, and I’m pretty happy about that.
What About Those Other Bikes?
The Bonneville T120 wasn’t on the list of six bikes I had been considering as a replacement for the Tiger Explorer. I suppose I had simply overlooked it. And I wasn’t that hot on having tubed tires (I’m still not and will be seeking solutions to that issue soon). So, why didn’t I go with any of the bikes on that list?
BMW R nineT Pure: I love this bike but the engine is physically too large – too wide. I was pretty sure I’d end up smacking it into the gate’s door frame. The nearest BMW dealership is an hour’s ride away on a good day, up to two hours if you’re dealing with traffic. Cruise control isn’t an option for the R nineT, and getting one with heated grips and a center stand costs more than a T120.
Honda CBR650F: Physically a bit small, underwhelming fit and finish, and no real character to speak of. Also, inline four engines tend to result in my suffering pain in the hands, arms and shoulders. It’s a good bike but the fact it’s being discontinued speaks to an inability to thrill.
Indian FTR 1200 S: Too long and a teency bit too wide. Still not available in UK dealerships, with no sense of when that will happen. Indian’s nearest dealership happens to be one I swore off of a number of years ago; I would consider giving them a second (actually fourth) chance, but I’m not confident they have the capacity to ‘get’ the brand or represent it properly. Aftermarket doesn’t yet exist for the bike. And there are all the unknowns of whether it’s actually any fun to ride. Perhaps in a few years I’ll be handing the Bonneville’s keys to my wife and I’ll pick up an FTR 1200.
Kawasaki Z1000SX: If a bike has a chain it really should have a centerstand; no such item is available for the Z1000SX. A number of reviews have mentioned vibration from the bike’s inline four and I could never fully develop enough enthusiasm to seek out a test ride to find out for myself. I’m not really a speed guy, so the bike’s 140 hp would be wasted on me. Also, no cruise control.
Triumph Tiger Sport: Size-wise it would have been at the maximum of what would work, which would have meant everyday struggles and stress. The bike is thoroughly enjoyable to ride but its styling is a little too “I Own Several ELO Records” for me. Honestly, every Tiger Sport owner I’ve ever encountered is a white man with a Southern England accent who can vividly remember the long hot summer of 1976***. I’m not sure that’s the spirit I want to channel.
Yamaha Tracer 900 GT: I really dislike the look of the Tracer, the screen is a notorious pain in the ass to which there appears to be no good aftermarket solution, and build quality is a major question mark. Last summer was the driest since the aforementioned summer of ’76, yet Bike Magazine’s long-term loan started to show rust and fuzzy bolts, with various badges and decals coming apart. I do not trust the bike to suffer multiple Wesh winters. Additionally, like the Tiger Sport, its size is on the edge of acceptable.
* He’s selling his house, so even if adding a mile of walking in full gear to my daily commute hadn’t been tedious I wouldn’t have been able to keep the routine indefinitely.
** Amusingly, the Suzuki had no damage whatsoever. Not even a scuff mark.
*** Please do not be offended if you happen to be a white man with a Southern England accent who can vividly remember the long hot summer of 1976.