SAND & DELIVER. Triumph’s New Bobber Vs The Australian Desert
Written by Marlon Slack.
If on buying a new Triumph Bobber it wheeled itself into your house, drank all your booze, shagged your wife and set fire to your cat, people would still want to buy it. Motorcyclists are frothing over it. It’s the highest selling Triumph of recent years, and the preorders have even outstripped those for the incredible new Thruxton.
Meanwhile a chorus of detractors make exaggerated gagging noises while pointing and squealing ‘It’s not a real bobber!’ while trying to kick over their T140 that hemorrhages as much oil as it does street cred. They’ll point to the Bobber as being a pale imitation of the real thing. A focus-group created antithesis of the ‘built not bought’ mantra.
I’ll save my thoughts on that for later. But such a high demand for the Bobber means press bikes are in short supply and we only had a pair of shiny new cruisers for three days. What could we do in that time? We bashed our thick heads together until a rough idea of a review formed. What would be the best way to test the short range, road-going Triumph Bobber?
Take it into the Australian outback and beat the crap out of it.
We set our sights on the small mining town of Broken Hill. Built out of sheet steel and HardiFlex on coin squeezed from the iron ore that’s been scraped from the surrounding desert, it’s been the backdrop for iconic films set in the Australian bush. Mad Max 2, Wake in Fright and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert rank among them. With stops for fuel and food the journey up would take us around twelve hours.
So on a foggy Melbourne morning Andrew and I meet the photographer and his assistant in front of a brace of Bobbers sitting in the drizzle of a garage forecourt. Our photographer presses down on the single seat of the bike, feeling all of one inch of foam give way under his fingers.
‘I reckon you’ll get an hour out of town and you’ll be looking to buy a trailer,’ he laughs, ‘That seat will absolutely kill you.’
At first glance, the seat isn’t the only thing holding the Bobber back from being a long distance belter. It’s got short suspension travel, a small fuel tank and no wind protection to speak of. In stock trim there’s nowhere to tie down luggage, no space to strap a swag and no room for a pillion. So we throw our packs in the photographer’s 4WD (dubbed the ‘hair and makeup truck’) and start our trip to Broken Hill to see how the Bobber fares a thousand kilometers from its comfort zone.
The first part of our ride has the Bobber in its element, thundering through the fog and rain of a cold Melbourne morning on a beautifully paved, boring-as-hell highway. At 120km/h the engine purrs neatly at 3100RPM – right at jump off point to the sweet spot of its rev range. The bike feels sure-footed and it eats up the miles. It’s easy riding that it takes to with aplomb – US style flat highway bombing.
We ride to the northernmost corner of Victoria, through towns of little importance. Towns that you wouldn’t otherwise stop at, unless you’re riding this bike.
Because the Bobber’s fuel tank only holds 9.1 liters of fuel and spirited riding can see you running short of 120 kilometers before the low fuel light appears. So we’re stopping at every ‘Uncle Bob’s Petrol, Bait, Ammo & Ice’ store we come across. Loping along on the freeway in sixth gear can see you getting over 190 kilometers out of the tank, but it’s still no tourer.
As the towns become less frequent and the roads longer and straighter I decide I really like the engine. All of Triumphs water-cooled, 270 degree twins are absolutely terrific but there’s something about this particular 1200cc powerplant and its state of tune that makes me think it’s the pick of the bunch.
While it’s essentially the same donk that runs the T120 and Thruxton, a change in cam profile, injectors and fuel mapping allows the Bobber to pull harder from lower. No matter where you are in the rev range you can pin the throttle open and the Bob drags you towards the horizon. Overtaking needs no planning. Just open ‘er up and the Bobber responds with vigour. Up top it’s got plenty of breath too – an indicated 200km/h was reached at one point – with plenty more on tap.
And everything else about the engine is just as sweet as the other models in the current line up. The clutch pull is beautifully light and shifting between gears is perfect. The bars have been beefed up to one inch on this model and it sports thicker levers which gives the bike a more thuggish, solid feel that matches many of its competitors. And maybe their riders, if I’m being cynical.
We were running late as we pulled into the last town before hitting the outback.
Indigenous kids piled ten deep in rusted old cars with bald tyres and panel damage sit and stare at us as we do the maths on what time we’ll be reaching Broken Hill. Unfortunately for us, we hadn’t beaten the light.
WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS FUCKIN’ STUPID
Point of fact: Australian wildlife is the most mind-numbingly stupid in the world. Australian fauna is nearly all nocturnal and when an emu, wallaby or kangaroo isn’t flat out getting caught in fences or being shot in the face by farmers they sit by the side of the road, waiting for the next passing set of lights to brighten up the night. This is their signal to throw themselves in front of the next unsuspecting motorist that comes along, be it car, truck or two dim wits on borrowed motorcycles.
Not only were we reticent about riding through what is best described as an open plains zoo, we also had to make sure we’d have enough fuel to make it to Broken Hill. Between us and the town sat only one fuel stop, and if that wasn’t open we’d be A-grade-Sasha-Grey-style fucked. I called ahead to make sure the garage would actually be open.
A thick, beer-soaked voice answered.
‘G’day, is this the Coombah roadhouse?’
‘Just wondering if you were open tonight?’
‘You close at seven, right?’
‘Wildlife bad up your way?’
‘… Alright, see you around six’
We could have spoken for hours.
The sky turned blood-red as we rumbled towards Broken Hill, and our worries about animal life proved well-founded. The last of the sunlight lit a few animals darting off the highway as we bore down on them.
This was when I discovered the brakes on the Bobber are actually pretty damn good. The front is firm and the rear is solid too, both with good feedback without being grabby. I didn’t have to use it, but the bike comes fitted with ABS, a good piece of mind if anything emu-shaped runs in front of you. But for the moment everything we saw was smaller than a cat. The general rule with an animal of that size is to throttle on.
As we pull into the roadhouse I spot a wounded fox dashing into the scrub, lit by the last fingers of light from the dying sun, entrails hanging from a huge tear in its stomach. A dozen black crows pursue it, picking at the dangling gore.
We fumble with the fuel bowser and there’s a crash of a flyscreen door as the owner plods out to meet us.
‘This’d be one of the worst roads in Australia to ride at night, y’know,’ she declares.
Andrew laughingly agrees and she looks offended and points a finger at him.
‘I’m not joking. You wouldn’t come up to the navel of the ‘roos around here,’ she deadpans. ‘I’ll make up a bed and you can sleep here for tonight. What you’re doing is fuckin’ stupid.’
It was. But rather than stay the night we used the hair and makeup truck as a battering ram to clear a path. Wallabies, emus, foxes, rabbits, goats and kangaroos dart across the beam of our headlights and disappear into the dark. Occasionally the road surface is covered in great swathes of red where some unrecognizable mound of flesh has been hit and flattened out over and over and over again and again by passing road trains. The enormous stains that remain on the road look like some huge deity has curb-stomped a wallaby before stepping off into the blackness.
PLAYING SILLY BOBBERS
Crawling into our bunks at the pub that night we were exhausted, but not sore. No matter what the Bobber looks like, it’s comfortable. That is, if you fit the thing. I’m 5’8” and Andrew is 5’10” and we felt a little cramped around the legs as we had to squeeze them up and onto the mid-set footpegs. If you were over six foot with long, gangly limbs it’d be hard. Anything over six four would be excruciating, no matter how you angled the adjustable seat. But I crawl into bed being able to feel all body parts and without the burning ring of fire that comes from a long day on many other bikes.
The next morning we cruise around Broken Hill and ride a snaking road to the top of an enormous slag heap that stands sentinel over the town. The bike manages a surprising amount of lean for slammed-down ride of this style, until the peg feelers scrape along the road and, a moment later, the slash cut exhaust leaves a silver streak on the patchy bitumen. It’s better around corners than a V-Rod, but that’s hardly setting the bar high.
We travel to Silverton, a small town an hour outside of Broken Hill and the setting for much of Mad Max 2’s chase scenes. And this is when the suspension really started to kick our arses. Outback roads are notoriously dreadful, littered with gouges, potholes, dead wildlife and occasionally, dead backpackers.
Despite my best efforts to pick a line around the hazards, sometimes I smack right into one those holes. The suspension at the rear smashes down hard and the rebound kicks sharply directly up my spine. It has the effect of being punched right in the solar plexus, knocking me off the seat and into the sky and sucking the wind out of my guts.
The aftermarket shock offered by Fox would be a very, very wise investment.
The rest of the afternoon we spent in the great Australian tradition of being idiots.
We sit in the shade of the hair and makeup truck and take turns doing some rooster tails between some abandoned nissin huts and rusted out car hulks. The traction control is switchable, so to get the rear wheel spinning on the dirt you need to thumb through the eight hundred million options on the small LED screen to find the ETC and disable it. Each time you start up the bike.
We beat the shit out of the bobber by going over some jumps. On landing, the array of linkages at the back end of the bike thump and groan. After landing the first jump awkwardly (the only way I actually know how to land one) I look down at the dash. No warning lights. Around we go again.
We wheel the bike into a creek bed full of fine red sand and get it bogged over and over again, eventually finding the sweet spot in third gear where you can pin the throttle open, spewing dust and rocks out from the back tyre that grabs just enough to offer some glacial movement forward. Then we get bogged. We drag it out and do it again. And get bogged again. It’s the kind of fun that’s best enjoyed with someone else’s bike and, as a faint metallic smell hints at, someone else’s clutch plates.
I ride the Bob up and out of the bed over a rocky precipice while the photographer’s assistant, a part-time trials rider, keeps score as he watches my feet. ‘Dab – five points’ he announces as I reach out to stop the bike sliding back down into the creek.
225 points later we’re panting by the side of the road quietly impressed with the Bobber’s capability well outside of it’s design brief. It can barrel down highways well, it can handle the twisties okay and it can manage to be the world’s worst trailbike. But hey, it managed.
Later that night we ride through a mine site to get some photos. We go in circles for an hour trying to find the right angle before we double back and sit outside boom gates marked with huge red text that shouts warnings to trespassers.
We sink a few cans of booze and drop a few burnouts before switching off the bikes and standing in the cool night desert air. In front of us a full moon hangs low in the sky, lighting up an expanse of complete nothingness. Behind us a coal-laden freight train rides the horizon towards the faint lights of Broken Hill. For the first time in hours our photographer stops taking photos and just stares.
SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISHTAILS
Covered in a formidable marinade of dirt, sweat and bugs we left Broken Hill early the next morning and make our way back to civilisation. In my mind my I’m trying to wrap my head around the Bobber, and trying to nitpick it as best I can.
While it’s blessed with the immaculate fit and finish that grace the rest of the new retro classic lineup there’s one or two things that don’t sit quite right on this new model. There’s flashes of plastic where there shouldn’t be – all around the dash and the side-mounted ignition block. It’s also got an unsightly decal marked ‘Bobber’ in a pretty daggy script on the side of the airbox. But that’s a short list of complaints for a perpetual whinger like me.
Honestly, the whole bike surprised us. It’s comfortable, handles well enough and it’s engine is a perfect blend of performance, personality and comfort. But the bike really starts to shine when you compare it to the competition.
It’s no secret that the Bobber has its lance tilted firmly at the Harley 48 and 72. And compared to them, the Triumph is much, much better. It’s better built and better finished, it handles better, it’s lighter, has better fuel range and economy. And to my mind it’s just cooler. Riding the thing through an outback creek bed is no real test of what it’ll be used for everyday. But no way in hell would I have dragged a Harley Davidson down there.
The only real issue the Bob has is the same as many other fuel injected bikes. Every time the highway slowed down and rolled us into a small, no-name country town the fuel injection became noticeably snatchy. At roundabouts and at commuting speeds the throttle has a disconcerting ‘on-off’ action that’s uncomfortable at best and downright scary at worst. Switching on the ‘Rain’ throttle mode helps smooth those edges out and makes it more pleasant, but you lose a noticeable amount of pickup. It shouldn’t have to be a choice.
But I’m sure there’ll be a tune that’ll fix that as the sales of the bike continue to roll in. And in my helmet, blasting down the highway to Melbourne, I understand why Triumph are selling so many of these things. Despite my initial misgivings I think it’s a bike I could live with. It’s a great ride that genuinely surprised us with it’s capability well outside of its design brief and I think I want one.
– Fantastically torquey engine
– Surprisingly comfortable
– Great sounding standard exhausts
– A bit cramped for the tall
– Overly firm suspension
– Could do with a little less plastic
I said earlier I was going to address one of the main criticisms of the bike, that the name of the it – The Bobber™ – should be strictly reserved for 50’s, 60’s and 70’s specimens that people have cobbled together in their garage. It’s a title that should be earned, and not bought off the factory floor.
Although I totally get that nothing approaches the single-minded authenticity of an angry old custom cobbled together from an Ariel Square Four I want a bike I can actually get on and ride. A faux-Bobber lets you smash your way into the outback, commute every day, hit up some weekend scratching all with comfort, reliability and torque in spades. That’s a better bike than a vanity project that’s sitting propped up in your garage.
The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, we feel it’s best to mention that Triumph paid for our trip to Broken Hill to see the dead kangaroos and ride their bike. Rest assured that if the bike wasn’t up to scratch, we’d have no problems saying it. We will always endeavour to give you the best reviews possible without fear or favour; bike companies bearing sandy gifts included.