The New Triumph Bobber – First Ride
We’re just adding a new entry to our ‘2016’s most obvious facts’ list. Right below the lines that say “American elections go for too long,” and “David Bowie was pretty good,” we’ve just added a fresh entry. It reads “Triumph Motorcycles is having an amazing year.” Even if we disregard their triple cylinder and off-road offerings and just focus on their Bonnevilles, barely a month seems to go by without us receiving an invite for another big launch. The Street Twin. The T120. And now, little more than a week or four after their big Thruxton R launch, comes the global reveal of their top-secret Bobber project. We were there. We went to the launch. We visited the factory. And then we pushed our luck and asked to ride the thing. What was it like? Read on, dear bobberphiles, read on.
Now we could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle, time and motorway miles by following pretty much all of our competitors by just cutting and pasting some press release text and photos on the launch night and be done with it. God knows we would have got much more sleep. But we didn’t see the point. Why not wait, do some of that old school journalism type-shit and get you more than their cookie cutter fluff? So we did. After an avalanche of late night emails and many games of telephone tag, we managed to secure quite the exclusive. What’s that? Would we like to visit the factory, see the bike in person and have a quick fang? Does the Queen like castles?
But let’s start where the starting’s good. After a few rather awkward-looking spy shots did the rounds in February of this year, it became clear that Triumph were about to take things outside their comfort zone and release a bobber. And while some may have claimed that it’s only competition comes from Harley, those of us that did a little digging will realise that Guzzi’s new Bobber and Roamer models along with Indian’s Scout and Yamaha’s Bolt will more than likely be on the shopping lists of potential new Bobber owners. But as you can clearly see, Triumph’s taken a rather different approach than those of the maddening crowds. With an altogether more classic, more authentic ‘hot rod’ look, the bike takes what seems like a simple idea and provides us with a very different take. It seems distinctly like Triumph isn’t trying to create a bike that fits into the bobber space, but rather a bike that’s a part of the bobber ethos. And with heritage that goes back as far as theirs does, it very much seems to us like these are just the guys to get that particular job done.
The launch event, held last Wednesday at an East London warehouse the size of a small British colony, was a no holds barred ‘do’ of the highest order. Live music that didn’t suck. Food that didn’t blow, and a celebrity drag racing event that despite the clear safety issues, went off without any loss of life, or even spilt ales. Well, maybe there was a few spills, but I’d say they mostly happened when neither Carl Fogarty nor Freddie Spencer made it through to the final rounds. A little bird told us that there were some very unhappy little ex-racing campers backstage after the loss, but to be fair who in the hell has any experience racing on a 50 metre polished concrete track?
Celebratory launch pleasantries aside, what exactly have Triumph pulled the covers off this time? A cursory glance shows what appears to be a T120 with a softtail-disguised-as-hardtail rear that features an underseat monoshock ala Yamaha’s classic Virago. But dig a little deeper and you’ll begin to see more. There’s pretty much nothing on the bike that’s come out of the parts bin. From the ‘bars to the rear fender, Triumph’s new bobber looks to be more bespoke than a Siamese twin’s Saville Row suit.
That fancy-looking floating seat is adjustable, but not in the four axis that some have reported. It’s height is not independently adjustable and is reliant on the unit’s fore and aft position. Bring it forward and it’s up. Move it back and it’s down. The pipes are clearly all-new, and its voice has been tuned with the addition of a split airbox. This ‘box is also a key part of the bike’s ‘bobber tune’ which sees revised torque and power curves over the T120 that shift all the fun lower in the rev range, and boost the torque too. We’re expecting to see about 110Nm at around 2,800 RPM and a healthy 85 horse powers to go with them.
Other noteworthy details include the adjustable dial that’s able to be tilted from almost flat to almost vertical to suit your own height and favoured seating position. The tank will hold around 11 litres of gasolina, which should get you about 210 kms (or 130 miles) down the road before you start looking for more. The wiring is nowhere to be seen and there’s obviously been a real effort put into keeping the thing looking spick and span. Other nice touches include the rear guard hoop, the front fork gators and the shapely gearbox-cover-cum-oil-tank, replete with filler cap, on the bike’s starboard side.
Always wanting to go a little deeper than the rest we organised an exclusive chat with Stuart Wood, Triumph’s Chief Engineer and probably their longest-serving employee. We kicked things off by asking him just how Triumph came to build their first bobber.
“With the bobber, it was definitely a ‘hey guys, you know what’d be cool?’ moment. It was too good an opportunity to miss. We decided that we could do this, and that we could do it well. The whole team understood and believed in it from the start, and the enthusiasm was huge for the project.” Stuart was clear that despite Triumph’s size, they were most definitely a company that was driven by good ideas over and above market research. “If you do any market research, you are only testing a proposition or idea anyway. Someone still has to generate the ideas and this is something that was such an obvious possibility with the Bonneville, we had the confidence to do it and do it well.”
And what was the main form of inspiration the Triumph team used to guide the bike’s look? “The team area was completely covered with shots of cool customs, cool bobbers and cool chops,” says Stuart. Many Pipeburn images were apparently also included. “Remember that these are the type of guys who are building their own customs and checking out the blogs anyway, so it’s really part of the team culture. Also, we don’t see design and engineering as two separate things. Quite the opposite, in fact. There’s no way you can apply styling to engineering. It’s all just design. The team members all have to totally understand each other and often they will cross over completely from one discipline to another. There’s no hand-off from one team to the next. We’re all one team designing one bike with one ethos.”
And as many have already noted, there’s an obvious ‘American’ angle to building a bobber. So are they expecting it to be a big seller in the US? “We hope so. I think that the American market understands British bikes. They understand Triumph’s history. And they understand the Bonneville bike itself. Of course, the US is where bobbers started. It was returning G.I.s stripping bikes back to trying and get the sort of performance they were getting from the European bikes they’d been riding. So there’s an inescapable link there. But this isn’t a bike primarily aimed at the American market. We see this bike as being as much about Europe and the rest of the world as it is about the USA.”
For those who like to dwell on the details, Triumph’s choice of American off-road giant FOX for the rear shock might have seemed like a rather unorthodox one, but not for Stuart. “There are a great company to work with, and they make a really fine little unit that fits in very nicely with the elegance that we were trying to keep with this bike. The bike’s suspension is very important to the overall design, and we wanted people to be able to see it. And to have a beautifully finished, very elegant and competent unit in there is a nice thing, too. Of course there were broader considerations, but in the end FOX came out on top.”
And we saved the best question for last. There were more than a few online comments regarding whether or not a factory could really make a bobber at all. After all isn’t ‘bobbing’ a bike all about taking away from what a factory has already built? “There are plenty of people out there that are making amazing bobbers,” Stuart notes. “Now some of those people will hopefully take this bike and push it further. But for an awful lot of people, this bike is much more elegantly and completely done than they would manage themselves. And with this bike, you will have something that will work well in every way. It’s not just about the aesthetics; the ride is good and the ergonomics are good, too. We think that people really want this, but a lot of them wouldn’t or couldn’t build it for themselves. So we’re offering something that they can now enjoy and be a part of.” Bobbers to the people? Right on.
Then at last, after many concerned looks and hushed conversations, I got my chance to ride the thing. Now make no mistake; this was about as much of a road test as Donald Trump is a feminist. No public roads, no decent corners and very conservative speeds. In fact, I never left the factory complex or second gear. And at the first sign of some energetic applications of the bike’s throttle, I was told to stick strictly to the 15mph speed limit. I was never very good at all that Health & Safety hoo-ha anyway.
Ignition is located on the bike’s right side, directly beneath the Amal-esque throttle bodies. Moving it from the bars is sweet idea which adds even more clout to the bike’s attention to detail arsenal. My plonked buttocks reveal an amount of travel on the rear shock that wasn’t too hard nor too ‘jumping castle.’ Kicking it over and giving it some, the exhaust note is immediately impressive yet quite different to what I remember emanating from the other bikes in the Bonnie range. While it might have just been my imagination, it seemed distinctly more complex and chord-like than the beefy yet pure tones of the other bikes. A result of the twin airbox, maybe? And then to the ride. The comfort concerns raised by the awkward look of that widely discussed spy shot are banished from the get-go. My average-sized frame slotted nicely into the bike’s shape, with a very neutral, ‘comfy chair’ posture and no obvious muscular niggles.
Into first, and then I’m tooling all around Triumph Manor. The signs were good, and with Triumph’s 2016 track record, you’d be kidding yourself if you even entertained the thought that the thing might be majorly flawed in some way. This is a team that is so far beyond the basics, most of us would need a deep space probe to catch them up. Fuelling was smooth as. The ride was solid and sure. I was able to turn it around on a pence piece with zero feet down and as for that brief moment I dared to kick it in the guts, it took off right quick. The brakes were also there in spades, allowing me to come to a quick stop before hitting the Triumph guy who was now standing on the road waving and yelling something about ‘Aussie lunatics’ and ‘not killing someone’. Embarrassed, I smiled awkwardly and set off again, sans tire smoke. My inner wanker then turned my head so I could catch sight of the reflection in one of the Triumph building’s many tinted glass fronts. The bike and I looked good together. Real good. And we felt good, too.
Satisfied that I had managed to be one of the first non-company peeps on the planet to ride the bike AND that I had ensured much H&S paperwork would now have to be processed, I parked up Triumph’s latest creation and stood back to stare. The seat and the bike’s whole rear set-up are clearly it’s crowning achievements. The pipes are as unique as they are shapely and overall its a very British, very impressive take on the well-known bobber theme. Nothing stood out as awkward or ill-conceived. Everything was in it’s right place. But with that said, I’d definitely be trawling through the encyclopaedic parts catalogue to replace the plastic battery box, mirrors and to reduce the size of the factory indicators a little.
But with such a brief ride, there’s still many questions to be answered. Checking the long-distance comfort is probably top-most on my list, along with just how that monoshock performs through the bendy bits. While I’m still intrigued about the choice of rear shock, there’s little doubt in my mind it will be good. With that said, I can’t help but wonder if the bike’s rear suspension design will impart an overly modern feel to a bike that is quite clearly trying to bring a retro and characterful vibe to the new bike party. In short, is it in fact a real bobber, or merely a modern impression of one? And what’s it like to ride (and hear) at speed? Watch this space for more soon.
[Thanks to Triumph for putting up with us and our crazy requests. Special thanks to Nigel, Natasha, Miles, Peter and Stuart for all their help]
The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, we feel it’s probably best to mention that Triumph paid for our trip to London to see their new bikes. Rest assured that if the bikes weren’t up to scratch, we’d have no problems in saying just that, and that we will always endeavour to give you guys the best reviews possible without fear or favour; manufacturers bearing gifts and delicious English beer included.