I have no idea what I’m doing.
As I reach over and adjust the mirrors on the brand new T100 I catch a glimpse of an ex-superbike world champion riding behind me. He blips the throttle and with a tug of his arms has the nose of the Bonneville pointing towards the sky.
In front of me, a seasoned motorcycle journalist and part-time racer weaves from side to side, scraping his pegs at nearly a walking pace.
In between them is me. Bolt upright, hands gripped tight on the bars and riding dead straight. Marlon Slack from Pipeburn – commuter, tourer, sometime weekend scratcher. I’m not a racer. I’m not thinking about stoppies or wheelies or burnouts. What am I thinking?
Don’t Drop The Bike.
I was in Tasmania for five days riding the new Triumph T100 and Street Cup on Triumph’s money. Hard gig, I know. I was probably there because no-one else could make it, but I like to think I was mixing with hardened veterans of the motorcycle industry because I owned one of the old outgoing air-cooled Bonnevilles for a number of years. I did over 40,000 underwhelming kilometers on it before I sold it without a moment’s regret.
Because it was a bit of a turd. It was awkwardly balanced and top-heavy, crippled by snatchy fuel injection and relying on the same old tired narrative about Steve McQueen and Mother England and Crumpets to excuse it’s shortfalls. Which were many. What little power it put on the tarmac it did so without any kind of personality or charm. It was a Universal Japanese Motorcycle – and a slow one at that.
Sneakily, I was looking forward to the release of the T100 and Street Cup so I could shit all over them (metaphorically) and get thousands of page views from an audience here on Pipeburn who might appreciate the contrarian snark that I like to push. And all with Triumph footing the bill.
And a considerable bill at that. Just flying us all down to Tasmania would have cost a fortune.
Tasmania is a tiny little island state south of Melbourne, Australia. It’s isolation, depression and lack of work has it largely stuck in both the best and worst parts of the 1980’s. Huge parts of the state are unpopulated, covered in tall old growth forests and the rest is dotted by the most eccentric and isolated characters you’ll find in the country. We call them ‘Taswegians’. They call us ‘Mainlanders’ – pronounced ‘Mahnlandahs’ in their native tongue.
[superquote]“Twisting, winding, scenic, undulating, well-surfaced and largely unpoliced. For Australians it is motorcycling mecca”[/superquote]
But the best part of Tasmania is its road network. It has virtually no straight stretches of asphalt. In every direction, from every town and between every hamlet runs ribbons of tarmac of extraordinary quality. Twisting, winding, scenic, undulating, well-surfaced and largely unpoliced. For Australians it is motorcycling mecca.
The first day’s riding took us from the coastal town of Barnbougle down to the Eastern end of the state. We ride through winding roads carved through thick pine forests and past small towns held together by number 8 wire and peeling old lead paint. Myself and another journo quickly gave up trying to keep with the rest of the pack and just settled into a slow groove, watching the landscape roll past.
After a few more hours of constant fast sweeping corners I check into my cabin at the Freycinet national park. I grab a smoke and wander down to have a closer look at the bikes in the afternoon light.
The fit and finish on the new bike is in line with it’s up-spec brothers, the T120 and Thruxton. That is to say it’s pretty damn good.
The sidecovers are raw brushed alloy and look terrific. There’s neat little touches like the branded fork stay and bezelled alloy dash mount. Even the footpegs have a solid look about them.
The only thing I don’t like the look of are the cheap plates covering the EFI componentry.
That aside, it’s quite the contrast when compared to the old air-cooled model. All the mess of brackets and head steadies and wires and sensor leads that filled so much of the dead space between the engine and the bodywork of the old Bonneville are gone now. Part of me is a little sad it’s lost some of the transparency and physicality of the engine. I like exposed parts. But it’s certainly neater.
Overall – It looks better than the old one.
Another journo catches me staring at the bike in the carpark. “Wait until you ride the T120,” he announces, “That’s the one to get!”.
This would be a common theme over the coming days with journalists declaring that the full-blooded 1200cc Bonneville is the clear winner in the choice between the two. The T120 has two riding modes, 300 more cc’s, twin disc brakes and a host of extra parts and details and, by all accounts, is a far superior bike. The quiet word around the dinner table that night is the T100 is a watered down version of the T120. I haven’t ridden the 120 yet, but based on what I’ve heard, it’ll be hard to disagree with them.
A frost-bitten morning clears to a gorgeous bright and still day. At times the landscape is almost English, near single-lane roads that twist around the base of hills down the Southeast coast of the Island. Sometimes it clears to Tolkien-esque forests and rock-strewn green mountains.
The road becomes carved alongside sheer cliff faces surrounded by pine forests. We stop to wait for a cherry picker to cross the road. Above us, a man in hi-vis with dreadlocks abseils down the wall, selecting and removing rocks before they fall onto the road. Underneath me, over the steady drumbeat of the twin peashooters I hear the radiator fan kick in with a whir. From the seat it’s one of the few things to remind you the Bonneville is a modern bike.
[superquote]“The other thing is how much lighter the liquid cooled T100 feels. It’s weight is closer to the ground and doesn’t feel like such unwieldy porker anymore”[/superquote]
The other thing is how much lighter the liquid cooled T100 feels. It’s weight is closer to the ground and doesn’t feel like such unwieldy porker anymore. Taking off and slowing down for the constant roadworks is reminiscent of stop-start traffic. And the new T100 handles it pretty well. The ride by wire throttle feels like it actually has a wire and it’s largely without throttle snatch.
The road opens again and I try to figure out what I’m finding unsettling about the new engine. A few hours later I realize that it’s just geared far too tall for city riding. Or for most riding, really. Anything below 40km’s has you feathering the clutch. Up top, I’m rarely using fifth to cruise along at 110km/h.
It could go down a tooth or two at the front to give it a bit more go off the lights, or in this case, away from slightly stoned, swaying lollypop man who nearly falls as he nods us on our way.
The engine makes most of it’s torque down low, but the instinct to wind it on is still there. Anything past 5000RPM is just making noise until the redline hits, artificially low, at 7000RPM. For all the cars I passed in Tasmania bouncing off the rev limiter – I’m sorry. Except for the one with the wide-eyed local kid giving me the thumbs up.
The new water-cooled engine is a huge improvement but it’s not the torquey, personality-riddled powerplant Triumph say. It’s largely smooth and goes about its work without too much fuss. There’s very little vibration through the bars or pegs. It seems to hit it’s sweet spot around 4,000RPM when it purrs along happily beneath, with just the faintest throb of engine underneath. It’s got more personality than the old Bonneville, but not much more. It’s like talking to a forensic accountant instead of a tax return specialist. It’s still pretty bland.
We stop for more photos. The same routine of halting, doing a u-turn and going past a long-haired photographer by the side the road who always seemed to be smiling and without exception, always had his butt crack on show. Those photos had us running late.
Nigel, marketing manager for Triumph Australia and leader of the ride, ran down the line of bikes parked by the side of the road. We were going to take a detour that would take us along some dirt roads.
We rode through hard packed gravel and dirt roads for the next forty minutes. A bit of a strange event on a release for road-going motorcycle but I loved the chance to get off the beaten track. I’ve found myself doing more and more dirt riding on grossly inappropriate machines and I was curious to see how the T100 handled it, especially with the bike’s stability control and ABS engaged.
And it surprised me. It felt stable in a straight line and corners were okay – as long as you didn’t overcook a few tighter turns and jam on the brakes. That’s when the Bonnie decided to stop playing games and shudder, delay the throttle and cause the bike to surge and lack power out of corners. ‘When in doubt, gas out’ doesn’t work on the Bonneville. It’s electronic overlords say no.
That night we made our way down to the scenic town of Hobart, nestled between a port and surrounded by hills. The mechanics take away our dust-covered T100’s and start to prep the Street Cups for the next day.
And on our way out to dinner I spot the bike’s we’ll be riding. The Street Cups look… well, let’s just say they’re not my cup of tea. One sports a livery that is half metal-flecked silver and half gloss yellow that looks like smash repairs I’ve seen done in country towns by meth heads. The one-up seat sits higher on the frame and exposes some cloth-covered wiring harness underneath. The controls are smaller but have the ‘urine cup’ brake reservoir instead of the cast unit of the T100. And every headlight has these strange alignment marks, barely visible, on the side of each bucket. And now that’s all I see when staring at the bike.
‘What do you think?’ A journo asks.
‘I prefer the T100,’ I grimace.
He looks shocked and points to the bay behind him – past the fishing boats and yachts bobbing in the harbour. ‘Go walk out there and think about what you’ve said’.
So maybe I’m on my own, but to my eyes the Street Cup looks a little too factory custom, a little too strained and the colour scheme looks a little too loud. I stay behind for a few moments staring at the alignment marks on the headlight shell and the mismatched paint. We walk to eat amongst the tightly packed convict sandstone buildings of Hobart.
The next morning we pick our way through traffic and into the hills on our new bikes. Despite the clubman bars and rearsets, the Street Cup is comfortable. At five foot nine it’s perfect for me, but I would worry about anyone taller than six four.
As the sun comes out that afternoon it catches on the alloy dash and renders everything illegible. But at least it obstructs the 100km/h mark on the speedo – which is frustratingly sits just left to directly up.
In corners the bike is neutral handling and turns relatively quickly, quicker than the T100 despite having the same wheel size. And like the T100, the shocks are good. No longer would the first thing to do be to swap them out for ones not made from railway sleepers and melted down bobby pins. Nor would I run to swap out the exhausts.
Because the sound from the standard mufflers is astonishingly good. It rumbles a bit on idle and has a nice bark that isn’t too obnoxious under load. Bizarrely, all that noise disappears behind you when you ride. There will still be a market for some slip on mufflers, but I’d be worried if I worked for British Customs.
That afternoon we park outside Strahan hotel and a Paramedic wanders over.
“I heard you fellas comin’, an’ thought you were riding Ducatis!’” he declares. The 270 degree firing order certainly sounds the goods then. Kids wander over and take photos while another old local swings a leg over the bike. Maybe I am wrong. Everyone thinks the Street Cups look great.
The paramedic shakes my hand. “I hope we don’t meet again,” he says with a wink.
But to me it feels like the Street Cup is a bit of a tucked down, hunched-back fibber. That forward riding position, that colour scheme, the bikini fairing and the seat cowl seem to promise performance the bike can’t deliver. It’s light and nimble and a more spirited ride around corners. But it lacks something. I’m happy with the little T100 being a straightforward sit-up-and-beg commuter bike.
While it looks like a different bike, the engine in the Cup is essentially the same as the T100. It’s got slightly different mapping and feels shorter geared. But in no real way does the engine feel particularly revvy or strong. But it’s light – and that’s half the struggle in building a good cafe racer. Not that I’ll tell all the determined souls who ‘cafe’ BMW K100’s which are the same size and weight of the USS Nimitz.
Later that night, In a small room attached to a pub, a slideshow is presented to us with various facts and figures about the two new bikes. Nigel does most of the talking seated alongside Cliff, head of Triumph Australia’s technical department, who speaks in raspy American accent.
We go through a Powerpoint presentation as journalists grab beers and notepads and sip quietly as Nigel speaks.
“The main thing I’d like to make clear about the two bikes, but especially the T100, is to dispel that it’s simply a lower capacity, budget version of the T120,” he says. “It’s actually a different bike. It’s different in it’s weight, in its dynamics – it has a different wheelbase. It really is a different proposition to the T120. It’s designed to be more nimble, and arguably better-handling bike than the T120.”
‘Absolute bullshit,’ I think to myself. My mind wanders to the matte-grey T120 that’s being ridden by Nigel. I want to ride that thing. That’ll be the one to get. The full-strength, 130-proof Bonneville.
The next morning brings wind and rain and the road surface turns to glass. On leaving Strahan slippery black patches of road repairs made the Street Cup slide when accelerating hard out of corners. On more than one occasion I felt the traction control kick in and the ABS shudder me down when going too hot into a corner.
We all slow down. Hours of sedate riding later, we stop in the fine mist and drizzle of an anonymous Tasmanian country intersection. Someone calls my name – would I like to ride the T120?
Does the Pope shit in the woods?
For the next hour and a half we rode through rain-soaked towns and into Launceston. It was only an hour on the T120 but it was enough to tell me that it’s probably not for me. And that Nigel, and Triumph, are right about the T100 and T120 being very different bikes.
The weight difference between the two cannot be understated. Sure, it’s only 25 kilograms, largely made up with the extra disc brake, grab rail and centre stand. But you feel every kilo of that. The twin throttle bodies and extra 300cc is certainly felt on the T120. But the fuel injection was snatchy and uncertain during our commute. It does feel more like a mature, big boys motorcycle but for many people, it’ll be the wrong bike. Maybe even me.
[superquote]“It’s forgiving and easy to ride, comfortable and has an engine that suits its intentions pretty well”[/superquote]
The T100 feels light and nimble in a way that is more reminiscent of the original Bonneville, even if it’s power delivery isn’t. It’s forgiving and easy to ride, comfortable and has an engine that suits its intentions pretty well. It is a different motorcycle. It’s not necessarily better, but it’s certainly different. If you’re a new rider, spending a lot of time in town or someone not confident on a full-sized, full-weight bike get the T100.
The main question is – for other riders does it justify the $3,000 difference?
That’s an easier question to answer when it comes to the Street Cup. That three grand gap can and really should be put towards aftermarket parts. The headlight needs to be moved up and back and the flyscreen removed. It desperately needs a tail-tidy. I can already see the first custom models of this bike appearing on Pipeburn – featuring a ¾ fairing and dropped an inch or two at the front and rear. That’ll look amazing. That’s the Oz $3000 difference there (with change) and you’ve got a good-looking custom bike.
Change the mapping, open the exhausts a bit and it might have more performance to match it’s looks too.
But the Triumph T100 is a finished motorcycle that can be ridden happily in stock trim. It’s got beautifully proportioned fenders and indicators and everything works together quite well. It’s a happy little bike. And just quietly, that annoys me.
Because I really wanted to hate the new T100. And rest assured, if it was bad I would tell you. Loudly, often and with not a small amount of glee. But the T100 and Street Cup are both good bikes. Bloody good bikes. Regardless of the name on the tank and the conjured up legacy of the brand they would stand on their own as fun, endearing motorcycle. In particular, the T100 is the bike the old 865cc air-cooled Bonneville should have been. I wish it was around four years ago when I bought mine.
For the first time in years Triumph can point to their retro classic range, from the Thruxton, T120, Street Twin, Street Cup and T100 and have something well-built and competent to offer every rider. But of all the bikes on offer it’s the T100 that I prefer, and ultimately, will be the one that Triumph sell bucketloads of.
– High level of fit and finish
– Low weight
– Easy to ride
– Decent handling
– Street Cup’s fuel mapping
– T100’s gearing
– Blinding dash
– Street Cup’s colour scheme
– Street Cup’s throttle snatch
[Photos by Dean Walters. Helmet from Shoei. Jackets from Roland Sands and Triumph. Pants from Draggin. Boots from Stylmartin]
The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, we feel it’s best to mention that Triumph Australia paid for our trip to Tasmania to see their new bikes and also shouted us food, drink and lodgings. 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; British bike companies bearing gifts included.