I continue my journey to find a motorcycle that won’t torture me straight in the butt, and so I have rented a late model Triumph Bonneville.
In my last review, I said the 2016 Indian Scout was the motorcycle that sad old white men dreamed about, as they puttered down the highway in their mid-list minivans, gazing at me and my lean retro bobber with open lust, their watchful wives glaring on as I smugly whisper, “that’s right: I could have him any time I want.”
Well, the Bonneville is the bike those guys actually used to own.
The new Indian Scout isn’t an accurate memory; it’s a cartoon. It screams nostalgia, sure, but there was never a production bike that actually looked like that: the tank sheared off on the sides, the engine blacked out, the rear lowered beyond all reason. It’s a comic book fantasy of a motorcycle. If you were asked to draw the old Triumph Bonneville from memory, you’d come close to the new one. If you were asked to draw the bike of the guy that stole your high school girlfriend, got her pregnant, and then skipped town, you’d draw the Scout. They’re both similar approaches — retro charm without retro problems — but wildly different executions.
It sounds like I’m being hard on the Bonnie. Maybe I am, but only because she can take it. She’s got her shit together. For instance, here’s my review of all late-model standard Triumph Bonnevilles:
“They’re fine bikes. Well balanced, usable power, no fuss, and they look pretty good, too.”
End of review.
Now I will instead talk about a different model of the same bike, the Bonneville T100, because you are not the boss of me and I’ll write whatever I want. But mostly because when I talk about the standard Bonneville with anybody, I first have to explain why it’s better than the upscale T100 option. I do have authority on this matter: I used to own a 2012 Triumph Bonneville T100. Here’s a picture of it.
You may recognize that is not a motorcycle. You may recognize that I am a notorious liar. Both true, but I’m actually going somewhere this time. Here’s the T100 for real:
The Triumph Bonneville T100 is a well-maintained, bone-stock 1968 Chevy C-10 pickup truck. It’s not a suped-up sleeper in a campy retro shell. It hasn’t been chopped, lowered, fitted with an LED kit, or painted bright purple with orgasming skulls on the hood. If you see that truck stopped at a gas station, you might tell the owner “nice truck!”
You would mean it, at the time.
But you would forget about it within minutes. The image of a bone-stock C-10 won’t keep you up at night, dreaming of the possibilities. It is what it is, and it is entirely at home with that.
The Triumph Bonneville T100 is a functional motorcycle. It is on the light side of heavy. On the agile side of sluggish. On the slow side of fast. On the plain side of pretty. There are a slew of other models based on the same platform, and all have their personalities:
The Scrambler is a machine specifically designed to humor your Steve McQueen delusions. “Yes, honey” the Scrambler says. “I see you. You’re Bullitt. That’s very nice.”
The Thruxton is for guys who ride in wingtips.
The stock Bonneville (lighter and louder trumpet-style mufflers, lighter mag wheels — smaller one in front for better handling — lower center of gravity, more forward seating position, sans special decals and superfluous fork gaiters) is that same 1968 C10, but with an overhauled suspension, drag-stanced, and with all the badges removed: a classic updated with touches of modernity, both for improved performance and a new look. The T100 is a 1968 Chevy C-10 in exactly the same shape as it was when it rolled off the factory floor. Well, okay, not exactly. It is reluctantly fuel injected. But don’t worry: Those throttle bodies actually look like carburetors, so none will know your secret shame.
In short: The Triumph Bonneville T100 is not remarkable. It does not want to be your fantasy.
And you know what? That’s awesome. The guy who owns that bone-stock C-10 knows exactly what he’s doing. His name is Gus. He wears faded Levi 501s and New Balance sneakers. A plaid button up, always tucked in. He sees a chopped C-10 sleeper rocket past him on the highway and he just shakes his head.
“Shame what they’ve done to the old girl,” Gus says.
In the Home Depot parking lot, Gus pulls up beside another truck — the exact same model as his — but this one sporting an ostentatious custom paint job.
“No accounting for taste,” he chuckles.
He stops beside a drag-stanced, de-badged C-10 at the gas station and gives the other fella a nod, but not a very deep one.
“What happened to the badges?” Gus asks. He doesn’t listen to the explanation.
Gus isn’t on the cover of any romance novels. Gus has never won a street fight. He’s never even been in one. Gus has a solid retirement plan, and has since he was 25. Gus is entirely content with who he is, and it’s just fine by him if you aren’t.
I think Gus is fucking rad. I want to be Gus.
I am not Gus. When I bought that 2012 T100 Bonneville, I loved it. All the aesthetic beauty of retro bikes without the existential despair of stripped bolts. What’s not to love? But when a Honda CB1100 soared past me in the curves, I died a little inside. When a Moto Guzzi V7 Racer parked next to me in the garage, its mirror-paint showed me a warped version of my own reflection, twisted and haunted by lust. When a Scrambler or a Thruxton cruised next to me on the interstate, I fantasized about leaping onto their seats like a highway pirate, hurling their riders aside, and revving away into the sunset — certain that the T100 would ghostride on without me, steady as a rock, eventually rolling to a controlled stop outside the office of a Notary Public who would glance out of his window, lock eyes with it, and give one single, solitary nod of approval.
Gus is a rock. Gus knows who he is, and has no interest in changing. Gus doesn’t buy self help books. Gus is not going to take up yoga. Gus is the best. I aspire to be as content as he is, but for now I’m just too petty, vain, and fickle. Gus is the Triumph Bonneville T100, and I think he’s a great guy, but I don’t want him in my garage. He brings over beer, sure, but it’s Coors Light and he looks at me funny when I shotgun it.
But if you are Gus — if you look down right now and survey a majestic field of flannel, the belt like a river of brown leather separating rolling plaid from the gentle glow of ancient denim, all capped off by a pair of worn, December-gray New Balances — the T100 is everything you’re looking for, and not one extravagance more.
And now, for the pain review. You do not need to read this if you have been blessed with a fully functional ass.
Long story short: I have coccydynia (that’s doctor-speak for ‘your butt-bone sure hurts a lot but we don’t want to admit we don’t know why’), and I had to sell my last bike when I could no longer ride it comfortably for any length of time. I am now renting motorcycles, searching for one whose ergonomics hurt a bit less, so I can justify burning more perfectly good money on yet another motorcycle that I objectively do not need.
And with the Bonnie, I think I found it!
See, I sold the T100 before this pain started. I had to go back to check on it again, and see if it now worked for me. The rental place actually said the model they had was a T100, so I had to condescendingly explain the difference between trims to the bike-jockey, who very kindly refrained from slapping me right in the mouth, as he should have. I wanted the T100 for everything I just complained about in the review: Higher, flatter bench seat, larger front wheel to minimize forward lean, more pull back in the handlebars, etc..
All that makes for a worse bike, but a better butt-platform. I still took the standard Bonneville, and it caused me some discomfort… but not much worse than just sitting normally! I rode for about two hours without the pain ever escalating into agony, walked around and stretched for half an hour, then another two hours home. I was very sore afterward and needed the night to recover, but was mostly back to what passes for normal the next day. One night of pain is an acceptable trade-off for spending all day blasting around on my own private roller coaster.
After returning the Bonnie, I went and sat on a Triumph Scrambler, a BMW 1200, and a Tiger 800 (adventure bikes were the other style of ergonomics that I was considering) while the pain was still fresh. As I thought, the flat seat and taller stance of the Scrambler was even better. Surprisingly though, both the Tiger and the 1200 did not work for me. I thought adventure bikes would be my solution, but the seating position was angled wrong, and apparently too much length between seat and footpegs is also a trigger for the pain. But if the Scrambler works, a lot of vintage Universal Japanese Motorcycles may also work.
I got me some hope!
It is a fragile and weak hope, but I’m going to sit on it like a nesting hen and, supposing that doesn’t hurt my ass too badly, eventually nurture it into something beautiful: A motorcycle.