“Would you like to go and ride the new Bobber?” But I’ve ridden one…. “Ahh but this one has black paint.” That’s not exactly how it went but I wasn’t quite sure that a larger front tyre and some black powder coat was enough to warrant a trip to Spain but hey, riding motorcycles for a living… who doesn’t want to do that. Besides, Triumph seem too shrewd to blow a load of marketing budget on an expensive foreign press launch unless the new Bobber Black was indeed more than just fresh garms for it’s emperor.
The Bonneville Bobber was released this time last year has been a fairytale success. It’s the fastest selling Triumph of all time and the factory has had to run extra shifts to cope with double the expected demand. Journalists, road testers and the public simply love it. Why? Because it’s been designed to ride properly. Sure, huge effort has been channeled into the looks and there’s no denying that heritage styled bikes are attracting new riders to not only this brand but motorcycling in general. But beneath all the marketing gloss is the bit that Triumph pride themselves on – engineering excellence.
OK, so all manufacturers place importance on making technical strides forward but the Hinckley crew are obsessive. The Bonneville based models released over the last couple of years are excellent rider’s bikes. Heck, I even used my own money to buy one. More on that over on my blog soon but suffice to say that with the clean sheet Triumph have been able to exploit, the ground-up approach rather than sticking a new blouse on an existing model is paying dividends.
So what are the differences between a regular Bobber and this moody looking one? Well, it’s available in two versions, black and matt black (I chose the latter). And they do mean black. The only things that aren’t black are the black discs, spokes and throttle bodies. Everything else is either black anodised or powder coated to look meaner. And as usual Triumph haven’t scrimped. Even the seemingly unimportant bits like the tiny little gear linkage rod – yup, black anodised. The main upgrade though is the front end which is a whole lot beefier.
The front wheel drops from 19 to 16 inches and there’s a welcome addition of a second brake disc. Many road testers felt that the original Bobber (and a couple of other models) needed a pair of discs up-front but Triumph are keen to stress the importance of each bike’s place within the Bonneville family and attract the appropriate riders for each. Besides, the first Bobber needed to impress potential customers on screen and in print, and the larger hoop and single disc set-up looked just right. Sure, if you’re lucky enough to follow an experienced lead rider through sections of perfect Spanish tarmac on a well tested route and be pushed by quick journos behind then yes, having to impart four fingers on the lever might be necessary but for average Joe on a normal road in mediumville, the original set-up is perfectly OK.
The Bobber Black though is aimed at hooligans like me who seem incapable of riding any bike within the cruiser sector as designers had intended. The 41mm Kayaba fork is out, replaced by a girthy 47mm Showa cartridge unit. The chunky, gaitered stanchions add visual bulk and a level of aggression to the front-end but their place on the bike is not merely for show – more on that in a minute. The lonely Nissin caliper has been superseded by a pair of Brembos which, although dinky, promised a return to single digit operation, around town at least.
Other than a full LED headlight with futuristic DRL (daytime running light) the rest remains unchanged. The idea being that owners will flick through the ever expanding accessories catalogue and pimp-out their Bobber at the point of purchase or nip back to the dealer for a spruce-up. Triumph would obviously prefer the dealer’s bottom line is bolstered by having the Inspiration Kit components fitted in-house but most aren’t particularly complicated and offer a modicum of I did that satisfaction if you make the upgrade yourself.
One thing that first generation Bobber owners might lament is Triumph’s decision to add cruise control to the Black as standard. It’s the most simple cruise function I’ve seen, just a single button, pressed once to engage and once to maintain speed with none of the setting and fiddling found on most systems.
Extra always means exactly that, here resulting in a slight weight increase of 9 kgs to 237 kgs. Which is still not bad for a 1.2 litre cruiser. To overcompensate the high torque iteration of the acclaimed T120 Bonneville engine has had it’s shackles loosened. 10% more power and 10% more torque should more than make up for the extra load. The Bonneville range of engines always feel like there’s loads left in reserve which appears to be confirmed by Triumphs refusal to enter into the dyno figure arms race, preferring to configure and homologate a particular ‘tune’ for each model to suit it’s predetermined riding characteristics and customer. Don’t think that you can plop a Power Commander on your stock bike or expect the dealer to swap maps, they run a closed system.
I thoroughly enjoyed the original Bobber and completely blew the usual word count with a lyrical waxing in the first review – click here. But rather than refresh my memory prior to the trip but instead relied on testing my muscle memory to see if I could feel the changes.
Leaving the hotel I felt instantly at home, cupped by the floating (adjustable reach) saddle. At 5’ 10” the stretch to the bars is just enough to feel ever so slightly aggressive which blurs the cruiser status to give genuine bobber ergonomics. Pegs are slightly forward but not overly and you can order forward controls and ape bars if that’s your thing. It’s definitely not mine so I was happy with the unaltered riding position. Heated grips were fitted to the test fleet which made me happy as I prefer a chunky grip and toasty digits. If you’re a UK buyer trust me, don’t even hesitate, order this super neat looking option as you’ll find yourself riding the Bobber year-round.
Despite palm trees lining our route out of Marbella it was rather moist thanks to the rain in Spain apparently not falling mostly on the plain. So I left the traction control in the stock position of on and selected rain mode, which offers the same full power as road but brings it in more gradually.
Once up in the mountains the windswept road to Ronda (Google this and go there if you haven’t already) dried quickly, despite temperatures struggling to threaten double figures. Without the heated grips and kevlar lined jeans it would have been arduous as we neared the snowline. The Avon Cobras, 2.5” up-front and 3.5” out-back, wouldn’t have been particularly warm even with a healthy pace but they felt plenty grippy, even with occasional standing water and damp patches under the trees. I had expected the smaller, fatter tyre to completely ruin the front-end but was surprised to find the reverse. The sweet handling Bobber had actually been improved upon and the ‘Black is bang on the money.
The Lopez brothers who head-up the chassis testing side of things for Triumph are ex-racers, passionate about ensuring handling take precedent over cost for any motorcycle to receive their seal of approval. The thicker fork and chunky tyre make for huge levels of confidence, equalling more fun than the spec sheet should allow. The faster chaps in my group are used to knee slider shredding litre-bike comparison tests yet at every coffee stop they grinned like children, complimenting the ‘Black’s fun factor. Despite me being at the other end of the road riding spectrum I was having just as much fun. The front always felt supremely planted and neutral handling encouraged a riding style to match the aggressive looks yet steering inputs required were far from bold. At times I wondered if I was tired and daydreaming as I’d ridden miles without telling my arms and hands what to do, the Bobber seems to just follow where your head is pointing, like it’s hard-wired. Occasionally I pushed or tugged, lightly, mid-corner to try and unsettle the thing, but it tightened it’s line without fuss.
Ground clearance is pretty good considering the genre of motorcycle and when touchdown did happen it wasn’t alarming, like some bikes in this sector. The odd peg or pipe scrape didn’t unsettle the swinging cage rear-end and if anything the way to ride the Bobber is to stand the thing up a bit and use all of that lovely torque to propel you to the next apex. Thanks to the gash weather nearly ruining the whole test day we only had a couple of hours to cram-in the riding, photoshoots and coffee stops. If on my own I’d definitely have turned the traction control off and tried a few power-slides through the twisties, such is the confidence the chassis offers. Lovely as the lashings of torque were I preferred to keep the motor spinning high in the rev range, right in the sweet spot where the twin intakes growl and the exhausts bellow. During the presentation the word hotrod was used a few times and that’s about right. Squirting between corners and letting the last gear hang to enjoy the pops and bangs on overrun was akin to enjoying the same road in something muscly and V8 powered from the States. All of this with a 10,000 mile interval to the first service, 69mpg and beyond EU4 compliance. Fun without penalty, it’ll never catch on.
If being a hooligan is your thing then the traffic light is your friend. Traction control off, back brake on, clutch half out to load the rear and wait for green. Chirp, growl, slide, shift, smirk and repeat. Obviously we were on a grown-up press launch where such things are frowned upon so we definitely didn’t do this. But I’m just saying, you could.
And the front brake… well, that has plenty in reserve to the point where I had to drop to one finger as even a delicate caress with two scrubbed way too much speed and probably annoyed the guy behind. A four finger grab in case of a SMIDSY should see the Bobber able pull a decent endo.
But there’s one problem with the Bobber Black. There’s not enough left on the table for folk like me to tinker with. There’s a side mounted number plate mount in the accessory catalogue to tidy the rear (not UK legal, but hey, I’d risk the fine), the indicators could be way smaller and the orange reflectors etc would make the bin, but apart from that the Bobber Black is pretty much done. If I owned one perhaps I’d route the switchgear wiring inside the bars but the switches themselves are good quality, Germanic even. Motone or Motogadget push buttons would make for a tidier cockpit but the ride-by-wire throttle is a ball ache to work around, and in my opinion for not a lot of gain. Slightly louder pipes maybe, because why not. Saying that, the stock ones do sound decent considering they’re approved by the fun police.
Much as I really rate the Bobber Black and appreciate Triumph’s nod towards performance I’m secretly hoping the forthcoming Speedmaster is available in a Black edition. I’d stick the Bobber’s bars and pegs on that and share the fun with someone on the back. Or just strap a big bag on and go AWOL.
For those without such delusions the Bobber Black hits showrooms in early 2018 and I doubt they’ll have any trouble shifting them. This year competition got a whole lot tougher with some great bikes from across the pond. The Bobber Black is about the same price as one of those and cheaper than the other but I dare say that rock solid residuals associated with Triumphs will make PCP deals affordable for most. If you have cash under the mattress you’ll need £11,650 plus £125 for the matt paint shown here, so twelve-ish with heated grips.
Get your test ride booking in early…
Images by Kingdom Creative