When John Bloor first introduced the new Hinckley Triumph motorcycles in the 1990s the motorcycle market was excited to finally have a modern British alternative to the popular Japanese and German bikes of the day. But many felt the lack of an updated, classically styled Triumph was a major hole in their lineup, and the Thunderbird in 1995 didn't quite fill it. In 1995 the new Triumph introduced a bike that became an instant classic and outsold every other model by far: The New Bonneville.
Though Bonneville is in Utah and as American as can be, the name has been synonymous with Triumph motorcycles of England since the late 1950s. The British firm chose the name based on the speed record attempts of a Triumph based streamliner (known as the "Devil's Arrow" or sometimes the "Texas Ceegar") on the Bonneville Salt flats. Though the records were never accepted by international record keepers FIM, the American Motorcycle Association clocked them at 193.3mph in 1955, 214.17mph the next year. This is why many Triumphs bore a decal on the tank stating "World's fastest motorcycle".
2001 Triumph Bonneville
The "New Bonneville" or "Hinckley Bonneville", as many call it, hit the market in 2001 and was an almost instant sales success. Not only did it have the classic looks of a proper British bike, it was surprisingly affordable, especially compared to a Harley-Davidson, at just about $7,000. All of the new models introduced used a 790cc 360 degree parallel twin, with build in balance shafts to smooth out the vibration, with real cooling fins plus an oil cooler, and four valve, dual overhead cam cylinder head to make modern power. While you would never confuse it with a serious sportbike or even a naked like the Triumph Speed Triple, more than 60 hp at a usable rpm meant you could still ride plenty fast on it.
That first year there was just the basic Bonneville, in two color options, dark green or red, both with silver in a classic two-tone paint job. For 2004 the Bonneville Black slotted in at the bottom of the model lineup with all black paint and blacked out engine covers. The Bonnie was no lightweight (except compared to the big American bikes) at more than 450lbs dry, but that was because it was mostly made out of real metal and not chrome plated plastic. Size and shape were much like the bike everyone remembered from the 1960s, but it had put on a few pounds and gotten a little bigger everywhere. The only element anyone really complained about was the awkward kink in the exhaust pipes before the mufflers, but one ride in the twisties and you realized you needed it to pull serious lean angles on 21st-century tires.
2002 Triumph America
For the second year on the road, Triumph came out with an even more laid-back version of the Bonneville aimed at the cruiser market and called it the Bonneville America. The rear was lowered on a smaller diameter wheel (15 inches instead of 17 inches), and the front end was kicked out for a cruiser look. The engine had a revised crankshaft which staggered the pistons and gave it an exhaust note closer to a V-twin, made more obvious by the exhaust system with longer, lower mufflers. Final drive was revised as well so the engine would be tuning less rpm at speed on the freeway, which fit in well with the torque-rich engine tuning of this model.
To fit with the more relaxed chassis, the foot controls were moved forward to where you expect them on a cruiser. The handlebars were given a new bend with greater pull back as well, and a newly shaped seat was added to go with them. Chrome details were added in strategic locations, such as the "cheese grater" air cleaner cover, and tank mounted indicators and tachometer. You could get the America in two colors, jet black or cardinal red, along with a splash of silver on the tank (the bike pictured is a 2003).
2002 Triumph Bonneville T100
The initial launch of the Bonneville had been such a success, Triumph celebrated in 2002 with the T100, a more retro deluxe version. The T100 added a tachometer, rubber knee pads on the tank, special retro paint schemes, and more. Engine cases were brighter, and there was more chrome detail everywhere. Otherwise, the ride was the same as the normal Bonnie. The T100 model name is in reference to 2002 being the 100th anniversary of Triumph first building motorcycles in 1902.
2003 Triumph Speedmaster
In 2003, Triumph took the formula that created the America, and brought back the full performance of the normal Bonneville. Gone was the taller gearing and milder cams, which made this cruiser feel much faster off the line in normal riding. The Speedmaster also traded the retro spoked rims with a set of cast alloy hoops with tubeless tires, and dual front disc brakes to slow things down. In 2005, the Speedmaster was one of the first Bonneville models to get the bigger 865cc motor originally created for the Thruxton, though with less compression and milder cams. Colors options that first year were limited to just one, an eye-catching Jet Black with Racing Yellow accent panel.
2004 Triumph Thruxton
The Thruxton was whipped up to create a more performance oriented Bonneville, with upgraded brakes, suspension, and power. To start off, the 790cc motor was replaced by an 865cc version, with hotter cams and more compression, which not put out more than 70 hp. Longer shocks were used at the back, and the front fork had less rake and a 17-inch diameter wheel for quicker steering. A larger, floating disc brake works with the same two-piston caliper used on lesser models to slow the bike down. You do, however, get more adjustability in the suspension and stiffer springs for a more sporting ride. Footpegs are moved back a few inches, and clip-on handlebars are mounted below the top triple clamp to put you in a racier riding position and get you out of the wind. Color choices were just black or red that first year, but you did get a checkered flag stripe, and perhaps the best change from the base Bonnie is the fact that the exhaust "peashooters" are changed out for a pair of upswept megaphones.
2006 Triumph Scrambler
The last major Bonneville based model to appear was the 2006 Scrambler, with upswept pipes, and more ride height. A throwback to the desert sleds that used to be all over the American southwest, raced by the likes of Steve McQueen, it had limited off-road ability but unlimited awesome. The Scrambler used the bigger motor out of the Thruxton, but with the 270-degree crankshaft from the Speedmaster and America cruisers. Many people feel, and Harley-Davidson's dominance in dirt track racing would seem to suggest, that the irregular power pulses allow the rear tire to put down more power in low traction conditions. You could get the Scrambler in blue and white or red and white that first year, both of which made it look very much like a bigger Honda CL350.
For the 2007 model year, the big news was the rest of the bikes now getting the 865cc motor first used in the Thruxton, and installed in the Speedmaster and T100 in 2005, and the Scrambler in 2006. In Europe and much of the rest of the world, all bikes for 2008 received electronic fuel injection as well, but the USA only got the larger tank from the EFI system, with fuel injection finally coming for 2009.
Also in 2009, the Bonneville SE was introduced with slight detail changes, the biggest of which was cast aluminum wheels and a smaller diameter one up front. Mufflers are changed from the 1960s style "peashooters" found on other Bonnevilles to the upswept ones used on the Thruxton. A special edition homage to the original 1959 Bonneville could be had in the 2009 Bonneville T100 50th Anniversary Edition, painted light blue and orange, with gold pinstripes and special badging.
2012 saw the release of a limited number of Steve McQueen edition Bonneville T100 bikes with accessories and paint added to make them look like the Triumph that was used in "The Great Escape" by McQueen's character. It wore an aluminum skid plate, dark green satin finish paint, blacked out chrome, and a solo seat with luggage rack. Also in 2010 a special 110-anniversary edition T100 was sold, with silver and British Racing Green paint, chrome valve cover and grab rail, and a special crest on the side covers.
The Bonneville based bikes soldiered on for a few more years until 2015. For 2016 a much-updated lineup bowed with up to 1200cc and liquid cooling, but it was a nearly clean sheet design that shared little with the 2001-2015 bikes except the names.