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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2009 Triumph Bonneville SE, Fun, Zippy & Retro

Women may just fall in love with its timeless quality

Story and photos by Pamela Collins
5/10/2009


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Icons. They endure, they endear, resonating simple truths that span generations. They bookmark a memory, highlighting a place in time, essentially making it timeless. "Like this motorcycle," I thought, as I rode the redesigned 2009 Triumph Bonneville SE under an oak tree canopy along Florida's Saint John's River. Since its inception in 1959, the British-bred Bonneville has captured motorcycling souls the world over with its simplicity of spirit. Fifty years later and newly revised, this iconic motorcycle still "feels" true to that nature in spite of the 21st century technology it now boasts. Simultaneously progressive and nostalgic, consider this new Bonneville a two-wheeled time traveler.    

Though considered a "smaller" bike because of its physical size, the Bonneville holds its own in a big way on the highway with lots of power and torque.
Though considered a "smaller" bike because of its physical size, the Bonneville holds its own in a big way on the highway with lots of power and torque.

Though many who lived during this bike's heyday of the 60s and 70s can appreciate its sentimental value, the 2009 Bonneville and Bonneville SE models should hold great appeal to newer riders, smaller riders or anyone who wants a great riding, handling and performing motorcycle that is undeniably cool. The changes wrought on the 2009 versions improve this icon's prowess but don't detract from the factors that made it so beloved.

The Bonneville SE allows Pam to comfortably reach the controls and the ground.
The Bonneville SE allows Pam to comfortably reach the controls and the ground.

At first glance nothing seems changed. Climb aboard and the differences glare. The seat height now sits at just 29.1 inches, more than one inch lower than the 2008 iteration. Though 29 inches seems high, the narrow nose and profile eliminates reach problems for short-statured riders. While stopped your legs rest comfortably and solidly in front of the foot pegs. With feet on the pegs you assume a posture similar to that of a naked/standard motorcycle with a straight back and comfortable bend in the knees. No need to stretch for the Bonnie's handlebars either as they reach further back toward the rider than on prior models. Riders can tailor the easy-to-pull adjustable clutch and brake levers to fit their hands. The kickstand is easily viewed, reached and deployed, eliminating a persistent pet peeve for the vertically challenged. The bike's mere well-balanced 440-pound weight makes getting the bike off the stand an easy endeavor.

Easy to reach clutch with a light pull adds to the enjoyment of riding the Bonneville SE.
Easy to reach clutch with a light pull adds to the enjoyment of riding the Bonneville SE.

Things aren't always what they seem. To preserve the historic integrity of the parallel twin motor this carburetor only looks like a carburetor. It's actually the new-for-2009 fuel injection in disguise.
Things aren't always what they seem. To preserve the historic integrity of the parallel twin motor this carburetor only looks like a carburetor. It's actually the new-for-2009 fuel injection in disguise.

Fuel injection, also new for 2009 (and cleverly hidden so as not to disturb the engine's retro persona), helps the Bonnie start easily, though it still sports a cold-start choke lever for when it needs extra help. It maintains its historically styled and storied air-cooled, parallel-twin motor. The Bonnie's 865ccs give it (according to Triumph) about 67 horsepower at 7500 rpm, and torque peaks at 51 foot pounds at 5800 rpm.

I had ridden recent versions of the Bonneville over the last few years but felt surprised when I threw my leg over this 2009 model. At 5 feet 3 inches with a 29-inch inseam this new Bonnie felt tailor-made for me. The large, unobstructed retro-round mirrors (that never vibrated) gave me a great view behind. In front, the handlebars and levers fell perfectly in place. A simple round instrument display sat in plain view offering the basic information-- speedometer, odometer trip meter and a tachometer -- but no more. We're talking retro, remember? I'm willing to wager famed Bonneville aficionado Steve McQueen didn't worry much about miles to empty or even a clock, for that matter.

The gauge cluster. Simple but effective.
The gauge cluster. Simple but effective.

Triumph's iconic megaphone exhaust sounds a sweet note on the Bonneville SE.
Triumph's iconic megaphone exhaust sounds a sweet note on the Bonneville SE.

The sight of a Bonneville elicits respect even from those born after its heyday. The upward-sweeping megaphone muffler, the gas tank silhouette, the bench-style seat--folks smile when they see it and appreciate its reference to and reverence of the past. But while its looks make some hearts beat faster, riding it provides a happier adrenaline rush.

New 17-inch cast wheels add to the Bonneville's handling prowess.
New 17-inch cast wheels add to the Bonneville's handling prowess.

Snappy, zippy, fun -- I literally laughed while aboard the Bonneville. The Bonneville's redesign included a change to smaller 1- inch tires (and new cast wheels) that really improved the bike's responsiveness; it's extremely easy to turn and reacts very quickly to input. That, combined with the Bonnie's relatively low weight, added up to a joyously fun riding experience. Slow speed maneuvering proved effortless and worry-free. Its un-fancy suspension still provided good bump absorption and the single 310mm front disc with two-piston caliper and lone 255mm rear disc with two-piston caliper brakes adequately stopped the bike.     

You sit on the Bonneville SE similar to the way you sit on a naked/standard motorcycle -- your back relatively straight, feet underneath.
You sit on the Bonneville SE similar to the way you sit on a naked/standard motorcycle -- your back relatively straight, feet underneath.

The Bonneville SE also adapted to any type of roadway. That 865cc motor quickly propelled the Bonnie to speed and the transmission shifted easily through its five gears. It didn't feel "little" at speed, wasn't bullied by gusting wind or passing trucks, and didn't vibrate at higher rpms.

The 2009 Bonneville SE screams retro coolness with its big headlight and classic indented-tank styling.
The 2009 Bonneville SE screams retro coolness with its big headlight and classic indented-tank styling.

On back roads it felt nimble and quick, more like a sport bike than a retro-cruiser. I felt able to conquer anything -- dirt and gravel roads, tight u-turns, busted macadam -- with no worry of incompetence, thanks to its coordinated package of ergonomics, motor, and weight. Lithe, slim and seemingly carefree, referencing days of rebellion and freedom, this timeless two-wheeled icon unselfishly shares its easygoing nature. Peace, love, and rock 'n roll, anyone? The 2009 Bonneville SE --it's one groovy bike, man.

Specs at a Glance: 2009 Triumph Bonneville and Bonneville SE
Displacement: 865cc
Seat Height: 29.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gallons
Weight: 440 pounds (dry, no fluids)
MSRP: $7,699 for the Bonneville in either Jet Black or Fusion White. $8,399 for the Bonneville SE (which adds a tachometer, chromed tank badge, and polished alloy engine covers) in either Jet Black or Pacific Blue/Fusion White.

WRN Recommendation:
I absolutely had a ball riding this motorcycle and its package of performance and ergonomics blew me away. Though sized well for smaller and/or beginner riders, those with more experience should not shy away from the Bonneville SE thinking it's a beginner bike. Anyone with any experience should appreciate Triumph's 2009 Bonneville SE's performance. Plus, it offers style unlike anything else on the road. If you're looking to stand out from the masses of cruisers and sportbikes, the Bonneville SE could be for you.

Other Modern Classics by Triumph:
Two other "modern classic" Triumphs are the Bonneville T1000 and the Bonneville Thruxton. The light and low nature of these bikes naturally draws women and new riders to them while still having more power than the typical beginner bike.      

The Bonneville T100 has a 865cc capacity and comes in great multitones like the Jet Black and Fusion White shown here.
The Bonneville T100 has a 865cc capacity and comes in great multitones like the Jet Black and Fusion White shown here.

The 865cc Bonneville Thruxton looks truly retro with this Tornado Red classic hue.
The 865cc Bonneville Thruxton looks truly retro with this Tornado Red classic hue.

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Reader Comments


At 5 feet with an inseam of about 27/28 inches I found this bike perfect for me. I can reach the ground, albeit on tip toes, but enough to feel completely confident, and that was whilst wearing flat Converse trainers! I have test rode one whilst wearing boots that take me up an inch or so and could firmly plant my feet on the ground. I have ridden bikes were I can't but I prefer the confidence of being able to get both feet on the ground at stops.

I haven't actually bought one yet but have had two test rides and the bike is awesome! A word of warning though for those interested in buying a screen, one of the test ride bikes had a screen and it caused quite a bad buffering at around 80 mph. I had to back off as it was like a speed wobble.

I was amazed by the light weight of the bike and how easy it is to ride. I'm used to lightweight 250 sportbikes! I love it and I shall have one!

Ashley
Barcelona, Spain
Friday, August 24, 2012
After trying numerous bikes for a comfortable and reachable leg length and hours of salespeople trying to sell me £400 aftermarket shocks/lowering kits that would only reduce the seat height by 35mm, I came across the Bonnie. Oh my god, what an awesome machine. Leg length is ideal. I am 5ft 2in and this is just fine. I must say it look a little while to gain confidence on stopping and holding the weight, but now there's no stopping me. If like me you feel there is not a bike out there for you to feel comfortable on, go get and test ride a Bonnie. Wise up, other manufacturers—there are short-legged women who want power and performance on a machine. Stop making bikes too bloody tall!

Anna
SITTINGBOURNE, SE, United Kingdom
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Just came across this and wanted to thank you for featuring the Triumph brand. I've been riding since 1983 (am I really that old?) have had countless bikes and have two Brit babes in the garage - a Rocket III and a Sprint ST. I kinda dig oil changes and such cause the demo I ride is always a Bonnie - what a great scooter! Nothing beats the Triumph for style and performance!

Lisa
Omaha, NE
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Just read your write-up and I am a Brit chick riding a 2007 Bonnie (lucky me). I have had the pleasure of riding a courtesy bike whilst my baby was being serviced and I must say I was very impressed with the 2009 model. The handling was so easy and light and still nippy. I am currently considering my next move, whether or not to change. Keep on coming. Love your info.

Ms Les Clarke
Bournemouth, Dorset, England
Monday, December 21, 2009
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