Like Steve McQueen: Triumph Bonneville brings 60s cool to the new millennium

The Triumph Bonneville is etched into motorcycle lore. When it was created in 1957, it was one of the world’s fastest bikes. The epitome of fast and loud, it’s the original bad boy bike from across the pond. In 2001, Triumph brought it back for a new generation, but times have changed. The superbike of yesteryear is but a mildly fast ride today; that doesn’t mean that the bike has lost any of its legendary qualities though. So, can a retro-styled bike deliver an exhilarating riding experience without the latest tech and stratospheric horsepower numbers? In short, yes it can.

The Bonneville comes in three separate trims depending on how much you have to spend and the look you are going for. The Base and SE have cast wheels, and the SE adds two-tone paint and a tachometer. The T100 adds wire wheels, a different two-tone paint scheme and more chrome for a definite ‘60s vibe. The Scrambler is styled like a vintage desert sled and the Thruxton looks like a café racer of old. For this test, I took out the base Bonneville, no frills and no extras, to see how it performs.

Classic looks revisited

The Bonneville is not just a motorcycle, but a snapshot in time. Mods vs. Rockers, café racers, swinging ‘60s, Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan; the Triumph Bonneville was around during a truly exciting period in culture and history. To bring this look back may seem like a no-brainer, but it carries a certain amount of risk in that it can’t be a carbon copy or too different than the original. The base Bonneville strikes a good balance. Its cast wheels bring the look up to around the mid-70s, but don’t age the bike too much compared to modern machinery. And like your boomer parents, the Bonneville is plumper today than it was back then both visually and on the scales.

Park anywhere, though, and you might as well be stepping out of a time machine. People continually ask not where to get the bike, but how old is it, where to get one restored, and how much it costs. Slathered in gold paint, the vintage look is played up, but people are honestly surprised when you tell them it’s brand new; and for much less than they think. You can walk out the door with a brand new base Bonneville for $7699. However, all the good looks in the world are useless if the Bonnie is not an engaging ride. All other retro bikes lean on their classic looks to not provide a modern riding experience, but does the Triumph do the same?

Do the ton, eventually

Motivated by an 865cc parallel-twin, the Bonneville has the same type of motor as it did all those years ago, but with more displacement. The powerplant boasts 67hp, 50lb. ft. of torque attached to a five-speed transmission, but those are just numbers. In real life, this means more thrust than your average cruiser, but not enough to warp you into another dimension like the Diavel we just tested.

For all the heritage and history, though, the motor doesn’t want to remind you of any of it. It’s smooth almost to a fault, and with stock exhausts, much too quiet. Fire it up and you’d think you accidently got on somebody’s scooter. Get an aftermarket pipe and she’ll sing the song of the ‘60s all day, but in stock format, the motor has too little personality for what the looks promise.

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Harlistas in East LA: Harley-Davidson showcases the new Seventy-Two Sportster

American motorcycle legend Harley-Davidson hosted an event for its latest Sportster model, the “Seventy-Two,” and was invited to ground zero of Latino motorcycle culture in East LA for the press launch and cultural immersion. The “72,” with its stylistic nod to hi metal flake custom paint and chrome so popular with the Latino low riders of Wittier Blvd., has made this one of Harley’s most splashy and eye-catching Sportster models to date.

Our first stop was the Harley-Davidson dealership in Glendale on the outskirts of downtown LA for a review of the Harley family of motorcycles for 2012 and our first glimpse of the new Seventy-Two model. This strikingly flashy Sportster is sure to get attention at any stoplight but is also within the most reasonably priced group of Harleys. The “72” boasts a hugely attention-getting hi metal flake red paint job, in Hard Candy Big Red Flake, the Evo 1200 cc V- twin, mini ape handle bars and a peanut gas tank. Forward foot controls and a low 28” seat height give laid back rider comfort, and the high torque output (73 pd-ft) in the low/mid RPMs lends the bike to impressive acceleration on the low end of the spectrum. The MSRP is $10,499 for the standard paint, and if you want the Hard Candy Big Red Flake, it has an MSRP of $11,199.

Tipping the scales at a modest 545lbs, this bike feels even lighter than it is, with a chopper fork rake, aluminum head and cylinders, skinny white wall wheels and narrow frame. The Sportster family has always been my favorite, with its nimble design and attractive low price, and it was always the most fun to drive. This is a bike either sex can easily operate with ease, the low un-sprung weight and laid back low seat height making it fun to buzz around in on a whim.

Soon after the showroom tour we were given an informative presentation of the Latino and Harley cultural marriage here in East LA. For more than 50 years, Latin American Harley riders have been proudly calling themselves Harlistas, and we were about to go on an enlightening tour of Los Angeles, with all things Latin and Harley mixed in!

Latino culture has profoundly shaped California and LA in particular, and the Latino culture loves the concept of Harley as it symbolizes freedom, individually and a sense of family – the Harley family. We visited several cultural highlights of East LA, including the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, the Chicano murals of Boyle Heights, Candelas Guitars and a stop at Cities Restaurant, complete with authentic Mexican premium tequila tasting, courtesy of paQui Tequila! The food and subsequent tequila shots were delicious, and we boarded the tour bus for the afternoon stops.

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Ducati Diavel: Ride with the Devil

The cruiser of today is stuck in the image of the past. This means all cruisers must have chrome, retro styling and lolloping V-Twins, even if the rest of their lineup doesn’t fit that aesthetic. But what if the cruiser wasn’t stuck in the past? What if a brand wasn’t satisfied with the notion that comfort didn’t have to come at the expense of speed? Ducati, a brand built on their racing heritage, has decided to challenge the cruiser status quo with the Diavel. In the process, chrome has been replaced with carbon fiber.

When the Diavel first debuted, many people saw it as a brand expansion that had gone one step too far. Here was Ducati’s “Cayenne moment” – that moment in time where a brand sells itself on its image instead of its product. However, that would be true only if the Diavel was a bike that did not live up to Ducati’s performance heritage. And it not only meets the bar, but exceeds it. With the Diavel, Ducati has redefined the cruiser segment instead of the other way around, and created the essential urban assault weapon.

Devilish Looks

You can tell that this is not your grandfather’s cruiser just by looking at it. In pictures, the Diavel seems ungainly and large, but in person the size is compact and squat. On paper, it looks disjointed and wrong, but all the details look cohesive in person. The Diavel seems like it is bursting at the seams while sitting still; like a pit bull, all muscle and power. So it has the traditional cruiser aesthetic of looking tough while sitting still, but it does this with a completely modern design.

Not to mention that detailing is exquisite. On this Carbon model, the tank and rear seat cover is actual carbon fiber. Where one would find plastic on most bikes, the Diavel has milled aluminum. The Diavel also boasts Marchesini wheels that not only look good, but cut unsprung weight. And the rear wheel is showcased by Ducati’s hallmark single-sided swingarm. Everything on this bike not only fits the cruiser aesthetic, but helps the bike perform better.

The fact is that the Diavel manages to stand out, but looks like it belongs, in every place you take it to. I picked up the Diavel at Chicago Motoworks, a dealer in the heart of Chicago that offers Ducati, Triumph and Vespa scooters. From there, I was taken on a tour of the city from biker bars to upscale restaurants on the gold Coast, and everywhere in between. The feedback from others was always positive. Even a guy in a Prius shot a thumbs up. You can’t take a traditional cruiser into the heart of a modern city without looking a touch old-fashioned, but this is no problem on the Diavel. Conversely, showing up to a biker bar on a sport bike is a faux pas, but not on the Diavel. A cruiser is supposed to attract attention and the Diavel does so without conforming to the traditional aesthetic tropes that accompany the segment. Not to mention, with advanced electronics and impressive ergonomics, it’s actually comfortable in the inevitable city traffic instead of crippling.

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Southern Comfort: Bullz-Eye goes down south to sample Star’s metric cruisers

The South has played a large part in forging the identity of the United States. Its influences include BBQ, country music, NASCAR, and taking life a little bit slower than those in the north. It is the region of good times and good old boys. And if there’s one segment of motorcycles that defines the entire U.S. industry, it’s the heavy cruiser. Nowhere else do these big, bellowing beasts sell in such large numbers.

They’re so important, in fact, that 50% of all motorcycles sold in the U.S. are cruisers. And with all that money on the table, the segment is crucial for many brands to be successful in the United States. Yamaha knows this too. Since 2004, Yamaha’s Star brand has had a double-barreled focus on selling more metric cruisers. So here we are, deep in the heart of Dixie to test Star’s newest motorcycles, because if you find success here, you can make it anywhere in the U.S.

Origin of Star

Yamaha is not new to selling cruisers, and neither are their Japanese competitors. Termed “Metric Cruisers,” these Japanese bikes have been available for some time, but like the metric system as a whole, adoption has been spotty at best. Reason being, many of the metric cruisers didn’t have the qualities customers wanted. They may have been more reliable, but they looked flimsy, had plastic instead of metal in most places, and didn’t offer the attitude that cruiser customers wanted. Star’s goal is to create bikes that change those perceptions.

Since 1978, Yamaha has sold cruisers. However, customer research showed that this dissuaded many potential customers since they didn’t want to be associated with Yamaha’s supersport products like the R1. They were into style, not speed. So for their more basic tastes and needs, Yamaha branched out their cruisers under the Star banner in 2004. Star has its own team inside Yamaha devoted to giving their customers the experience they want: high style, large customization and a reasonable amount of refinement.

With this focus, Star has a full lineup of cruisers to fit a bike for every person and every need. From the starter bike V Star 250, all the way up to full baggers like the Stratoliner Deluxe, Star has a full portfolio that drives home their brand values. Star had all their products available to ride in Atlanta, but one stuck out in particular to show what they are trying to accomplish.

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Classic Looks, Modern Protection: The Roland Sands Tracker Jacket

Motorcycle gear tends to be very intense. It screams from across the room, “PLEASE ASK ME ABOUT MY MOTORCYCLE.” Logos, scoops and bright peacock colors grab attention in all the wrong ways if you’re just trying to hang out at a local dive bar instead of careening through corners. In response, many motorcyclists turn to more classically styled gear that blends in with the crowd.

However, most jackets may not have the armor you need while on a bike. This presents a problem. You want the look that you just stepped out of the 1960s, but need the protection the new millennium has given us. Roland Sands Design (RSD) has just the product for you.

RSD is known more for its custom bikes than its apparel, but last year, RSD took the plunge by offering retro styled motorcycle apparel with modern protection. With his bikes, he takes modern machinery and turns back the clock just enough to give a retro feel without the pitfall of trying too hard to look cool. This design ethos has been transferred to their gear offerings as well.

The Tracker jacket is a perfect example of this. Before dirt bikers started wearing exposed armor and billowy blouses, the likes of Steve McQueen would blast around the dirt in boots, Levi’s and thick cotton/canvas coats. The Tracker jacket brings this style back.

Many people think of leather when a motorcycle jacket is brought up, but the Tracker eschews leather for waxed cotton. Why is waxed cotton better than leather? For protection, it’s not, but leather often makes you look like you are just trying way to hard to look cool. Also, the fit and construction of leather make it tough to flatter your figure. More often than not, the result is you looking like the Fonz instead of Marlon Brando. However, if you really want leather, RSD has those too.

Custom touches also give the jacket an heirloom feel. Some examples are the gussets and satin interior lining that harken back to an era when you would repair an article of clothing rather than toss it away. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find just who made it since the only logo is embossed on the sleeve in a matching brown tone. You could easily get away with telling people its an heirloom piece, but please don’t do that.

But waxing nostalgically won’t keep you safe on a bike. Asphalt does not care that your jacket was designed from a different era, or that that chick at the concert was into it, but that’s wear the armor comes in. The Tracker jacket can be outfitted with armor in the shoulders, elbow and back. This is a huge step up from some other vintage styled jackets that offer only leather as a protection.

That being said, the waxed cotton won’t have nearly the same sliding resistance of thick leather or Cordura, but should fit the needs of those riding on the street. Plus, $390 is right in the thicket of quality motorcycle pieces.

So, skip the yuppie motorcycle gear that only looks like it can protect you, fire up any vintage bike of your choice, and don the Tracker Jacket. With style out of the 1960s, it definitely answers the question, “What would Don Draper ride with?”


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