images: JB (statics) Amy Shore & Tim Cochrane (action)
The Ace is a work of art. I could just look at it for hours. What I like is its subtlety. Being painted Storm Grey and with every component seemingly gloss black, satin black or matt black it disappears into the shadows (and makes it as tricky to photograph as a black cat). It is the stealth Bonneville. And okay, it is a road bike and probably the only time it’ll go off-road is of it overshoots a corner, but hey it has flat bars. And as all Bonnies have something of the look of the Trumpets Steve McQueen and Ted Simon rode (funny to link them) – which brings ISDE, desert racing and RTW adventure into the frame – then we’ll make the digression.
Triumph has been refining the Bonneville ever since they reintroduced the twin in 2000. The latest development has been this new water-cooled – although it doesn’t look it – T120 motor that arrived in 2016. When the new-age Bonnie started it was 790cc producing 61hp and 41lb-ft; now with the T120 we’re talking a full 1200cc producing 79hp and 77.5lb-ft. That is a significant uplift and it does give the Bonnie an air of authority and, well, muscle, whereas at the start it was gentle wee retro model.
You can tell from those figures that the development has been in creating a torquey long-legged beast. It’s no rev-hound, it punches strongly right off the bottom and frankly it’s so strong it could survive quite easily 99% of the time with just the first four ratios. Fifth and sixth gears are like overdrive, for super-relaxed fast-ish touring. It’s not brutish, though, there’s refinement and wonderful smoothness that goes with this power. It is very much a tour de force.
Curiously, though – and I stand to be frog marched to a wall and shot for this – I have this feeling that the T120’s little bro’, the 900cc T100, is the better Bonnie! I recall riding the T100 Street Scrambler a couple of years back (see RUST #32) and that motor is just so peachy, for it too has good torque, but, it feels, just the right amount. The T120, meanwhile, hits hard in the low-to-midrange, like a power cruiser, and that doesn’t feel to fit quite so well with the style of this bike. It’s lovely to have, and it means you can annihilate pestering cars at the tweak of a wrist, but it seems to impose its personality a little too willingly. For best enjoyment I found I would simply short-shift smartly up to the speed limit and then let the bike just waft along on very little throttle from there, typically that’s in fourth gear. It’s an odd thing to ask for less power (or torque) but I think this bike could be better for a more even power/torque distribution.
IT WILL TURN…
The big motor makes the T120 heavier. It’s 224kg before you put fuel in (whereas the T100 is 213kg), and you kind of feel that just pushing it around. You are, I guess, getting an awful lot of metal for your money. Fortunately once you get moving that weight, being fairly low, disappears. Kind of. You see there’s a slight resistance when you initiate cornering, like it doesn’t want to tip in. You get a feeling of a long heavy barge (to be crude – it’s honestly not that bad, but I’m trying to create a picture here) and certainly it doesn’t feel like it’ll spin round on a sixpence. And yet once you start turning it’s all-good, it feels stable, tracks dutifully and there are no dramas. Just for that first instant you feel a sense of reluctance.
That aside, as said, it’s all-good. The suspension certainly feels like an upgrade on that of the Street Scrambler and while the travel is identical (120mm), it just felt better damped – maybe that’s two years of development (or an unreliable memory?!) kicking in. But it’s nice and neutral once it’s sweeping along and for relaxing weekend country riding it’s a great set-up.
It’s a bit odd to have a race evaluation of a model like this, especially when there are models like the Thruxton, which are evidently better for the purpose, but at least we could test the Ace’s limits. Or not – it seems they’re a way off. On track – even a small one like Lydden Hill – it’s funny how a bike’s persona changes. On the track that low-end punch kind of gets lost, instead I found I was mostly revved-out chasing gears. I tried riding it in the torque but it just didn’t feel quick enough, so I was buzzing it hard – which it responded to with absolute ease, it’s one solid last-forever kind of motor. The gearbox was good, too, sweet shifting.
The real limitation was ground clearance. In the heat of (light hearted) battle the initial reluctant tip-in wasn’t noticeable as I was having to reposition my body to hang off and this exaggerated weight shift (90-odd kilos going inside-outside) overrode that tip-in reluctance easily. Ground clearance was modest and the Ace was grinding away its footrests quite merrily – even with the rear preload set to max. What I was impressed with, was neither the centrestand nor the sidestand touched down – which is good news because these two can lift a rear wheel off the ground if they dig in heavily. So knowing you can have the pegs chewing themselves to bits, but nothing structural likely to upset the plot, is a nice position to be in.
The track also showed that those meaty 310mm discs with twin-piston calipers are more than up to the job of hauling up well over 300kg of bike and rider in very short order. Yep, but for the want of more ground clearance the Ace would have cut a pretty decent lap time.
By the way I got through something like 50 laps plus the ride to and from the circuit – say 50 miles – without bothering the filler cap on the 14-litre tank and when I eventually refueled it took 12.9-litres, so given a whole lot of full throttle action it would do 110-120 miles to the tank. Cruising, the mpg reader was showing around 55-57mpg, so the probable range in normal use is about 150 miles. Fine for this bike.
For me, this bike sells on its look. I love, almost adore, the brooding Ace treatment and that the fuel tank spelled out to me ‘Head down, Hold on’ was very apt for the race day. It’s not a race bike, though; it’s for cool laid-back weekend rides. And ridden like that it put a big smile on your face.
It has a few drawbacks this model, but its style and performance outweigh those. And my god, the details. I love the four-bar tank badge, the wee LED lights, the black rims, black pipes, the upholstered leather (type) bench seat. It is a real looker. Triumph is building 1400 of them. I’m sure they’ll sell the lot super-quick. But if you were to corner me and say which Bonnie, make a choice – right now I’m thinking for me, the T100 Black. The Street Twins and Speed Twins are awesome as well, mind. And maybe that’s the real story, there’s a Bonnie for every taste. And they’re all good. But in black, it’s just Ace.
2019 Triumph Bonneville T120 Ace
Engine: Liquid-cooled 8-valve SOHC parallel twin four-stroke
Bore & stroke: 97.6 x 80.0mm
Max Power: 79hp @ 6550rpm
Max Torque: 110Nm @ 3100rpm
Fueling: Multipoint sequential electronic Fuel injection
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, wet multiplate clutch
Frame: Tubular steel with aluminium cradles
Front suspension: 41mm KYB forks, cartridge type, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: KYB twin shocks,n preload adjustable 120mm travel
Wheels: 32-spoke, 2.75 x 18” front, 4.25 x 17’ rear
Brakes: Front discs – 310mm, twin-piston Nissin calipers – Rear disc 255mm, twin piston caliper, ABS
Seat height: 790mm
Weight: 224kg (dry)
Fuel capacity: 14.5 l
Price: UK from £11100 EU €13400 US $12,500