Some ideas need a little breathing room — and in this case more than a little hands-on time — to fully develop. Sure, we wanted to build a bobber, but we wanted to enhance performance, too.
The motivation behind our Custom Triumph Bonneville Build was the opportunity to craft our take on the emerging modern bobber, a category that’s been showing lots of activity. Following our line of thought, we also wanted to use a modern classic motorcycle, and Triumph’s latest Bonneville is a natural foundation for our build. From its time-honored parallel-twin engine configuration to the swooping R logo on the tank, its classic appeal is undeniable.
The new Bonneville is also the most successful of the so-called retro classic motorcycles, which means a healthy aftermarket has already sprung up to supply custom motorcycle parts for enthusiastic owners who want to give their bikes a little extra personality.
With this custom motorcycle project our plan wasn’t to build a bike from whole cloth. Although we’re pretty handy with a wrench, we don’t pretend to have the skills or equipment for that. Instead, we wanted to see what aftermarket Triumph motorcycle parts we could find to help us craft our custom Triumph Bonneville into something very different from what rolls out of the factory, without needing beaucoup fabrication skills. Basically, a build the average guy could do in his own garage in his spare time.
Not your “standard” bobber
Much like a café bike, a bobber is what you make it. There is no right or wrong, only personal preference. With our bobber, we wanted to take a stock new Bonneville and add style and a bit of performance without sacrificing much (if any) of the bike’s comfort and usability. We could have made it even lower and louder, added a hard tail, higher bars and a host of other pieces that may (or may not) have looked good, all in the hunt for a more “traditional” style.
Instead, we aimed for changes that would improve both style and function. We removed the stock motorcycle handlebars and went searching for something lower, but not Ace Cafe style, and finally decided on these simple and classic low drag custom bars from Motorcycle Superstore. They lend the bike a mean, lean-forward look, ready for enthusiastic cornering while still being comfortable.
To go with our lower bars, we wanted to lower the instrument panel and headlight. A lower overall profile was one of the key pieces to our design, but still we were surprised to see how much the Bonneville’s personality shifted just by doing things like dropping the instrument panel and the headlamp down. To do it, we used a nicely crafted speedometer bracket from D9 Brackets and billet aluminum headlamp ears from Joker Machine.
The next thing we replaced was the exhaust. The way-cool faux titanium exhaust system from D&D Performance Exhaust is almost a foot shorter than the stock system, and — surprise, surprise — is actually easier to install than a stock system since it doesn’t have a cross-over pipe. It bolted up without issue, using the stock rear mounting point while deleting the mid-point hanger as used on the stock system. Slung just a bit lower and tighter, these pipes scream speed. We think they’ll probably just plain scream, too.
Though the stock Triumph suspension does the job just fine, we wanted to both upgrade the suspension and lower it a bit for the bobber look we’re going for.
To achieve that, we ordered a set of Z-series shocks (with shroud covers) from YSS Racing Suspension that were just 20mm (about .75 inches) shorter than the stock items, but with the incorporated angle the shocks sit at, that small reduction in shock length dropped the rear of the bike by around 40mm (just over 1.5 inches).
At the front, we added progressive fork springs, also from YSS, and then pushed the fork tubes up through the yokes by 1.5 inches. This brought the bike way down, just as planned, and should firm up the suspension while keeping the rake of the bike nearly stock.
Next, we bobbed the rear frame rails, tightening up the look even farther. The seat pan, currently in the middle of being bobbed and repadded by Tom Smith at Tom’s Upholstery Plus here in Topeka, Kan., will take that look to the next step.
The big stand out is the custom Triumph paint job. Artfully applied by Travis Charbonneau at TC Concepts, the finished job incorporates a bit of Triumph history. Our finish color is a yellow/gold first used by Triumph in 1964 and then updated in the last 10 years as “Scorched Yellow” for Triumph’s modern Daytona 675 sport bike.
Travis then offset our yellow/gold finish with rich gloss-black borders and insets — plus he gave it a hint of old school with flat-black stripes running along the front fender and the tank. It’s spectacular, as you’ll see next issue. (To get a hint of what it looks like, check the image at top left on the cover.)
And if that wasn’t already enough, Travis added custom Triumph logos to the tank, custom Dairyland Cycle Insurance logos to the side covers, and a cool Motorcycle Classics logo to the front fender, using an airbrush to give it a little shading to make it really pop. It’s hard for Travis to know where to stop: Besides his deft touch with a spray gun, he’s a skilled airbrush artist. (Check out his website to see some of his airbrush work.)
True to plan, we’ve kept fabrication to a minimum. Besides lopping off the rear frame rails and getting the seat redone (using the original pan) we’ve also shortened the front fender about 4 inches, taking an equal amount off the front and back.
The biggest bit of fabrication so far involved modifying the gas tank to achieve the balanced look we wanted with our paint job. For that, Travis cut out the fuel filler neck and moved it from its stock offset position on the right side of the tank, welding it back in dead center on the tank. Very cool.
We also added a few other custom billet motorcycle parts from Joker Machine that were just too neat to skip, including billet adjustable front brake and clutch levers, a countershaft sprocket cover, a billet gas tank cap, and a billet choke knob, among others.
We still have a lot of details to pull together, like a taillight/license plate mount, custom billet turn signals, and getting the electronic fuel injection system remapped by our local Triumph dealer, Engle Motors in Kansas City. The new exhaust, while retaining the stock oxygen sensors, creates a fairly radical change in flow, requiring a recalibration of the bike’s ECU. Fortunately, Triumph has already worked out a remap for bikes getting bigger pipes.
Wrapping it up
So while we’re almost finished, there are still plenty of details to attend to. That’s OK, because frankly, we’re having a pretty good time working on our Triumph. We’ve mentioned previously our thrill at the novelty (for us) of working on new iron versus the challenge of disassembling 45-year-old motorcycles, and that thrill hasn’t left us.
So far, we’ve found the Triumph to be an immensely user-friendly machine, perfect for the weekend warrior/do-it-yourselfer. Aftermarket parts are readily available, and the list of accessories just keeps growing and growing.
Next issue, you’ll see our Bonneville Build in its finished glory. We’ll have shown it off at the inaugural Road America Motorcycle Classic. And we’ll be getting it ready to take to a few more shows, including the Bonneville Vintage GP Sept. 4-6, before we give it away in the Motorcycle Classics/Dairyland Cycle Insurance Bonneville Build sweepstakes.
We’ll announce the winner Oct. 9 during the 6th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, so enter now for your chance to take our custom Triumph Bonneville home! MC
Bonneville Build Suppliers
BellaCorse — www.bellacorse.com: Joker Machine products, custom hardware
D&D Performance Exhaust — www.danddexhaust.com: Faux titanium exhaust
D9 Brackets — www.newbonnevilleriders.com: Custom instrument bracket
Joker Machine — www.jokermachine.com: Custom headlamp ears, counter sprocket cover, ignition switch relocating kit, scads of cool billet pieces
Motorcycle Superstore — www.motorcycle-superstore.com: Drag bars
TC Concepts — www.tcconceptsllc.com: Custom paint, graphics and tank fabrication
Tom’s Upholstery Plus — 785-235-2061: Custom motorcycle seat fabrication
YSS Racing Suspension — www.yssusa.com: Rear shocks, custom rate fork springs