The Triumph T120 Bonneville must be among the most iconic motorbikes ever made. Indeed, its name alone is liable to induce weak knees in its devotees. The Bonnie – as it was dubbed – invokes visions of a time when the material world was made out of metal. Plastic, back then, was but a brittle blip on the horizon. Now, it goes without saying that the future of the planet comes before that of classic motorcycles … well, it does, according to non-bikers, anyway! That said, the petroleum and oils of yesteryear had a spirit, which today’s sanitised synthetics sorely lack. Such ‘earthy’ products were an essential part of the design icon that was – and is – the Triumph Bonneville.
It is ironic that a bike that so epitomises Sixties Britain should reference the US. Utah’s Bonneville salt flats have long been the snow-white setting for many a piece of high-speed history. In ’56, for example, Johnny Allen climbed aboard a Triumph Streamliner – and proceeded to gun it up to 214mph. The Triumph Bonneville roadster was good for just over half that. Still, 110mph was more than enough for most ‘ton-up boys’, at the time. Indeed, it allowed them a bit of leeway … in case of headwinds, perhaps – or less than pristine-clean carbs! Bonnie aficionados spent so much time in the saddle that it became a virtual part of their anatomies. And that was pre-computer games!
In Triumph’s glory days, the Bonneville was the beacon for the brand. Some quarter of a million Bonnies passed through the firm’s Meriden factory gates. On the Isle of Man, a Bonneville won the Production TT – in ’67. Two seasons later, and a Bonneville set the first ‘proddy racer’ 100mph lap of the island. The ton-up boys were in seventh heaven! And even on less celebrated roads, the Triumph T120 Bonneville was a legend in its own landscape. So, when the rockers decamped to the seaside, that infamous day in the Sixties – to do battle with the mods – it is a sure bet there was many a Bonnie seen blasting down to Brighton beach!