IMS Chicago 2021: 13 Years of Triumph Bonneville Progress

If you’re in the market for a modern motorcycle with classic style, the Triumph Bonneville is an oft-recommended choice. However, while the bike has retro looks, Triumph hasn’t let it stagnate. It’s received regular updates over the years, most recently for 2022. But how much has the ‘Bonnie’ changed since the 2009 model I recently rode? To answer that, I took the latest Triumph Bonneville T120 for a ride at the 2021 Chicago International Motorcycle Show.

What’s different between the 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 and the 2009 Triumph Bonneville?

The side 3/4 view of a blue-and-silver 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 in a parking lot
2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 side 3/4 view | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
Spec2022 Triumph Bonneville T1202009 Triumph Bonneville
Engine1200cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin865cc air/oil-cooled parallel-twin
Power79 hp67 hp
Torque77 lb-ft51 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed with torque-assist clutchFive-speed
Front suspensionCartridge forksCartridge forks
Rear suspensionTwin RSU shocks with preload adjustmentTwin shocks with preload adjustment
Seat height31.1″30.5″ (Motorcyclist)
Curb weight520 lb506 lb (Motorcyclist)

Back in 2009, the Triumph Bonneville was available in three trims: base, SE, and T100. But these days, the T100 is the base trim, with a smaller engine and fewer features than the range-topping T120. That’s been the case since 2016, the last time Triumph significantly overhauled the Bonneville lineup.

But besides the larger engine, extra gear, and slightly taller seat, what else does the 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 have that the 2009 model doesn’t? For one, dual front Brembo disc brakes, rather than a single disc. Secondly, the 2022 T120 has standard ABS, traction control, cruise control, and LED lighting. Plus, two riding modes, an under-seat USB outlet, and adjustable brake and clutch levers.

Also, while the 2009 Triumph Bonneville only has one gauge, the 2022 T120 has dual gauges with an LCD screen. The latter feature means the modern bike has a fuel gauge, while the older Bonneville just has a low-fuel light. And speaking of lights, the 2022 T120 has separate turn-signal indicators. In addition, while the 2022 Bonneville T120 has non-adjustable cartridge forks like the 2009 bike, they’re now inverted forks. Finally, the 2022 bike’s spoked wheels and engine are lighter than on the 2021 model, Motorcyclist notes.

Riding the T120 at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021 showed what 13 years of refinement looks like

Even before its 2022-model-year updates, the Triumph Bonneville T120 was already “perhaps the most rounded Bonnie yet,” MCN says. And those recent updates—more responsive engine, lighter wheels, better brakes—enhance it even further, Motorcyclist reports. But really, how much has the Bonneville improved since that 2009 model I rode?

Admittedly, I didn’t get as much time with the 2022 T120 as I did with the 2009 Bonneville I rented. But even so, after taking the new bike on a multi-mile country road ride at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021, I can confirm Motorcyclist’s and MCN’s reports. It’s as if Triumph took every aspect of the Bonneville and improved it.

While the 2009 Bonneville resisted leaning into corners somewhat, the 2022 Bonneville T120 turns in easily. The frame also feels stiffer, further enhancing the handling and stability. And despite being slightly heavier on paper, the 2022 bike feels lighter and easier to maneuver than the 2009 one. Part of that might be due to the standard tank pads, as well as the suspension, chassis, and engine revisions.

Speaking of the engine, the 2022 Bonneville’s 1200cc parallel-twin responds more readily to throttle inputs. And unlike with the 2009 Bonneville, there’s no need to activate a high-idle switch during cold starts. Plus, even less engine vibration makes it through the new bike’s seat than the old one’s seat.

In addition, while the 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120’s clutch is still forgiving, it has more feedback than the 2009 version. And that extra front disc means you don’t have to pull as firmly on the brake lever to stop.

Is the 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 a good beginner bike?

All these improvements do come at a price. The 2022 Triumph Bonneville T120 starts at $12,300 before options. But while it’s pricier than it was in 2009, the Bonneville T120 is even easier to live with and ride than the old bike, which was already a friendly machine.

However, do all these things make it a good choice for a beginner? When it comes to used Bonnevilles, Motorcyclist says yes. As for a brand-new one, I’m tempted to say the same. To be sure, it depends on a rider’s personal level of experience and comfort. And the 2022 Bonneville T120 is heavier and more powerful than, say, a Honda Monkey. But for a rider with a few months’ experience under their helmet, it would make for a great all-around machine. Plus, riding in Rain Mode does lower the power output, MCN notes.

13 years later, then, the Triumph Bonneville’s spirit hasn’t changed. But it does shine even brighter.

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