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Bike of the Month
1970 Triumph Bonneville T120R
By George Canavan
And Now for Something Completely Different….
Jerry Meadows called to say I really needed this 1970 Triumph Bonneville that a fellow in town pitched to him. Because I have a bad history with British sports cars while working my way through Niagara University, my answer was , “NO!”. British cars in the 60’s from the Buffalo area were notorious for rusting solid sooner that you could find the next coupon in the payment book. Those cars fell into disrepair for several years until they were dragged off to our shop for the $29.00 Miracle Tune Up. That consisted of; a few cork gaskets dressed in High Tack or Form-A-Gasket to staunch the flow of oil to the pavement (where possible), fresh plugs, filing the points, bumping the timing up and a can of Wynns Friction Proofing which was worth at least 20 pounds of increased compression. Such was life on the Niagara Frontier.
Jerry countered with a claim that there was no reason this Bonneville could not be as reliable as anything in my stable. Well, as you know, I am an ardent fanboy of the horizontally opposed “Blau mit Weiss” persuasion so that did provide cause for reflection. Was such a claim possible? Perhaps it was worth further investigation.
A visit to the seller proved beneficial. On initial inspection, the real values of this steed came to light. A vertical twin sure does take up a lot less garage space than a horizontally opposed twin. Air in both tires assured me that this was a well cared for road burner worthy of purchase even though it had sat undisturbed since 2004. Good to go, load it up!
One thing that Jerry and I agree about is the initial process to renovate a retired ride is to return it back to the motor pool. Begin at one end and work your way to the other before getting serious about starting, no less riding a new machine. And what a reveal that was. As Jerry has done many restos on Brit bikes, it was easy for him to dismiss decades of shade tree engineering bodges and third hand hardware to the “Curious Bits” bin. Next came the “Safety of Flight” items, followed by brakes, battery, chains, tires and tubes, etc. You get the picture. We didn’t stop until we had replaced four pages of parts. But it was worth it as it not only starts reliably but accelerates, tracks and stops as per spec. This is such a better way to return a bike to the road that the “ do just enough and run it” school of restoration.
You might ask, “What is it like to run an icon of the 60’s versus those horizontal twins?”. Initially, you learn that the brake and shifter pedals have swapped sides. Yes, there is pronounced vibration compared to the BMW’s. Acceleration and braking are very satisfying. It has a pleasurable exhaust note but it is all about the look. A Triumph Bonneville just looks right. The design flows and the colors really work. It is the type of bike you would have found being drawn in 7th period home room in the 60’s.
Besides, would Steve McQueen have ridden a soul sucking appliance in the desert and on the streets? Not!
P.S. thanks for making this happen, Jerry. It was a real education and now I have a fine ride.