Triumph has mastered the art of retro-styling with sensible contemporary performance. While the Bonneville T120 was a superbike when it debuted in 1959, the 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 is a 21st-century gentleman’s upright standard motorcycle that captures the spirit of motorcycling’s simpler days.
Despite styling that reflects the T120 heritage, scratching the surface just slightly reminds us of how far we’ve come. The 1959’s pre-unit, kick-start air-cooled pushrod four-valve 655cc motor has been replaced by a unit construction, liquid-cooled, SOHC, eight-valve powerplant with electric starter and displacing 1197cc. Amal carburetors and Lucas electronics are out, and EFI disguised as twin carbs is in. The four-speed transmission of old has been jettisoned for a six-cog gearbox, and the 2023’s clutch has an assist function. Triple disc brakes replace a pair of drums. Rearview mirrors and turn signals are part of the package now, and the LED headlight retains its classic round shape. There is much more, of course, though it is impressive that Triumph retains the Bonnie’s essence in the face of so many significant advancements.
The styling cues that create the magic are plentiful. The two-tone Cordovan Red / Silver Ice paint job looks simply spectacular in tandem with the knee pads on the tank. The wide, ever-so-slightly stepped bench seat is there, and passengers will be happy to see that. The 2023’s conventional front fork and twin shocks will look familiar to anyone from 1959, though the internals are considerably advanced. Just as Triumph designers camouflaged the EFI system, the unit construction Bonneville 1200 HT (High Torque) motor has a pre-unit look on the right side—perfect.
Riding the 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 is as genuine a simple pleasure as you’ll find in motorcycling. The engine fires up without hesitation, and the 270-degree crank supplies a pleasant burble through the classically designed peashooter mufflers.
Once underway, you’ll realize that the T120 is powered by a motor that has more in common with a cruiser than a sport bike. The peak torque output of 77 ft-lbs arrives at just 3500 rpm, and you can feel the muscle. If you must, you can easily rev the vertical twin to 6550 rpm, where the modest 79-horsepower peak is dispensed, but that’s really beside the point. The 1200 HT motor is true to its name and is all about grunt.
Wisely, Triumph gave the Bonneville a compatible chassis. The 25.5 degrees of rake, roomy 57-inch wheelbase, and hefty 520-pound curb weight result in a stately ride that is predictable, forgiving, and reassuringly stable. Although there are no damping adjustments on tap, the 41mm fork’s cartridge-style damping is spot on for the job intended. The twin shocks are fully complementary, with spring-preload adjustment should you pick up a passenger.
Triumph tempers your sporting aspirations with an 18-/17-inch wire-spoke wheel combo—down an inch at each end from 1959. The nod to the past with the wheel sizes restricts tire choices, and Triumph shod the aluminum rims with Michelin Road Classic tires. The bias-ply tires are a great choice, as they’re more capable of harnessing the 1200 HT’s power output and are an excellent match with the dignified chassis.
With the affably capable 1200 HT motor and all-day ergos, the 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 is as happy to go for a long run through the hinterlands as it is to spend the day tooling around in urban areas, enjoying the affirmative attention the Bonnie’s styling elicits. While it weighs north of 500 pounds, the engine’s pull and the bike’s manageable 31-inch seat height mask the tonnage, unless you decide to push it in the twisties. Should you make that choice, the T120 will do its best to accommodate you, but you will be reminded that it is not a sport bike.
Around town, the 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 is an effortless ride. It pulls away strongly when the light turns green, and the stability is a big plus in all but the most congested traffic. Lane splitting isn’t an issue, though you do have to mind the effective mirrors. Getting on the freeway requires nothing more than a twist of the throttle in any gear above 1st—just shift early, and you’re at freeway speeds instantly. The pattern of the Michelin Road Classic tires isn’t fazed by freeway rain grooves, making the T120 a great commuter bike. Associate Editor Kelly Callan confirmed its commuter effectiveness, arriving at the office with a smile.
One huge performance enhancement the 2023 T120 has over the 1959 debut is in the braking department. Weak drum brakes have been supplanted by triple-disc brakes, including Brembo calipers for the pair of 310mm discs up front. ABS is standard, and you can’t shut it off—not that there’s any reason to do that.
The 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 is relatively free of electronic intervention. There’s no IMU, so ABS and traction control don’t care how far you lean. You can turn off traction control, though we didn’t feel the need to do that—the torquey motor isn’t particularly interested in spinning up the rear wheel. Should the road get wet, Rain mode is there for the taking—otherwise, you’ll be in Road mode.
Put this all together, and you have a great motorcycle capable of doing quite a few things. It’s an unhurried sport bike, a day-brightening commuter, an around-town bon vivant, and if you’d like to bolt on a windshield and throw a pair of bags over the rear seat, you can make the 2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 a weekend tourer. At $12,695 for the base Jet Black version, the Bonnie T120 is not an inexpensive retro motorcycle. However, it is one that is evocative, endearing, and enduring.
Photography by Don Williams
2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 Specs
- Type: Vertical twin w/ 270-degree crank
- Displacement: 1197cc
- Bore x stroke: 97.6 x 80mm
- Compression ratio: 10:1
- Maximum power: 79 horsepower @ 6550 rpm
- Maximum torque: 77 ft-lbs @ 3500 rpm
- Valvetrain: SOHC; 4 vpc
- Fueling EFI
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ assist function
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Tubular-steel twin-cradle
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 41mm cartridge fork
- Rear suspension: Spring-preload adjustable twin shocks
- Wheels: Wire-spoke w/ aluminum rims
- Front wheel: 18 x 2.75
- Rear wheel: 17 x 4.25
- Tires: Michelin Road Classic
- Front tire: 100/90 x 18
- Rear tire: 150/70 x 17
- Front brake: 310mm discs w/ Brembo 2-piston floating calipers
- Rear brake: 255mm disc w/ Nissin single-piston floating caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 57.1 inches
- Rake: 25.5 degrees
- Trail: 4.1 inches
- Seat height: 31.1 inches
- Tank capacity: 3.8 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 60 mpg
- Curb weight: 520 pounds
2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 Colors and Prices
- Jet Black: $12,695 MSRP
- Jet Black / Fusion White: $13,195
- Aegean Blue / Fusion White: $13,195
- Cordovan Red / Silver Ice: $13,195 MSRP (tested)
- Stealth Edition – Sapphire Blue / Silver Blue: $13,495
2023 Triumph Bonneville T120 Review Photo Gallery