Big Betty’s Bonnie

The discovery that “I was too short for BMW” floored me, but as the t-shirt says, Fat Bikers Bounce Better.

I bounced back quick smart and found myself sitting comfortably astride a Triumph Bonneville the very next day.

The 2009 Bonnie has been shrunk by a whole inch and must now be at least two inches shorter than the BMW F650 GS, couple that with the nearer vertical position into the side stand and you have a bike that I can actually get my leg over and get in the upright position without the need for pulleys and heavy equipment.

So the size was right but what about the ride?
My previous experiences with bikes fell into two categories, fun and boring:

BMW F650 Strada (1998) – extremely nippy and fun
Yamaha Virago 535 (1998) – shiny, slow, hard to turn and boring
BMW F650 GS (2010) – powerful, nippy and fun again but did I mention I’m too short?

My demands for the Bonneville were that it should fall slap bang in the middle of the right category.

The test ride started well, I got it out of the courtyard without stalling. The Bonnie is incredibly easy to ride. It has a very solid gearbox with a good clunk as it pops into gear and I had no problem finding neutral. In contrast the BMW’s gearbox felt fussy and demanded millimeter precision from cold and booted toes before it would display the neutral indicator.

I rode it out of the Sanderstead showroom and headed left, into the unknown but remarkably picturesque landscape, winding round hilly roads with the mist clinging to the chalky cliffs at the side of me. At one point as I started to descend I heard a low throaty rumbling over each shoulder and glanced into my wing mirrors expecting to see an escort of Harleys, but the road was clear. I smiled with pride as I realized I’d found myself a proper bike.

I don’t really have the experience or vocabulary to describe quite how the bike felt or understand the differences between the Triumph and the other bikes I’ve ridden but it certainly didn’t disappoint. I’m not a speed demon and have no interest in topping 100 mph (or even 80) but I do like acceleration. Quite a lot actually. The Bonneville has a good kick, I’ve no idea how it would fair head to head with the Beemer but it felt powerful. It’s got a flat seat and opening the throttle swiftly gave me the sense that I could quite easily slide off the back without some firm inner thigh action. I’m exaggerating of course but I did think it would be sensible to get a sissy bar before accelerating hard with Lynn on the back – she isn’t built to bounce as well as me.

I pulled off into a lay by to admire the machine and all felt well with the world.

I was introduced to the biking world by my brother who used to take me to school on his 1970’s Kawazaki Z1000. That still holds the benchmark of a real bike to me and the Bonneville came pretty close to the mark. It’s a modern retro so there will be no opportunity for me to tinker, stripping the engine out and cleaning it in the kitchen sink but that can only be a good thing, the last thing I touched with a spanner remained out of action for at least 3 months.

I rolled back to the dealers about 40 minutes later than expected but I could have gone on and on. I was tempted to just ride until the road ran out but instead I turned back and signed on the dotted line.

I pick it up on Saturday after they’ve given it a polish and fitted me with some heated grips.

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