Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Choices: Bonneville or Thruxton?

Months after the Gilmore Car Mueseum’s motorcycle show, I continued to fantasize about the Thruxton.  Because of that, I started searching for ways to transform the sophisticated Bonneville into the racey Thruxton.   While I adore my Bonneville, I’m determined to find a way to combine what I love most about each bike. 

An extensive study of websites selling Triumph parts reveals numerous options.  Through bike church, I met another Triumph rider who directed me to  This site revealed a variety of parts to customize my Bonneville that improve both function and style as well as performance.  My search also lead me to a few other sites including Cal-moto, Bellacorse and Pure-Triumph.   I love the simplicity of my Bonneville and have never before considered altering her appearance or performance.   Previous purchases included saddle-bags for convenience and gear for various riding conditions.  When I bought my bike, there were add-ons like colored cam covers, valve stem caps and seat cowls but I was surprised to see so many other options on these websites:  custom oil filler caps, brake fluid filler caps, colored sprockets, chains and brake lines.   A whole world was opening as I discovered all the parts available.  Next, I searched for photos of Thruxtons and Bonnevilles and zoomed in for ideas.  Hours later, my mind was awash with images and ideas.

It is possible to spend thousands of dollars on modifications, but since I’m still making payments on her, I didn’t want to spend another two grand on upgrading her  suspension with new shocks and forks or her engine performance with new cams or race carburetors.   While I believe some mid-range suspension upgrades will make a noticeable difference in the ride, that is a change I can make next year or the year after.   Delaying modifications is a simple choice when I consider other plans I’m saving for.   I don’t think I need that level of performance upgrade on a bike I already enjoy so much.  Besides, what I really like about the Thruxton isn’t her performance so much as the riding position and sportier feel.    

After eliminating the pricier options, I focused instead on cosmetic changes I could make while spending less than a thousand to achieve it.  After considering cost, my next decision was to determine an overall vision for the bike.  I have the 2008 Bonneville black with chrome accents.  Unlike Thruxtons, which have two-toned color scheme, my fenders, side-panels and tank are all painted the same color, and my engine is neither chrome, nor brushed metal, but matte black.  While I want a sportier feel, I want to be true to the Bonneville styling and the red or yellow seat cowl and cam covers aren’t to my liking.  I have no brushed metal on the bike so the brushed metal options were easily dismissed. 

To help me get clear on what options made sense, I gave the Bonneville a bath and then sat across from her and studied her.  I started with her headlight and moved toward her back end.  I considered fork gaitors, front faring and headlight accessories.  I looked past her engine to her side covers, foot pegs, chain cover, chain, sprocket and guard.  Finally, I examined her rear fender and lights.  I imagined changing out parts I’d seen on the various websites I explored.  Each part I changed in my mind’s eye, came with it an accompanying feeling of promise or disregard.   Using this approach, piece by piece, it became clear which parts I would change and which I would leave. 

This is also the approach I use when trying to make other kinds of decisions in my life.  For example, I’ve been yearning to take a vacation so set aside the week after Labor Day.  I had several options available for travel and I narrowed them by focusing in on one thing at a time.  Firstly, I realized I really wanted to take a motorcycle trip.  Secondly, I realized I didn’t want to do a trip planned around someone else’s schedule.  And finally I realized I wanted to ride more days than not.  What I ended up planning is a 7-day solo trip down south.  I’m making it sound easier than it was – I was nervous about up-ending plans with a girlfriend in California and 3 others I was planning on hanging out with Labor Day weekend.  There are a few new folks joining the Gap trip this year, which was also an option and while I knew it would be an interesting trip, what I realized was that the only person I want to please that week is me. 

As for the changes with the Bonneville, there’s a whole lotta things I could do that might make someone else happier with her performance- new carbs and even engine enhancements.  The thing is, those aren’t things that I really need or even value.  One friend laughed at my changes, which include some chrome accents, saying it was a waste to spend money on something that only improved the bling factor.  He said he doesn’t care much for improving the look of a bike.  My automatic retort: “a person doesn’t buy a bike like this if she doesn’t care about looks.”  And right there in that moment, I had resolution to an internal conflict I didn’t know I’d had up until that point.  I was feeling some reservations about spending money on this great bike that were only intended to improve her looks.  In fact, most of the changes would probably go unnoticed by most.  But there it was: I value the look of the bike as much as her ride.  I don’t need her to be the fastest production bike ever made and I don’t need shocks that offer performance perks I’ll never benefit from with the way I ride.

The fact is, I fell in love with the Bonneville because of her looks.  And then I rode her and I fell for the feel of her ride.  And I haven’t fallen out of love – I still turn around to look at her after I get off her.  I like how she pulls me through corners and powers from a stop.  I know she likes 4th gear more than any other and that she stumbles a little until I get her there.  I recognize her hesitation up around 100 miles on a tank of gas – 124 if I’ve ridden slower- when she needs her reserve tank. 

There may come a time when I want a little more power out of her.  But that’ll be after a southern solo tour, and after an adventure tour in Peru next Fall.  I changed out her handlebars, so they’re lower and a little straighter.   I replaced her round upstanding mirrors with rectangular bar-end mirrors for a little sportier look.  I also replaced the choke and idle knobs and the oil filler cap with chrome ones.   I'll be putting on the new fork gaitors over the Winter and I hope to find a deal on a black seat cowl and front fly screen, too.   For now, though, she done- and she’s as pretty as ever.

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