Friday, August 27, 2021

Great names: Triumph's Bonneville and my Bonnie

1976 ad with Bonneville, teen rider and girl.
Triumph called their Bonneville The Bonnie in this 1976 ad.  

 "Which Bonnie is the Best?" 

 That was the headline of the top article in the Motorcycle Classics email newsletter recently. 

 For me, it was liking hitting a speed bump at speed. 

 Wait. My wife's name is Bonnie. I have no question which Bonnie is Best. 

 Mine is. 

Turns out the subject of the article was not my wife, but "a look at three eras of the famed Triumph motorcycles to find out which Bonnie was the best."

That's just wrong. For starters, the article was about "Bonneville" motorcycles, not "Bonnies." Did Triumph ever call its products Bonnie? (Turns out it did, in 1976 at least.)

My wife frequently points out that her name marks her as a Baby Boomer. The name Bonnie swooped to popularity in the U.S. thanks to the movie "Gone With the Wind" (Scarlett and Rhett nicknamed their baby girl Bonnie).

It hung on strong until the 1967 movie that condemned every Bonnie to be everlastingly teased about "Bonnie and Clyde." After that parents probably wanted to spare daughters the trauma.

Bonnie ranks fairly well as a girls name in England (number 62), and very well (number 34) in Scotland. But in 2020 it was only number 604 in popularity in the U.S., according to

Perhaps, as a result, my wife is occasionally asked by those unfamiliar with it what "Bonnie" is "short for?"

Rather than explain that it is not a nickname (except for Triumphs) she eventually began answering that her name is short for "Bonneville." 

So, I suppose she could be responsible for some confusion between herself and the motorcycle. Or a Pontiac. Or the location of the land speed record venue for which the Triumph motorcycle actually is named.

But, in regard to my particular Bonnie, I have never been confused about the difference. She's the best.

I'm no expert on Triumph Bonneville motorcycles, but the early ones look OK to me, too. Well, maybe not the 1959 original, which Motorcycle Classics labels "dowdy." Better looks came in 1960 and riders loved it.

The Motorcycle Classics article flatly states that "already becoming a classic, the 1970 Bonneville wasn’t broke and didn’t need fixin’."

Unfortunately, "they fixed it anyway."

That was my impression: when you dip into Triumph motorcycle history of that era you are plunging into sadness. This was the case with the Bonneville. It was modernized with troubled oil-in-frame design and unloved new styling.

In an effort to be fair, Motorcycle Classics credits the "fixed" 1971-'72 Triumph Bonneville, despite its faults, with real progress. Yup: It had turn signals.

But, hang on. Motorcycle Classics believes the 1973 T140 finally got things right, thanks to retro-styling.

With clear sailing now ahead, Triumph went into receivership in 1983.

They're back strong, as everyone knows, but never mind. In its "best of" article Motorcycle Classics isn't concerned with the present iterations.

So here's what Triumph itself says of its 2022 Bonneville T120: "The original silhouette and style of the legendary Bonneville, with a premium modern finish."

So the Bonneville stills has the retro-thing going on.

And I love its nickname.


  1. Anonymous8/28/2021

    That mid 70's advert captures the fascination with the 50's styles that was in vogue at the time.
    We saw Olivia Newton John achieve stardom in "Grease" and the wildly popular TV sitcom- "Happy Days" with the "Fonz" riding a Triumph. Unfortunately, not a Bonnie.

    And lets' not ignore Royal Enfield's 50's sweetheart... the Connie !
    She could certainly hold her ground against a Bonnie.

    1. A "Connie?"'d better believe it. have been harping at RE's brass for two years in emails and blogs for the RE management NOT to forsake their legacy monikers. They never got the opportunity to call the Interceptor "Interceptor" in the North American market because Honda owns that name. They DID however, resurrect "Meteor" and i'm hoping the new cruiser machine they are developing does have the "Constellation" moniker complete with the appropriate tank graphics. So, we'll see.

  2. The mid to late sixties Bonneville (or any Triumph twin) is what motorcycles should look like. My 1964 Interceptor looks good too, but I must concede Triumph got it right. They did mess up the styling with the OIF model while making it handle much better. No matter the brand, the Brits generally got it right visually...if one glosses over that whole 'bathtub' era.


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