Friday, October 2, 2015

The Triumph Bonneville after 130,000 km

At the highest international border crossing in the world: China
Someone recently asked me how the Bonneville was holding up... Well, it's not as shiny as it once was... It has suffered on this part of the trip, has carried the most weight and has been over the worst roads imaginable. You can read elsewhere that it clicked over the 100,000 km without any problems. It has proven, to be honest, a more reliable motorcycle than the Yamaha XT660R... even though we ride the same trip under the same conditions. Add to that the Triumph's 40,000 km higher odometer reading before we left and it's fair to say we are impressed with the Bonnie. The last 30,000 km have been somewhat hard for it though...

The isolation of Kyrgyzstan
Let's be honest here. When the guys in Hinckley designed the Bonneville they had no idea some idiot from Australia would take it around the world. Triumph Australia said it would never make it up the Dalton highway... it did. It also did the Top of the World Highway, Canyonlands' Potash road, Monument Valley and the coastal road in Belize. We took it through Mexico and Central America too. All while being loaded up to the hilt, fitted with big aluminium panniers and no modifications from standard to the engine. I've had it on the scales and with me on it recorded a shocking 420 kg.

It held its own surrounded by off-road monsters in China
All the work done on the Bonnie has been just regular servicing. And even that was minimal. I replace the oil every 5,000 km as I've seen first hand how oil in an air-cooled engine suffers from heat. It's simply cheap insurance. I only use mineral oil as synthetics don't work all that well in both the Bonnie and the Yamaha. The fuel filter in the tank is still the original one and the valve clearances have been checked twice, the first time at 30,000 and again at 80,000 km. The clearances were fine and as it's a bucket and shim system I can't see the need to check it that often. Plugs last about 40,000 km as do air filters (I blow them out at every service and replace them at roughly 40,000).


Guatemala highlands
Being on the road and in places where Triumph dealers are far and few between, meant it has had to run on all sorts of oil filters, all sorts of oil and plenty of fuel of dubious quality. Some of it was so bad we couldn't even get our Coleman stove to burn on it... The Yamaha is much more sensitive to fuel quality and lets us know it's unhappy by rough running and/or reluctant to start at times, the Triumph just rumbles on.

Georgia (the one next to Russia...)
On the current part of the trip it needed some work though... Remember, this bike left on this trip with 40,000 km on the clock and hadn't needed any repair work before we left. I then took it through New Zealand, from Vancouver to the top of Alaska, down through Canada via Jasper and Banff, zig-zagged through the western half of the USA including Death Valley, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We subsequently shipped it from Costa Rica to Europe and travelled through England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. All without needing any work done to the bike at all.

After a stopover for Christmas at my parents place, it took me through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. In Greece it needed its first replacement part... its first replacement part ever! The bearing inside the rear sprocket wasn't as fresh as it should be and since we had Kazakhstan and the like ahead of us I decide to replace it. The wheel bearings are still the originals.

Cappadocia, Turkey
Dubious fuel
I was seriously impressed with the quality and reliability of this motorcycle. Even more so since I've seen first hand what all goes wrong with the seemingly more suitable bikes for this kind of work... But nothing had prepared me for what it coped with when we entered North Eastern Turkey and Georgia, where we took roads that had the bashplate grounded lots of times and the suspension battered for hours. In Georgia I hit a huge pothole, the size of a bathtub, which blew both shock absorbers apart in one hit. It didn't crack the frame or did any other damage though! Russia was next and then literally all hell broke loose when we went through Kazakhstan.

End of the road, Romania
Monument valley, USA
I seriously felt sorry for the bike when we did the Atyrau to Aktobe section. Not that the road before that had been all that good, far from it in fact, but with the benefit of hindsight it should not have survived the section after Atyrau. But it did. And it even did it on damaged shocks with minimal damping left while being hammered to death on roads so bad that riding next to them on sandy tracks full of ruts, potholes, rocks and whatever else you can think of was in fact the better option.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

The handlebars where hammering up and down as the forks continuously reached the end of their travel. I frequently had to drop down to 1st gear while struggling through 48°C temperatures. It was so bad I had blood in my gloves from split calluses after just 20 km on that road, with another 330 to go. The heat coming from the engine, struggling through these temperatures while pulling a heavy load through sand, was cooking my legs through my motorbike pants and boots. This part of the world had me standing on the pegs for hours... Yet even after this torture, nothing went wrong, nothing broke and nothing failed. Then we went through Kyrgyzstan which hasn't been dubbed 'The Adventure Riders' Paradise' for nothing... on a Triumph Bonneville! A local bike mechanic mumbled it was unbelievable what we had done with it. After that followed China and the highest international border crossing in the world at 4,700 m. The Karakoram highway was next and then the madness called India...

Obviously the Bonneville isn't a match for the Yamaha XT suspension wise, when going off-road. There were times when I had to take some rest as my neck was becoming so painful that I just couldn't ride no more. Yet strangely enough the Bonneville seems to cope well with all the abuse. Nothing broke, nothing needed adjusting and even the often criticised rear brake calliper position, being mounted too low and too vulnerable according to the so called 'experts' works actually quite well as it keeps the shit out of the brakes. The rear brakes on the Yamaha had a much harder time, clogging up and destroying the brake pads. Summing up what needed replacement after 130,000 km is a very short list: 1 rear sprocket bearing in Greece ($9.-), 1 clutch cable in China ($3.82) and 1 gear lever seal in India ($3.17), which makes a grand total of $15.99 in 130,000 km. Just two weeks after I bought my Bonnie I said 'I hope it makes the 100,000 km'. That was before I had any ideas to travel around the world on it and take it off-road or fit panniers. Having done 130,000 problem free km now, I'm looking forward to 200,000 km...

The Dolomites, Italy