The Harley might have won the style contest – and by a margin at that. But, when it comes on-road performance, the Triumph just runs away. Now the engine configuration was the only other common thread between the two bikes besides pricing. And on this front, the 1200 Custom follows the more retro route. As with all Harleys it uses a V-Twin that displaces 1202cc. The engine is part of Harley’s Evolution range, which means it is air-cooled and push-rod operated, but it does get fuel injection and an aluminum construction for reduced weight. The engine is also rubber mounted for reduced vibrations.
And though the vibrations might have reduced over older Harleys, the 1200 Custom is still quite the vibrator. It vibrates at idle, and then when you get a move on, it gets more pronounced with rising revs. The fuelling, especially at lower revs is irritatingly inconsistent as well. But, the engine certainly has character. The exhaust note is fantastic and the engine has strong mid-range torque to make cruising and overtakes a near effortless affair. It is quite tall geared though, so even when cruising at 100kmph, it is best to stick to fourth gear, even though it has five. And yes, the gearbox, in typical Harley fashion, doesn’t have the best shifts.
Jump onto the Triumph after the Harley, and chances are you wouldn’t want to go back. The Bonneville T120 is smoother, it has better throttle response, and it has lighter and crisper gearshifts as well. Plus, it has better all round performance backing it. The T120 too uses a 1200cc, twin cylinder engine. But unlike the Custom’s Vee, the T120 uses a parallel twin. And it is liquid-cooled. In terms of sheer output figures, the Triumph develops higher and flatter torque. It makes 105Nm of peak torque against the Custom’s 96Nm.
On the road, the T120 is less jerky at lower rpm; it pulls as strongly as the Custom in the mid-range; and then when it goes past 5000rpm, it just takes off. It’s almost like it sheds its street clothing for full leathers at the upper reaches of the rpm band. As you can tell, not only is the T120’s performance more accessible for a variety of riders, it’s more enjoyable too.
But, it isn’t perfect. The engine might be smoother than the Custom, but it too is plagued by vibrations post 3500rpm. Best then to short shift to sixth and ride the torque curve.