Triumph Thunderbird

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Bondo bags a new 1600 Thunderbird and discovers that a huge pair of jugs bouncing up and down next to each other is more fun than you may think.

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Words: Steve Bond. Pics: Ric Romanyk unless otherwise specified.

Britannia may rule the waves but when it comes to motorcycles, Triumph waives the rules.

While most manufacturers are building four-cylinder sportbikes, Triumph goes and builds a triple. With cruisers, everyone and his sensei focuses on the V-twin engine configuration but Triumph stays with the time-tested parallel twin.

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The Thunderbird started as a twin, went to a triple but now comes back to twindom.
Photo: Triumph

And the fact that only Triumph has mass produced the previous biggest parallel twin — a mere 865 cc (in their Bonneville) –  didn’t faze them one bit.

How big do you think the Thunderbird’s engine is?

“1,000 cc?” Higher.

“How about a 1,200?” Higher!

“Maybe 1,500 cc?” Higher!!

“I’ll go 1,600 and that’s my final offer.”

SOLD!

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Parallel twins don’t come any bigger than that.

Yep, the T-Bird comes with a 1,597 cc (98 cubic inch) mill, and as such is the world’s
largest production parallel twin engine.

Hit the starter button and the soundtrack is eerily reminiscent of a large V-twin as the 270-degree crank chuffs power in uneven pulses. A short snick down gets you into the first of six gears and you’re off.

Twin balance shafts dampen the large thumps from each 800 cc piston; thumps that crank out a claimed 85 horsepower and 108 lb-ft of pavement-wrinkling torque – the peak of which comes in at 2,750 rpm, right in the usable range.

With measured fuel consumption in the 5.2 to 5.5 L /100 km range, the 22-litre tank should give well over 350 km before you have to start looking for a gas station.

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Fully decked out.
Photo: Triumph


AMBIDEXTROUS CRUISER?

The engine configuration might flip the bird at traditional cruiser-dom but the rest of the Triumph conforms. The T-Bird’s 27.5-inch (700 mm) seat height is in the ballpark and the 63.5-inch (1,615 mm) wheelbase feels long but it’s actually still shorter than most of the competition.

The claimed 678 lb (308 kg) dry weight sure doesn’t feel like it, even at parking lot speeds. And when the going gets somewhat sporty, the ample cornering clearance means the tips of the peg feelers will drag but nothing hard should ever touch down.

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Clearance is good and the positioning acceptable.

The riding position is quite good. The bars are reasonably wide and were at a good height for me. Thankfully, the pegs are not as far forward as most cruisers — a huge aid to the comfort department.

At first sit, the seat feels hard but after half an hour, it’s confirmed — the seat is hard. It’s wide enough though, and offers good support with a decent shape.

My press unit had the optional highway pegs for those who prefer the “feet forward, gynecological riding position.” Personally, I find that all highway pegs do is blow cold air up my pantlegs — which may or may not be desirable, depending on circumstances.

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Steering is light.

A 120-section 19-inch bun adorns the front wheel while a chubby 200/50-17 incher brings up the rear. The wide rear bun doesn’t overpower the front and steering is delightfully light around town and the T-Bird exhibits good turn-in on two lane roads and freeway ramps.

The Thunderbird also shines in the suspension department. When I picked the Bird up, I was probably 20 minutes into my ride before noticing that the frost heaves and potholes hadn’t jarred my spine or shaken my fillings loose.

The beefy 47 mm non-adjustable fork has 120 mm of travel, while the five-position preload-adjustable rear shocks offer 95 mm of travel — fairly generous for a large cruiser.

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Brakes is a strong point.

Both handlebar levers are beefy and all controls are light and progressive. The front brake lever adjusts, but oddly, it requires a 10 mm wrench and Phillips screwdriver to perform the adjustment. All I can say is, WTF?

Braking is a Thunderbird strong point with dual 310-mm rotors up front squeezed by four-pot calipers. A two-piston and a 310-mm disc bring up the rear, allowing the T-Bird to shed speed with ease.

The instrumentation follows convention and consists of an analogue speedo mounted on the tank console with a smallish tach in the lower quadrant of the speedo and an LCD fuel gauge.

A handy bar-mounted switch, operated by the right thumb, cycles through the tripmeters, odometer and clock. The mounting position of the instrument pod requires a deliberate effort to take your eyes off the road to view said instruments.

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Bags are good for a dirty weekend.

The T-Bird’s self-cancelling turn signals are the best in the industry in that they sign off 1.5 seconds after completing the turn and don’t go on for blocks as do most others.

The T-Bird lists at a reasonable $14,899 (add another grand for ABS) and my press unit came all gussied up with Triumph’s optional leather bags, highway pegs, gorgeous blue paint with white accents and a (too-low) windscreen that brought the price to a still reasonable $17,550.

The bags seem to be of fairly high quality and are relatively easy to access, although once the clamps under the buckles are popped, you have to get past two more snaps and some fiddly Velcro until the lids will finally open.

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Punch it out to 1700 cc and get 15 more horses.
Photo: Triumph

Some of the luggage space is compromised by clearance for the mounting brackets, butoverall there’s enough capacity for a weekend trip.

And, to satisfy cruiser riders’ insatiable desire to personalize their machines while looking like everybody else on a cruiser, Triumph is offering hundreds of accessories including a 1,700 cc big bore kit that adds 15 horsepower and bumps torque to a whopping 115 lb-ft.


STANDING SIDE BY SIDE

I have to ride cruisers as part of my job but can’t see owning one myself. It’s not that they’re bad motorcycles — far from it. It’s just that I find most cruisers too focused for my riding style and tastes.

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He may not look it, but Bondo’s impressed.

They’re usually too big, too heavy and slow-steering — but the Thunderbird was different. I had no problem saddling up to zip down to the grocery store for milk and bread or filling the bags with my baseball gear and riding to the field of dreams.

Yes, there are already many large cruisers on the market today but the Thunderbird kicks butt in most performance categories — braking, handling and acceleration.

It remains to be seen whether potential customers believe that a parallel twin should be in a cruiser platform, but it was a cruiser that I truly enjoyed riding — and that is not something that I say very often … if ever.



SPECIFICATIONS


Bike
Triumph Thunderbird

MSRP
$14,899

Displacement
1,597 cc

Engine
type
Four-stroke dohc twin (270 degree crank)

Power (crank – claimed)
85 hp @ 4,850rpm

Torque (claimed)
108 ft-lb @ 2,750rpm
Tank
Capacity
21 litres

Carburetion
Fuel injection

Final drive
Six speed, belt drive

Tires,
front
120/70 R19

Tires,
rear
200/50 R17

Brakes,
front
Twin 310 mm disc with four-piston
caliper

Brakes,
rear
Single 310 mm disc with dual-piston
caliper

Seat
height
700 mm (27.5 in)

Wheelbase
1,615 mm (63.5 in)

Dry
weight (claimed)
308 kg (678 lb)

Colours
Jet Black, Pacific Blue / Fusion White, Aluminium Silver / Jet Black

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. A “fugly chassis”? This froma guy who rides a Urinal AND a HA-HA-Harley?

    Performance also appears to not be one of your measurement criteria.

    This is as close to a standard as Triumph is going to get with this engine. Enjoy it.

  2. A beautiful motor stuffed into a generic, fugly chassis just so as to get a bite out of the ‘Murrican cruiser market. Dumb move. They should have stayed with the previous generation Thunderbird and tweaked that platform instead.

  3. I hope Triumph puts that big ole motor in a more standardish set of running gear. A little too much “me too-ism” as far as the styling goes.

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