Triumph Thunderbird Review
Displacing 1597cc, the new 2010 Triumph Thunderbird fits squarely between the Triumph Bonneville, America, and Scrambler at 865cc and the gargantuan 2294cc Rocket III. With the America barely making enough power to pull your granny off the mailman, and the Rocket III capable of ripping your arms out of their sockets and leaving your missus in the next county, the new Triumph Thunderbird is the perfect balance and addition to this cruiser line up.
Edward Turner introduced the first Triumph Thunderbird in ‘49, so it’s illuminating that Triumph would hang this famous historical moniker on its new cruiser. It’s also interesting that it’s the first new-from-the-ground-up motorcycle to come from Triumph in a few years, with the Thunderbird appearing to share no common parts with any other models. As tested, the motorcycle came in standard form, but there are already a number of accessory items available to customize the Thunderbird to individual tastes.
On first appearance the motorcycle appears very neat and tidy. The Triumph Thunderbird lines are clean and flowing, and there is nothing poking out anywhere to interrupt this flow. The motorcycle is classically styled, and without any obvious Triumph logo shouting out what brand it is, which confused more than one person while I was out on my travels. What was immediately apparent to anyone with more than a passing interest in mechanical things though was the Triumph Thunderbird engine. There wasn’t a motorcyclist who didn’t comment on the parallel twin and want to know the size and the amount of power it made.
The vertical twin in the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is quoted as producing 85 horsepower and kicking out 108 ft/lbs of torque at a lowly 2750 rpm. This puts the Triumph a little down on power compared to Suzuki’s M109R and Star’s biggest cruisers, and up some when compared to the Harley Davidson collection. This displacement is achieved by an oversquare 103.8mm bore and 94.3mm stroke. With two roomy combustion chambers with a 270-degree firing order, it’s necessary for the big twin to use twin balance shafts and a crank-mounted torsional damper to keep unwanted vibes from taking the fillings out of your teeth.
Even though it’s the largest production parallel twin on the market, there is actually a big bore kit available for those wanting even more grunt. This enlarges the Triumph Thunderbird engine capacity to 1700cc, producing an additional 15 horsepower and 7 ft/lbs of torque. Personally, lack of power is not an issue for me, and I actually applaud the amount produced and the way it is delivered. It gives the Triumph an aggressive and sporting nature when you crank the throttle, and with a 6500 rpm limit, it doesn’t run out of power too early.
Rolling through the city on my night ride with a light passenger on the pillion seat, the Thunderbird is unfazed by the extra weight. It pulls 70 mph with just 3000 rpm on the tachometer in sixth gear, and our ride is super smooth and slick with very low vibration through the pegs or bars. Below this point on the tachometer, you are aware that there is a big twin beneath you, but the extra vibes are certainly not annoying or distracting.
Fueling is very similar to the injected Triumph Bonneville I tested earlier in the year. Although, where the Bonneville is perfect on or off the throttle at any point in the power band, the Thunderbird gave the occasional minor hiccup. It came after running on a closed throttle any time I didn’t quickly pick up the throttle, and not happening every time it was somewhat difficult to pinpoint at first. Even then, it needed just the right set of circumstances to make it happen, so it really is a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent fueling system.
Taking the fuel and air into the big cylinders, via two inlet valves driven by an overhead camshaft, the Thunderbird uses two large 42mm throttle bodies. The EFI controls this mixture on each cylinder separately, and a pair of exhaust valves let the burned mixture escape after being opened by their own camshaft. Triumph is quoting the system as 20% more fuel efficient than the competition, but I’m sure that information is really more for the European market where near $8 per gallon gas prices are more likely to get your attention.
For the most part, the city streets around Charlotte are in good condition, but there are some bumps and bangs to be found. The Triumph Thunderbird’s suspension did a good job of absorbing these when I experienced them. Up front, there is a conventional 47mm Showa fork with 4.7 inches of travel. This is set up firmly enough to not fold under heavy braking, but soft enough to provide a supple ride. The fork is non-adjustable, as you might expect on a cruiser. Under your bum, there is a pair of chrome spring shocks controlling 3.7 inches of wheel travel. These are adjustable for five-positions of preload, and this operation is performed quickly with a spanner found under the seat. The Triumph Thunderbird ride quality is very good, and they deal with irregular road conditions as well as any other cruiser I have ridden.
The Thunderbird rolls on an attractive pair of cast aluminum alloy wheels wrapped with specially designed Metzeler tires for optimum handling. With a 200-series rear Marathon ME880 tire in the back on the 17-inch rear wheel, the steering and maneuverability are better than I expected without that strange feeling of the bike revolving around the rear tire that you get on cruisers with wide tires. The front wheel is a 19-incher, using a 120/70 series ME880.
Knowing how many miles Triumph test riders put on new motorcycles before they go into production, and on what sort of roads, it’s no surprise that the Thunderbird handles in such a competent manner. It is one of the best handling of the cruisers in this segment, and allied to the urgent response level of the engine. There is a definite sporting element to the Thunderbird that you won’t often find in cruiser world.
When it comes time to slow down or stop the 680-pound British cruiser, the non-adjustable front brake lever operates a pair of Nissin four-piston calipers working over dual 310mm rotors. A single two-piston Brembo caliper grabs a similar sized rotor in the rear and adds some solid stopping power to the strong front set up. These front brakes don’t overwhelm the fork, as I mentioned earlier, and get the job done without any drama with a good firm pull on the lever. Overall the package feels a notch above all of the other cruisers, except maybe the Star line with its R1-derived package.
Rider’s eye view is clean and minimalist with chrome top triple trees, handlebars, and headlight being set off with smooth, black switchgear and front brake master cylinder. The whole package has a high quality look and feel and work in a conventional fashion with no surprises. The Triumph Thunderbird instrument panel sits atop the 5.8-gallon fuel tank. Accompanying the large analog speedometer is a small tachometer that sits in the bottom of the gauge. It is hard to see these numbers for those of us who need reading glasses, but not impossible.
The 2010 Triumph Thunderbird six-speed gearbox has a nice solid cruiser thump to it when you drop into first. The engine note is robust, if maybe a little muted with the stock pipes. Clutch action is not so light that it feels weak, but not so stiff it leaves you with an aching wrist in traffic, although I’m personally not a big fan of large-diameter bar grips. Shifting up through the gears is a smooth and simple task, and the motorcycle pulls well in sixth gear, if needed. Triumph has always made good gearboxes, and this one is no exception, with clutchless up-shifting possible for those who need it.
Sitting a cruiser-low 27.6 inches above the ground, the Thunderbird sports a nice, thickly padded seat. Legs stretch forward in typical fashion, and the wide bars fall nicely to hand with a fairly good set of mirrors attached. Styling is all Americana, but with the unique parallel twin engine setting the stage, the experience is different enough to be refreshing.
While I doubt it will wrestle many established Harley riders away from the brand, the new 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is certainly going to make a viable and tempting choice when stacked up against the current crop of Japanese cruisers.