2010 Triumph Thunderbird Review:
Big Bore English Cruiser
The 2010 Triumph Thunderbird’s wings have shape shifted into a massive parallel twin motor. Triumph’s Thunderbird is Harley-Davidson’s worst nightmare come true. If there is such a thing as a slayer of giants or, in this case, a Harley killer, then the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is the spearhead and the first that really could matter.
Triumph has got that very sought after thing called “heritage”. Without heritage you’re nothing in the highly emotional cruiser market. Without heritage you’re left only with a good product and price competitiveness that simply isn’t enough to battle with The Motor Company. The 2010 Thunderbird places itself exactly in the market where Harley-Davidson rules. The Thunderbird now finds itself in Big Twin country and every effort has been made to ensure it stays there where others end up in the Badlands. Triumph had the Speedmaster, America and Rocket IIIs, but there was a major gap in between the 865cc parallel twins and the 2300cc triple. The Triumph Thunderbird closes that gap with its brand new 1600cc parallel twin powertrain.
The 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is a stripped down cruiser that can be taken to the exact same places as the extensive H-D Softail range. Triumph has in fact already launched more than 100 accessories that enable a lot of changes from day one. The range includes everything from sport to touring accessories.
A big old tapered leather seat is my first point of contact on the 2010 Thunderbird. The seat is at a low 700mm height and it’s instantly comfortable. The low seat height enables the forward mounted footpegs to give a comfortable cruising position. I’m spending the day in sunny Barcelona and in the mountainous Montserrat region a few miles north from the Catalan capital.
I start my day on a bog standard 2010 Thunderbird fitted with ABS brakes. I have tested Harley’s ABS brakes on the Touring range and I can instantly see one thing Triumph hasn’t done which H-D has. An ugly ABS ring is visible on the left side of the front wheel, while Harley hides the sensors inside the wheel hub. Purely aesthetic, I know, but these things matter in this segment. The front brake setup is a double 310mm disc with Nissin 4-pot calipers, and a single 310mm disc at the rear with a 2-pot Brembo caliper.
The ABS brakes work exactly like you want ABS brakes to work and the ultimate stopping power is very strong. Let’s not forget that the Thunderbird weighs 747 pounds ready to ride (679 pounds dry, claimed), so the stopping power is impressive. I rode only in the dry, so I didn’t find much personal use for the ABS system. On heavy cruisers with miles of rubber touching the tarmac at all times, I find hard braking easy and safe also without ABS. What ABS does for you though in particular on the Thunderbird is stopping accidental locking of the rear wheel. The front brake set-up over the 47mm Showa fork felt very good, but don’t expect a lot of tire feedback. The suspension at the back is a chromed double shock affair from Showa. The 2010 Thunderbird is definitely on the comfortable side, but the suspension easily handled also the sporty riding that I did. I rode the last half of the day on a 2010 Triumph Thunderbird without ABS, which I personally prefer.
Triumph contacted Metzeler to find the best rubber for the Thunderbird’s five-spoke cast aluminum wheels. Metzeler then went ahead and made a dedicated Thunderbird set of tires in the Marathon ME880 in dimensions 200/50-17 and a 120/70-19 front. A 200 section rear tire is pretty much standard in this part of the cruiser market, and it’s not too wide to mess up the handling. And, yes, the Thunderbird handles very well, as I found out in the mountains. Triumph has developed an all-new tubular twin spine frame with an over-capacity in rigidity and solidity in mind.
During my day in the Thunderbird seat, I rode three different configurations. One completely standard, one with Triumph’s accessory pipes, and one with the mighty 1700cc big bore kit. The 1597cc Thunderbird parallel twin engine runs at a low 865 rpm idle speed. Max power is 85 hp at 4850 rpm, and a mighty 106 ft/lbs of torque at 2750 rpm. With the 1700cc big bore kit, these figures increase to 97 hp and 115 ft/lbs with the standard road legal exhaust.
Twisting the throttle the big parallel twin roars to life immediately. Shifting up, you feel the torque surge straight away, which is the norm on a large bore machine such as the 2010 Thunderbird. Quite a lot about the 1597cc parallel twin reminds of a V-twin in feel, and I’m talking air-cooled ones, as Triumph’s 270-degree firing order magic is brought over from the 865cc parallel. Very little in the visuals gives away the liquid cooled reality as the parallel design leaves enough space up front to hide the black painted radiator in between the exhaust exiting each cylinder. Helical cut gears make for smooth upshifts. Very smooth in fact and, for those of you that know your Triumphs, I can tell you that this is a very big improvement. Sixth gear works as overdrive, but, with the torque maxing at a low 2750 rpm, you can ride in sixth at very low speeds too. The fuel injection is sublime and this is an area where Triumph has worked really hard.
The aftermarket silencers that release a little more thunder are an essential upgrade. That extra sound, whilst not being over the top and still road legal, gives that all important extra bonding between man and machine. Then, for the full thunder, I rode the big bore 1700cc Thunderbird that really releases the beast within. That’s the exact contrast that I love in cruisers, with those ultra low idle revs turning from 1000 rpm to 3000 rpm in a brutal fashion. The Thunderbird big bore kit consists of larger pistons, liners, different clutch springs, and revised camshafts. On the day I rode it, Triumph had yet to fine-tune the big bore Thunderbird’s fuel injection. It also felt like the low idle speed was too low when coming to a complete stop. Apart from the fuel map, Big Bessie really impressed with its massive initial torque delivery and brutal parallel twin sound. The rear wheel instantly spun up in first gear leaving long beautiful black lines behind me. Apart from the big bore kit itself, the two monsters had very cool drag handlebars fitted–Triumph only brought two bikes fitted with the Big Bore kit.
The difference from a standard Thunderbird is enormous. It’s not just about the extra horsepower and torque, it’s about the engine coming more to life and the true sound exiting the not so road legal silencers. Fully dealer fitted the kit costs around $1600 which is a bargain compared to the H-D Screamin’ Eagle similar upgrade. A chromed “104 Cubic Inches” clutch cover is the icing on the cake.
Triumph chose belt drive for the first time since the mid 1920s on the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird. Back then, a leather belt was used which probably were similar in strength to the leather belt I’m wearing with my jeans today. Today, it’s the same belt as on the Harley’s from the same company that makes them in Scotland apparently.
Cruising in sixth on the motorway also proved a delight, as all you need to do to overtake is to wake up the big motor with the throttle and pass. The engine works in a very smooth and calm way in overdrive whilst the beast is only a twist on the throttle away. For more sporty riding in twisty sections the Thunderbird impressed me and only the lack of ground clearance stops you being faster. The footpegs scrape in pretty much every corner, but the eminent chassis and suspension allow for full confidence.
Tim Prentice is the designer Triumph chose for the job. He’s been responsible for cruisers such as Triumph’s own Rocket III Touring, Honda’s VTX and Rune. Prentice states: “Aside from the engine, the form is straightforward cruiser. For styling inspiration, I looked towards the 1960s muscle car. I did not try to make it a two-wheeled muscle car, but I wanted a strong stance and muscular proportion that would look at home sitting next to a Shelby Cobra or ’67 Mustang. We wanted the bike to be comfortably recognizable to the US cruiser market. The forms themselves are simple and honest, and are meant to work well with the mechanical nature of the bike.”
2010 Triumph Thunderbird Conclusion
All in all, Triumph has done a brilliant job creating its first proper cruiser. I love the big 1600cc parallel twin and the way it’s placed very tidily in the chassis. With the accessory muffler, it sounds great. The torque surge is very similar to the feel you get from a big V-twin. Despite this being a different engine, it doesn’t feel very different. Buckets of chrome add a nice finishing touch but there’s still room for refinement to bring it right up to Harley-Davidson levels.
The Thunderbird is the basic new Triumph cruiser and rather than going for a flashy CVO-type finish Triumph has opted for conservative paint options. All that’s left now is for customers to start customizing themselves and for that purpose the Thunderbird is perfect. Triumph has more heritage than all the big four and, the way I see it, only Triumph can stare The Motor Company straight in the eye in this lucrative segment. The 2010 Triumph Thunderbird has got huge potential.
Photos by Jason Critchell