The Thunderbird model has been very important to the history of Triumph. We have to go back to 1950 to find the original Thunderbird 6T, a motorcycle specifically designed for the American market. In fact, its name is derived from a native American mythical bird of enormous size with supernatural powers and a taste for human flesh. Just two years later in 1952, the Thunderbird became famous around the world largely due to it being Marlon Brando’s motorcycle in the movie “The Wild One.”
In 1981, the Thunderbird name was placed on a 650cc roadster and reappeared in 1994 on a bike with a 900cc three-cylinder engine. And now that the English brand is going through one of the best times in its history thanks to its growth in the global marketplace, a mythical name from the past is reappearing; the bird of thunder is back and rumbling from two cylinders.
Triumph is fortunate that its rich history allows it to design bikes without looking to outside influences, a strategy that has allowed the brand to enjoy great successes. So when the company announced that it would make a large displacement, custom-style bike to fill the gap that existed in its line between the 865cc America and Speedmaster, and the huge 2.3-liter Rocket III, we knew that its engine wouldn’t be a Harley-style, V-twin engine.
So we’re not surprised that the new Thunderbird is powered by a new water-cooled, parallel-twin engine that displaces 1597cc, with a DOHC 8-valve head. The engine makes 85 horsepower and 14,90 Kgm (108 ft/lbs) at 2750 rpm. For those who want more power, Triumph offers a kit that adds 12 horsepower and more torque.
Besides these stout power figures, Triumph’s engineers have managed to tune the engine to feel and sound strong. Its thrust is direct and linear, as if pulled by a locomotive, and every turn of the thick throttle is accompanied by a fierce punch and an exhilarating sound of the 270-degree crankshaft and the work done on the exhaust system.\
Another sensation we notice at the moment we turn the ignition key, located on the right side of the bike, is one of refinement. And one should not confuse refinement or smoothness with a lack of character, as any engine that has pistons that displace roughly 800cc each is brimming with character. The smoothness of the engine is achieved by placing two balance shafts in front and behind the cylinders, and by the use of an advanced fuel injection system by Keihin that has an oxygen sensor for each cylinder (which allows for constant optimization of the fuel mixture).
Aside from the all-new, T-16 engine, the Thunderbird also gets a new six-speed gearbox . . . a gearbox that has a tall “overdrive” sixth gear for long, high-speed cruising.
As we mentioned earlier, Triumph has always maintained its own identity and this is obviously reflected in the design of the Thunderbird. There’s no V-twin engine or Harley aesthetic, as the Thunderbird is a statement of Triumph’s distinctive principles.
To say that its design is very British doesn’t help much, and it also doesn’t help that the bike isn’t very photogenic. It is better appreciated in person, particularly the long exhaust pipes that are better proportioned in the flesh.
The design is of a muscular bike-a massive fuel tank that holds 22 liters (5.8 U.S. gallons) and sits atop the engine is a striking element that makes the bike look physically wider than it is. The softly padded seat is set low, a scant 700mm (27.6 inches) from the ground and is set far back from the handlebars due to the large fuel tank. The foot peg location stretches out the legs and the width of the bike opens them wide.
Passengers on the Thunderbird will find a very small seat with only a strap to hold onto. But if long journeys are your thing, you should know that Triumph has a large catalog of accessories to increase the cruising appeal of its bikes.
What hasn’t been so successful is the low placement of the speedometer on the fuel tank. What bothers us most is the confusing array of km/h and mph markings that demands us to lower our eyesight for a closer look, something we now have to do often thanks to the increasing threat of radar traps (overseas). In contrast, important and practical information is pleasingly displayed on the small LCD screen; odometer, trip meter, a clock, fuel level, and miles to empty. Accessing this information is as easy as pushing a button next to the screen.
One design principle we respect in the Thunderbird is functionality. The Thunderbird eschews things like wire wheels, a single front disc, and a long, exaggerated front fork found on many “cruisers”.
The braking system is a real standout in the cruiser segment. In front, two large floating rotors measure 310mm each and are clamped by Nissin brand four-piston calipers. In back, another 310mm rotor is mated to a two-piston Brembo caliper. The brakes are more than up to hauling down the 308-kilogram (claimed dry weight equivalent to 678 lbs.) bike without any trouble. For those who need more, a version is available with ABS.
The Thunderbird is a long motorcycle, which is the norm for this class of bike. The wheelbase measures 1615mm (63.6 inches), but thanks to the rigid chassis, cornering is easy and doesn’t require constant mid-corner corrections. Aggressive riders will find the Thunderbird willing, but the footpegs will occasionally scrape the ground; one of the only reminders that this bike is a custom.
Suspension movements are well controlled due to the action of the thick 47mm forks with 120mm (4.7 inches) of travel, and the five-position adjustable (for preload) rear shock absorbers with 95mm (3.8 inches) of travel — on the generous side for a bike in this category. Handling is lighter than one might expect in a bike that weighs over 300 kilograms thanks to a low center of gravity and wide set handlebars that give enough leverage to make maneuvering easy.
Having tested the Thunderbird in the city, on secondary roads, and on the highway our general impression is very positive in all of these environments; our only gripe is that we didn’t have more time with the bike. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, you should know that putting a Thunderbird in your garage will require purchasing the base machine at a U.S. MSRP of $12,499 and the ABS model at $13,799.
- The sound emitted by the two-cylinder engine and its long exhaust pipes is successful in bringing together the rider and the ride.
- The low seat height combined with its wide handlebars and the 19-inch front wheel greatly facilitate the bike’s maneuverability when stopped and at low speeds.
- Triumph offers a large number of accessories for the Thunderbird, from touring accessories to a kit that increases power by 12 horsepower.
MD Readers Respond:
- People miss the point of Triumphs a lot of the time. As an example,
the America sells very, very well. A 865cc air-cooled parallel twin
‘American style’ bike that the Cruierer Establishment, in their search
for individuality, finds too different and too ‘small’ to matter. But
– it sells, remains uniquely Triumph – and is a ton of fun to ride.
Used examples command good money and don’t hang around.
Triumph isn’t out to go toe-to-toe with Japan. If they were – they’d
build V-Twins and inline-fours. The latter was tried, eventually
abandoned and then the 675 was born. Uniquely Triumph and one kick-
The Thunderbird isn’t for everyone. It isn’t meant to be. All
kidding and hyperbole aside – Triumphs are different on purpose,
aren’t for everyone and (having test ridden nearly every model built
in the last 3 years) are ALL great fun to ride. To those that think
I’m just a Fanboy……go test ride one and tell me I’m wrong. Brett
- Quote:”As we mentioned earlier, Triumph has always maintained its own identity and this is obviously reflected in the design of the Thunderbird. There’s no V-twin engine or Harley aesthetic, as the Thunderbird is a statement of Triumph’s distinctive principles. To say that its design is very British doesn’t help much, and it also doesn’t help that the bike isn’t very photogenic”.
No “Harley aesthetic”? “Very British” That is what is MOST disappointing about this bike. I have waited for Triumph to upgrade the power of its Bonneville line for years…I am so disappointed that they put a “Fat-Bob” and “tank dash” (which are definitely “Harley aesthetic” on what should have been a newly powered Bonnie that I would have purchased.
Let Triumph know, Nice looking bike…Love the engine…Hate the Harley, VTX, Star, Vulcan, Boulevard…aesthetic! RJ
- With its black and heavily chromed engine, chrome handle bar risers, forward mounted foot controls and chrome tank mounted speedo…how can you say this bike is not another Harley look alike? The original T-bird had none of that stuff except some chrome bits on the engine. It pays more homage to my 2005 Sportster 1200 Custom or a Dyna Custom than a old T-bird. I’m sure its a great bike, but Triumph was most definitely channeling some of the Harley vibe here! Shove a v-twin in and it looks like it came from Milwaukee. Ron
- Looks like a UJM to me. And not enough like a cruiser to attract cruiser
- I much appreciate the Triumph Thunderbird’s unique look compared to ubiquitous V-Twin cruisers. But I would prefer something like the unconfirmed BMW 1200 Lo-Rider for its potential 200 lb weight saving & supremely balanced overall performance vs. the current plethora of piggish cruisers. The pure joy of blowing heavier cruisers off a curvy canyon road (esp the vaunted V-Max) would be preferred to a stronger bike’s vertical advantage. jimbo