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
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,
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 Litres(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
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
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
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
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
Triumph offers a large number of accessories for the Thunderbird, from touring
accessories to a kit that increases power by 12 horsepower.