2010 Triumph Thunderbird

December 1 2009

Earlier this year, Triumph Motorcycles announced, with great fanfare, the release of the 2010 Thunderbird with a parallel twin engine. Okay, nothing new there. After all, the first Thunderbird made its debut more than 60 years ago with a 650 cc parallel twin in 1946, right after the Second World War. In 1967, the Thunderbird flew into oblivion, but it has made a couple of other appearances since.

So why the big news concerning the 2010 Thunderbird with a parallel twin? This one is different. This one is almost two and half times larger than the Thunderbirds of yesteryear at 1600 cc. Usually, two-cylinder engines in this size range are V-Twins, but Triumph dares to be different.

Triumph has made their mark over the last few years with all-around bulletproof machines, and this new Thunderbird follows suit. The big parallel twin is the bike’s main focal point, and it certainly drew the eyes of passersby. Then it’s the clean, uncluttered appearance of the whole package. Admiring the slightly forward-canted engine, black with polished fins, and the perfect deep chrome finish on the engine’s side cases, makes it hard to look away.

Throwing a leg over the low 702 mm (27.6 in.) saddle and picking the bike up off the side stand while grasping the handgrips puts the whole package into perspective. This isn’t a reconfigured throwback from previous generations; this is a brand-new model to be reckoned with. It feels good, with all the right parts in all the right places. The legs are comfortably bent without too much reach to the pegs forward position, the handgrips are easy to reach and the wide seat is suitable for at least a few hours at a time.

Turning the ignition key under your right thigh and thumbing the starter button brings the engine to life with a roar (my press demo had optional mufflers installed). The liquid-cooled, multipoint fuel-injected DOHC 1597 cc engine delivers its power strokes on a 270-degree firing interval that makes for an intoxicating and offbeat exhaust sound. While I am not a proponent of obnoxiously loud exhaust, I do like the rumble of finely tuned engine, and the optional mufflers delivered a deep throaty growl that shouldn’t annoy any neighbours. They did ‘pop’ a bit on deceleration, though. The header pipes won’t show any blueing thanks to the double-walled construction that continues back to the catalytic converter, tucked underneath and out of sight.

Even after the solidly mounted engine settles down into a nice idle, it remains smooth thanks to the countershaft. In fact, that smoothness is found throughout the whole rev range, keeping the seat, footpegs, handgrips and mirrors smooth and vibration free.

The big-bore twin pumps out a claimed 84.8 horses at 4850 rpm, but even more impressive is the 107.7 foot-pounds of torque that occurs at only 2750 rpm. Thanks to the six-speed transmission, the engine revs close to that number in high gear while cruising at 80 km/h, so a downshift is not necessarily needed when passing slower traffic. A downshift or two, however, does put the muscular engine in the sweet spot, and it will pull cleanly away from those cluttering up your lane.

Although the clutch lever is not adjustable, the cable-operated clutch provides a surprisingly easy pull for an engine of this size and power. Shifting is smooth and positive, albeit a little clunky from first to second gear, but such is usually the case in high-torque twins. Finding neutral was never a problem. Final drive to the rear wheel is provided by a clean and quiet 32 mm belt; in fact, it’s the first belt to be seen on a Triumph since 1922.

Transferring all that torque to the ground is a pair of Metzeler ME880 Marathons – 120/70-19 on the front and a 200/50-17 out back–a tire with excellent road-holding manners. Stopping those hoops is a pair of 4-piston fixed calipers and 310 mm floating rotors doing the work on the end of beefy 47 mm Showa forks while a single 310 mm rotor being clamped by a 2-piston floating rotor handles braking duties on the rear. Bottom line: the brakes work. Like the clutch lever, the brake lever is not adjustable, but you can effectively activate them with a gentle two-finger pull. While the rear brake is minus a few pistons compared to the front, the rotor is the same size, and even at highway speed, the rear brake alone does an excellent job of slowing the bike down. While my demo didn’t have ABS, it is available on the Thunderbird.

A pair of spring over shocks suspend the rear end and they provide spring preload adjustment only. I managed to find some pretty rough roads by accident, and while the rear axle on a vehicle in front of me danced up and down, both the front and rear suspension on the Thunderbird did an admirable job of keeping road imperfections and potholes at bay and never bottomed out once.

The new Thunderbird is no lightweight – weighing in ready to ride with a full tank of fuel at 339 kg (746 lb.) – but handling is better than expected for a bike of this size. Slow-speed U-turns are easy and high-speed in corners simply requires a slight push on the bars to hold a steady line. The heft of the bike is somewhat noticeable when flicking from side to side as direction abruptly changes, but it performs this trick better than many other big bikes. One word of caution though: lean angle is slight, and therefore, getting too aggressive in corners will easily send sparks from the footpeg feelers.

Wind protection is nil, as it is with most stock cruisers. My demo had a short detachable summer windshield installed (taller windshields are available). The short windscreen provided limited wind protection and was adequate for warmer weather. It kept all the wind from blasting my chest, leaving my head in clean air, and I didn’t experience any buffeting.

With engine guard, highway pegs and saddlebags rounding out the installed options, it is a perfect, and good-looking I might add, weekend getaway machine.

And you should be able to make some distance on your travels with the Thunderbird. My calculations show a fuel consumption of 5.15 L/100 km (54.89 mpg) and with the Thunderbird’s wide 22-litre tank, that should give a range of about 425 kilometres.

All handlebar controls are easy to use with gloved hands. Amenities include self-cancelling signals, a switch on the left switchgear for optional auxiliary spotlights, and a toggle switch on the right switchgear to control the speedometer LCD function, which includes fuel gauge, two trip meters, odometer, distance to empty, and a clock. The large easy-to-read analog speedometer and smaller analog tach reside top and bottom in the same housing on the gas-tank console.

All in all, the Triumph Thunderbird is an outstanding motorcycle in every way and is priced within reach at $14,899 for the standard model, or for two-toned paint you’re looking at $15,399. ABS models start at $15,899 or $16,399 for the two-tone painted version. Go to www.triumphmotorcycles.com for more information.


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