In a cruiser market dominated by big bore American bikes, what chance does the Triumph Thunderbird have? We take it out for a test around town
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao
The motorcycle industry is in a fix in Oman. No one quite knows whether expatriates can get new bike licences or whether they can even buy new bikes. The service industry depends on expatriates riding small bikes to service their clientele. But its the larger bikes that bring in the big spenders and between the layoffs of high earning expatriates and the licence issues, no one really knows what sells anymore.
Even Harley-Davidson is having to tread carefully in order to retain its marketshare among big bikes. So what chance then does the local dealership for Triumph have with its big bore twin the Triumph Thunderbird?
Getting the product right is half the game. The issue here is that the Thunderbird has to appeal to the bulk of Harley users with the familiar layout of switches and controls, including getting the riding pegs and gearshift lever up front. But is it just that? What would really help is to taking the traditional bells and whistles of the thumper and produce a refined rider that brings the more discerning onboard.
In that department, the Triumph Thunderbird is way ahead of the Harley mainstream. From the get go the motorcycle displays a level of finesse and class that very few Harleys show. The only one we can really say even comes close is the Fat Bob and that too the latest generation.
The Thunderbird is a traditional Triumph in that it has a parallel twin arrangement (not the V-twin of the Harleys). The largely oversquare layout of the cylinders features a bore of 103.8mm and stroke of only 94.3mm with 270-degree firing intervals to deliver the even Triumph characteristic rumble. This is helped on by the chromed exhaust arrangement of its two to one to two split. The engine is relatively high tech compared to the average thumper, featuring DOHC and lightweight parts. The 1597cc engine offers an output of 86PS and 146Nm of torque at only 2,750rpm.
The reliability and efficiency of the engine are boosted by the use of long-life materials in the belts and pulleys to avoid the need to open out the casings frequently.
The fuel gauge and the speedometer are placed on top of the 22-litre fuel tank on a nacelle that then obviates the need for an auxiliary readout. This throwback to the large analogue dial is welcome, especially in the face of everyone switching over to a digital display. The gearbox offers six gears with a really tall top gear that helps to improve the fuel efficiency at cruising speeds.
Ride quality is perfect, with a low saddle allowing even my shorter colleague to straddle the twin tube steel frame and plant his legs on the ground. The vibration from the engine is hardly noticeable and at the handles you never have to fight the bike’s bulk. It’s only when you are at a halt that you feel the weight on the handlebars. The wheelbase is just a bit shorter than we expected considering the Triumph Thunderbird’s bulk but you soon learn to trust the innate balance that the bike brings to the road. The front wheels get 19” and the rear 17” wheels, both being 5-spoke alloys.
When you get the Thunderbird into traffic, you can see that most other road users automatically tend to leave a space around you. perhaps its the bulk and presence of the Triumph Thunderbird that brings about that allusion to respect but its more likely the fact that most car drivers don’t really know how to handle a biker.
But the traffic signal serves as a good spot to show them how smoothly the bike takes off, with the least bit of effort and no clatter at all.
We ride a smaller Triumph Bonneville so the character of the twin thumper is quite familiar to us. But the grunt on offer in this bike is something else, You can pop the gear one over where it should be and the bike still pulls without loading the engine. The engine isn’t really free revving but it rises to the occasion once you are past that torque high point and its better to be on the highway then. The chase car has to work to keep pace, although you do miss the large windshield of the LT version of the Thunderbird.
Does the Thunderbird have the wherewithal to take on the Fat Bob? Now that would be a very interesting shootout and one that we would love to conduct. Let’s see what we can arrange.
In the meantime the bike’s fortunes are more closely linked to the availability of big buck spenders who will take the motorcycle out for a test ride. The bike will do the rest.