TRIUMPH THUNDERBIRD ROAD TEST 2009 MADRID
John Bloor bought the rights to Triumph in 1983 and started production in the early 90s of the fantastic new range of Triumph bikes. The old company went bust but an engineering company in the midlands kept building the Bonneville under license while Bloor built his new empire. Triumph now makes more of its own parts than its Japanese rivals. This amazing British success story is little revered in these days of doom and gloom.
As the proud owner of a Triumph Rocket 3 Touring (2300cc and the largest production bike in the world) I was well pleased when Jose-Maria Clemente (Triumphs Technical Manager in Madrid for Spain and Portugal) asked me if I would like go to Madrid and test ride the all new Triumph Thunderbird 1600cc Parallel Twin Cruiser.
Aimed mainly at the American market and Harley (where Triumph have 22% of the market share), the Thunderbird should be a big success here in Spain where cruisers are getting almost as common place as scooters. With an on the road price of €13,995 (€14,795 with ABS) it is very competitive with a similar 1600cc Harley.
Triumph have now increased their dealer base here in Spain from 4 to over 40 in the last 3 years and about 70% have the Thunderbird in stock.
The Thunderbird we picked up at Triumph’s Spanish HQ in La Rozas Madrid was the basic model but looked great with all the chrome as standard and the swept up exhaust.
The idea is you go on line and build a bike to your own budget (what ever the model) actually seeing the results and the price as you build it.You can then email the bike you have built direct to the dealer knowing excatly how much you have spent.
Very often a new bike or car can feel alien when you first get on or in it. The Thunderbird felt like I had owned it for months with its handlebars positioned at arms length and feet first riding position.
At 6 feet my legs are only 29inches and were flat on the ground leaving a reserve of at least 2inches if you have shorter legs. For a 1600cc it felt much lighter whilst feeling like a big bike.
When I started the bike the first thing that came to my mind was Harley! There was something very familiar about the engine roar and the exhaust tone, that of a V twin. But hang on this is a parallel twin. You have the characteristics of the V twin, except when the engine is idling. Have you ever seen a big Harley rocking backwards and forward at traffic lights? Not the Triumph Thunderbird, it’s steady as a rock even with its 270 degree V Twin crank.
I think Triumph have gone for a 270 degree and not a 180 degree crank to apeal to Harley Riders who want a little more refinement the that Triumph Thunderbird gives. For the first time since the 1920s Triumph fit a belt drive to the new Thunderbird. This gives it a smooth quiet transmission without the play associated with chain and some shaft drives. If you want even more torque and BHP there is a 1700cc conversion that has to be done by a dealer to keep its type approval, a sports air filter and high performace silencers.
My partner Helen and I set off for the old Spanish capital Escorial. The Thunderbird roars through gears with amazing performance (this coming from a 2300cc Triumph Rocket 3 owner).
Unlike my bike this one has a rev counter along with 2trips and fuel economy computer. I was amazed I was changing to 2nd 3rd and 4th at only 2000 to 2500rpm with the engine so smooth and a very light clutch. Occasionally I got in to 5th traveling up winding twisting roads through the beautiful countryside to Escorial and once for a short while used the 6th gear overdrive. Even with the constant road improvements, narrowing the road bends, the Thunderbird handling was faultless with that reassuring power and performance expected from Triumph Motorcycles. If you do bank over a little to far the retractable foot rests give you a gentle warning instead of it being a major drama.
On arriving in Escorial we decide to investigate the old town centre. Helen was complaining of a numb bum with the basic brick like rear seat so we made our first stop first outside the Palace Monastery.
There is a huge accessory list for the Thunderbird and an essential first accessory if you are riding 2 up most of the time would be a long haul rider and passenger seat! At £159.99 and £99.99 (no euro prices yet) respectively, you add 3” to the passenger seating space, seat size and leg room. If you have a larger wider body like me, you may need longer mirrors as an accessory too.
We took the bike through the cobbled street town center and the suspension made them feel like pebbles.
Even on tight cobbled street bends the handling was faultless. After the town centre we powered out in to the countryside climbing to 4000feet via steep hairpin bends right, left most of the time only using 2 of the 6 gears.
When we returned to our Hotel in Madrid I went off to do a bit of motorway riding getting up to 160kmh (just keeping up with the local traffic). This is a fun machine with loads of power, a top speed 185kmh and only used €6 of fuel for 100km. Not bad for a cruiser, Brando and McQueen would have loved it, bags of character.