Triumph Thunderbird Motorcycle Review

Triumph Thunderbird Motorcycle

Triumph Thunderbird Special Edition

A friend of mine with a Harley-Davidson Road King keeps trying to convince me to trade in my BMW R1200RT for a cruiser. He thinks that I’d look good on a Fat Bob. I decided to explore his obsession for the cruiser. Rather than a Harley, I decided to try out the Triumph Thunderbird. After all, it won the Cycle World 2010 Best Cruiser Award. That’s the second year in a row for this Best Cruiser Award.

I definitely like the looks of the Thunderbird. It caught my eye when it was first announced. Triumph said it was designed specifically for the US market. I assume that means it is going after the traditional Harley-Davidson ride. They definitely succeeded in creating a motorcycle that looks great. And, if you are not obsessed with owning something with the badge Harley-Davidson, the Triumph Thunderbird is definitely a motorcycle worth exploring. Read on, and watch the following videos, to learn more about the Triumph Thunderbird, and get my personal impressions.


The Triumph Thunderbird has the classic cruiser look, sleek lines, and a nice balance of color and chrome. It has the classic cruiser sound, a nice low pitched thump and growl that will attract the attention of anyone not looking your way. The Thunderbird has a lot of room for customization. For mostly riding around town, there is the classic cruiser look. If you go for the Special Edition, it comes completely decked out for touring, including the roadster screen, touring seat, sissy bar and luggage rack, leather saddle bags, and foot boards. If you want something a little more on the dark side, new for 2011 is the Thunderbird Storm. It comes in jet black, with less chrome, and a more edgy, street-rod, look.

One of my biggest issues with traditional cruisers is that they seem to be designed more for looks than performance (not to mention the ear piercing noise of some models). That isn’t true for the Thunderbird. It backs up its good looks with awesome performance and handling for a cruiser.

Features and Specifications

The Triumph Thunderbird is a 1597cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin. It produces 85 bhp at 4580 rpm, and 108 ft-lbs of torque at 2750 rpm. That’s more than capable of launching its 746 lb. weight with reasonable authority. If that isn’t enough for you, Triumph also offers a 1700cc dealer-fit big bore kit to boost power to 100bhp and torque to 118 ft.lbs.

The Thunderbird has a six speed transmission, with 6th gear being primarily an overdrive. Shifting is very smooth, not as clunky as some other cruisers I’ve ridden. A final belt drive eliminates needing to deal with messy chains. Fuel capacity is 5.8 US gallons.

The front brakes are twin 310mm floating discs with Nissin 4-piston fixed calipers. The rear brake is a single 310mm fixed disc with a Brembo 2-piston floating caliper. These brakes provide ample stopping power for its 756 lb. weight. With optional ABS, the Thunderbird can easily bring you to a controlled stop. The Thunderbird has a chromed twin-skin stainless steel 2 into 1 into 2 exhaust system. Although this is a parallel twin, not a v-twin, the exhaust produces a classic cruiser thudding sound.

The instrumentation cluster is mounted cruiser style, inset into the gas tank. It provides basic information including analog speedometer and tachometer, and through a scroll button on handlebars you can access a trip computer, fuel gauge, and clock. One word of caution. Although insetting the gauges into the gas tank is typical of many cruisers, this can be a challenge for a full face helmet wearer like me. When you tilt your head downward to read the speedometer with a full face helmet, the helmet stops rotating at your chest. I could only rotate my head far enough to read the speedometer, not the tachometer and other indicators below the speedometer. Even worst, my eyeglasses didn’t rotate downward with the helmet, so I was looking that the gauges without my eyeglasses. This basically meant the gauges were unreadable for me.

With a seat height of 27.5 inches, even the shortest rides should be able to comfortably put their feet on the ground. The Showa suspension soaks up bumps quite well. Unlike some other cruiser models where your spine is considered the suspension, the Thunderbird was quite comfortable to ride over not well maintained back roads.

How Does the Thunderbird Compare with Other Cruisers?

The first thing you need to decide when comparing the Thunderbird against other motorcycles is whether you want a Harley-Davidson. I know a lot of Harley riders, and they will never be anything but Harley riders regardless of how they perform against the competition. If you are open to riding something other than a Harley, then the Triumph Thunderbird is definitely worth exploring. The following video compares the Triumph Thunderbird with the Victory Vegas 8-Ball and the Kawasaki VN-1700. Not the most exhaustive comparison, but the Thunderbird comes out on top, as a bike well designed for all day cruising.

Several months ago I rode the Victory Vegas 8-Ball. It was a nice motorcycle, but the styling just wasn’t jumping out at me. However, if you want American-made, and don’t want a Harley, take a look at the Victory. My biggest complaint about the Victory Vegas 8-Ball wasn’t actually the motorcycle, it was the availability of dealerships. There just isn’t a dealer close enough to my home.

Is the Triumph Thunderbird Right for You?

After riding the Triumph Thunderbird, I was left with only two questions. Am I a Harley guy, because if so, then nothing else really matters? Although there are Harley’s I wouldn’t mind seeing in my garage, I don’t have HD tattooed on my chest. I’m open to whatever brand best suits me. The bigger question for me is, am I a cruiser guy? I’m still not convinced of the latter. But, I am open minded, and open to persuasion. If you are a cruiser guy, or girl, then I think you will like the Thunderbird. It has a low, comfortable seat. The riding ergonomics are very good. Coming from my BMW R1200RT and Triumph Bonneville T100, it took me a few minutes to get used to the Thunderbird’s forward foot pegs, but after that, it is an easy bike to ride. The low center of gravity hides the weight very well. Even riding the twisty back roads of the East Bay hills, the Thunderbird handled very well. The only negative I could find is viewing the speedometer through a full face helmet. The gas tank mounted speedometer position makes it very difficult to read since you must rotate your head downward, taking your eyes off the road. But, if you are a typical cruiser rider, you are probably wondering why I’m wearing a full face helmet on a cruiser.

In general, I think the Thunderbird is a nice blend of looks, image and performance. If it fits your personality, you will definitely love the ride.

For more information, see the Triumph Thunderbird pages on the Triumph web site.


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