First Ride: 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT

Make no mistake; Triumph Motorcycles is on a bit of a roll at the moment. The British company currently has one of the best line-ups of motorcycles it has ever had, their U.S. dealer network is profitable and growing and the company is optimistic for a big increase in sales in North America for 2014.

This week, Triumph launched its all-new Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT, and the timing appears to be spot on. But can either of these British cruisers really be considered as serious contenders in what is essentially a sector entirely dominated by one U.S. manufacturer?

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

Triumph’s Recent History

To understand what is new at Triumph and why, you have to understand a bit about the company’s past and the close ties it has to the U.S.

At the introduction of the new Thunderbirds, Triumph was keen to underline that it has a long and illustrious story in America. Its motorcycles, most notably the Big D Texas Cigar followed by the Triumph Gyronaut X-1, were breaking land speed records throughout the 1950s and 1960s on the Bonneville Salt Flats at ridiculously fast speeds.

With its U.S. dealers, Triumph also raced with great success in the 1940s through to the 1970s against the likes of Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycles.

Triumph even lays claim to have kicked off the whole biker image with the brooding Marlon Brando in the 1953 film The Wild Ones. Although Brando had to ride his own Thunderbird in the film because the Triumph factory wouldn’t supply him one and even demanded that the tank badges were taken off the bike during filming.

Through all of this and much more besides, Triumph has become an iconic brand and their motorcycles, particularly the current line-up, very well respected on this side of the Atlantic.

This fall, Triumph will again be back on the salt flats with the Castrol Rocket (powered by a pair of Rocket III 1485cc engines producing 1000 bhp) running in the streamlined motorcycle class and intent on breaking 400 mph.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

On the business front things have been changing quickly too. Since 2010, the U.S. Triumph dealer network has been revised and increased from 165 to 225 (17 new dealers alone were appointed in the last quarter of 2013) with the aim of a 300-strong network in the next couple of years.

Triumph worldwide sales last year were at a record level with 52,089 motorcycles sold and around a quarter of those were in the U.S This year, Triumph is expecting even better U.S. sales performance.

Greg Heichelbech, CEO of Triumph North America, told RideApart: “Triumph wants to be the number one import brand in the U.S. within the next few years. We believe we can overtake the Japanese here in the U.S. based upon what we have achieved so far and what we know is coming down the pipeline from Triumph in the near future.

“We sold 13,000 motorcycles last year in the U.S. and estimate for 2014 that will increase to 16,000. So it’s absolutely the right time for us to launch two new cruisers into the market.”

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

It’s not going to be an easy task for Triumph. Harley-Davidson sold 260,839 motorcycles in the U.S. last year, but Heichelbech said that Triumph’s not looking to compete head on with the Milwaukee company: “There are a number of customers out there who don’t want to buy a Harley-Davidson and want something different. They like the brand image of Triumph and can relate to that and what we can offer them.”

In the past year, Harley Davidson and the hugely ambitious Indian Motorcycles have been starting to square up as to who is going to be the top dog in U.S. cruiser market not just in sales numbers but also in terms of quality, choice and rider appeal.

With Triumph now on the scene with two all-new convincing cruisers and promises from the British company of even more to come, things could start to get very interesting.

Continue Reading:First Ride: 2104 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT>>

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