Up until five years ago, Triumph did not have a full dresser cruiser that could compete with anything the U.S. or Japanese companies were offering. To begin cashing in on some of its legendary brand appeal in the U.S., Triumph launched its first cruiser the Thunderbird in 2009. It was and is offered with a big 1600cc parallel twin and belt drive. It was nicely built and finished and was generally felt to be a good first step for Triumph into the cruiser segment.
The Thunderbird did all things well, it rode nicely and looked like any other cruiser. That’s the main issue for Triumph - the Thunderbird is just not different enough from anything that Harley-Davidson or the competition is currently offering.
As it now turns out the first Thunderbird was just the start of Triumph’s plan to move into the cruiser market with a broader selection of models to choose from. In 2011 the Thunderbird was joined by the Thunderbird Storm, a dark and moody looking motorcycle which came equipped with the water-cooled, 1699cc, eight valve, DOHC parallel twin.
Now the latest additions to Triumph’s Thunderbird line-up – the Commander (and yes Triumph knows that Norton has used the name in the past) and the LT – have been designed to take the Triumph brand even further into Harley-Davidson territory.
While the new derivatives share the same tank, engine, brakes and switchgear as the Storm, Triumph says everything else on both the Commander and the LT is completely new including a redesigned steel twin spine frame with the 1699cc motor acting as a stressed member.
To keep things simple, the Thunderbird LT is the version that comes with a quick detach screen and detachable leather bags with waterproof liners and a custom-style front fender with chrome accents, single headlight and running lights.
There were two areas that Triumph was particularly proud of at this week’s Thunderbird introduction; firstly the LT’s spoked chrome wheels, which have the world’s first radial whitewall tires (16 inch front and rear) developed specifically for the LT by Avon Tires.
Triumph said for performance reasons the LT had to have radial tires and for style reasons it needed to be white-walled. They are proper white-wall tires too and are not just painted.
Secondly Triumph was keen to reinforce the quality and craftsmanship in its production methods and explained the pin striping on the LT’s tank and fenders is done entirely by hand at the Hinckley factory in the UK.
The other new Thunderbird model – the Commander - is effectively the naked version of the LT but with a drainpipe-style exhaust, alloy wheels with sportier Metzler tires and distinctive twin headlights. You could argue twin lamps is a Harley-Davidson design cue as it uses it on its Fat Bob but Triumph says it’s had twin headlights for some years on the Speed Triple through to the Rocket III long before H-D took up the idea for the Dyna.
There are some other minor differences between the two new Thunderbirds, such as the bars (you sit more upright and a little more aggressively on the Commander), while the LT has slightly different rear spring travel, as Triumph believes more people will ride with a passenger on one. But the LT’s extra kit brings its wet weight up to 836lbs, some 70lbs more than the naked Commander.
`What both bikes have in common is the world’s largest parallel twin. Triumph is very proud of its 1699 cc engine and the company says it has stayed with this configuration because the parallel twin is part of Triumph’s heritage; it has better heat management when water-cooled than a v-twin and it helps with a bike’s weight distribution, keeping mass positioned well forward in the frame.
In its latest guise in the Commander and LT, the Triumph twin produces 93 hp at 5400 rpm. But where it really counts there is an impressive 111 ft.- lb. of torque at just 3400 rpm.
The brakes have always been one of the highlights on the first Thunderbird and the Thunderbird Storm and Triumph has carried the set-up over to the Commander and LT. Both bikes feature ABS as standard equipment with twin 331m discs and four-piston Nissins up front and a 310mm disc, twin piston Brembo at the rear. An unusual combination, but it works and works well for these big, heavy cruisers.
Triumph claims the brakes will bring a Thunderbird traveling at 80 mph to a complete halt in just over 210 feet. That’s an impressive stopping distance for such a big bike.
Rider and passenger comfort was a key goal for the Triumph product development team for the LT and Commander, Triumph says it spent more time than it has ever done before developing a new seat for a motorcycle. The finished result, which is shared on both new Thunderbirds, we found supremely comfortable with a clever lumbar support for the rider, and it offers a really good seat height of just 27.5 inches on both bikes.
At the introduction Triumph insisted the media spent some time looking at the new bikes to check them over for fit and finish. We looked long and hard trying to find fault but we simply couldn’t.
The paint finish, quality of the chrome, all the wiring neatly routed through the bars for a simple clean look down to the slight design differences between the two models classic Triumph tank badges. It all spoke volumes about effort and pride of workmanship that has gone into building these motorcycles at Triumph’s UK factory.
We may not have been big fans of some of the subjective things like the chrome and paint color choices on the new Thunderbirds but in terms of how these test bikes had been put together they were definitely up there with some of the very best we have experienced.
Continue Reading: First Ride: 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT>>