First Ride: 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT

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Category: Reviews

The Ride

A lot of motorcycle manufacturers when faced with the prospect of an international media launch for their new cruiser have taken the easy way out and sent us on a round about trip up and down the freeway. For sure, a cruiser should be good on a freeway, but it should also be able to perform well on twisting, two-lane roads running up the side of a mountain.

Triumph was sufficiently confident in the work it has done on the LT and the Commander that it worked out two very comprehensive riding routes of more than 150 miles each east of San Diego for this international launch. There was very little freeway riding and a lot of time in the curves.

With both bikes nearly identical on paper, we opted to test the Commander. It may not have the fancy chrome bits on the fenders, the screen or bags like its LT sibling but we liked the naked look of this big Triumph. Apart from the slight difference in the handlebar design and stiffer rear on the LT, Triumph told us we’d be hard pressed to notice any major difference between the two when riding.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

When you first swing a leg over the Commander’s big 5.8-gallon tank, the first impression is that this is one big motorcycle. However, everything falls neatly into place and for this rider, the low seat height and terrific work that’s been done by Triumph in developing a super comfortable saddle, made a great first impression.

We’d not say it was a doddle swinging the Thunderbird around at low speed in the parking lot, but despite its mass and girth you soon get the hang of how it turns and how it’s going to behave. You just need to respect the fact your controlling 766lbs of motorcycle and adapt your riding style accordingly.

Once on the move, this is a super smooth cruiser. Unlike others we have tested recently the six-speed gearbox is seamless and effortless. There’s none of the clunking you expect as the norm on a cruiser when shifting up and down.

We’re not big fans of foot boards on bikes and both the Commander and the LT come equipped with them (complete with replaceable wear plates) as standard. We accept the cruiser community in general like boards and when combined with forward controls they sort of make sense but make the ride (this rider anyway) awkward and take a bit of time to get used to, particularly if you’re used to riding with mid controls or with a sportbike set up.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

At the Thunderbird’s heart though is a terrific engine. We understand why Triumph is so proud of its big twin. You can roll on and off the throttle with ease, it’ll pull from almost any speed and in any gear and it sounds good too. For these latest versions of the Thunderbird range, Triumph has equipped them with an exhaust valve that opens at low speeds to get that distinctive parallel twin engine sound. Triumph engineers were quick to point out that this new system still meets legal noise level requirements in the U.S.

Throughout the 150 plus miles we rode the Commander it felt solid and sure-footed and completely unflappable, while you know you’re not on a sportbike you can still ride the Commander quickly into corners, tucking in the front end far faster than you would ever imagine.

On a twisty section of mountain road if you get into the groove it’s an absolute blast. Sure it’s not a Ducati sportbike, it’s a Triumph cruiser. But for a big bruiser it’s one really nice motorcycle to be on early on a sunny morning on an empty, twisty mountain road. But with the extra work that has been done on making the seat so comfortable, this is a bike you can literally ride all day and then still want to do more.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

The Good

Attention to detail, excellent build quality on a bike that, if you’re into cruisers, you will want to just ride and ride from the moment the sun comes up until the sun goes down.

It’s stable, comfortable and for a big heavy bike big fun to ride too.

The Bad

Triumph’s made no secret that it’s gunning for a piece of the pie H-D pie and wants to attract new customers. But it didn’t need to build a bike that looks just like a H-D Softail. We don’t think it’s been creative enough in the styling of either the LT or the Commander. Both are handsome looking bikes but to our eyes still too conservative. Put your hand over the badge and ask someone what brand of bike it is and we bet they’ll guess Harley-Davidson.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

Price

Without a doubt Triumph is a premium brand. You pay extra for something that is a little more special, has heritage and real history. Look at how high residual values on late used Triumphs can be and see how quickly they are snapped up. It’s not just the private individual but Triumph dealers too right now that are having a problem sourcing good pre-owned Triumphs.

At $15,699 for the Triumph Thunderbird Commander and $16,999 for the kitted out Thunderbird LT, we think Triumph is bang on for the money. That’s cheaper than a Harley Davidson Softail and you’re still getting a lot of extras as standard and a two-year warranty thrown in. If you plan on traveling through the U.S., splash out the extra $1000 and get the LT with bags and the screen. If all you’re wanting is some serious weekend fun just cruising around, buy the Commander.

Verdict

A pair of great cruisers, which ride far better than you would ever imagine. They come with the added attraction of the Triumph name and heritage. Plus you get all of that together with excellent build quality and great performance at a really competitive price. If you’re into cruisers this is a no brainer – the hard part is whether to opt for the LT or the Commander.

Triumph has said this is only the start of their new product plans and these two new bikes are just taste of some really exciting things that we can expect from the UK that will be coming down the pipeline very soon. We can’t wait.

RideApart Rating: 9/10

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