Triumph Thunderbird LT – First Impressions

This Sunday Triumph India had organized an invitation only event to showcase their entire range of motorcycles at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa at Cansaulim. But I couldn’t make it due to weekend family plans. So I was quite happy when I got a message from my good friend and fellow rider Deepak Mehta inviting me over to check out the Triumph motorcycles at his home in Vasco. Turns out the folks at Triumph had parked the motorcycles at Deepak’s home in Vasco until they could be moved to the India Bike Week venue in Vagator later this week.

Deepak wanted me to test ride the Triumph Thunderbird LT since I was more of a cruiser person and I couldn’t decline the offer.

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Firing up the engine, I was immediately reminded of the Indian Chief Classic I rode from Boston to Cape Cod and back a few months ago (see “Ride to Cape Cod“). The engine was purring like a kitten and getting ready to growl like a tiger.

One of the first things I do when I fire up a cruiser is subject it to the coin test. I place a coin on a horizontal portion of the tank and let the engine idle. In my experience a proper cruiser is one that has a perfectly balanced engine which is mounted and cushioned impeccably on the chassis of the motorcycle. If that’s the case then the coin shouldn’t move at all. In the case of the Thunderbird the coin stayed put as if it was stuck to the tank. Then I rev the engine very slowly until the coin start dancing around the tank. The Thunderbird passed the coin test with flying colors and I was thoroughly impressed.

A few thoughts on cruising. To me the most important part of cruiser motorcycle is its engine. I’m not referring to its power. All cruisers have twice as much power than any rider in India will ever need, if not more. I’m more interested in the manner in which the engine delivers that power and how it makes you feel while its going about doing its thing. You really don’t start cruising when you reach cruising speed, whatever that speed is for you. Cruising really starts a few minutes later when your mind has had the time to settle into a comfortable zone. The rumble of the engine blends into ambient noise. The wind feels as if its part of your riding gear and the sound of the tailpipes are the only thing that reminds you that you are in motion. For precisely all these reasons I consider the engine of a cruiser needs to have totally different characteristics than any other type of motorcycle. Because none of these prerequisites for cruising can come to pass if you have the wrong engine bolted onto the frame a cruiser. It just doesn’t work that way.

I would like to think I know a thing or two about cruising. I own a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and have ridden it across the length and breath of India (see “The Golden Quadrilateral“). When I ride outside India my motorcycle of choice is a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. See “Riding The Blue Ridge Parkway“, “Riding Around California“, “Ride Through The Valley Of Fire State Park” and “Riding The Tail Of The Dragon“. Both these motorcycles belong to the Softail family of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and are a proper cruisers, the more elegant one being the Heritage Softail Classic. However I found the feel of the Triumph Thunderbird engine slightly more refined than that of the Harley’s Softail engine. The Thurderbird felt more at peace with the rest of the universe. It’s not easy to explain this in words. You need to sit in the saddle of the motorcycle and feel the engine along with the rest of the motorcycle.

However, I must admit that I didn’t ride the Thunderbird long enough to be able to do a proper comparison. Deepak had to start his work day and I didn’t want to delay him. So I went for a very short spin on some village roads in his neighborhood until I turned the ignition off at Hollant beach, sat in the saddle for a minute and did nothing apart from listening to the waves roll onto the sand. I then took a few pictures, started the motorcycle and headed back to Deepak’s home.

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The riding position of the Thunderbird is excellent. I can easily see myself riding 12 hours a day on this machine. The handlebar on this particular Thunderbird was inclined towards the rider which gave me the impression that the person who last rode this motorcycle and who had the authority to adjust the handlebar was not a six footer like me. But with it turned back to the stock position I’m sure it would yield a proper upright riding stance.

The seat of the Thunderbird felt like a bucket seat of a luxury car, complete with lumbar support. That’s very important for long rides, especially if you rest your feet on foot pegs mounted on the engine guard, as I do on my Fat Boy. The thing is when you push your feet forward against the foot pegs, Newton’s third law kicks in and your torso gets pushed back. If there is nothing to push back against your hands end up pulling your torso forward. Eventually after riding like this for an hour or so your back arches and you start getting a neck ache first which is then followed by a back ache. That’s the problem with the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, which is why I discarded the stock seat in favor of a seat with back rest that extends half way up my back. I found the Thunderbird’s seat better than that of Harley’s Softail Classic as well. The pillion seat of the Softail Classic is much higher than that of the rider. That kind of serves as the lumbar support for the rider. But the shape of the pillion seat that touches the rider’s lower back is not ideal and after riding for a couple of hours, it starts digging into you and you start feeling really uncomfortable.

If you are used to changing gears with your toes only then you may find the gear shifter of the Thunderbird a little weird. You are expected to up shift using the heel. There really isn’t any place to stick your shoe under the front gear lever. But I guess that’s just a matter of getting used to. Or maybe there is a way to adjust the foot board to make place. I don’t know.

These first impressions of the Truimph Thunderbird are merely the tip of the iceberg. I will need to spend some more time with this motorcycle to experience it more closely. Only then will a comparison with the Harley-Davidson Softail Classic and the Indian Chief Classic make sense.