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Triumph Thunderbird commands respect

11.03.2016

When Triumph launched their first new-generation Thunderbird six years ago it attracted attention because it used a parallel twin engine rather than mimicking the v-twin architecture used by Harley-Davidson and most other big-bore cruisers built since the 1930s.

The standard Thunderbird used a 1.6-litre lump, with the factory rather curiously offering a 1.7-litre version as an option for a year or two before settling on the bigger engine as standard.

There are currently two versions of the Thunderbird on sale in South Africa - the LT, dressed up for touring with a quickly detachable windscreen and leather panniers, wire-spoked 16" wheels with whitewall tyres, a sissy bar and slightly longer-travel rear suspension, and the relatively unencumbered Commander. This was the model supplied by East Coast Motorcycles for evaluation. 

The Thunderbird Commander is an imposing motorcycle. It has a long 1,6 metre wheelbase and weighs in at around 340kg with a full tank of fuel. Add a rider, passenger and perhaps a little luggage and you're looking at close to half a ton of metal and meat trundling down the road.

The big engine does a good job of that, though, with buckets of grunt from low down rendering the very slick six-speed gearbox almost redundant once the bike gets rolling - it could quite possibly get by comfortably with just three or four cogs in the box.

The motor's 68kW output is less than half of what modern one-litre superbikes deliver, but torque is what counts in a cruiser, and the Triumph has that in spades. Its 151Nm is seven more than the KTM 1290 engine's 144, and 11 up on Kawasaki's supercharged 1000cc H2.

There's no rev counter on the Triumph, but peak torque is claimed to arrive at just under 3,000rpm, with most of it available from around 1,500rpm, and that translates into decent urge at any speed in any gear.

The Triumph, like most big cruisers, is a real pig to manoeuvre in and out of a garage or tight parking spaces, but the weight is relatively low down, and once you're rolling you're, well, on a roll.

The bike's extremely stable at speed and the Showa suspension works well, dispensing with winding roads with aplomb as long as you don't need to change direction too quickly mid-corner. It's also very comfortable, although the forward-located floorboards would, for those unaccustomed to the riding position, be better off replaced by more conventional footrests mounted amidships.

The Triumph Thunderbird Commander is an extremely well built machine with quality components throughout. For those who want a cruiser with its relaxed riding style it's a very worthwhile option that stands out from the pack.

The Commander retails at R195 500, while the dressed-up LT version will set you back R212 500. All Triumphs come with a 24-month unlimited distance warranty and optional service plan.

Article written by Gavin Foster
11.03.2016
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