Ol' Henry Ford would have loved the new Triumph Thunderbird Storm. For the new factory hot-rod model of the big-block parallel twin-powered cruiser range comes in a choice of just two colours: glossy black and matte black.
Ford would have approved. After all, he imperiously imposed a similar limit upon buyers of the Model T after one of his workers noticed that black dried quicker than other hues and that this allowed the assembly line to move more quickly too.
Meanwhile, the Storm is quite capable of moving at speed as well. Equipped from the factory with the usually dealer-fitted optional big-bore kit that creates a 1700cc engine instead of the usual 1600cc unit, and carrying less weight, the Storm flies quite a bit faster than the other 'birds in the Triumph brochure.
It also looks more distinctive, courtesy of the dual round headlights that immediately identify it as a relative of the Rocket III and Speed Triple, the lightning graphic applied to the clutch cover, the drag-style handlebars, a more stylish seat design, and the blacking-out of most of the shiny bits of an ordinary Thunderbird. Where the latter looks so cruiser motorcycle- generic that it threatens to appear a cliche, the Storm brings its own sense of custom-bike style to a segment where looks are everything. It rejoices in its black livery as much as Harley's Night Rod and Softail Blackline, and Victory's Highball. It seems that for any cruiser seeking to woo a younger demographic in the still- lucrative United States market, black really is the new black.
The Storm is a slightly more comfortable ride than the usual Thunderbird thanks to the revised handlebars, which bring the rider's hands closer to the torso and are slightly less wide, making full-lock U-turns less of a stretch for the outside arm and shoulder. The result is a more upright riding position that feels more natural, although the forward- mounted pegs still place too much upper body weight on the glutes.
I guess Triumph had to put the footrests right out front, given the Storm's ultra-low seat. Your perch flies just 700 millimetres from the ground on all Thunderbird models, 50mm lower than the seat of a Rocket III, and 20mm lower than that other US-targeted parallel-twin cruiser in the range - the Bonneville-based America. While a low seat is dead handy during urban rides and parking- lot manoeuvres, it can literally prove to be a pain in the bum when touring for longer periods on the open road. So consider the Thunderbirds to be the choice for shorter people from the ever- expanding number of bikes within Triumph's cruise-cycle range, with the America representing the middle ground, and the Rocket III super-heavyweights remaining the best ergonomic fit for taller riders.
The 'birds may be the bikes with the lowest seat heights in the Triumph catalogue, but most Harley-Davidsons seat their riders even lower still, resulting in less cornering clearance than the British-branded cruisers. For me, this ability to lean further into corners is absolutely welcome on New Zealand roads. Lean the Storm over as far as the fat Metzeler Marathon tyres allow, and you'll scrape the feelers attached to the end of the rider's pegs, and little else (maybe the side stand if you hit a bump halfway through a left-swinging bend, and the lower edge of the brake pedal if the same occurs in a right-hander). It's this ability to use all of the tyre profiles when cornering that is perhaps the Thunderbird's most endearing feature. The steering is neutral and consistent, and you only notice that the bike weighs a hefty 340 kilograms when you need to change direction in a hurry. Strong brakes and reasonable suspension complete a cruiser that's not scared of a few corners.
As with other Thunderbirds, the parallel-twin engine remains the main attraction. Equipped with a 270-degree crank, it parrots the same syncopated thumps of a V-twin, while twin balance shafts damp down the vibrations to the point where they massage rather than irritate. With the cylinder bores enlarged by 3.3mm to 107.1mm, the 1700 doesn't want for grunt. With 156Nm of torque produced at just 2950rpm, overseen by well-sorted engine management, the access to a generous serving of twisting force is immediately impressive.
Best thing of all about the Storm is that its arrival on the New Zealand market has encouraged a repositioning of the Thunderbird range. At $25,690, it slots into the market at a price similar to the tag formerly attached to the base 'bird, while the latter drops to $22,490. It's little wonder that Triumph now occasionally out-sells Harley- Davidson on a month-by-month basis in this market. The Storm offers proof that the British brand is capable of improving the style of its cruiser range while also enhancing the dynamic performance.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1699cc liquid-cooled dohc 8v parallel twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 72kW (97bhp) at 5200rpm and 156Nm of torque at 2950rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.
Frame: Steel-tube spine frame with box-section steel swingarm, 47mm unadjustable show front forks, twin rear shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Hot: Gives the Thunderbird more distinctive looks and a more powerful 100cc larger engine.
Not: This still isn't the sporty Thunderbird variant many expect.
- © Fairfax NZ News