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2010 Triumph Thunderbird Review


by Marc Cantin ,

Around 50% of large motorcycles sold in North America are cruisers, which naturally leads most manufacturers to bring out machines that aim at taking some market share away from segment leader Harley-Davidson. Triumph already sell the largest bike on the market, the Rocket III, but needed a smaller, more conventional cruiser to attack the fattest part of the market segment.

No doubt about it, the Thunderbird is stylish and compact, at least from this angle. And get a load of the nice walking path along the Loire in Briare. That's the actual river on the right, what is left of the the old Canal de la Loire on the left, and the "new" pont Canal that crosses above the river, in the right background. Boats have been crossing the Loire on that bridge since 1896. (

The gap has been filled, and how, with the arrival of the Thunderbird as a 2009 model. True to form, Triumph did things differently, scaling up from the classic vertical twin look to arrive at a 1600cc engine that sits in a classic looking cruiser chassis, just like the very first cruisers, customs and choppers that were invented and built in the early 50s and were based on Triumph twins of that era.

Triumph was wise in not taking on Harley with a look-alike V-Twin, deciding to stick to their old vertical twin image instead. They did however emulate a V-Twin sound by carefully setting the crank throws to get the desired effect, then resorting to twin balance shafts to smooth out unwanted vibrations that would normally emanate from two 800cc cylinders.

I got lucky on my last trip to France, spending two days aboard a 2010 model, enough to fall under the spell of the smooth engine and faultless behaviour.

Civilized torque and power – and more on offer from an optional kit!

With 85 hp delivered at a low 4850rpm, and 108 lb-ft of torque at an incredibly low 2750 rpm, the engine is no weakling. Useful torque arrives at 1500rpm and keeps pouring out of the engine right up to the rev limit. This modern engine naturally features the current “Universal performance configuration”: twin cams and four valves per cylinder, twin plugs for each cylinder, twin balance shafts, and sophisticated electronics for ignition and fuel injection.

Triumph has developed a transparent multimode ignition/injection mapping system for the Thunderbird, based on how quickly the rider opens the throttle. Crack it open hard and the ECU switches to a full-attack mapping; tool gently around town or on the highway, and the ECU reverts automatically back to more gentle behaviour.

The drive train handles the engines torque and power easily, with a light pull on the clutch lever, smooth, effortless gearshifts, and a final drive belt that completes the overall taught, lurch-free feeling.

A lot of work has gone into giving the engine and tranny just the right mix of traditional and modern appearance, while camouflaging any trace of water cooling, to ensure that the traditional Vertical Twin look and feel live on.
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