2010 Triumph Thunderbird

Think Of It As A 360-Degree V-Twin

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Jason Critchell

From a distance, this 2010 Thunderbird looks like a parallel-twin forced into a potentially profitable V-shaped hole in Triumph's lineup. Heading out of Barcelona on the Autopista del Nordeste with Friday-morning traffic, proximity delivers a more accurate perspective. This is a vertical-twin. But thudding along at 2500 rpm in its overdrive top cog, the new 98 cubic-incher feels like a well-mannered modern cruiser's V-twin. This, as you might expect, is no accident. Unlike just about any other factory you can name, Hinckley couldn't build a V-twin. But whatever they came up with had to stand out from everything else on the street.

From the beginning of the project in '04, a super-sized homage to Edward Turner's 1950 Thunderbird 650 was the natural choice. It had to have the sort of look and feel that would make American buyers salivate, and it had to be a Triumph. After hiring Los Angeles-based designer Tim Prentice-1990 graduate of the Art Center College of Design, former Senior Designer at Honda R&D, creator of Honda's Rune and VTX, as well as Triumph's Rocket III-the Hinckley brain trust turned him loose. "I was given a minimal design brief which essentially asked for a "modern cruiser using a parallel-twin engine." Prentice says. "The guys at Triumph didn't want to add or speculate on any other details. They wanted the blanks filled in by an American who understood the cruiser market."

The parallel-twin is Triumph. Wrapping the right motorcycle around it was the hard part. Prentice wanted something that could share garage space with somebody's Shelby Cobra or '67 Mustang, which came down to a question of balance. "The styling challenge for me," he says, "was to balance the need to make this very clearly a cruiser, yet impart enough uniqueness and Triumph identity to it." And this Triumph's identity lives inside the new T16 twin. Contrary to what some of our less imaginative readers allege, this is not the ultimate Honda CB450. Thankfully, it's not an XXL interpretation of the 1950 Thunderbird T6 twin either

The liquid-cooled DOHC lump puts two cams, four spark plugs and eight valves above a pair of 104mm pistons, driving its cams with an idler gear that allows smaller cam sprockets and a more aesthetically proportioned head. Fuel and air convene in a pair of 42mm throttle bodies, controlled by an EFI system that maps optimal mixture separately for each cylinder. And the T-Bird's "intelligent" ECU monitors how fast you open the throttle as well to optimize internal combustion. Dual balance shafts, situated fore and aft of the cylinder block, nix most of the twin's endemic vibration, letting it bolt into the steel-tube chassis as a stressed member. A torque compensator on the crankshaft helps soften the twin's low-rev response, but the 270-degree crank is the crux of this biscuit. While press materials wax poetic about the subsequent aural experience and satisfying thumps, the bottom line is a parallel-twin that does a convincing impersonation of the ubiquitous V.

The 'Bird starts obediently-with a little help from a centrifugal decompression widget on the exhaust cam-scooting ahead of four-wheeled traffic with 1500 rpm and a whiff of throttle. Fueling is bang-on throughout the rev range. Clutch and gearbox action are first rate-especially the gearbox-and Triumph's first modern belt final drive is lash-free. It's significantly less agile than the scooters that dominate Barcelona traffic, but changes direction more readily than any other 674-pound motorcycle with axles spaced more than 5 feet apart. The feet-forward riding posture is more humane than most, even for elongated Americans, and the compliant suspension is kind as well.

The analog tach under the bike's expansive speedometer confirms gluteal sensor readings: This thing is a torque pump, churning out an alleged 108 lb.-ft. of the stuff at 2750 rpm, followed by 85 horses 2100 rpm later. One exploratory mission across said tach makes the 6500-rpm rev limit irrelevant. Those who prefer acceleration to noise and vibration will find everything they need between 1500 and 3500 rpm, where the Triumph will likely slot in ahead of Harley's basic 96-inch Super Glide and some distance behind bigger-inch hot-rods like Suzuki's Boulevard M109R. A dealer-installed kit bumps displacement to 1700cc. Add Triumph's aftermarket air filter and exhaust-just two of 100 available accessories-and they say you'll be looking at an even 100 horses and 122 lb.-ft. of torque. Vibration ranges from nonexistent to negligible below 4000 rpm and buzzy beyond that.

Venturing into the twisty bits around the 11th century monastery at Montserrat, the T-Bird behaves itself better than most of its kind. Steering is dead accurate, and suspension holds its own well enough to file off a set of peg feelers in one afternoon. Cornering clearance is, shall we say, limited? Brakes are powerful and fade-free, and the optional ABS is worth the $700 it adds to the basic bike's $12,499 sticker price. Does that buy you a viable alternative to cruising around on another V-twin? At this point, it's more like the viable alternative.

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