Triumph Thunderbird Storm | First Ride

British hog-slayer

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles

Stepping Stones

Triumph calls its 860cc Speedmaster and America models “entry-level” motorcycles. These are rorty, 60-horsepower beasts weighing 550 lbs., mind you. I remember when you ascended the performance ladder cubic centimeter by cubic centimeter, and the rungs were indexed exceedingly fine. But these days all that knuckle-dragging before you can walk nonsense is gone, and if you want to get your feet wet without straying from the Triumph cruiser lineup, the new Speedmaster or America are your only options.

Neither bike is new, but both have had their bars, seats and pegs repositioned to make them more welcoming to a wider range of riders. The Speedmaster is the more chopperish of the two with a big, 19-inch front wheel and skinny tire. The bars are farther away and it feels clumsier during parking-lot maneuvers, but the floppy feeling goes away a couple miles per hour into the ride. I didn’t measure anything, but the seat height feels pretty low on both these bikes. Suffice to say that if you’re over 5 feet tall, you’ll have no problem reaching the ground.

The Speedmaster’s styling is classic bad-boy cruiser. Squint your eyes and a mid-’80s Yamaha XS650 Heritage Special might spring to mind. The Speedmaster is a pretty motorcycle that would not look out of place parked in front of a honky-tonk while you’re inside beating up the patrons. Nor will it break a sweat running with your V-twin-riding buddies on the highway.

The America is the Britbike that rocked my world. With its religious adherence to fat-fendered orthodoxy, I figured it would be boring. Oddly, the heavy-looking bike steers better than the light-looking Speedmaster. This is a bike that I would not hesitate to ride cross-country or rumble down a graded dirt road. I hate to say this, because it reveals more than I care to reveal, but the America felt like it was custom-built just for me. The controls, as the cliché goes, fell readily to hand.

Both twins have plenty of power. They shift wonderfully, rev up quickly and handle confidently. The pegs will drag every time you go around a corner and the rear suspension is painfully stiff, but if you’re lucky enough to begin your riding career on either one of these so-called “entry-level” motorcycles, you may never need another.

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