Triumph Thunderbird Storm | First Ride

British hog-slayer

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

Mention the word “storm” to a Floridian and we get jumpy. As the barometric pressure drops, our blood pressure rises and we begin stockpiling water, granola bars and plywood. So when Editor Catterson’s offer to test Triumph’s new Storm scudded across my Key West desk, the first thing I did was lay in a few sheets of ¾-inch CDX. I calmed down after The Hirsute One explained that the Thunderbird Storm was Triumph’s latest 1700cc entry into the big-block cruiser wars.

The Storm’s launch went down in sunny-but-cold Phoenix, Arizona. The assembled moto-journalists were shackled to their chairs, eyelids propped open with toothpicks while our collective senses were assaulted by a Power Point indoctrination detailing the virtues of the new model. The Triumph folks applied the same strategy they used on the Rocket III Roadster to their Thunderbird, which means this new Storm has more power and a meaner look.

There were 10 of us riding new Triumphs formation-style, but we didn’t get far. Between stopping to thaw out hands, swap motorcycles and get busted for shooting photos without a permit, we travelled just 90 miles. Naysayers will complain that the sample was too small; too unscientific; that no one can review a motorcycle competently in such a short distance. My rebuttal to these whiners is: Trust me, I’m a professional. Besides, the Storm is perfect for bar-hoppers and our Putt-‘n’-Stop riding experience fits this demographic so precisely, a double-edge razor couldn’t be inserted between the two without somebody getting cut.

I may not have ridden the Storm very far, but it doesn’t take Einstein to know bigger is always better. Based on the Thunderbird and its 1597cc parallel-twin, this year’s super-sized Storm receives last year’s optional (dealer-installed), 100cc overbore kit straight from the factory. That bore job boosts power from 85 horsepower at 4850 rpm to a claimed 97 bhp at 5200 rpm, and pushes torque up to 115 lb.-ft. at 2950 rpm. That’s some serious stomp! Non-performance-oriented mods include black paint on the engine cases to match the bike’s midnight look. A fatter fork, double “bug-eye” headlamps and a flatter drag bar finish off the alterations, and yield a pretty serious-looking muscle cruiser.

The Storm’s rumpty-rump 270-degree crank spins two balance shafts, but with two fist-sized forged slugs flailing about between your legs, you have to expect a little movement. Don’t get me wrong, I like the frequency of vibe this bike produces. It’s more velveteen sledgehammer than buzz. Twist the throttle and you can nearly count the blows, like a young Pele kicking your seat-back on an international flight. Anyway, for all I know the Storm may run perfectly smooth, but the big parallel-twin has such a guilty-pleasure roll-on I found myself constantly rowing the twistgrip back and forth just to feel the hit.

The motion of those two 103.8mm pistons is never far from mind, and neither are the footpegs. With no frame cradle, that great liquid-cooled lump of a motor dangles just inches from the asphalt. The slightest bit of frisky riding decks a peg or your boot heel, but within those limits the Storm handles well enough. At 27.5 inches, the seat is amazingly low; even my short legs proved long enough to put my feet flat on the ground at stops.

Speaking of stopping, which I will now do, those two big discs and four-piston calipers are plenty strong to slow this train, and there’s sufficient whoa to overpower rear-tire grip and impress your less-evolved tractor-riding brethren with smoky burnouts. The rear brake is good, too, and better than a sportbike’s since there’s so much weight on the back end. ABS should be available on the 2012 Storm but you’ll be fine without it.

In the past, I may have made some snippy comments about parallel-twins wrapped in cruiser bodywork. They’ve never looked right to me, but Triumph has built a motor large enough to fill this cruiser’s engine bay without leaving unsightly gaps. The motor surfaces are smooth, the chrome is piled on thick and the paintwork is beautiful. It’s really a classy ride, and at $13,899 it’s at the more affordable end of the muscle-cruiser price range.

Thinking of everything, the Triumph team brought along air-cooled twins and Rocket three-bangers for comparison. The Storm fits nicely between the beginner-ish Speedmaster/America models and the escaped-from-a-lunatic-asylum Rocket III. I was most comfortable on the America, built as it is for munchkins, but we’re talking fractions of inches here. If necessary, I will have shin implants to get the added power of the Storm, or maybe just move the pegs back a little. I have to pull a flatbed trailer full of plywood back to Home Depot, and the Storm won’t even notice it’s back there.

tech SPEC

A bigger bore, hotter cams, a pair of bug-eye headlamps and some black paint yield a stronger, meaner Thunderbird.

Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special, Honda VTX1800F, Boulevard M109R, Star Stryker, Victory Hammer.

Price: $13,899
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1699cc
Bore x stroke: 107.1 x 94.3mm
Compression: 9.7:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 97 bhp @ 5200 rpm
Claimed torque: 115 lb.-ft. @ 2950 rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel twin-spine
Front suspension: Showa 47mm fork
Rear suspension: Showa shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 310mm disc
Front tire: 120/70R-19 Metzeler Marathon
Rear tire: 200/50R-17 Metzeler Marathon
Rake/trail: 32.0º/5.9 in.
Seat height: 27.5 in.
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 746 lbs.
Colors: Jet black
Available: Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Triumph Motorcycles of America, Ltd.
385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr. #100
Newnan, GA 30265

VERDICT 4 out of 5 stars
Big, black and fast, and poised to take the competition by storm.

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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