We tested the Triumph Thunderbird before and we concluded that there was very clearly little wrong with that motorcycle. On a short wish list, however, one item stood out: we felt that Triumph's first direct Harley-Davidson rival needed a more distinctive look. So the fresh design work of the Triumph Thunderbird Storm version is most welcome – although it does come with a warning: you can have the motorcycle in any color you want... so long as it's black, with matte or gloss finish the only option.
Henry Ford would have approved! A century ago, he imperiously decided that all Model T Ford cars be of the some one color, because black paint dried quicker than other colors, thus allowing the assembly line to move at a faster speed. Speaking of which, speed is now on this Triumph Thunderbird's menu as a matter of course. Instead of having to order the optional 1,700cc kit and getting Triumph Thailand to fit it, the Thunderbird Storm comes to our market already hot-rodded by the factory with the big-bore engine.
As for its appearance, rather than some Harley-Davidson clone, the Triumph Thunderbird Storm now look like a member of the Triumph family, especially thanks to the dual round headlights that remind of the Triumph Rocket III and pre-2011 Speed Triple. Drag-style handlebars feature, a storm bird graphic adorns the clutch cover, the seat design is more stylish, and most of the shiny bits of an ordinary Thunderbird are blacked out. It seems that for any cruiser seeking to woo a younger buyer demographic in the lucrative US market, black really is the new black, if bikes like Harley-Davidson's Night Rod and Softail Blackline and the Victory Motorcycle Highball are anything to go by. Thanks to the revised handlebars, the Triumph Thunderbird Storm is a slightly comfier ride than the usual Thunderbird. These position the rider's hands closer to the torso, and are slightly narrower, meaning that full-lock U-turns are less of a stretch for the outside arm and shoulder. The result is a more upright and natural riding posture, although the forward-mounted pegs still place too much upper body weight on the sitting bones. I guess Triumph had to put the footpegs right out the front because of the Thunderbird Storm's ultra-low seat; like all Thunderbird models, it flies just 700mm from the road. That's 50mm lower than the seat of a Triumph Rocket III, and 20mm lower than that other USA-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 be a pain in the bum when touring for longer periods on the open road. Of Triumph's ever-expanding cruiser ranger, consider the Thunderbirds the best choice anatomic fit for taller riders, while the America respesents the middle ground.
The Thunderbird may have the lowest seat height in the Triumph line-up, but most Harley-Davidson seat their riders even lower still, so have less cornering clearance. Lean the Triumph Thunderbird Storm over as far as the fat Metzeler Marathon tires allow, and you'll scrape the 'feelers' attached to the end of the rider's pegs, and little else – the sidestand, maybe, if you hit a bump halfway through a left-swinging bend; or the lower edge of the brake pedal if the same occurs in a right-handler. Its ability to use all of the available profile of the tires is perhaps the Thunderbird Storm's most endearing feature. The steering is neutral and consistent, and you want to change direction in a hurry. Strong brakes and reasonable suspension quality complete a cruiser that's not scared of carving up a twisting roads, even bumpy ones.
As with other Thunderbirds, the humungous 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 the rider. With the cylinder bores of the 1,600 enlarged by 3.3mm to 10.1mm, the resulting 1,700 doesn't want to grunt. With 156Nm of torque produced at just 2,950rpm, and the throttle response overseen by well-sorted engine management, the access to generous serving of twisting force is immediately impressive.
Naturally, the Triumph Thunderbird Storm can also be customized by the wide range of factory-approved accessories.
It would be nice to report that the Triumph Thunderbird Storm is some kind of 'Superbird', a sports variant that offers such a lift in performance that it inhabits a different niche to the other Thunderbird models, but this is no British muscle bike to counter Harley-Davidson's V-Rod Muscle or Yamaha's V-Max, and it has overall performance nowhere close to Ducati's outrageous Diavel. What you see is what you get with the Triumph Thunderbird Storm: a more appealing Thunderbird with a fetish for wearing black color. Building a muscle bike out of a Thunderbird would require quite a lot of effort , and Triumph probably thinks that market niche is already covered by the Rocket III.