2011 World Cruiser Shootout [Video]
Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom vs. Honda Sabre vs. Moto Guzzi California vs. Triumph Thunderbird
2011 Triumph Thunderbird ABS $13,499
Triumph’s Thunderbird is a refreshing cruiser mold-breaker. The Thunderbird is a big, burly, powerful, Yankeefied British cruiser, earning our Best Cruiser award in 2009.
On the one hand, Triumph strove to endow the T-Bird with definitive cruiser styling. American designer Tim Prentice was tapped to infuse the ‘Bird with a look that’s distinctly American. On the other hand, the Thunderbird’s voluminous vertical-Twin is utterly atypical for a cruiser, yet it effortlessly delivers what most American cruiser consumers desire: plenty of power and stump-pulling torque.
“Wow. What an engine,” enthuses young master Troy, a succinct assessment echoed by us all.
“It only takes one twist of the throttle to realize the T-Bird’s motor is the most muscular of this group,” exclaims Kevin. “Twisting out gobs of power from just above idle and throughout its relatively long rev range, the Triumph’s engine trumps them all.”
We admired the parallel-Twin’s smoothness, and we noted that the engine architecture creates a feel all its own. “The Brit Twin thrums out its own kind of pulsing you can feel through the bars,” Kev notes.
The English engine’s layout offers more than just mindless, oh so glorious power. “The parallel-Twin allows the cockpit to be compact,” observes one-time cruiser connoisseur Troy. “I’m a fan of the layout because it allows the reach to the bars and pegs to feel natural to me, unlike on any of the other bikes here.”
The Tri’s ergos strike an ideal balance in this crowd between the requisite laidback, feet-and-fists-forward position while remaining manageable for most statures. However, the moderate clamshell riding position may become tedious over extended periods for some riders. A 27.5-inch seat height is tolerable, but one ergonomic caveat is how the broad saddle splays legs of the inseam-challenged while at a stop.
“The T-Bird’s badass presence is aided by what is easily the widest rear meat of the bunch,” notes Kevin. “Turn-in response isn’t hindered like on some fatter-tired cruisers, but road irregularities do affect its steering relative to the Honda, Moto Guzzi and Harley.”
While the Triumph clearly possesses the thrust to outshine the others here, its cornering prowess is held back by limited lean angle only slightly more forgiving than the Super Glide Custom. Additionally, the Triumph’s heaviest curb weight (67 lbs to 156 lbs heavier than the others) only serves as a liability.
“The Thunderbird’s weight can easily overwhelm the bike’s suspension, creating more anxiety than necessary when you get into a tight corner a little faster than expected,” warns Tom.
The T-Bird matches the Guzzi with twin calipers and discs up front, but the Triumph is by far the leader when it comes to which bike offers the most performance from its brake package. Braided steel brake lines enhance plentiful stopping power and sensitivity at the lever. Our T-Bird’s braking system was augmented by optional ABS.
“The Triumph’s tank-top instrumentation is more complete than the others,” says Kevin. “Its small but handy tach, digital clock and a miles-to-empty function are all toggle-able from a switch on the right bar.” Like the Sabre, the Triumph treats its pilot to a clear view over a large headlight nacelle with a mirror-like chrome finish that reflects billowing clouds overhead.
Each bike in this collection has some signature style cues. The objective to craft an American-inspired appearance may have left the Thunderbird without the Honda’s attention-grabbing color scheme and shapes, or the decidedly polarizing profile of the Black Eagle. Nevertheless, things like the ‘Bird’s aftermarket-looking “swoop-style aluminum wheels and their side-exit valve stems” are a styling coup in Kevin’s book.
The Triumph Thunderbird is a lot of motorcycle, but it also offers a lot to like.
“The T-Bird strikes a chord with me,” Troy says unabashedly. “I like the way it looks, the way it goes, the way it handles, the way it stops. I like everything about this bike.”