The 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is a fierce competitor in the mid-displacement cruiser segment with classic lines, a rippin’ Parallel Twin engine and refined gearbox.
Where the Street Bob sports a darker, rabble-rousing image, the Thunderbird is all spit-and-polish. It starts with the classy look of the machined engine heads of the big-bored cylinders and continues in the polished-up chrome primary and crankcase covers. But it doesn’t stop there. The shiny chrome treatment extends to its tank-mounted console, swoops down its side in the reflection of the big pipes, and is splashed in the small details like the chain guard and shock mounts bolted onto the side of the rear fender. It can be found on the rear pulley and in the 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels. The high level of chrome and overall fit and finish of the Triumph Thunderbird is what riders have come to expect from Harley-Davidson, who conversely has been shifting away from that look with its Dark Custom series of motorcycles.
And while ergos on the Street Bob squeezes riders in around the narrow tank, the rider’s triangle on the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird opens things up as its broad 5.8-gallon tank and forward-mounted foot controls spread rider’s legs out and the standard-situated bars bring the reach down and out as well. Going straight from the Street Bob to the Triumph, you’re instantly more upright and relaxed instead of crouching like you’re Daniel-san ready to strike. The T-Bird’s bars are spread a generous 34.6 inches apart and the seat straddles comfortably at 27.5 inches high. As for the tank, it definitely is very wide, but the forward foot controls compensate for its girth by allowing riders to stretch their legs out.
The Thunderbird’s standard bar placement and forward-mounted foot controls leave riders in a more-relaxed, upright riding position that we found more comfortable during long stints in the saddle.
The Thunderbird we tested sported a racy white stripe down the middle of its tank, and its torque-filled Parallel Twin echoed those race-bred sentiments. A twist of the throttle unleashes a big surge of power from the 1597cc mill that tested out at 91.01 lb-ft at 2700 rpm. With fuel and air being squeezed within the ample 103.8mm bore at a 9.7:1 compression ratio, the big jugs require twin sparkplugs to fuel an even burn. Its highly effective 270-degree firing order has been brought over from Triumph’s 865cc Parallel Twin and with its twin balancer shafts the engine functions with minimal vibration even though it is solid-mounted to the double-backbone steel frame. The Thunderbird hooks up impressively with just shy of peak power available as early as 2000 rpm and provides an exhilarating ride for a cruiser. Rev it up and it will easily roast some tires. I’m rolling down the freeway at 75 mph and thought I was in sixth but shifted down just to check and the surge of power snapped my head back. Even at low rpm in sixth gear the power output is impressive. The only noticeable demerit is that the Parallel Twin does dole out a noticeable buzz at the bars as rpm increase.
“This bike is more of a performance cruiser than I expected it to be. The engine is powerful and is a real surprise. I didn’t expect it to accelerate as well as it does and even though it’s a Parallel, not a V-Twin, it still emits that V-Twin rumble, and I like that,” said Hutchison.
The extra power of the Thunderbird is needed because it tips the scales with a portly curb weight of 754 lbs, which as we mentioned is almost 100 pounds more than the Street Bob. You don’t notice the extra poundage during acceleration but the added heft does become noticeable when executing turns. The extra weight and its wider 200mm rear tire means the Thunderbird requires a little more effort to at the bars to initiate a turn, but once in a corner, it tracks very stable. Because of its wide bars and slightly longer 32-degree rake angle, riders will also have to work the bars a bit more in comparison to the Street Bob to negotiate low-speed turns. But don’t get the wrong impression – the Thunderbird handles extremely well, it just isn’t as lithe as Harley’s Dyna model.
The Thunderbird has a huge 5.8-gallon tank that feeds a steady supply through electronic fuel injection to the dual 800cc cylinders of the Parallel Twin.
Running through the gears of the 2010 Thunderbird is a casual affair. The transmission is buttery smooth and at times you barely notice it slipping into gear. Triumph went with helically cut gears in second through sixth, a first for the company, aiming to make the tranny more compliant with less lash and quieter operation. We say “Mission accomplished,” as its one of the most rider-friendly transmissions we’ve come across on a big cruiser. To go along with the helical-cut gears of its 6-speed constant-mesh gearbox, Triumph went with belt drive for the Thunderbird, a feature the company hadn’t instituted since 1922. The result is a motorcycle that transfers loads of torque to the rear wheel quickly and smoothly.
To reel in its combination of big power in a heavy motorcycle, Triumph sources dual 310mm floating discs equipped with Nissin 4-piston fixed calipers. The Nissin’s have a strong bite and there’s loads of feel to the front brake. It is a powerful arrangement, so much so that it does cause a bit of front end dive if you grab a big handful. Fortunately, the 47mm Showa fork has 4.7-inches of travel and rebounds quickly. Overall the suspension is very accommodating as the chromed Showa springs on the rear offer five-position preload adjustability to dial in the comfort level just right. This is a bonus if you plan on riding two-up, which we did, and even with a passenger we seldom blew through the 3.7-inches of rear travel.
Instrumentation on the Thunderbird mirrors the Street Bob in the sense that it centers on the big, round dial of an analog speedo centrally located in a tank-mounted console. But it does have the added benefit of a small tach located opposite the speedo at the bottom of the dial. It also has a couple of trip meters and an odometer to thumb through in the small digital display that also registers fuel level. And therein lie our biggest disappointment with the Thunderbird – the digital fuel gauge is way off. The first time I rode the T-Bird, the bars on the fuel gauge said that I had a half-tank of gas left as I sputtered out and died in the fast lane on I-5 going 75 mph. After letting a truck with trailer pass and making my way to the shoulder, a peek in the tank confirmed it was bone dry despite the gauge still reading half-full. Hopefully this is an isolated incident and not a model-wise flaw.
For its combination of a beefy, torque-filled Parallel Twin engine, a silky-smooth transmission, powerful brakes and more rider-friendly ergonomics, the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird emerged victorious in our cruiser comparo.
Triumph did a remarkable job on the Thunderbird considering it is the marque’s first attempt in the mid-displacement cruiser market. The motorcycle features clean, classic lines in a package with arm-wrenching power. Its transmission is one of the best you’ll find in a cruiser, and its brakes are stellar. It handles favorably and feels planted in turns and has ergos that are much more rider-friendly in the long run. Even with its big power, the Parellel Twin has less vibes and won the efficiency challenge by a smidge with an average 39.47 mpg. Add in its burly 5.8 gallon tank and it equates to more range as well. With its nimble nature and bobber-influenced styling that promotes rebellious riding, the Street Bob now ranks high on my list of favorite Harleys. But add up all the variables listed above and the 2010 Triumph Thunderbird is the victor in this cruiser comparo.