They call the new Thunderbird “Storm” because it’s dark as threatening thunderclouds. Black is the only color it comes in and black is the color of most of its components. This marketing strategy has proven successful for other manufacturers and its popularity is attractive to younger motorcyclists, so it’s no surprise Triumph is also attempting to ride that trend and boost motorcycle sales. The traditional chrome and polish of the standard Thunderbird is gone, replaced by the Storm’s darker, drag appeal. How good of a job did Triumph do in injecting the 2011 Thunderbird Storm with a new attitude? Good enough to convince a Maricopa County sheriff that a band of working motojournalists doing photo passes in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a marauding gang of law-breaking bikers who he felt compelled to pull over and give the third-degree. Nice job, Triumph.
Besides aesthetics, what other changes can you make to improve a motorcycle that pretty much swept the boards as “2010 Cruiser of the Year?” For Triumph, it meant bumping up displacement on its Parallel Twin engine by almost 100cc with the addition of a big bore kit. The 1700 kit was originally designed as a dealer installed upgrade which now comes standard on the 2011 Thunderbird Storm. The new bore measures out at 107.1mm, 3.3mm-larger than the 2010 Thunderbird’s 103.8mm dimension. It still thumps along at the same compact 94.3mm stroke. New cylinder liners aim to make the stroke smoother, while the Storm’s powerplant also functions with revised camshafts and new gaskets. Power numbers are claimed to be bumped up to 97 hp @ 5200 rpm and 115 lb-ft of torque @ 2950 rpm with peak output coming on a couple thousand rpm later than the 1600cc Parallel Twin of the 2010 T-Bird.
(L) Triumph rolled out its Speedmaster, America, Rocket III Roadster and Thunderbird Storm at the press intro in Scottsdale. (M) The big bore kit on the 2011 Thunderbird Storm bumps up power numbers to a claimed 97 hp @ 5200 rpm and 115 lb-ft of torque @ 2950. (R) The T-Bird Storm has a new look to its front end thanks to the switch to dual headlights, a tall riser and drag-style bars.
In the saddle, the most noticeable difference is the way the big bore kit gives it more pull at low rpm. There’s no lugging and with just a modest twist of the throttle, the hit is immediate. Rev it up to 2500 rpm, dump the clutch and watch it lay down a thick black streak behind you. The powerband is generous and delivery is even throughout. The wide range of each gear meant we seldom saw sixth gear. Liquid-cooling keeps engine heat to a minimum (we were riding in 37-degree weather, though) and its 270-degree firing order gives it V-Twin character without a bunch of vibrations. Give the engine’s twin balancer shafts credit for the nominal vibes, too. The big bore kit also produces a deeper rumble from the twin chrome pipes without raising the ire of the EPA thanks to large-volume catalysts inside the 2-1-2 exhausts.
The Thunderbird Storm’s six-speed gearbox is unchanged. Which is a good thing. The Thunderbird’s transmission was already one of the smoothest cruiser transmissions on the market. Each cog engages easily and is quiet when compared to other cruisers on the market. The helical cut gears Triumph used in second through sixth contribute greatly to its quiet operation and positive engagement. A toothed belt final drive completes a potent powertrain package. The only lash we experienced was under hard launches at high rpm when we were doing our best Hector Arana impersonation.
The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm has a new look to its front end thanks to the switch to dual headlights, the addition of a tall riser and swapping out to drag-style bars.
The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm is everything we remember the original to be. Fuel delivery is refined, the six-speed gearbox engages smoothly without much mechanical noise and its brakes are strong. Dual 310mm discs with Nissin four-piston calipers anchor the front while Brembo two-piston calipers pinch the big rear 310mm disc. The front discs have a strong bite to them with action you can feel at the lever. The rear unit applies even pressure and takes a lot to lock up. ABS isn’t available yet for the Thunderbirds but Triumph says it will be an option in 2012.
A big part of the Storm’s revised stance is the look of its front end. New drag-style bars are straighter, sit on a new high-set riser and fall easily in hand. They are set a little more than shoulder-wide at 34.6 inches, feel closer to the rider than before and tilt the ergos slightly more upright. The buzz in the bars at speed we experienced with the 2010 Thunderbird has noticeably decreased. A 27.5-inch seat height keeps the T-Bird Storm’s center of gravity nice and low and contributes to its planted feel at the bars when it’s leaned over. Its 47mm Showa fork is set at a 32-degree rake angle and the Storm turns-in well while its Metzeler Marathon wheels stick solid in turns, but the cruiser’s 746-pound curb weight becomes noticeable when trying to make quick transitions. A generous amount of ground clearance means you’re not always scraping pegs. Even with a 225-lb rider onboard, the twin Showa shocks of the rear suspension were a tad stiff at the factory settings, but they do have five-position preload adjustability which we would have attempted to dial in if we had more saddle time. Unfortunately, our run-in with the Arizona law cut into our ride and we only got to put in about 50 miles on the new Thunderbird Storm.
Bore/Stroke: 107.1 X 94.3mm
Fueling: Multipoint sequential EFI
Exhaust: Chromed stainless steel 2-1-2
Final Drive: Belt
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: Six-speed, helical cut 2nd-6th
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gallons
Frame: Tubular steel, twin spine
Front suspension: 47mm Showa fork w/ 4.7 in. travel
Rear suspension: Steel swingarm, pre-load adjustable dual Showa shocks with 3.7 in. travel
Front brakes: Twin 310mm disc, four-piston Nissin calipers
Rear brakes: Single 310mm disc, two-piston Brembo calipers
Wheels/Tires: 120/70 19-in. front
200/50 17-in. rear
Seat height: 27.5 in.
Width (handlebars): 34.6 in.
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Fuel Tank Capacity: 5.8 gal
Weight (claimed wet): 746 lb.
Colors: Jet Black, Matte Black
Two-Year Unlimited Mileage Warranty
Another noticeable change to the look of the Storm’s front is the switch to dual front headlamps like the ones used on the Rocket III and Speed Triple. Triumph also switched up the logo on the tank which still has a healthy 5.8 gallon capacity. The tank is ultra-wide but forward-mounted controls and a wide, padded seat make it easy to tuck in tight to. The solo gauge of the Thunderbird Storm is tank-mounted, which keeps the look of the bars clean. It includes an analog speedo on the upper portion and a small tach located on the bottom of the dial which is hard to read when riding. A digital readout acts as a fuel gauge while a toggle switch on the right control housing allows you to flip through dual trip displays, time, an odometer or distance to empty setting in the LCD readout.
We already mentioned the spit-and-polish of the 2010 Thunderbird has been swapped out for blacked-out components, a list that includes the triple clamps, handlebar riser, fork lowers, rear springs, fender mounts, tank, fenders, wheels, and most covers. The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm is only offered in a Phantom Metallic hue that glistens when the sun hits it or a flatter Matte Black. The added power, drag bars, and blacked-out treatment are aimed directly at broadening the Thunderbird’s demographic and enticing younger riders. The fact that there are already almost 100 accessories available to further customize the T-Bird Storm also enhances its appeal.
The big bore kit gives the Thunderbird Storm engine output that closes the gap on pure power cruisers like Suzuki’s M109R and the Star Raider. The upgraded powerplant does come with a price. The new Thunderbird Storm costs $1400 more than last year with an MSRP of $13,899. For a cruiser with a lively engine, smooth-shifting transmission, a stable chassis and solid brakes, though, it’s still a good deal. The two motorcycles mentioned before, the M109R and the Raider, list for $14,099 and $15,290 respectively. The new Thunderbird Storm looks, sounds and launches meaner than before and left us convinced it’s worth every penny.