First Times Ride: 2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

The Triumph Thunderbird LT is a classic-looking touring bike from the British manufacturer.

The Triumph Thunderbird LT is a motorcycle mash-up.

On the one hand, it’s a big glossy touring machine, outfitted with the long-distance essentials: the ample windshield, the saddlebags, the wide touring seat, broad touring footrests, “highway pegs” and passenger seat backrest. It also features the motorcycle industry’s first whitewall radial tires.

But on the other hand, it’s classic British iron from the classic British lion – from the old-school styling on the wide fenders and gas tank to the minimalist gauge to the overgrown Triumph parallel twin engine.

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On the highway, the Triumph Thunderbird is almost as stable and solid as a Ford Thunderbird. The big 1700cc engine runs smoothly and pulls so hard that I was cruising at 85mph in fifthgear for 10 minutes before I realized I could drop down into sixth. It holds a solid line in the turns and is surprisingly nimble, at speed, for a machine that weighs almost 750 pounds.

From my passenger’s perspective, it was a dream, and after four hours on the road was judged preferable to both the Indian Chieftain and the Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special. And, before a crowd of Sunday afternoon Harley riders at Newcombe’s Ranch on Angeles Crest Highway, it drew words of praise, admiration and even envy.

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But it also has limitations. Although the radials mean the lean angle is not determined by tire technology, its width and weight and low center of gravity mean you’ll be scraping those foot boards on anything resembling a sharp turn.

And the saddlebags, while really handsome, aren’t big enough to hold a full face helmet, require two hands to buckle and unbuckle, and are kept secure by plastic fasteners that seem out of place amidst all the impressive heavy metal, chrome and leather.

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For a machine of such elegance and with a sticker price that starts at almost $17,000 -- plus a couple of grand more for the model I tested -- you might reasonably ask for more.

The LT in this cruiser’s proper name stands for Light Touring. But in Triumph’s lineup only the 2300cc Rocket III Touring model is heavier. If Triumph ever decides to market an HT Heavy Touring bike, that would be heavy news indeed. Sign me up.



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