“We will prevail!” Triumph have set their jaw and redoubled efforts to crack the parochial US market, taking the Americans on in their own front yard.
One of the presskit photos from the Thunderbird LT launch in southern California shows Triumph’s new American-style tourer in a curiously apt location: alongside a replica 1950s London double-decker bus and a British telephone box of similar vintage — both of which nicely match the T-bird’sred paintwork, and look as though they’ve been transported to the Colorado desert and left to rot. It’s a striking scene due to the three subjects’ shared colour and nationality, and unfortunately for Triumph it also reflects shared fortunes in that strange and distant land. The Hinckley firm have been attacking America’s large-capacity cruiser market since the Thunderbird’s debut in 2009, but up against mighty Harley-Davidson’s home-built V-twins the British parallel twin has resembled a sun-baked tourist trying to reshape California’s sandy vastness with a bucket and spade.
The Thunderbird LT — short for Light Touring — and its naked sibling the Commander are proof that Triumph aren’t giving up. With visions of recapturing the old Meriden based firm’s glory days of US sales success in the 1960s, Triumph have redoubled their efforts with a pair of new models that are more precisely targeted at niches within the cruiser sector. Of the two it’s the more lavishly equipped LT that catches the eye. So familiar and faithfully reproduced are the styling cues of its near-vertical screen, fat white-wall tyres, buckled leather pannier bags and heavily chrome-laden accessories that at a glance you could easily miss the fact that its two big cylinders are arranged in parallel, rather than at a 45-degree angle like those of the Road King Classic into whose nostalgia-steeped territory it so blatantly trespasses.
That 1699cc, liquid-cooled motor comes from the Thunderbird Storm. It has a DOHC, eight-valve layout and is mechanically unchanged, although injection and exhaust changes lose a few horsepower to leave a peak of 93bhp. The benefit is an even flatter torque curve that reaches its very healthy peak of 151Nm at just 3400rpm.
Most of Triumph’s development effort went into the chassis, and was aimed at improving comfort while retaining the marque’s reputation for handling. A typical cruiser flaw is that the demand for a low seat tends to lead to short-travel rear suspension, which in turn requires stiff springs — and often generates a spine-crushingly harsh ride.
Triumph designed a stiffer, low-set tubular steel frame whose diagonally mounted shocks give 109mm of rear wheel travel, which is 14mm more than the basic T-bird’s, and generous by cruiser standards. The Showa units have dual-rate springs, with tighter windings (which compress more readily to absorb smaller bumps) hidden beneath the chromed shroud at their tops. Ride quality is also enhanced by the seat, which is thickly padded and incorporates a lumbar support pad comprising foam of three different densities.
"Triumph have redoubled their efforts with a pair of new models that are more precisely targeted at niches within the cruiser sector."
"Its 270-degree crankshaft layout gave an appealingly off-beat cadence, easy acceleration from very low revs, and a long-legged cruising feel."
"Handling was very respectable, blending rock-solid stability with light, neutral steering."