2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm 1700 Review

01
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Introduction

2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm takes on a meaner countenance than the standard-issue Thunderbird. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

The Triumph Thunderbird joined the crowded cruiser scene in 2009, offering a British take on a genre that claims the biggest slice of new motorcycle sales in the U.S. market. Two years since its North American invasion, the Thunderbird spins off the new Storm 1700 variant, offering a meaner, more aggressive interpretation of the 1,600cc donor bike.

Triumph refers to the Thunderbird Storm's styling as "dark custom"—a curious marketing term, considering Harley has an identically named visual conceit. But Triumph also believes the bike's gutsier powerplant and meaner appearance will help attract younger riders, a fair estimation given the its less blingy, more monochromatic appearance.

The Thunderbird Storm 1700 is available only in gloss or matte black, and priced at $13,899—a $1,400 bump over the standard 'Bird.

How does the Thunderbird Storm seek to stand out in the cruiser field? Click "Next" below to find out.

02
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The Goods: Big, Blackened, and Bored-Out

2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The Storm's 1,700cc engine has been bored out from the 1,600cc Thunderbird donor bike. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

The standard issue Thunderbird is a relatively straightforward, conservatively styled cruiser with the usual plus-sized fuel tank, expanses of chrome, and a single round headlight. Though its powerplant offers an atypical parallel-twin layout (in contrast to the more traditional V-twin engine layout), the Thunderbird sports a fairly middle-of-the-road, conservative appearance.

Taking a stab with sharper styling intended to appeal to those aforementioned younger buyers, the spruced up Thunderbird adds a dual-headlight setup (a la the positively massive Rocket III Roadster.) Components like the headlight nacelles, turn indicators, handlebars, bar risers, fork lowers, and engine case, have been blacked-out. A new Triumph badge graces the tank, straight handlebars replace the Thunderbird's bent bars, and the whole package draws more visual attention towards the bike's front end, lending it a leaner, meaner look.

The Storm's meatier appearance is backed up by an appropriately beefed up powertrain. The liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam parallel twin receives a big-bore kit, which enlarges displacement to 1,700cc. The kit (which is available at dealers for standard Thunderbirds) incorporates larger pistons, revised camshafts, new cylinder liners, gudgeon pins, gaskets, and uprated clutch springs. Output from this larger mill is 97 horsepower and 115 ft-lbs of torque, an increase of 12 hp and 7ft-lb. Power is diverted through a six-speed transmission, which spins the rear wheel via belt drive.

Twin disc 4-piston, 310mm front brakes are mounted to the 19-inch cast aluminum front wheel, and forks are hefty 47mm units of the old fashioned, non-inverted variety. The rear 17-inch wheel connects to a swingarm, a 2-piston 310mm rear disc brake, and twin rear shocks; front travel is 4.7 inches, and rear travel is 3.7 inches. ABS will not be available until the bike's second model year, 2012.

The Thunderbird Storm has low seat height of 27.5 inches, and a rather considerable wet weight of 746 pounds.

03
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Swing a Leg Over: Big Saddle, Wide Load

2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The view over the 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm's handlebars-- at speed, glancing down to the tank-mounted instruments can be distracting. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Good thing I had no idea the Storm has a curb weight of 746 pounds when I threw a leg over this bad boy: thanks to its relatively low center of gravity, the bike feels manageable at a standstill, and even more tractable as it gets going—but we'll get to that in the next section.

The rider's POV reveals straight bars resting on black risers, with wiring controls strapped below. A rather massive fuel tank requires a fairly wide-legged posture, and holds a considerable 5.8 gallons.

That huge fuel tank is topped by a big speedometer that's detailed with a font that some might find a bit hard to read. Tucked below is a small tachometer which runs counterclockwise—a nice little touch. To the right is an LCD display that shows time, odometer, or distance to empty information, which can be toggled via a switch using the rider's right thumb.

The saddle matches the scale of the oversized tank; it's wide, but narrow enough in the front to enable an easy reach to the ground, with firm-ish padding. Footpegs are forward-mounted, but don't quite reach La-Z-Boy levels of recline. Though the straight bars are ergonomically similar to the standard Thunderbird, the Storm's bars offer a slightly different handgrip position that feels a bit wide, and pulled relatively close to the rider.

All factors considered, the Storm's ergonomics are a fairly accurate indicator of its intended personality: controls are within reach and easily accessible while riding, with an aspect of basic functionality in a no-frills package.

04
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The Ride: Power Cruiser (De)Lite

2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm 1700 corners with ponderous but predictable ease. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

The Storm's powerplant produces a pleasing growl at startup, and the clutch lever—which has a long reach and relatively high effort—enables a nice, progressive transfer of power. The shifter moves easily into gear with a light, positive action, and an entertaining array of snarls, pops, and gurgles ensue from the 1,700cc powerplant at speed—a refreshing array of sounds from otherwise unremarkable looking chrome pipes that wrap around either side of the bike.

There's a nice, strong pull at low rpms, and the 1,700cc parallel twin has a 270 degree firing order, which creates a relatively smooth power pulse that becomes particularly perceptible when revs rise above the 2,000 mark. The powerband offers a broad swath of power, and mild to moderate engine vibrations offer sensory reminders of the parallel-twin's pulling power.

The wide-ish handlebars are easy enough to maneuver during turns-- which I experienced on the winding roads in the Tonto National Park area outside of Phoenix-- at which point the Storm changes direction with slow but deliberate footing, thanks to relatively lazy 32mm fork rake figure. Once committed to a turn, the Storm tracks solidly, offering predictable mid-corner handling and good stability. Low-speed handling is also easily managed, making the Storm feel readily maneuverable, especially considering its plus-sized heft. Brakes take a bit of lever and pedal effort to engage, with moderate initial bite; once the hand lever and foot pedal get past that first stage, there's enough stopping power to bring the Storm's 746 pounds of steel, plastic, and rubber to a stop. But stronger brakes would inspire more confidence, and the anti-lock system, available in 2012, won't come a moment too soon.

Though the straight handlebar has a nice, linear look from the rider's perspective, the tank-mounted controls are a bit low for casual glances; the "Neutral" and turn signal indicators aren’t quite strong enough to see in bright sunlight.

But despite its minor shortcomings, the Thunderbird's strong engine and solid handling offer a riding dynamic that makes it entertaining, considering its heft and conventional cruiser layout.

05
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The Bottom Line: A Parallel-Twin Alternative to the Usual V-Twin Suspects

2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
The Triumph Thunderbird Storm, at rest. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

The Triumph Thunderbird Storm's incrementally edgier personality earns it worthwhile distinctions in contrast to the standard Thunderbird; its styling is less anonymous, the power boost lends it a welcome dose of robustness, and its already well-controlled road manners make it relatively fun to ride—at least for such a big, heavy bike.

Not quite as muscular as Suzuki's M109R ($14,099), let alone all-out power cruisers like the Ducati Diavel ($16,995), Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle, or Yamaha Star V-Max, the Thunderbird Storm nonetheless offers a nicely balanced ride that's quick enough to make cross-town blasts exhilarating, not to mention sufficiently speedy to earn you unwanted familiarity with local law enforcement.

It may not be the biggest or fastest cruiser on the market, but the Thunderbird Storm is a capable, sharply-styled bike that proves Triumph can take a solid platform and inject enough character to make it a desirable alternative to more mainstream offerings. Its $13,899 price tag also reinforces Triumph's abilities to combine attractive styling and solid performance, without breaking the bank.

Specifications

  • Price: $13,899
  • Colors: Jet Black, Matte Black
  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 1,700cc parallel-twin
  • Engine output: 97 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 115 ft=lbs @ 2,950 rpm
  • Fuel capacity: 5.8 gallons
  • Frame: Tubular steel, twin spine
  • Front suspension: Non-inverted 47mm Showa forks with 4.7 inches of travel
  • Rear suspension: Steel swingarm, pre-load adjustable dual Showa shocks with 3.7 inches of travel
  • Front brakes: Four-piston, twin disc 310mm Nissin
  • Rear brakes: Two-piston, single disc 310mm Brembo
  • Wheels/Tires: 120/70 19-inch front, 200/50 17-inch rear
  • Seat height: 27.5 inches
  • ABS: Available in 2012 model year
  • Wet weight: 746 pounds

Who Should Buy?

Style-conscious riders who are looking for a quicker, edgier ride than the standard Triumph Thunderbird, and want to stand out in the crowd of Japanese and American-built cruisers.