Triumph Makes Some Weather | First Ride

Flogging the New 2011 Storm, A Spin on the Speedmaster, and Checking out the America

The sun sweeps over vast expanses of statuesque saguaro cactus in the crook of the Superstition Mountains. Here, nestled in the Valley of the Four Peaks, is Fort McDowell, home to the Yavapai Indians and more to the point, the base camp for Triumph’s 2011 MY Cruiser line launch.

It may be sunny outside, but the industry has seen some dark times of late. That’s why it’s intriguing to note that, in the middle of this bruising economic downturn, Triumph continues to be hard on the gas in introducing new designs to the market. General Manager of Canadian Operations, Chris Ellis, says Triumph has hired more designers and engineers (rather than downsizing) for the sole purpose of entering the market harder and deeper.

The Main Event, of course, is the Storm-a dark twist on the visually benign, but award-winning Thunderbird. The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm rolls on the same chassis, but carries a bigger version of the powerplant found in the standard Thunderbird-in this case, a bored-out 1699cc liquid-cooled Parallel Twin engine (as opposed to the standard T-Bird’s 1597cc mill) with a 270-degree firing interval. As you may recall, Triumph released a limited edition Thunderbird 1700 last year-basically the regular Thunderbird with optional big-bore factory upgrade kit installed. The big-bore kit is still available for regular T-Birds, but the Storm version wears it as a production unit (which also includes different cams), and even by the seat of your pants, you can feel difference; Triumph claims 98hp at 5200rpm, with torque numbers of 115 ft-lb. at 2950rpm (the stock T-Bird quotes numbers of 85bhp and 100ft-lb., respectively).

Standard Thunderbird bits include stout 47mm fork legs and adjustable twin shocks, but the Storm takes things further than just an engine upgrade. To quote the Brits, it’s "wrapped in a punked-up look," a big part of which are the iconic twin "bug-eye" headlights sourced from Triumph’s Rocket III and the Speed Triple machines, as well as a straighter drag-style bar sitting on a new, higher riser, and blacked-out engine cases. Complementing the street-rod vibe is the sole color choice: black (though you can choose from Phantom or Matte).

The tank is still wickedly wide, holding 5.8 gallons, but now it carries a revised, modernized Triumph logo. The forward-mounted controls and a wide, padded seat make for a comfy perch once you’ve swung a boot over. Look down, and you’ll spy a tank-mounted solo gauge, which includes an analog speedo up top and a small tach on the bottom. A toggle switch lets you flip through dual trip displays, a clock, an odometer or distance to empty in the LCD readout.

Settling into the plush saddle, we immediately noticed how the handlebars feel closer, with the ergos slightly more upright. But the most noticeable change is the way the big bore mill pulls at low rpm. With just a small turn of the throttle, feedback is immediate, with a wide powerband and even delivery throughout the range. Gearing is likewise wide and evenly spaced, with sixth gear usually a distant option. The Storm’s 270-degree firing order gives it a nice character without needless vibes (thanks to the twin balancer shafts, no doubt). You also get a deep, satisfying growl from the dual chrome pipes-one of the most impressive we’ve heard in a while-thanks to large-volume catalysts buried inside the 2-1-2 exhausts.

Locked into the Storm’s 27.5-inch tall seat, we always felt planted at the bars, even when heeled over in fast turns. With that beefy fork set at a 32-degree rake angle, turn-ins come without resistance, the specially developed Metzeler Marathons sticking to the tarmac solidly. In quick transitions, however, there’s no escaping this bad boy’s 746-pound tonnage, but at least you’re working with generous ground clearance. The factory suspension settings on the stocker we rode in Arizona were pretty stiff for our 160 lbs. of payload, but they are pre-load adjustable (which we dialed in for our ride back to Los Angeles). And with a dual 310mm disc/four-piston combo modulating the front wheel and a 310mm disc/two piston unit slowing the rear, we always felt a strong bite and enthusiastic slowing power in a variety of riding situations.

Thankfully, Triumph left the Storm’s six-speed gearbox unchanged, so one of the smoothest cruiser transmissions on the market remains quiet and efficient, with each cog engaging easily (second through sixth gears are helical-cut). Belt final drive delivers the power evenly and without lash.

After a week with it, we feel the 2011 Thunderbird Storm trumps the original T-Bird. Through 400 miles of twisties, dead-straight freeway drones, and urban zips, the T-Bird never disappointed. About the only nit we can pick is that it lost its pillion seat during testing (it was promptly crushed by oncoming traffic). But the fact that there are already almost 100 accessories available to further customize the T-Bird Storm means they’ll be no shortage of replacements. Also, ABS was supposed to be an option, but we were told that it will likely be available in 2012 instead.

With its new big-bore powerplant, the Thunderbird Storm gains impressive engine output, along with a bump in price; it costs $1400 more than last year’s standard model. That snappy engine, slick tranny, stable chassis and solid brakes, though, still makes it appealing. More Storm details can be found in the comparison on page 32.

Triumph America and Speedmaster
We also got the chance to briefly sample the more established America and Speedmaster models, which for 2011, get lower seats and improved ergos to make them more accessible to a bigger slice of riders.

The America keeps its classic theme, with handlebars and controls also more pulled back. This bike used to be a powerful spot in the lineup, but after riding the Storm and the Speedmaster, we can see why Hinckley’s now trotting it out as an entry level machine.

More my speed is the Speedmaster—an unapologetic riff on the America, but with a heavier touch of attitude. The Speedmaster distances itself from the America with the addition of a 19-inch front wheel and skinny’ tire for a more chopped look. Ergos also get tweaked for 2011, with a low 27 inch seat height married to new, wider handlebars that bring a new riding position. Though it’s the same engine, it somehow feels more responsive.

Gear Exam

Triumph Lexford Jacket
Smartly cut with a semi-military style and a gaggle of zippered vents, the Lexford won me over with its removable insulated vest that kept me comfortable from a 37 degree morning temperature all the way to mid-70s later that afternoon. The protective leather also was great at deflecting wind blasts all along the I-10 corridor, with removable CE armor adding security. Cargo pockets on the front chest let me stash gas receipts easily, and side zippered vents were a boon after I scarfed down that pizza in Blythe, AZ.
When I got home, the wife remarked; say, that's a sharp-looking jacket. For the record, she NEVER says that about moto gear...
$399.99 at triumph.co.uk

Triumph Highway Boots
Triumph's generation one boots left something to be desiredthey were a bit clunky like Hugh Grant's idea of what Marlon Brando would wear. The full-leather Version 2 sports updates like cushier (and grippier) soles and a more tailored fit. There's even a cinch strap at the shaft near the calf. Nicely priced and solidly built, we found them surprisingly comfy on the long 400-mile ride home, and they proved to be pretty cushy (and good-looking) off the bike, too.
$169.99 at triumph.co.uk