Triumph’s return has succeeded because the company is producing excellent motorcycles, from eager sportbikes to first-rate dual-sports to an exquisite line of modern classics. It’s also building cruisers, and its Bonneville-based customs have been best sellers. But it wasn’t until the introduction of the liter-class Thunderbird in 2009 that the cruiser lineup really made heads turn. In the tradition of the original, the Thunderbird is a well-built, good-looking bike, and it was followed with a blacked-out, bug-eyed, hopped-up version called the Storm. Both offered well over a liter and a half of torque-laden parallel twin power, but neither has managed to draw enough attention to make Triumph happy.
So the company went back to the drafting board, and now the new 2014 Thunderbird LT and Commander seem to have the goods to stand proud in the distinguished brand’s legacy.
To create these “fat customs” (Triumph’s term), its designers obviously worked with one eye fixed on the U.S. cruiser market. They’re less two brand-new motorcycles than two versions of the same bike. The muscular Commander and the light-touring LT are nearly identical mechanically, differing mainly in styling and tire sizes, with each bike stylistically true to its fat-custom purpose. The Light Touring ’Bird features long-haul amenities like a quick-detach windshield (by National Cycle), removable leather saddlebags (with liners), and a passenger backrest and floorboards, while the Commander has a tougher, stripped-down facade, including dual headlights and low-profile tires.
The standard Thunderbird’s liquid-cooled, 1,597cc DOHC parallel twin is a fine mill, but as with the gargantuan Rocket III triple, Triumph decided that if enough was good, then more was definitely better. So the kit that bumped the Storm’s displacement up by 102cc was recruited for both of these cruisers, and improved. Dual balancer shafts and an integrated torsional damper stabilize its side-to-side locomotion, and both bikes have the same 6-speed gearbox. The transmission is smooth, and the engine delivers loads of torque in nearly every gear, though the midrange is where it shines. On the Jett Tuning dyno, our LT cranked out 82 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 101 lb-ft of torque at 3,300 rpm at the rear wheel, impressive numbers for a twin of this size.
The Commander and the LT both employ dual exhaust with different tips—the LT’s triangles are reminiscent of Triumph’s Union Jack badge, while the Commander power cruiser gets meaner Gatling guns. The latter’s growl is noticeably gruffer than the touring bike’s smooth, baritone rumble too, but still disappointingly pedestrian compared to the athletic upswept megaphones on the Thunderbird and Storm.
Triumph also reconfigured the chassis that holds these new Thunderbirds aloft. The twin-spine tubular-steel frame looks the same but pushes the steering neck forward and drops the seat pan a full inch; the extra space is filled with a plusher saddle. Better, the new seat features a separate embossed lumbar support pad that stays in place when a big American butt plops down on the saddle, rather than compressing with the rest of the seat. It’s clever and simple, and quite possibly the most comfortable motorcycle saddle this rider’s ever cruised upon.
Both bikes share the same 65.5-inch wheelbase, but due to their differing wheel and tire sizes, the LT sports slightly shorter rake and trail numbers. The classically styled LT has 16-inch spoked wheels, while the strapping Commander gets 17-inch cast wheels. But it’s their tires that truly distinguish the way these bikes negotiate the road. The Commander rolls on typical low-profile, “fat custom” rubber. Its handling is relatively quick, but there’s no denying the fact that you’re muscling around a big bike. For the LT, Avon developed a whitewall radial, the first of its kind. With higher tire profiles and more evenly matched widths—150 front, 180 rear—the touring bike turns more readily and holds a line more easily than the power cruiser. Braking is identical, and stopping power equally excellent. Suspension behavior on both bikes is nondescript—which is exactly how quality suspension should behave.
In fact, my only gripe is that the floorboards on both models are just too darn short. Due to the heel-toe shifter, my size 10½ left boot was afforded maybe one inch of wiggle room fore and aft. To stretch, I found I had to ride with my heels planted at the front of the floorboards, toes splayed in the wind. The floorboards on both bikes also scrape easily in corners; thankfully, they’re equipped with replaceable scrapers.
For 2014, Triumph has delivered two cruisers with the performance and versatility that befits the badge on their tanks. While most of the Thunderbirds’ styling is right out of the traditional cruiser mold, their parallel-twin engines set them nicely apart from the pack. Hopefully their increased power and beefed-up features will turn more heads this time around.
2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander/LT
Base Price: $15,699/$16,699
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 107.1 x 94.3mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 65.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 30.1 degrees/5.3 in., 29.9 degrees/5.2 in.
Seat Height: 27.5 in.
Wet Weight: 766 lbs. (claimed)/851 lbs. (actual)
Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gallons, last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: *87 PON min. (avg) 40.4
* Corrected from 91
(This article Big Birds was published in the May 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)
Just a correction on the Min Fuel Rating – page 40 of the Owner Manual states, “This Triumph motorcycle is designed to run on unleaded gasoline with a CLC or AKI octane rating (R+M)/2 of 87 or higher.” This is important to some buyers who may prefer to not be forced into paying for higher grade fuels when they are not necessary. The PON rating should be corrected to 87 rather than 91.
The price of the Lt @ $16,699 is $1, 699 more than the Yamaha Roadliner S.
The Yamaha offers a 113 cubic inch V-twin engine with a two into 1 exhaust.
Gets an average of 44 mpg and has more torque and HP than the Triumph LT. The overall look of the Yamaha is far better than either Triumph model. Another reason why Triumph can not compete with their competition in the US market. If Triumph wants to compete, then they will have to offer a larger parallel twin with more torque and HP.
To make the comparison a bit more realistic you need to add the accessories to the Roadliner to bring it up to the standard specs of the Thunderbird LT. Adding bags, windshield, driving lights and backrest/luggage rack brings the Roadliner price up to $18243.61 according to the Star website. The LT now appears to be the bargain.
Also, the Star website lists 42 mpg for the Roadliner S. The Triumph website lists 38 city/56 highway mpg. Remember that when magazines test bikes they are usually riding much harder than the average owner and mileage always is far below normal.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Yamahas and have owned more of them than any other brand. The T’bird is a great bike and Triumph is doing quite well in the States.
why the difference in weights claimed vs actual . did you mean the difference in the two models or?
I’m glad the Roadliner was mentioned as an example of an excellent bike. There are many good big cruisers out there, What I like about the new T-Bird is that it’s true to Triumph’s heritage with the big twin, quality build, and great handling. Look at the original 1950 Model and you’ll see the inverted forks, similar engine covers, and chrome tipped fender.
I saw the new Thunderbird at a dealer and was very impressed. As far as value goes, it comes loaded– with as much power and accessories as bikes costing several thousands more.
I’ve had the previous ’95 T-Bird, 900 triple for 19 years and it’s been bullet proof. Had a thermostat go out in all that time– and that’s all. For that reason, I’m all in on the new Big-Bird.
I would seriously consider the LT for my next bike…..if it only had alloy wheels and blackwall tires. I am not a fan of spokes nor tires that require tubes. It may look more old school to have spokes, but I would opt for the practicality of alloys and tubeless tires any day.
Just came back from the dealer and the LT is a great looking bike, wish it had cruise control. Don’t change the look., us baby boomers love the white walls and spokes.
Picked up my Commander, added the bags, backrest, wind screen and passenger floorboards. Looks super sharp and handles great with the 17 inch tires. Heard Vance and Hines is coming out with exhaust for it, can’t wait. A few other personal mods to my liking and she is a winner.
just bought the LT. what a great bike, handles really well. fantastic torque for the quick getaway or overtaking those bloody long road trains. hope it sells well fro triumph in the US. im in Australia and they selling here. the only minor fault is that i agree with others in that it really needs electronic cruis control. throttle locks are okay BUT cant beat the real thing. also im finding a bit of buffeting from the wind behind the standard screen. might need to taller optional one. and the seat is fantastic………..
Bought the LT in April and have 6000 miles on it. Super smooth, great handling bike for the open road. Tracks fantastic, and I get 47mpg on the highway at 75-80mph. The 5.8 gallon tank lets you go a good 225 miles without worry. With the incredible seat and suspension and radial tires, ‘LT’ should stand for Long Touring, which is what this bike is about. I got the tall windscreen, and there’s no buffeting, so I’d recommend that. I agree with Rex (above) that electronic cruise control would be a plus. That’s really the only thing this bike is missing–along with a tach which would have been nice. I’m hoping Triumph adds cruise to the new model year and that it can be retroactively fitted to the 2014.
just bought 2014 t.bird lt and love it,have had some electrical problems,ecm lightkeeps coming on ABS light comes intermiterly then speedo stops working and flickers wont cancel out,still under warranty ,may need computer to do a remap, taking back to dealer to sort problems,i found throttle return a little heavy and get cramp in wrist on long trips and fingers go numb from vibration through the handle bars,havent scraped foot boards yet,and yes speedo numbers could have been bigger, a bit hard to read while you are riding
I purchased my LT new in January of ’16. By mid-June I have enjoyed 3300 miles of varied riding conditions. My last little “tour” found me inadvertently on a corkscrew of rock dirt road that I remembered from when riding the section on my GSA the previous year, I’d never do it again. (I need to review my mental ride Rolodex more carefully before the next adventure.)
The LT has proven to be comfortable – the seat is all they say it is. It handles nicely for its weight. I am impressed with the build quality and the fact that I endure no engine heat anywhere when riding, even in 90-plus degree conditions. I do experience a bit of numbness in my throttle hand, but I’m not sure that’s entirely relate to the Thunderbird.
Having off-loaded both the GSA and my beloved Moto Guzzi B-1100 for this bike, I harbored some concerns as to whether I’d be satisfied with it as my one and only. Returning last week from that three-day ride through northern California including not only the aforementioned dirt section, but some freeway, some coastal sweeping, some pot-holed and lousy pavement, 140 miles along the Klamath River gorge and a good period of time in rain, I can testify that I am supremely satisfied with my purchase.
Is anyone having noise issues (banging, very solid tapping) that comes from the engine of the T-Bird LT 2014 model?
Oh yeah- clackitty clack is the new potato rumble.
I love my 2014. And I have no issues. Rides so good and easy handling. Like everyone says it needs cruise control. Yeah! It made my forearm hurts while in a long ride.
Neil – Absolutely yes. I purchased a very low mileage (5,300 miles) used commander LT and immediately recognized what sounds like piston slap from the left side of the engine at half throttle. I learned from the Internet that this is a common problem (Thunderbird Knock) and appears to be a manufacturing defect. In Australia I believe a class action suit has been brought against triumph. I took my bike to the dealer and they agreed that the infamous Thunderbird knock was associated with my bike. The dealer petitioned triumph UK for a warranty repair and after some weeks triumph refused. From what I’ve read on the net many owners who have this same issue have learned to live with it or put on loud pipes. I honestly can’t stand it and plan to sell the bike.