“Stand By For Action… Thunderbirds Are Go”
A power cruiser that combines tremendous grunt with Gothic grandeur…
When the Thunderbird range was released in 2009, its 1597cc engine was the world’s largest production parallel twin. Even then, Triumph offered a big-bore kit to raise the capacity to 1699cc.
Now the big-bore engine is standard equipment. The larger capacity was achieved by increasing the cylinder bore from 103.8 to 107.1mm, adding 102cc. The new engine has an extra 10Nm, taking its output to 156Nm, produced at slightly less than 3000rpm.
For those of you who share Edward Turner’s 1937 view (that 500cc was as big as you’d ever want a parallel twin to be), this iteration of the parallel twin has design features he could never have imagined. It has not one but two balance shafts to keep it smooth.
It also has a 270-degree crank, which makes it sound and even feel a bit like a V-twin. Twin plugs for each cylinder and excellent fuel injection do the rest and the service history of Triumph’s modern parallel twins tell the world that the design works and keeps working with minimal maintenance.
Engine performance is what you’d expect when you read those very big numbers. At 308 kilograms, the bike is heavy, which can make it feel slightly sluggish off the line unless you’re prepared to dial up higher revs before you drop the clutch. Once you’re rolling along, it’s all about the torque.
Yes, six gears are the fashion now but that used to be reserved for sportsbikes that produced all their power and torque at high revs. The phenomenal torque of the Nightstorm starts from just off idle, and the maximum is available at less than 3000rpm.
Four speeds would be plenty and if the gearing had limited top speed to around the practical maximum for a naked bike (220km/h), you could cruise about, changing occasionally from third to fourth.
With six gears, a theoretical top speed in excess of 250km/h and a tall top gear to reduce fuel use at highway speeds, the Nightstorm makes you do more work with the admittedly very good gearbox than should be necessary. Around town, the tendency is to be in too high a gear to be able to enjoy the flow of torque.
Triumph’s marketers should be good enough to promote a four-speed gearbox as a brilliant 2016 engineering innovation.
The tall top gear doesn’t guarantee a high top speed. The bike’s weight and bulk slow it down past 185km/h with plenty left on the tacho. This isn’t really a criticism as anyone buying a bike like this would rarely want to travel at this speed for any length of time. The wave of torque makes it tremendous fun to get there but where you’ll enjoy it most is in the most commonly used 60-140km/h bracket. Few power cruisers will touch it in its comfort zone.
While all this is going on, you’ll use a bit of fuel. Our test Nightstorm lived mostly in the middle of its maximum torque sphere and we used around 8.5 litres per 100km. Less brutal treatment dropped the consumption by a litre but, with a bike like this, who really cares about fuel use? The 22-litre fuel tank provides a range of around 280km.
AS BLACK AS A NIGHT STORM
The Nightstorm is a special edition of the stock Thunderbird, but its styling gives it a very distinctive edge. Pedestrians can’t take their eyes off it as you ride past, and the way cars part so you can pass between them makes you feel like Moses and the Red Sea.
The dark theme highlight is probably the all-black exhaust system which, somehow, flavours the whole bike. More black includes the handlebar, mirrors, footpegs, rear brake and gear levers. Its sinister ambiance shouldn’t take your attention from the achingly beautiful tank with ‘ghost flames’ paint which Triumph calls ‘Phantom black and silver frost’.
The tank logo is hand-sprayed and changes with the light. The fleck in the paint goes dark or brilliant depending on the prevailing sunshine. It was constantly surprising.
Called ‘Nightstorm’, you could just pretend it’s all black, but the reality is much richer than that.
The chassis is from the original Thunderbird but the Nightstorm has a new seat, which proved very comfortable over long distances. It feels soft at first touch but, unlike most other soft seats, the comfort didn’t deteriorate as kilometres passed by.
To support a seat height of just 700mm, it can’t be too thick but, clearly, much thought has gone into foam quality and density. Seat comfort is among the best available for this style of bike. Oh, and it has ‘Triumph’ embossed on its rear to remind those behind you of what brand they’re following.
The basic Thunderbird tubular steel, twin-spine chassis is rigid enough not to be overwhelmed by the engine. Rake is relatively long at 32 degrees and trail is 151mm, ensuring deluxe straight-line stability at any speed. The conservative chassis dimensions are reinforced by a 19-inch front wheel and a 17-nch rear, both hosting Metzeler Marathon tyres.
Handling is very predictable and the Nightstorm offers unusually high levels
of ground and cornering clearance. The positioning of the forward controls means you tend to ride with the heels of your boots hanging slightly lower than the hero pegs. This means you get the scraping feel through your boots earlier than the far less-attractive metal-on-bitumen noise normally associated with running out of clearance.
Triumph deserves a round of applause for this, as some cruisers, in an attempt to keep seat height low, are getting to the stage where a lack of cornering clearance is starting to become a safety issue.
Chassis design gives you the confidence to throw the bike into a corner, but lack of clearance will determine the arc that can be achieved, often forcing the bike to run wider than intended and potentially into oncoming traffic. The Nightstorm has a pleasing margin for error but it still requires the normal cruiser technique of slow in, fast out.
‘Slow in’ is managed on the Nightstorm by Nissin four-piston calipers on 310mm rotors with the welcome safety net of ABS. Wipe off speed in a straight line, give yourself enough room to get around the corner without dragging the heels of your boots and, as soon as you can see where you’re going, bang the throttle open and launch to the next corner.
Showa provides the suspension both front and back and is now a specialist in getting great compliance from short-travel units. In the case of the Nightstorm, travel is 120mm at the front and 95mm at the rear. Showa provides the same service for the new range of Harley-Davidsons.
There’s a micro-second delay between pressing the starter button and the giant twin starting to turn over. It rumbles into life easily though and is instantly ready to rock.
The note from the black exhausts is just right as a soundtrack for the overall image and it’s impossible not to be overcome with sensations of ‘heavy-metal cool’ as you thunder down the road. If that’s your scene, then black is the new black.
TYPE: Liquid-cooled, DOHC parallel twin-cylinder
BORE & STROKE: 107.1 x 94.3mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.7:1
FUEL SYSTEM: EFI
POWER: 71.5kW (98hp) at 5200rpm
TORQUE: 156Nm at 2950rpm
Final drive: Belt
Clutch: Wet multi-plate
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
FRAME TYPE: Tubular steel twin spine
FRONT SUSPENSION: Showa 47mm fork with 120mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Showa twin shocks with adjustable preload and 95mm travel
FRONT BRAKES: Twin 310mm discs with Nissin four-piston calipers, ABS
REAR BRAKE: Brembo 310mm single disc with four-piston caliper, ABS
WHEELS & TYRES:
WHEELS: Cast alloy five-spoke
TYRES: 120/70-R19 (f), 200/50-R17 (r), Metzeler ME880 Marathon
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
WET WEIGHT: 339kg
SEAT HEIGHT: 700mm
TANK CAPACITY: 22L
PRICE: From $22,990 (plus on-road costs)
COLOURS: Special edition Phantom Black and Silver Frost
BIKE SUPPLIED BY: Triumph Australia
– Build quality
– Tacho hard to read