Triumph Thunderbird Sport

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

An old German adage seems fitting: Anyone declared dead who returns lives longer. Kicked out of the range in 1999, Triumph's classic standard, the Thunderbird Sport, returned from oblivion in 2003. This road-worthy revenant boasts some minor changes but the character of the bike is unaffected.

Concept & Transformation
The T-Bird Sport is back to firmly rivet Triumph's past to its present in a very attractive way. The triple and backbone frame of the 1990s comes along dressed in a style that may remind older motorcyclists of their wild youth in the 50s and 60s. It's a package guaranteed to please the technician in you while satisfying the esthetic for enduring design.

Of course, a Bonneville may conjure the past better than the T-Bird Sport, but, in terms of character and performance, the Thunderbird is no less exciting. It's definitely more motorcycle. (It reminds me of the legendary Trident that appeared at the end of the sixties to challenge the big Japanese companies and Honda's 750 Four a little bit later on.

Engine & Transmission
Times have changed and with them technical requirements. Compared to its Trident antecedent, the Thunderbird Sport comes with a very modern engine using two overhead chain-driven cams and four valves per cylinder. The triple belongs to the first generation of the brand's engines after boss John Bloor engineered Triumph's revival in 1990. The black painted motor pushes out 83 furies that make life on the road easy and invigorating. Pull the throttle cable and you receive immediate and linear response from the three 36mm carburetors. There is no hesitation. Irresistible, this procedure produces a grunt from the airbox and deep sounds from the mufflers that encourage repetition of the process. Listening to the music is that much fun.
The gearbox fits perfectly, is precise to shift, and uses six adequate ratios to keep the bike in a good mood. If you wanna take it easy on a highway, you can use one of the two top gears and keep the revolutions just over 2,000rpm. The engine does the rest for you. It pulls strong from the bottom to the top of the power range and can even compete with many of the so-called sportbikes on twisty streets. Top speed is 128mph (205km/h) - more than enough to run into trouble with Johnny Law.

Chassis & Brakes
The good street performance of the T-Bird on open roads also owes something to the nicely arranged setup of the chassis. Enthusiasts already know about the very impressive unit of a backbone frame with an incorporated triple-engine, having done its yeoman service in a lot of Triumphs. Combined with suspension parts that are fully adjustable and suited to a real sportbike, the T-Bird shows great riding abilities. Whether you just hit a bumpy side road or take it out onto your favorite twisties with a surface like a baby's butt, the forks and shock will manage it. Spring rate and damping are perfect for street use - we haven't tried the track yet!

At higher speeds the bike runs perfectly straight and gracefully absorbs all kinds of inputs like holes, bumps, and grooves. On curvy streets, you can play with it. Handling is perfect through the wide, raised (but not too much) handlebars and the modern 17-inch-wheels and sport tires. This makes a huge difference when compared to the basic Thunderbird or a Bonneville. Also, the front brakes with two rotors and double-piston calipers in the front work great and can compete with a lot of sportbikes. The sticky 17-inch tires, with lots of contact patch, help to transfer the braking forces to the ground.

Accessories & Arrangements
The Thunderbird Sport evokes the classic sportbike look of the sixties and seventies. Fairings and other plastic parts weren't all that popular at that time. Therefore, fenders and side covers are made of steel. Spoke wheels with chrome-plated steel rims and many other chrome parts like the tail light, flashers, mirrors, airbox cover, exhaust, headlight bezel and brackets add to the styling effects of this orange dream machine. But it doesn't matter which generation you belong to: You can't walk by without giving it a look.

Of course, as a typical standard the T-Bird doesn't use any flashy parts that would just overdo it. The bike stands for good taste with well-sorted equipment and a great arrangement of colors. Former models were Yellow/Black, Red/Black, or White/Orange but nothing beats this Orange/Black combo. Instruments and controls mesh on this kind of bike and do their job. And if you think about going on tour all by yourself or with a partner, don't step back. The T-Bird has a very relaxed seating position with a nice narrow fuel tank, an okay mileage, a comfortable seat for the rider as well as the passenger, and low footpegs. For serious trips, you can order fly screen, tank bag, sissy bar w/luggage rack, tank kneepads, fork protectors, and other useful items from the Triumph accessory catalog. Without encountering any problems you can add some soft cases and a big luggage bag (for the rack) and be ready to go.

Test Summary
Frankly, it wasn't easy to let it go. As fortunate editors privileged to ride a lot of flashy bikes with modern stuff on them, we still have a taste for something basic - just a plain motorcycle with a real engine you can see and a nice arrangement of equipment and colors. This is it! Not discounting the Speed Triple, the T-Bird might be the most exciting and outstanding standard of the brand, which should give other bikes a surprising run for their money.

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Triumph Thunderbird Sport

Retail Price $ 8,499
Warranty Three years, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 500/6,000/every 6,000 miles (800/9,600/every 9,600km; oil change recommended every 3,000 miles/4,800km)
Importer/Distributor Triumph Motorcycles America Ltd.,385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr., Suite 100,Newnan, GA 30265,Phone (678) 854-2010,Website: www.triumph.co.uk

ENGINE
Type 3-cylinder, inline, 4-stroke
Cooling water-cooled
Valve Arrangement 4 valves per cyl., dohc, cams chain driven, shim under bucket adjustment
Bore & Stroke 76 x 65mm
Displacement 885cc
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Carburetion 3 carburetors, ø 36mm
Exhaust Emission Control no (catalytic converter for Europe)

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox 6-speed
Clutch multi-plate wet clutch, mechanically operated
Final Drive chain drive

CHASSIS
Frame steel backbone frame
Wheelbase 1,580mm (62.2in.)
Rake 63 degree
Trail 106mm (4.2in.)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm (1.69in.)
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 150mm (5.9in.)
Rear Suspension aluminum-alloy swingarm w/single shock
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 110mm (4.3in.)

WHEELS& TIRES
Type spoke wheels w/chrome plated steel rims
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 4.25 x 17
Front Tire 110/70 R 17
Rear Tire 160/70 R 17

BRAKES
Front Brake 2 discs, floating double-piston calipers
Diameter 310mm (12.2in.)
Rear Brake 1 disc, floating double-piston caliper
Diameter 285mm (11.2in.)
Combining no

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Seat Height 790mm (31.1in.)
Wet-Weight 245kg (544lb.)
Fuel Capacity 15l (3.9gal.)

PERFORMANCE
(European measurements)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)83hp at 8,500rpm
Torque 7.7mkp (76Nm, 57ft.-lbs.) at 6,500rpm
Top Speed 205km/h (128mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 4.0s
Fuel Consumption 6.1l/100km (38.9mpg)
Fuel Range 246km (154mls.)

EQUIPMENT
Dashboard w/speedometer, odometer, tripmeter and tachometer, key switch/lock in front of the upper triple clamp, emergency flashers, choke lever at the controls on the left side of the handlebar, side stand. Available Triumph accessories: fly screen, tank bag, passenger rail, windshield, mufflers, sport seat, tank knee pads, chrome-plated covers for the radiator, chrome-plated chain guard, chrome-plated cover for the rear master cylinder, chrome-plated side covers, fork protectors, sissy bar w/luggage rack, tank pad, m/c cover, chrome-plated cooling-fluid line, front fender extension, alarm system, four different tank logo kits, manual.

ROADRUNNER Test Diagram
Engine 4/5
Chassis 5/5
Brakes 5/5
Comfort 4/5
Luggage w/accessories 3/5
Equipment 3/5
Design 5/5
Bike for the buck 4/5