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As a rule, cruisers are not my thing actually however much my present over-grown anatomy and those numbers we call age might make it seem. I like a riding stance that allows all my four limbs to participate in the ride and not just two. And these ‘easy riders’ dictate that the lower pair of appendages are put away at an extreme angle in front of the rest of the body, more of a factor in the style statement than my own perfectly usable pair of legs while I ride whatever best way I can with them arms and that torso. But even rules have exceptions and I had made two quite some years’ back – the Suzuki Intruder (M1800 of course!) and the Harley V-Rod. A third entry made way to the list a short while back in the guise of the Indian Chief Classic but none came closer to almost prompting me to chuck that rule for good than the Triumph Thunderbird Storm. This tempest in question is always raging black, with a few lightning flashes of chrome thrown in here and there. It is big enough to fill the horizon when seen from a low angle, does really sound like thunder and can wrist-roll a tornado a minute if desired. Thor would have found it a fitting chariot if he used one though I have no idea of how good it is at cold starting in really freezing conditions of the God’s kingdom.
Triumph had the entire gamut of premium motorcycling worked out between its product spectrum – right from the entry level Bonneville through the Daytona for the track, the Tiger for hard-core touring, the Street Triple for brutal fun and the Rocket III for two-wheeled insanity. Despite this impressive and extensive list, there was a gaping hole in the product line-up quite like the Ozone one above the poles of Mother Earth. They needed a cruiser that could stand shoulder to shoulder, or preferably taller than the ubiquitous Harleys and the Thunderbird was the answer. Much acclaimed by the Western motorcycling media as the Cruiser of the Year for two years running in its previous avatar, the 2013 onwards model has upped the ante on ‘being the bad-ass’ front. With another 100cc’s added to the 1597cc of its original engine (giving as production version henceforth what was a hot-rod mod done through dealers previously), the newer Thunderbird is quite apt at carrying the Storm moniker on its powerful countenance. The bike looks a strangely oxymoronish (to coin a new term) mix of the compact and the massive. It is big and yet has compact proportions. It feels massive but feels pretty much manageable by an average-sized rider. The substantial tank (22 ltrs) dominates the visual lines viewed from top while the Street Triple ‘bug-eye’ twin-headlamps and the straight bars stare back hard at you face to face. The bike looks all muscle, purposeful, strong and solidly built. The seat height at about 27 inches is good enough for even a 5’8” rider to flat-foot it and the rider seat is plush and comfy for long days on the saddle. The pillion perch is quite literally that – a perch! Not comfortable at all and pretty precarious to boot going by the brutal pull the bike has in any and every gear.
The literal and figurative eye of this Storm is its amazing engine, a 1699cc liquid cooled DOHC parallel twin. A 270 deg firing interval, 4-valves per cylinder and a short-stroke design gives it more than enough stomping power even with a relatively mild 9.7:1 compression ratio. The low compression ratio also means that here in India you can fill ‘er up at pretty well any fueling station and it will still run well. The 270 deg offset firing order does necessitate the need for twin balancer shafts within but the engine response and the aural output is something the V-twin aficionados would die for. The engine starts to a low thrumble (a fusion of thunder and rumble huh!) and awaits that right-handed twist. Do that and the crackle is loud enough to announce your impending departure (or arrival as the case may be) to all and sundry within a quarter-mile radius. The twin pipes sing in sync with the twin big pistons. Shift firmly into gear and get rolling. No, astride this gladiator in black, neither would you prefer a quiet exit nor will you be able to make it. You will blast off on loud thunder, carrying your own storm behind straight into the belly of the horizon. This bike pulls hard, as hard as those 97 horses on tap at 5200 rpm and the massive 155 Nm of torque at a mere 2950 rpm respond to your right wrist. This is a cruiser with the heart of a sportsbike. The pull through the gears is relentless and so very addictive when accompanied by that thumpty-thump from the twin pistons chasing each other down below. The 6-speed gearbox might not be the slickest but you’re too busy to notice such nitty gritty, repeatedly rolling off and rolling on that throttle, just to feel your guts hit your spine and your ears full of that foot-tapping thunder.
Torque spread is blessedly linear and ever roll of the throttle brings about an accompanying addictive rush, a belt final drive notwithstanding with its expected lag in power delivery. Smooth and twisty tarmac somewhere in the hills, especially a gentle climb would just be the road to nirvana on this bike. Ground clearance while leaning in is a lot less than the lean angles the bike seems capable of. But leaning beyond a steady shower of sparks flying from under the footboard is definitely not a good idea on a 400 kilo metal hunk. Powering lustily out of gentle curves though is another matter, the wide grin plastered under the helmet ample testimony to the pleasure it offers. The torque though makes it feel a lot faster than it really is.
And yes, it handles as well as it runs. There’s magic in the way a mere crawl at say 10 kmph can make that entire weight (338 kgs) go pouf! and the wide bars let you dance a tango on tarmac with this 7 ½ ft bike. With 1613 mm between the axles and the front wheel raked out at 32 deg, even the longish trail of almost 6 inches induces no lag in the Storm’s maneuverability at both low speeds and high. The beefy 47mm Showa forks up front and the twin shocks at the rear might seem old-school in these modern times of USD forks and mono-shock rear but the set-up does a surprisingly good job of keeping those wheels pressing down hard and yet managing to release a plush ride more or less. Using rider comfort and handling prowess as measures of suspension behavior, Triumph seem to have got their hardware spot on with the Storm. The 120 section 19 inch front and 200 section 17 incher at the rear working to probably the best compromise between good traction reserves and agility in handling.
Braking felt great. Twin 4-piston 310 mm discs up front and a 2-piston similar size disc at the rear do a great job of hauling this half a ton laden motorcycle to a quick halt. Retardation is sure, the low C of G, long wheel base and broad rubber helping the cause of excellent braking componentry. Feedback from the front brake is good even allowing gentle trail braking into turns at moderate speeds. The rear brakes are surprisingly effective but then that’s usually the case with long wheelbase and heavy cruisers. Of course we have ABS here too as in almost every modern performance motorcycle worth a mention.
Reach to the bars is not as extreme as that on, say something like the Harley Fat Bob, and so the body does not have to rotate uncomfortably forward. The foot-boards though could have been a trifle wider and longer to provide more alternate foot movement when the feet are not ready on the pedals. The riding position is fine for the long haul, the 22 liter tank allowing some 250 kms or so between refills. Switch gear is premium quality, the clicks feel and sounding just right. The dog-leg levers fall naturally underhand and lever yawn, both for the clutch and the front brake levers is within range of those with small hands. The flat-faced tank has the instrument cluster mounted on it with a combo-dial of speedometer, a digital odometer/trip meter, a fuel gauge and an analogue tacho. The catch here is that you’d need to take your eyes completely off the road, look down physically to read the instruments.
All said and done, this Storm is real ‘value-for-money’ in the price bracket it belongs. A no-frill all function cruiser that does not need those frills to be attractive. It is plenty so already just by being itself. Ever heard of Stroms being pretentious huh?
Price: 13,95,000 INR (ex-showroom Delhi)
This review was published in the April-May 2014 issue of the xBhp magazine, you can buy the digital copy of this issue for your smartphone/tablet from here