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2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT and Commander—Road Test

Jon Langston
February 27, 2014
Filed under Cruiser + Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Featured Road Test, Top Stories, Triumph Motorcycle Reviews

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2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

The 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander is a streetwise power cruiser. Designed to appeal to the American cruiser market, both new Thunderbird models combine big-inch power with plush appointments.

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.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

The Thunderbird LT is the highway-ready “Light Touring” model.

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.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

The rough-and-tumble Commander gets cast wheels and drainpipe exhausts with Gatling gun tips.

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.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

Shown here in elegant Caspian Blue/Crystal White two-tone paint, the LT is also available in
Lava Red/Phantom Black.

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.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

Taking its style cues from classic American cruisers, the LT is replete with chrome-tipped fenders, whitewall radials and hand-painted coach lines.

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

Both bikes feature a new chassis with extended steering head and a lower seat pan. Like the LT, the Commander receives standard floorboards and the same excellent new seat.


2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander/LT

Website: triumphmotorcycles.com
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
Displacement: 1,699cc
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.)

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

The LT receives long-haul amenities such as a look-over Lexan windshield, auxiliary light bar, and a passenger backrest and floorboards.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT

Most comfortable seat ever? The embossed lumbar support pad makes the case. Buckles on the leather saddlebags hide convenient quick-release closures.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

The Commander’s low-profile 140 front and 200 rear tire look cool, but handling suffers. ABS is a standard feature on both new ’Birds.

2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander

The tank-mounted dash has an analog speedo and LCD display, but no tach. We wish the MPH numbers were larger.

Comments

8 Responses to “2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT and Commander—Road Test”

  1. James Epley on February 27th, 2014 10:45 am

    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.

    [Reply]

  2. Larry branton on March 2nd, 2014 7:17 am

    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.

    [Reply]

    James Epley Reply:

    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.

    [Reply]

  3. lance bowsfield on March 2nd, 2014 9:24 pm

    why the difference in weights claimed vs actual . did you mean the difference in the two models or?

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  4. DON on March 8th, 2014 12:46 pm

    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.

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  5. Curtis Johnson on March 15th, 2014 5:45 pm

    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.

    [Reply]

    Biz Reply:

    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.

    [Reply]

  6. rex heins on August 5th, 2014 2:28 am

    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………..

    [Reply]

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