Review: A week with Triumph's Thunderbird LT

Packing the world's biggest parallel-twin motorcycle engine and the kerb weight to rival a meteorite, we take the hefty LT through the hectic roads of London on the daily commute. Can it cut it?

YOU try commuting through London on Triumph's 1700cc, 380kg mammoth cruiser, the Thunderbird LT.

It's actually quite easy. 

There's no getting away from the fact that the Thunderbird LT is an absurd piece of engineering. This lump of Hinckley-hewn rock weighs as much as the meteorite that caused a 40-metre wide crater when it recently crashed into the moon. If you fired this at the moon at 38,000mph, it would make quite a dent.

From the gigantic cylinders, at 850cc a piece and the massive freight-train-like headlights to the huge white-walled tyres and the chrome. There's chrome everywhere. When you focus on each individual detail, it's almost sickly sweet but when you stand back and take it in, it's a stunning motorcycle, the sort that makes middle-aged men go weak at the knees because this, to them, is a motorcycle.

The liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine is the same one found in the Thunderbird Storm, at 1699cc it's the largest parallel-twin motorcycle engine in the world. 95bhp doesn't sound like a lot but it's the torque figure that counts, 111ftlb of torque at just 3,000rpm. From tickover to a whiff of trhottle, that's all you need.

Before I first rode it through London, I thought the whole experience was going to be dreadful. A heavy bike, wide bars, panniers. What's to like? Well, lots as it happens.

The LT's seat is just 700mm off the ground, enabling me to sit with my feet flat on the floor. Let's face it, tip-toes and 380kg don't mix. The seat is the comfiest motorcycle seat I've sat on. Look at it, it's not hard to imagine why.

The riding position itself is good, you're sat in the bike, not on it. The screen is a little too tall for my liking, but then I'm only getting up to 50mph and not sat for extended runs at 80+ and therefore, I don't really need the wind protection. The footboards are great around town and help you stretch out on the bike, but on the motorway, at speeds over 70mph I found the wind pressure on my legs made my feet light and I had to actively plant them on the boards to keep them from hovering around. I need steel toe caps.

It's damn comfortable. Couple that comfort with the 22-litre tank, which offers up 200-miles between fuel stops and you've got a bike that would take you deep into France with just a couple of stops to fill-up the tank and stretch your legs. No back surgery required.

On the go, the LT loses its weight. I know you can say that about any heavy bike, but the steering is light, lighter than it ought to be. It's easy to set the revs, dial in a bit of clutch and thread your way through London's packed streets. Once you've got a bit of speed underneath you, you can tap dance your way through car-and-bicycle packed streets.

The ride is sublime, I mean, really sublime. The motor is smooth, much smoother than a Harley and the suspension is silky, velvety, serene. You waft along and you don't feel the bumps you see.

One thing you're always conscious about is the physical size of the bike. The weight isn't a problem but I had moments where I'd got the front of the bike through a gap but I was convinced that by the time the back sailed through, the gap might have closed. The clunk of leather pannier against car door never came but you can't escape the feeling that it might.

The LT rolls on specially-developed Avon Cobra Whitewalls. If you're into '50s American cars, you'll love the look. I wasn't convinced that a tyre developed to look good would have much in the way of performance but I can't report any issues, even in the wet. Sure, I never took enough liberties on the LT to challenge physics but the tyres offered good feel from the start. I didn't get the footboards down in the wet but I did have the confidence to try.

One great thing about the LT is the fact it comes with ABS as standard. It's such a confidence booster. Sure, if you ride the LT the way it's intended and head out in search of empty long roads, you'll probably never need ABS but the fact it has ABS means it scores additional points as a commuter. You can grab on to the Nissin four-pots and get that meteorite stopped in no time at all.

The motor is at the heart of what makes the LT such an enjoyable bike to ride. I pulled away a few times in 5th, just to see if it could manage without spitting the crank out and do you know what, it managed it. It had torque that you don't associate with a motorcycle engine. Sure, it's not the kick-in-the-nuts torque of a Panigale, nor is it the up and away torque of a competition Supermoto but if is effortless, from the moment you pick-up the throttle the LT ploughs forward without any fuss and with a seemingly endless reserve of torque. The belt drive is a great touch and absorbs any jerkiness when you come on and off the throttle and helps add to the LT's mellow experience.

There's no rev-counter, so I have no idea what revs I was pulling, but I barely opened the throttle more than a third and spent most of my time cruising around town in third gear. You can burn almost anything off the lights, because you can unleash every last bit drop torque through the 180/70 16-inch rear tyre and it'll propel you forward with haste. No need to worry about loosing grip or hoisting the front wheel. But there's something about tearing off from the lights on the LT that doesn't feel right, it feels like you're abusing it in some way, like winding forward the minute hand of a grandfather clock with your fingers.

The gearbox action has a clunk, as you'd expect, but it's not a heavy action. I get the impression Triumph have engineered the gearbox characteristics to feel manly, solid, old-school. Imagine you're in a band and you're bringing everyone in by striking a one-and--two-and--three-and--four beat through the bass pedal of your drum set; that is what it's like to go through the box on an LT.

Heading out onto the motorway the LT feels at home. The weight plays into your hands here, as the LT remains straight and true, you don't get buffered around by the wind. Stick the LT into top sneak into the slow lane and soak it all up. There's a massive difference between 5th and 6th gear. As soon as you stick the LT into 6th the revs feel like they drop by half when in reality it's probably more like 500rpm. You can cruise along in 6th at 60mph and you have to really focus on whether the engine is still spinning. 

Which brings me onto noise. The only let down is the fact it barely makes any. The first time I fired it up, a small audience of expectant on-lookers looked slightly disappointed to hear the LT purr into life. It needs aftermarket exhausts fitted, before it leaves the showroom.

When I picked up the LT, ready to take on the daily commute, I focused on the weight and size as limiting factors but never really thought about how massive panniers, huge amounts of torque, a low seat height and ABS would make the LT a surprisingly good commuter.

Would it make sense as an every day commuter? Let's be honest, it would be a waste but it could do it and you'd arrive at work so laid back, you'd be horizontal.

Model tested: Triumph Thunderbird LT

Price: £13,999

Contact: www.triumph.co.uk

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