Triumph’s press materials suggest—strongly—that the company wants its entry in the class it calls “fat cruisers” to be seen as an intimidator. It is not a “you meet the nicest people” machine. From the news release: “Triumph’s new 2014 Thunderbird Commander gives the rider the power and the presence to dominate every road and every ride.” Perhaps the British think that we Americans are easily dominated—a mistake they have made, it must be said, before.
Without a doubt, the Commander has bulk. Its handlebar arcs back from the distant steering head like the horns of a Texas bull. Its front tire is bigger than the rear tire of many Harleys. Its mufflers are called drainpipes.
Triumph’s obsession with dimension extends to the engine, a 1.7-litre twin that produces 93 horsepower at a relaxed 5,400 rpm. The engine’s uneven cylinder firings, dictated by its 270-degree crankshaft design, give the Commander a sound and feel closer to the lumpy cadence of a Harley-Davidson V-twin than the pleasing thrum of a vintage Triumph Bonneville.
In the last century, this design would have made for a vibrating, uncivilised ride, but thanks to the miracle of modern counter-balancers the engine is a sweetheart—smooth, throaty and responsive, with a smartly calibrated fuel-injection system and abundant power from idle speed to the modest red line.
The heel-and-toe shift lever of the 6-speed gearbox let me upshift using just the toe of my boot. Many less refined shifters of this type demand a stomp on the rear arm to upshift.
A big engine requires a big chassis. The Commander’s steel-tube frame is all-new, its steering head pushed forward to make room for a lower, wider seat made more accommodating by its dual layers of foam. A separate lumbar pad is built in; these guys know their baby-boomers-with-back-problems demographic.
My main ergonomic gripe was the wide 5.8-gallon fuel tank, which forced me to ride with legs spread uncomfortably apart. Also, above 65 mph, I had to pull hard on the handlebar to counteract the wind’s blast.
The Thunderbird is well engineered, comprehensively sorted out and as capable and cooperative as a low-riding, 746-pound motorcycle is going to get. The suspension is stable and smooth, though the limited rear-wheel travel makes itself felt over big bumps. Steering is stately, but neutral and predictable, and the antilock brakes are excellent.
But as Jeremy Clarkson of TV’s “Top Gear” would say, there’s a problem—a serious lack of cornering clearance, even