Life is an Open Road
R2S: Road to Somewhere

Say "Hello" to my little friend

Say "Hello" to my little friend


I finally did it. After four years and 7,000+ miles later, it was finally time to say goodbye to my 1988 Honda Shadow VT800c. The Shadow has treated me well with very little maintenance outside of routine oil changes and tune ups. But, with a bike approaching 25 years old and my desire to have something a little more stylish, a little more modern and much safer, I started shopping around.

Don’t tell me what to buy!

I’ve never been big on looking like every schmoe out on a motorcycle. I’ve always steered clear from what the masses a flock towards. Just because a company markets well doesn’t mean their products are superior. I understand brand loyalty and I’m not opposed to it. I just don’t like a product because it is trendy or because “everyone else” has one. That mindset has never sat well with me.

When it comes to riding a cruiser style motorcycle, I see no sense in spending my hard earned money buying something with a premium price tag yet blends in with 95% of the bikes out on the road. I am convinced that even after spending hundreds (or thousands) more customizing that kind of bike, you don’t stand out as much as you think you do.

Coincidentally, when it comes to dressing like a motorcyclist, I especially don’t care for a look that involves skulls, chains, crosses and hot women (sprawled out over the top of a bike) on my t-shirt. It’s simply corny to me, but I suppose it makes some guys feel tough. Whatever. I’m not out to impress anyone. I am out to ride. I wear a full-face helmet because I like to believe I have something in my skull worth protecting. Others would rather look cool, and I’m ok with that. I could care less that other bikers think less of me because of the way I’m dressed, the fact that I wear a helmet or the brand of bike I ride. I have no use for that kind of superficial B.S. in my life, but knock yourself out if you’re that insecure.

The other thing I am not a fan of is protectionism. By this, I mean the “Buy American and only American” mindset. I’m not buying a bike to keep someone employed. I’m buying the best bike I can afford with my hard-earned money. If you want people to buy a particular brand, make it easy for them by building the best product or service you can offer.

I’ve never been a fan of the protectionist (and/or entitlement) mindset. I don’t think anyone in this Great Land of Ours is served well with such short-sighted thinking. Rewarding failure and subpar performance lowers the bar, lowers the standard. Everyone may not “win” when people and companies are allowed to compete on level playing field, but it definitely brings out the best work for all those willing to try harder. There may be short-term gains with protectionism, but they are nothing compared to the long-term gains of honest, hard work. Off my soap box now, but more on my prediction below.

The quest begins…

Victory

So, my quest began by looking into “the other American made motorcycle”, Victory. There are some pretty interesting videos on YouTube comparing the engineering and technology behind their bikes (vs. Harley). I’m not gear-head, per say, but much of it is pretty convincing. Harley is still using a lot of the same design/technology from close to a hundred years ago, for example the chain drives and the mounting location of the stator. I test rode a Victory cruiser, but it ultimately wasn’t the look and feel I was after.

BMW

I’ve also always loved BMWs, as well. I guess it’s the noted engineering and the history of the company. A company forced to change its business as a condition of surrender after WWII. I’ve owned a BMW 325i automobile before and it was definitely a sound machine. It seems BMWs have such a “tight” feel to the road, whereas American engineers seem to enjoy the loosey goosey soft feel of the road.

As it turns out, the three BMW motorcycles I test rode all had a similar “tightness” about the way they handled. Their cruiser style bike (which they no longer make), the R 1200 C is one of their models in particular that I really like the styling of. I like it because it has somewhat of an exotic look and feel to it. After test riding it, I almost bit the bullet, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to committing to the purchase.

Triumph

The last bike that I test rode was  a 2010 Triumph Thunderbird that was a dealer demo with only 1,200 miles on it. The Thunderbird model was reintroduced by Triumph in 2009. The name “Thunderbird” is revived from a previous Triumph three-cylinder 885 cc bike. Motorcycle News road tested the Thunderbird in May 2009, and stated that the motorcycle performed well, and handling and braking were “significantly superior” to comparable American or Japanese cruiser models. In 2009 and 2010, Cycle World magazine awarded the Thunderbird “Best Cruiser” in its annual “Ten Best Bikes” feature.

The bike was a bit over the price I was willing to spend, but I thought I’d take it for a spin on the 2010 regardless. I am glad that I did! That bike looked awesome, rode with such a natural feel to it and also provided a steady stream of power available at throughout every gear. Although the bike was a 2010, it was never titled so that meant the warranty and rebates were included. I was very much impressed with the performance of the bike and very much tempted to buy it, but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on it.

They had a sporty 2012 version of the Thunderbird on the showroom which was essentially the same bike, but with a larger engine (1700cc), flatter handlebars and a matte black finish on some of the engine parts. What a sweet ride. I didn’t know it then, but sitting on that bike was my downfall for spending more money on my next motorcycle.

Enter the 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm

Once I got home from the dealer that evening, I was on all the motorcycle classifieds looking at Triumphs. When what to my wondering eyes should appear…a 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm (one model year newer) with half as many miles (600) for $500 LESS. I immediately arranged for a test ride and fell in love. This was the bike for me.

In 2011, Triumph introduced the “Storm” version as a Thunderbird variant. The 2011 Triumph Thunderbird Storm is similar to the base model, except that it has more of a “blacked-out” theme and straight drag handle bars. It’s wicked, stylish and moody. In a nutshell, it’s a lot like the honey badger (it’s pretty bad-ass). It has a 1700cc fuel-injected engine (100cc more than standard Thunderbird model) that delivers nearly 100 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque. Unlike my 4-speed Honda Shadow, the Storm is a 6-speed with a clutch and gear differential that shifts as smooth as butter. It’s truly amazing.

In a review last year, Motorcycle Cruiser magazine compared the Triumph Storm with HD Blackline and the Victory Vegas 8-Ball in which they stated, “the 1700cc Thunderbird motor flat-out embarrasses the other two.” All three reviewers selected the Triumph Storm as the winner hands down. I couldn’t find a single negative review on this bike. I knew this was the one for me.

Briefly, back to my previous prediction. Triumph hit an obvious home-run with the Storm. I would expect a lot of motorcycle manufacturers to copy or adapt many of the features that the Thunderbird Storm so nicely packaged together. Look for more flat black engines, dual headlights and flat handlebars on American-made bikes in the future.

Instead of a direct drive unit like the Honda, the Triumph offers a Kevlar final belt drive. Like the Honda, the Triumph is also liquid cooled. This is another one of those technology advantages that my fellow Harley riders do not enjoy. On a hot day, its kind of humorous watching them swelter in the heat at a stop light. I have no idea why any motorcycle manufacturer wouldn’t adopt liquid cooling for reasons of comfort or wear and tear. Then again, I’m not an engineer.

The Storm also offers a 5.81 gallon fuel tank so that I can keep up with big boys. This is more than twice the size of my previous bike.

From a safety perspective, the Storm comes with ABS (front and rear) which offers better control over the bike, dual headlamps that are like military grade flood lamps on high-beams, and an LED tail lamp that can be seen from light-years away. Another surprising feature is that the engine is killed whenever the clutch is released with the gears engaged. There’s no taking off with the kickstand down with this beast!

A Brief History of Triumph

It turns out Triumph motorcycles has an impressive history dating back to 1885 (known as Triumph Engineering back then). When World War I hit, the company turned their efforts to support the Allied war effort by providing over 30,000 motorcycles to the Allies. Raleigh Bicycle company was a spin-off of Triumph. In later years, Ford Motor Company actually licensed the Thunderbird name from Triumph for use on their Thunderbird automotive model.

Post-war era, Triumph made its way into Hollywood. Marlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T motorcycle in the 1953 movie “The Wild One“. James Dean was often seen riding around town on his personal 1955 Triumph Trophy motorcycle.

Steve McQueen rode a TT Special 650 Triumph motorcycle the 19xx movie “The Great Escape“. The Triumph was disguised as a BMW because, as Steve himself put it, “We painted it olive drab and put on a luggage rack and an old seat to make it look like a wartime BMW. We couldn’t use a real BMW, not at the speeds we were running, since those old babies were rigid-frame jobs, and couldn’t take the punishment. As a matter of fact, Triumph recently released a Bonneville T100 special edition to honor the actor.

Triumph also manufactures the Rocket III – the largest production motorcycle in the world. It has a whopping 2,294 cc engine that looks like a car engine strapped on two wheels.

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Summary

In the first week of ownership, I added over 200 fresh miles on the Storm in just two nights of riding. The power, the handling, the look and feel is everything I wanted in my next ‘big-boy’ bike. I don’t regret spending the extra bucks getting this beast. It is a sweet ride that I look forward to riding for years and years to come. See you on the road to somewhere…

Road to Somewhere

Road to Somewhere motorcycle blog is the personal journal of Christopher J. Vezeau. I am a writer and a rider.