2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and LT Ride Review

wild ones

by: Scott Cochran
photos by: Alessio Barbanti, Paul Barshon, Tom Riles & Freddie Kirn

March 6, 2014: Maybe I was surprised because Southern California wasn’t on my motorcycle riding radar. Yet here I am, just north of downtown San Diego on Highland Valley Road, tearing past orange groves and palm tree farms, grinding the floorboards on this 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander less than 15 minutes from urban lunacy.

This past February, while the rest of the country was caught up in the grip of the latest “polar vortex” yours truly joined a select group of moto-journalists for Triumph’s world press launch in balmy Southern California.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the rest of my motorcycle riding buddies on the East Coast.

We’d seen images of the new Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT when the bikes were unveiled at EICMA in Italy in November and were anxious to throw a leg over each to see how the “on paper” improvements affected the real world riding experience.

Now those statistics were becoming real to me as I wound through the Anza-Borrego Desert and up and over Palomar Mountain, pausing to take in the view of Salton Sea, the largest lake in California.

Sitting in the pre-ride briefing, waiting on the presentation to start, I find myself pondering the history of this legacy marque.

both bikes

It’s easy for the American “biker” to overlook this brand, especially the segment that leans towards Milwaukee iron.

Part of the reason is Triumph abandoned the “lifestyle” buyer years ago and (for better or worse) concentrated its efforts on the “performance” market.

Blame it on economics, or stubborn British management, but either way the brand that “invented biker attitude” with Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild Ones has been relegated to the sidelines while others cashed in on the hard core biker lifestyle as it grew into the largest percentage of North American motorcycle sales.

Upstarts like Victory Motorcycles and newly revived Indian have made some headway in courting the Harley rider, Triumph hasn’t had much success in infiltrating that segment.

So in 2010, when Triumph tapped Harley-Davidson and Buell veteran, Greg Heichelbech, as its North American CEO, observers expected the day would come when the Brits would shift the styling of their cruisers to resemble the “lifestyle” market that exists in America today.

That day has arrived.

 

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMany people forget that In World War I, Triumph produced more than 30,000 motorycles for the Allies, the majority of those being the Model H, also known as Type H, or the “Trusty Triumph.”  Powered by a 499cc air cooled single cylinder, It was the first Triumph which did not have pedals making it a “true” motorcycle.  It is also considered by many to be the first “modern” motorcycle.  

Standing in front of a room full of American motorcycle journalists, Simon Warburton, product manager for Triumph set the tone when he said, “We believe we have a credible alternative to Harley-Davidson.”

Greg Heichelbech CEO of Triumph America followed that up when he stood up and the first words out of his mouth was “Triumph’s Back! And we’re getting back to our roots and the things we did in the 50′s, 50′s and 70′s.”

Heichelbech went on to explain, “The Thunderbird was the bike that put Triumph on the map and helped us become the number one import brand in the 50′s and 60′s” (when “biker” became synonymous with the bad boy image)

But a lot has changed since the 1960′s, besides the size of the engine. The early Tbirds boasted a class leading 650 cc motor and a seat that, while comfortable for its time, would be considered torture today. And we won’t even talk about drum vs disc brakes. Yes a lot has changed and it’s not lost on the Brits as Warburton confided later. “We’re not trying to be Harley-Davidson, but we think this bike will appeal to those riders who want performance, laid back styling and aggressive handling.”

After a couple of hours saddle time on both bikes, I can safely say the engineers in Hinckley hit their bulls-eye.

T_Commander_static035

Rather than replace the previous iterations, the 2014 Commander and LT are new additions to the T-Bird family and are fitted with the upgraded power plant making these the largest parallel-twin (1699 cc/103 cu in) in the world, producing 93 horses and 146 fp of torque, enough to satisfy even the most aggressive of riders.

Momentum isn’t just for sports teams, and as Sir Issac taught us; The momentum of a moving object increases with its mass and its speed. The heavier the object and the faster it is moving, the greater its momentum and the harder it is to stop. Both models are heavy cruisers, but with the LT (which stands for “light tourer” weighing in just south of 750 lbs, add a couple riders and gear and you’ve got close to a half a ton of accelerated momentum. Both models come from the factory with ABS standard equipment. The front brakes are twin floating 310mm disc brakes with 4 piston calipers and the rear brakes are single 310mm disc with Brembo 2 piston floating calipers.

Thankfully, the ABS on the Commander model I rode performed flawlessly. Since this was a worldwide launch, the Triumph representative leading the group had been on this same route 10 or 12 times in the last two weeks. He knew it like the back of his hand. Ahead of me was Bruce Steever from MCN who has the chops to hang with most anyone on the track and is local and has ridden the area numerous times. Behind me is Mike Vaughn, former CEO of Triumph, also a sport bike guy and who lives (literally) on the route we were riding.

While I’m not the fastest on track days, (hell, who am I kidding…I don’t try to ride on the track!) this was not the best place to be as a flat land touring guru, trying desperately not to be the “slow guy.”

So the inevitable was bound to happen. I came in way too fast and overcooked some of the more tortuous turns on the Mesa Grande highway near Lake Henshaw and grabbed a little too much brake lever.
On any other non ABS model, the result would’ve been ugly. Lowside get off at best, high side flip over at worst. But thankfully the only drama was a few chirps from the tires as the modulators kicked in and I was able to slow enough to lean over and stay in my lane without laying the bike completely down.
Here’s as good a point as any to mention the lean angle of both bikes. With a seat height of just 27.5 inches, both the LT and Commander are low slung and easy to maneuver at low speeds and parking lot dances. However, that becomes disadvantageous out on the twisties as the floorboards touch down way too early.

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMarlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the movie The Wild Ones and in 1955 Ford licensed the Thunderbird name from Triumph for a new luxury car eventualy producing 4.4 million units, which ended in 2005.

 

However, the slide rule society at Triumph knew this would be an issue so they mounted wear plates under the boards which absorb the road rash instead of damaging the more expensive chrome and painted parts. Still it’s a bit disconcerting the first few times they scrub and downright sphincter tightening when you’re fully leaned over, heading into the oncoming lane and having to choose whether to stand up and apply the brakes or keep leaning and hoping that you don’t bounce into oncoming traffic.

My takeaway from that is this; know your limitations and those of your bike. Luckily I didn’t trash the Commander or lose any skin, and I didn’t make the same mistake the next day on the LT.

SUSPENSION

Simon Warburton made a point to stress that besides providing smooth acceleration and braking, Triumph engineers were keen on improving the comfort and handling of these new Thunderbird’s. With an all new frame and swing-arm, designers included the engine as a stressed member, which reduces the flex in the chassis and gives it a more stable footprint.commander and details

While the rake and trail are slightly different on the two models, the handling characteristics are essentially the same. Although almost every journalist I spoke to agreed that the Commander is the “sportier” of the two. Chalk some of that up to the extra weight *(saddlebags, seat, luggage rack, wheels) and that big piece of Plexiglas out front on the LT and the rest to the slight difference is in how the new shocks affects the bikes.

Out on the rear, Triumph installed a pair of adjustable dual rate spring loaded shocks. Designed to offer a cushy ride on long trips, the 4.1 inches of travel easily soaked up the occasional broken asphalt potholes and all too often irregular bumps on our two lane travel through the So Cal desert. In the mountain twisties, I did find myself wishing for a slightly stouter setup. Thankfully there is a five position preload manual adjustment on each shock when you need a little something stiffer.

tshirt

The handlebars on the Commander provide for a more “forward” lean than on the LT. This works perfect without a windscreen. I dislike cruisers which place the rider in a more upright position and forces them to “hang on” to the grips when going sans windscreen. Very uncomfortable and dangerous.

On the Commander, that little tweak to the position of the bars made all the difference in comfort and stability from other “naked” cruisers.

SEAT OF THE PANTS

Then there is the seat. It’s usually the first thing we all want to change out when we buy a stock bike from the showroom floor. To paraphrase a famous politician (and take it entirely out of context,) when thinking of the seat on these new T-Birds “The butt stops here.” Ok, I hear the collective groan from the peanut gallery but I needed something witty to highlight how impressive this new seat is.

Consider that Triumph designers created a seat with three layers of different foam densities and a lumbar support (almost 4 inches total) and kept the seat height under 28 inches, I’d wager the seat isn’t going to be the first thing you’ll want to change. Granted, we only rode for a little more than an hour on our longest stretch in the saddle, so maybe I shouldn’t be bragging on the comfort just yet. However, by the time you read this we will have an LT in the office garage and will have spent 6 or 7 hours straight in the saddle. I’ll let you know if it performs as good as it looks.T_LT_details016

Both the Commander and the LT are available in two tone color schemes. The LT’s Caspian Blue/Crystal White paint is the best looking (in my humble opinion) and it also comes in Lava Red/Phantom Black. (Retail $16,999) The Commander comes in Crimson Sunset Red/Lava Red and Phantom Black/ Storm Grey. (Retail $15,699)

We’ll have a long term test on the LT in the next few months.

Triumph purists may decry the new direction the company has taken with these T-Birds, but they shouldn’t.

The brand isn’t abandoning its performance heritage, the Brits have simply created two cruiser models under $17k with modern performance yet comfortable and classic styling,

If anything, Triumph fans should be cheering. The Wild Ones are back!

(more static and detail photos in the photo gallery after the obligatory group picture.

That's the Salton Sea in the background.

That’s the Salton Sea in the background.

 

Ducati Says 2012 Best Sales Year Ever

January 18, 2013  Yesterday, Ducati North America  announced that 2012 was the company’s best year in the market, with a 21% increase over 2011 in total sales of motorcycles and a 42% jump in its apparel division.

Chief Executive Cristiano Silei thanked passionate American Ducati fans “Ducatisti,” for driving 2012 U.S. sales up 21% over 2011. The US (for the second year in a row) is the Italian motorcycle company’s biggest market, where ”One out of every four Ducati motorcycles sold [worldwide] is sold in North America,” Silei said. “It’s a love story.”

Silei said he was guardedly optimistic that 2012 might have been the last bad year in the motorcycle sales slump that began with the economic crash of 2008.

“Maybe this is the bottom,” he said. “I certainly hope so. The market has been stable for the last two years, so maybe we have reached a plateau. For us, we are posting record numbers now.”

Silei is a 17-year Ducati employee who insists he is as passionate a rider as any of his customers, but he no longer rides on the “edge.” “I am not the fastest rider out there,” he said. “I enjoy the twisty and windy roads more than the track.”

He is pictured in a company photo embracing Ducati’s flagship superbike, the Panigale. But that isn’t necessarily his No. 1 bike.

Pressed to name a favorite model, Silei resisted before saying, “Really, I am a Multistrada guy, in my soul.” He said he’s eagerly waiting now for delivery of the company’s 2013 Multistrada 1200S Pikes Peak Special Edition.

Harley-Davidson Performance Shows Continued Improvement

MILWAUKEE, April 19, 2011 — Harley-Davidson, Inc. (NYSE: HOG) generated increased earnings and worldwide dealer new motorcycle sales grew for the first quarter of 2011.

The Company reported first quarter income from continuing operations of $119.3 million, or $0.51 per share, compared to income from continuing operations of $68.7 million, or $0.29 per share in the year-ago period.

Worldwide retail sales of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles grew 3.5 percent in the first quarter, compared to last year’s first quarter.

“We are pleased by the growth of our dealers’ new motorcycle sales on a worldwide basis, led by strength in Europe, even as we continue to encounter some headwinds in the U.S. related to the challenging macro-economic conditions,” said Harley-Davidson, Inc. President and CEO Keith Wandell.

The Company’s improved first-quarter earnings performance was driven by operating income from financial services, which climbed 154.6 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010. Operating income from motorcycles and related products was flat with the year-ago quarter and was impacted by expected inefficiencies related to the restructuring and implementation of the new operating system underway at the Company’s manufacturing operations.

“Our entire team remains focused on transforming our company to be leaner, more agile and more effective than ever at delivering great products and experiences to an increasingly global community of customers,” said Wandell. “Harley-Davidson’s results for the quarter reflect the continued improvement at HDFS, as well as the near-term inefficiencies related to the transformation underway in manufacturing operations at York. We expect to continue to see an impact on our motorcycles segment financial performance in the coming quarters as we complete the transformation of our York operations. When this manufacturing transition is completed next year, we will have a best-in-class, flexible, lean operating structure that we expect will yield substantial ongoing savings.

“While we continue to be encouraged by our overall progress, we are maintaining a cautious outlook for the year,” Wandell said. “I would like to thank all our employees, dealers and suppliers for their dedication and commitment to the transformation of our business.”

Retail New Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Sales

On a worldwide basis, first-quarter Harley-Davidson retail new motorcycle sales grew 3.5 percent compared to last year’s first quarter. Dealers sold 17,904 new Harley-Davidson motorcycles in international markets, an 11.3 percent increase compared to last year’s first quarter, and 31,691 new motorcycles in the U.S., down 0.5 percent, compared to the year-ago period. Industry-wide U.S. heavyweight new motorcycle (651cc-plus) retail unit sales increased 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the year-ago period.

First-quarter data are listed in the accompanying tables.

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and Related Products Segment Financial Results

Revenue from Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the first quarter of 2011 was $833.4 million, up 3.0 percent compared to the year-ago period. The Company shipped 53,827 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to dealers and distributors worldwide during the quarter, compared to shipments of 53,674 motorcycles in the first quarter of 2010.

Revenue from Parts and Accessories totaled $164.3 million during the quarter, up 10.2 percent, and revenue from General Merchandise, which includes MotorClothes® apparel, was $62.6 million, down 5.6 percent, compared to the year-ago period.

Gross margin was 33.1 percent in the first quarter, compared to 36.6 percent in the year-ago period. Gross margin was adversely affected by temporary production inefficiencies related to the restructuring and transformation of production operations,  and by foreign exchange and raw materials costs. First-quarter operating margin was 11.8 percent, compared to 12.2 percent in last year’s first quarter.

Financial Services Segment

The financial services segment recorded operating income of $67.9 million in the quarter, compared to operating income of $26.7 million in the year-ago quarter. The increase in year-over-year operating income is largely the result of continued improvement in credit performance.

Guidance

In a move related to what it believes will be a modest level of supply chain interruption to the Company arising from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Harley-Davidson is widening full-year shipment guidance. The Company now expects to ship 215,000 to 228,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to dealers and distributors worldwide in 2011, compared to prior shipment guidance of 221,000 to 228,000 motorcycles.

In the second quarter of 2011, Harley-Davidson expects to ship 62,000 to 67,000 motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson and its direct suppliers source a limited number of components and subcomponents, including motorcycle electronics, through suppliers in Japan, and the Company has several of these subcomponent parts on close watch for possible shortages related to the situation there. The Company has identified a supply issue related to an electronic subcomponent used in radios for its motorcycles that could affect shipment volume, and the Company is adjusting shipment guidance accordingly. Based on currently available information, Harley-Davidson believes it has viable solutions for the radios and other subcomponents on its watch list and the Company continues to work closely with its suppliers to monitor the situation and address issues as necessary.

“We continue to assess our supply chains and as a precaution we have decided to modestly reduce the lower end of shipment guidance following the events in Japan,” said Wandell. “Our hearts go out to all the people of Japan, including our community of riders there. We are thankful for the safety of our employees and dealers in Japan and commend them for their tremendous resilience through this difficult period.”

Harley-Davidson now expects 2011 gross margin to be between 33.5 percent and 35.0 percent, versus previous guidance of 34.0 percent to 35.0 percent, as a direct result of the anticipated supply chain interruption. Harley-Davidson continues to expect full-year capital expenditures of between $210 million and $230 million, including $60 million to $75 million to support restructuring activities.

Restructuring Update

Harley-Davidson expects all previously announced company-wide restructuring activities, including those related to the ratification of new labor agreements at its vehicle operations in Kansas City, Mo., to result in one-time charges of $510 million to $525 million, and annual ongoing savings of $305 million to $325 million when fully implemented. In 2011, Harley-Davidson expects to incur restructuring charges of $95 million to $105 million. The Company expects to realize savings on a cumulative basis in 2011 of $210 million to $230 million from restructuring activities initiated since early 2009. In the first quarter of 2011, the Company incurred restructuring charges of $23 million.

Income Tax Rate

For the first quarter of 2011, the Company’s effective income tax rate from continuing operations was 34.8 percent, compared to 47.2 percent in the same quarter of 2010. The effective tax rate in the first quarter of 2010 was negatively impacted by a one-time tax charge of $13.3 million associated with the enactment of the federal healthcare reform legislation.  In 2011, the Company continues to expect its full-year effective tax rate from continuing operations to be approximately 35.0 percent.

Cash Flow

Cash and marketable securities totaled $1.05 billion as of March 27, 2011, compared to $1.48 billion at the end of last year’s first quarter. During the first three months of 2011, the Company contributed $200 million to its pension plans leading to a cash outflow from operating activities of $104.9 million. This compares to a $200.8 million cash inflow from operating activities in the year-ago quarter.  Capital expenditures were $27.7 million for the three months ended in March 2011.

 

Ducati Reports 68% Retail Sales Growth for Q1 in 2011

CUPERTINO, Calif.- Ducati North America is proud to announce its third consecutive quarter of motorcycle sales growth, beginning 2011 with a 68 percent Q1 retail sales increase over the same period in 2010.

“We have had an outstanding start to the year”

Ducati’s strong start to 2011 continues a trend of consistent growth in the Italian manufacturer’s most important foreign market. The positive sales figures in North America represent the entire 2011 model lineup, an important signal that growth has been driven by demand for every single model.

“We have had an outstanding start to the year,” said Cristiano Silei, CEO of Ducati North America. “We expect our growth to continue strong for the rest of the year with our most popular new product, the Diavel, which arrived in dealer showrooms late March.”

The fantastic Q1 results fall in line with Ducati’s 2011 sales plans. The coming month’s sales will also be fueled by the new Monster 1100EVO and Multistrada 1200 Pikes Peak Special Edition, supported by several key activities. Ducati has named April “Diavel Ride Month,” during which motorcycle enthusiasts will have the opportunity to experience the new Diavel firsthand through dealer test-ride experiences. June also marks Ducati’s return to the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, where the Multistrada will compete for an overall victory in the race to the clouds. Additional marketing programs will be announced soon surrounding a riding experience for the Diavel and Multistrada models, as well as the North American launch of the new Monster 1100EVO.

For more information about Ducati North America and its line of sporting motorcycles, please visit www.ducatiusa.com.