You’ve picked up that I’m a fan of Triumph, right? I mean, yeah, I am super mega stupid for Indian Motorcycle, and Harley-Davidson has slowly managed to work its way into my heart in recent years, but Triumph – that’s the company I’ve actually spent money on. That’s the name on the bike sitting in my shed right now.
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One of the reasons I invested in Triumph is the fact I am inspired by the level of energy coming from the company at the moment. As a moto-journalist I occasionally get to sit down and share a beer or three with different people in the company, and consistently I see in them an actual excitement for what they are doing. The people who work at Triumph fucking love Triumphs, and I think that’s awesome. I’ve interacted with folks from other manufacturers who are less enthusiastic about the product their making/selling and it can leave you wondering: “If you’re not excited by what you’re doing, why should I be?”
The Triumph team has reason to be excited. As I mentioned a few days ago, Triumph has seen a kind of rebirth since 2015 when it overhauled the Bonneville line-up and introduced the Street Twin. Triumph now positions itself as a more premium brand than it was even a decade ago, and, to its credit, it’s delivering.
When the current iteration of the Thunderbird was rolled out it was superior to the stuff being produced by Harley-Davidson and Victory
Meanwhile, despite the brand’s proud British roots it has long found its greatest success in the United States. That remains true today, with the country being No. 1 in sales (the United Kingdom comes in at No. 2). Americans traditionally respond well to premium brands – as long as those premium brands are selling the right product. And that’s something that’s been on my mind lately.
The Bonneville is one of the best-selling bikes for Triumph in the United States, and there’s no doubt that US enthusiasm has contributed to the Bonneville Bobber being the fastest-selling bike in Triumph’s 116-year history. I’m pretty sure the recently overhauled Speedmaster (a model very near and dear to my heart) will also find success in the Land of the Free. But I feel there’s something missing from Triumph’s US strategy.
Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, it is well-established that cruisers dominate the US market – heavyweight cruisers in particular. Triumph has three big bruisers in its line-up, the 1539cc Thunderbird, the 1699cc Thunderbird Storm/Commander/LT, and the notorious 2294cc monster that is the Rocket III, but all are distinctly pre-rebirth in their styling, fit and finish, and technology.
Now that the Hinckley-based company has hit all its other models with a techno-bling hammer (save the Tiger Sport, which I suspect will always be the bridesmaid*), I feel it is well past time to turn attention to Triumph’s heavyweight cruisers.
There is already a solid platform upon which to build. When the current iteration of the Thunderbird was first rolled out way back in 2009 it was demonstrably superior to the stuff being produced by the United States’ two largest cruiser companies – Harley-Davidson and Victory – in terms of performance, handling, and power. (A note on that last point: Victory’s 90hp-capable Freedom 106 engine was introduced in mid-2009, thereby putting Victory bikes a little bit ahead of the claimed 85 hp of a base-model Thunderbird) But, you know, that was almost a decade ago.
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Since then, Victory has been scrapped, Indian has risen from the ashes with its fantastic Thunder Stroke 111 powerplant, and Harley has responded with its delightful Milwaukee Eight lump. Triumph’s big cruisers now have a distinctly “affordable” feel to them. That is especially true in terms of fit and finish. In that side of things Harley has long reigned supreme in the cruiser world, but this has become even more true since Indian returned to the scene.
Triumph’s cruiser offerings beat those from other “foreign” manufacturers in terms of history and authenticity (after all, Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One rode a Triumph Thunderbird, and it could be argued that film served as a spark in defining American motorcycling culture), but it is going to have to step up its game if it wants to maintain the premium brand spirit that it’s trying to achieve with its other bikes.
Scrap those ugly wheels, introduce higher-quality paint and hardware, retune the engine for a little more power and improved sound (I’m surprised Triumph haven’t already been forced to make changes as a result of Euro IV), then go crazy with technowhizzbangery. Introduce traction control; I’m pretty sure that feature alone will win the hearts of many riders – specifically those who live in places that aren’t always sunny.
Admittedly, heavyweight cruisers are only ever going to be big in one place – the United States – whereas Triumph’s middleweight Bonneville Bobber and Speedmaster have already demonstrated an ability to capture the hearts and minds of riders in multiple countries. With the US market struggling at the moment, Triumph may feel that delivering a new and improved family of heavyweight cruisers is not worth the R&D expense.
For my own part, I’d like to see the company reworking its big feet-forward machines, perhaps even develop a bagger that can double as a comfy tourer in countries that have roundabouts (similar to what BMW has done with its K 1600 B). What do you think? Overhaul the line-up, or let it wither on the vine?
*The Tiger Sport isn’t sold in a number of markets – including the United States – however, it remains incredibly popular on the company’s employee purchase program. I’m inclined to believe that some folks within the company structure would like to drop the model but keep it on for fear of a workers revolt.