Triumph's newest entry in the cruiser category of motorcycles sports a huge 1700cc upright twin, the world's largest parallel two-cylinder motorcycle engine. It has two balance shafts to limit vibration and a seat just 27.6 inches off the deck, the way cruiser riders like their seats. It has enough torque to launch from almost any engine speed. How much is "enough?" Output is a mighty 111 lb-ft of torque from 2,750 rpm and 93 hp at 5,400. You almost won't need to shift the six-speed transmission.
The 2014 Commander sports a stiffer steel tube frame than its predecessor and a new steel swing arm, as well as an all-new seat made from three different foam densities and a little bump in the back aimed at “lumbar support.”
What's It Like To Ride?
A long day's journey on California back roads and freeways offered a relaxed, torquey experience. The Commander is smooth and serene underway, with a surprisingly rattle-free cruising demeanor, despite those two big pistons blasting up and down right between your knees. The smoothness is all the more impressive considering that the engine is a stressed member of the chassis, with five big bolts holding it directly to the frame. Springs and shocks are tuned just right for an even ride.
Like any cruiser bike, its mass keeps the Commander aligned while underway through sheer force of kinetic energy. The 747-pound weight of the beast meant it leaned slowly into turns and came back up at the same rate, but it responded, albeit slowly, to steering input. Those wide, flat foot plates had a tendency to scrape on tighter turns, something that really gets your attention, but built-in skid plates underneath them meant we never got hung up on anything while they skidded along. Twist the throttle and the 111 lb-ft go to work immediately, rocketing the bike forward. Midrange torque is particularly impressive, so passing moves are a snap. There's no tach or even a gear indicator -- with this much torque, you don't really need to know where you are in the transmission.
It's funny how the feel of motorcycle gearshifts hasn't changed much at all over the years. Triumph and other makes still feel almost like they did 40 years ago: one down, five up with your left big toe. There's also a heel shift to mix things up. Triumph is proud of its new lumbar-support seat, but we also tried one with the optional, full-on back rest and man, that was livin'.
Refueling takes a while to get used to on this bike. The Triumph exec who refueled ours spilled gas all over the tank and seat.
Do I Want One?
At some point, you're going to park the liter bike and ride something more comfortable. When you do, you might look at a cruiser. Harley-Davidson rules the cruiser class, but some buyers want something different, maybe something Steve McQueen would have ridden at this age. For them, Triumph presents the 2014 Thunderbird Commander. If you want more touring comfort, the Thunderbird LT offers a windshield, saddlebags and a few more tuning tweaks for long hauls; it's available now.
Base Price: $15,699
On Sale: May
Drivetrain: 1699cc liquid-cooled, DOHC parallel twin, toothed belt drive; 93-hp, 111-lb-ft; six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 747 pounds wet
Fuel economy: 38 mpg city, 56 mpg at 56 mph (mfg. claim)
Other to Consider: Victory Boardwalk, Harley-Davidson Road King, Suzuki Boulevard C90T, Indian Chief Classic
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