Triumph Thunderbird put to the test: 50,000 kilometers of endurance test

Endurance test conclusion for the Triumph Cruiser

Test: 50,000 kilometers with the Triumph Thunderbird

The Thunderbird 1600, together with the 1700 Thunderbird Storm, has become Triumph’s best-selling cruiser. The word got around about ABS, a good chassis and a comfortable sitting posture. But quality and durability are also right?

It goes without saying that Triumph cruisers have an in-line engine. Here with toothed belts and XXL cylinders.

A mild, sunny November day 2011. Cranes move south in the azure blue sky. But this giant bird remains on the ground. Just before the speedometer of the Triumph Thunderbird shows 50000, feel your MOTORCYCLE one last time on the bill. The 1600 series twin first has to make the thick roller of the dynamometer rotate, then show on the road whether it tears the asphalt to pieces.

Endurance test conclusion for the Triumph Cruiser

Test: 50,000 kilometers with the Triumph Thunderbird

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Like new: gearbox in top condition. The first gear is straight, the other gears are helical.

Because nothing would prevent the Thunderbird from taking off again. All engine innards could be reinstalled without hesitation after 50,000 kilometers. Great. No wonder, every single component seems to be built for three days and forever. The magnet wheel of the generator alone weighs a whopping 8.5 kilograms, the crankshaft, which is just as good as new, weighs a hefty 17 kilograms.

Tea transmission is flawless, and there are no slight wear marks on the shift forks. The grooves in the rotor of the oil pump are a blemish; she probably pulled through a chip once. But the lack of oil consumption and absolutely dimensionally accurate shape of all components prove that lubrication was always guaranteed. It is true that the pointedly contoured cams of the comparatively almost filigree camshafts show delicate pitting. But they can be reinstalled without hesitation, despite minimal breakouts, according to Triumph.

Likewise, the sparkling clean valves. The plastic rail of the timing chain tensioner has minimally worked into one edge of the motor housing. So what? If you want, you can change them, but only because you are holding them in your hands anyway. The dismantling brought to light a curiosity: the connecting rod bearing shells of cylinder one were installed offset. According to Triumph, "obviously a one-time production error, which however had no effect on the service life". So everything is sunshine? Yes and no.

Because as completely convincing as the autopsy of the thunderbird, the Brit-Bike throw back many small malaises in between. Mostly caused by Cent components. Eight unscheduled workshop visits are no fame. In 2009 the cooling system became slightly incontinent. Therefore there was a new cooling water hose at 5061 mileage. We say opportunity, the rather stiff throttle cables were also replaced, also on a guarantee.

A crack made the headlight a warranty case. Shortly before the end of the test, a new steering lock was needed, also on a guarantee. It sits on the right of the steering head and is fiddly to operate with a separate key. The injection vacuum hoses slipped twice. Without it, the engine ran in the emergency program, unevenly jerky. At the same time the yellow engine warning light was on. The cause of this problem should now be eliminated (see “Triumph takes a stand”). The rear brake pads were braked down four times. At the same time, the front brake pads were only due once.

Obviously, many drivers used the good braking power at the rear, due to the high wheel load, which is maintained even when the brakes are full. Especially since the double disc at the front requires a lot of manual strength. Tea spare part prices are quite steep. The dealer called for 180 euros for seals, 42 euros for a gasoline filter and a brazen 96 euros for rear brake pads. That hurts. However, Triumph has reacted to high prices and reduced the recommended retail price for rear brake pads from 71.76 to 47.90 euros, and from 62.00 to 35.90 euros (per disc) at the forehead. The customers will thank you.

5.4 liters of engine oil must be changed at each inspection. Over a service life of 50,000 kilometers, this adds up to an impressive 400 euros for oil alone. At least the great Metzeler ME 880 Marathon tires are quite durable, last around 10,000 kilometers at the rear and up to 15,000 kilometers at the front. The average fuel consumption of 6.2 liters per 100 kilometers can still be called okay. The 22-liter tank enables a range of 350 kilometers. But be careful: The remaining range display got stuck twice, reported a range of more than 50 kilometers in the fuel drum when the tide was completely out of steam.

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The rotor of the oil pump shows scoring on the edges. Since the engine is open anyway, the pump should be replaced.

A phenomenal 232 kg payload made the T-Bird on tour in Greece in September 2010 a famous olive oil transporter. Until, in the middle of Albania, at 23,339 kilometers, the tunneling stopped completely. The retaining lug of the opener throttle cable broke off on the throttle grip. Impossible to accelerate. A real glitch. After improvised repairs in the Balkans – the T-Bird has no on-board tools – there was a new gas grip at home under guarantee.

After 45016 kilometers a new timing belt was needed, for a whopping 329 euros without installation. The shock absorber had to be changed during the 40,000 inspection; it is mandatory for early chassis numbers. The belt then rubbed down from 33 to 23 millimeters wide within a short time. During the endurance test, the timing belt squeaked and chirped, mostly unmistakable, especially when starting up. Really dominant in the city and on country roads. Comments on this tweeting run like a red thread through the logbook: “chirps, grinds and scrapes”. Spraying with silicone spray only ever brought short-term relief. What was it?

Unlike Harleys and Buells, the first timing belt triumph runs without a tension pulley. Two special tools are used to tighten the belt and to align the rear wheel exactly in alignment. There is a trip to the Triumph dealer after every tire change. Nevertheless, the end of the carbon fiber-reinforced toothed belt always touched the right edge of the pulley. But now that nothing is chirping anymore, we miss it.

We miss the thunderbird. MOTORRAD readers voted the Triumph Thunderbird and its 98 hp sister, the 1700 Big Bore version Storm, in the Cruiser category “Motorcycle of the Year 2012”. And that’s really a triumphant conclusion!

Balance after 50,000 km


Support from the top, here on an autumn trip in Italy, the 1600s didn’t always help.


Cylinder head
All valves close tightly and show only small deposits. The exhaust valve seats are somewhat wider and show little signs of fire, as are the exhaust valves. They should be sharpened before reinstalling. The camshafts show minimal traces of pitting.

Cylinder / piston: 
The cylinders are dimensionally and dimensionally accurate and only show some harmless cold-running traces of friction. The first piston shows stronger heat traces than the second in the area of ​​the pin bearing. The movement patterns of the pistons are absolutely inconspicuous.

Crank drive: 
A connecting rod bearing shell of the first connecting rod is mounted offset, but wear and tear and contact pattern are OK. The contact pattern of the main bearings is somewhat uneven, but the bearing play is good here too.

Power transmission: 
The clutch and the gearbox are in very good condition, only the shift forks show some tolerable wear marks.

Frame / chassis: 
The new frame (changed after an accident at 30 039 mileage) shows hardly any traces of corrosion, the workmanship of the motorcycle makes a good overall impression. The rear brake disc is close to the wear limit. 

Costs and maintenance

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The Thunderbird completely dismantled.

Operating costs over 50,000 kilometers

27 liters of oil at 14.80 euros: 399.60 euros

5 oil filters at 12.39 euros: 61.95 euros

2 air filters at 45.35 euros: 90.70 euros

2 fuel filters at 42.51 euros each: 85.02 euros

12 spark plugs at 5.20 euros each: 62.40 euros

2 sets of front brake pads at 63.60 euros: 127.20 euros

4 sets of rear brake pads at 96.10 euros: 384.40 euros

1 toothed belt: 328.82 euros

1 toothed belt pulley holder: 50.30 euros

Small parts, lubricants: 43.58 euros

Brake fluid: 14.33 euros

Coolant and fork oil: 68.65 euros

Seals: 179.63 euros

Inspections and repairs: 1141.87 euros

Tires (including assembly, balancing and disposal): 1736.68 euros

Fuel: 4643.53 euros


Acquisition costs: 14,590.00 euros

Loss of value: 6090.00 euros

Estimated price (dealer selling price): 8500.00 euros

COST PER KILOMETER (without depreciation): 18.8 cents

COST PER KILOMETER (with depreciation): 31.0 cents

Maintenance + repair costs (according to the stated mileage)

Loss of cooling water through loose clamp: 2110

Cooling water hose and throttle cables renewed (guarantee: € 224.71): 5061

Rear brake pads renewed: 8045

Rear tire renewed, Metzeler ME 880 Marathon: 9903

Headlight insert renewed due to crack, (guarantee: 206.23 €): 10245

Front tires renewed, Metzeler ME 880 Marathon: 16590

Rear brake pads renewed: 17445

The pillion seat mounting bracket replaced, the front fender retaining screws secured (recall): 20254

Rear tire renewed, Metzeler ME 880 Marathon: 20796

Opener throttle cable bracket cracked (breakdown): 23339

New throttle grip (guarantee: 120 €), Wilbers struts installed: 25672

Front and rear brake pads renewed: 25742

Front and rear tires renewed, Metzeler ME 880 Marathon: 29375

Accident with subsequent engine damage (foreign bodies in the combustion chamber): 30039

Two vacuum hoses of the mixture preparation detached: 30587

Rear tire renewed, Metzeler ME 880 Marathon: 36384

Rear brake pads and mounting of the toothed belt pulley new: 41293

Front and rear tires renewed, Avon Cobra / Storm 2 Ultra: 41293

Steering lock renewed (guarantee: 46.58 euros material costs): 43560

Toothed belt renewed: 45016

Triumph takes a stand


Uli Bonsels and Dirk Schlieper (1st and 2nd from left) from Triumph Germany check the components together with MOTORRAD.

Triumph takes a stand…

… to the chirping toothed belt.

As a rule, a toothed belt that is too loose is the reason for the noises. If the noises have not completely disappeared despite correct tension, the application of a special toothed belt care spray or silicone spray will help.

… for rubbing the toothed belt on the side towards the end of the endurance test.

The carbon fiber reinforced timing belt is extremely stable and comes from the same supplier as Harley-Davidson. We assume that the increased wear was caused by an incorrectly aligned rear wheel. It is extremely important that the rear wheel is exactly in line after every removal and installation and that the toothed belt is properly tensioned. Triumph has two special adjustment tools, one for aligning the rear wheel and another for tensioning the belt. Because of this procedure, a trip to the Triumph dealer is essential after every tire change. There is no change interval for the belt. Therefore, it must be examined at regular intervals, for example as part of the inspection, and replaced if necessary.

… to the crack in the headlight.

The headlight is an absolutely inconspicuous component of the Thunderbirds supplied. The glass may have been under tension in this unfortunate individual case.

… to the defective steering lock.

It is the same, a thousand times proven Niemann lock as in our Classic series. Presumably the locking cylinder was overwhelmed by the many checks "whether it is properly locked" by jerking the handlebars. The lever arm on this motorcycle is very large.

… to the heat traces on the piston and connecting rod eye.

This area is cooled from below by an oil spray nozzle placed in the motor housing. The only explanation for the heat traces is that this nozzle was partially blocked by possible impurities. This can no longer be traced in retrospect because the engine was completely cleaned before the assessment.

… to defective cooling hoses.

We are not yet aware of this defect. An examination of the hoses in the factory or at the supplier will probably only bring clarity.

… to defects in throttle cables and throttle grip.  

This is difficult to explain because these components come from the same supplier as all other Triumph models.

… to slipped vacuum hoses of the injection.

We know this problem. We have therefore changed the hoses and their routing in the current series. They are now longer, made of a different material and are no longer under such tension. 

Reading experiences


Christian Schubert.

After 15,000 kilometers, I’m still completely enthusiastic about my Thunderbird. After 30,000 kilometers on the KTM Duke, I wanted a motorcycle with which you can simply cruise around without having to constantly attack. It works perfectly with the Triumph. Absolutely suitable for long distances, and if you have to, you can also let the pig out thanks to ABS and 1700 cubic meters (Big Bore Kit!). Holds up quickly, but you get used to it.

Manfred Hiller, Weil im Schonbuch

I bought my Thunderbird 1700 Big Bore new from the friendly Triumph dealer in August 2010, with ABS. And to this day I have easily unwound 17,500 kilometers on many small and large trips. I’ve made the right choice, I’m 180 centimeters tall and sit well in the saddle. The rear "seat bun" was upholstered by a specialist in a socially appropriate manner. After the first 10,000 inspection plus tire change (ME 880), I’m looking forward to the 2012 season. 

Armin Hohmann, Obertshausen

After more than a year, I am still fascinated by this ingenious motorcycle and the Triumph brand. My 1600 SE has never let me down. As with all manufacturers, there were only teething problems. The speedometer unit was exchanged under guarantee at 6970 kilometers, it stopped sporadically at any speed. Of course, my T-Bird also took part in the recall campaign when the fender screws were replaced under warranty. A leaky selector shaft seal spread oil stains under the bike. It was changed at the 10,000 review. Splashes of cooling water on the engine probably originate from a Simmerring in the water pump; it has to be exchanged in 2012. I’m very satisfied with the performance and the brakes, the road holding is great. Conclusion: a recommendation for everyone who does not want to drive a cruiser monotony. 

Christian Schubert

I also bought the Storm ABS because of the tests in MOTORRAD. After a good 15 years on athletes and naked bikes, it’s a change to ride the 340 kilo cruiser, but it’s a lot of fun. The great chassis, the sovereign power delivery and the casual seating position lead to constant grins. Even my wife goes with me as a passenger from time to time. I have short mufflers from the Triumph accessories on it from the start (great look, rich sound). The license plate was recently installed over the rear light – it’s just cooler. The indicators come from Kellermann, with brake and rear light functions. Now the long haul seats for the driver and front passenger are added, and then the English woman is perfect. So far she has run almost 3000 km without any problems. 

Marcel Soulier, Mosbach

Since I’m not a Harley fan, I don’t want any air cooling or chains, but I appreciate a lot of displacement and few cylinders, only the Thunderbird came into question alongside the Triumph -Rocket III. I was already enthusiastic about it after a test drive of 500 meters and three curves. I’ve driven a lot of big cruisers, had a Honda VT 1100 and VTX 1800 before, but none of them have that kind of road holding. The ABS brakes are great even without a combination brake system. The maintenance-free belt did not remain completely maintenance-free. The consumption is okay, the tank volume of 22 liters is great, the seating position for me (1.90 meters) is acceptable. Changed them with different risers, new handlebars and longhaul touring single seat. My T-Bird has a 1700 cc big bore kit from the factory, plenty of chrome, double headlights, aluminum handles and footrests. There were never any breakdowns on 13,500 kilometers, but there were many shortcomings: update of the control unit and synchronization of the throttle valve (due to slamming in overrun mode of the engine and death while idling), O-ring of the fuel pump replaced (cold start problems) , left manifold (blue discolored) and silencer – renewed (heat shield broken off). There were also new throttle cables (reset device torn on the nipple). Lubrication helped prevent the toothed belt from squeaking. All cooling water hose connections were leaking after 8,400 kilometers. The brake light switch (permanently on) and touring bench (sucked full of water) were exchanged. 

Jurgen Narr, Denkendorf 

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