In my dreams the road goes on forever.
I gravitate towards empty roads and places off the beaten path. Standing in the middle of old Route 220, once a place of pandemonium and aggressive drivers, I feel at home. And also a bit surprised at how A few weeks ago I sat on a motorcycle outside Kissell Motorsports. I found myself at the beginning of an unexpected conversion. A dedicated Vespa rider enthralled with a big cruising bike. The Triumph Thunderbird.
It's been almost a month since I had the Thunderbird. Enough time to sort out feelings and reactions to the biggest, heaviest motorcycle I've ridden in a long time. I expected a slow, lumbering, unresponsive ride. What I found was a remarkably nimble and easy to handle machine. The engineers at Triumph would probably cringe to read what I am about to say -- I found myself thinking more than once "This feels like my Vespa.". With the Triumph Thunderbird sitting along the road while I try and figure out the best angles for photographs it looks nothing like a Vespa.
I left early one morning for what would become a hundred mile short ride. Patches of fog were scattered through the valley producing areas of limited visibility and wet pavement. While making this picture I noticed the prominence of the exhaust system. Big pipes for the big almost 100 cubic inch parallel twin engine produce a deep rumble. Not too loud and not at all obnoxious. Something I can't say about most of the big cruisers that pass through my neighborhood, especially the ones that operate between 2am and 7am. Moving mechanical obnoxious alarm clocks. But I digress.
The exhaust tone of the Thunderbird reminds me of the growl of a big, mean dog. You know he's big and he does too. No need for any barking.
I confess limited experience on big cruisers. Or anything with two wheels weighing close to 750 pounds. Call me crazy but I always take new bikes to some empty parking lot for some experimentation. Not to see what the bike can do but to determine how little I know. The Mount Nittany Middle School has a nice big lot that supports all sorts of turns, swerves, quick braking, U-turns and anything else you might want to try. In less than 30 minutes imagined myself comfortable and at home on the Triumph. A quick stop for a picture in the fog and I was off to meet my friend Larry for breakfast.
Anyone who's followed Scooter in the Sticks knows a lot of my riding is slow-paced and riddled with numerous stops for pictures. A motorcycle has to be easy to manuever, run smoothly at slow speeds, and allow for quick on and offs. The Thunderbird engine and transmission produced extremely smooth riding at any speed, was agile at even the slowest speeds, and was simple to park almost anywhere. Stopped to photograph a tunnel of trees in the fog I was wondering if the Triumph and I would be a good fit. With the addition of some saddle bags for my camera and gear I could ride this machine anywhere.
A lot of riders don't understand the slow traveling part of riding. They want to get somewhere fast, ride along with a group, or just can't get their head or their hand to agree to speeds that are more akin to bicycle riding. But once the speedometer passes 25mph it is amazing how hard it is to react to things in the landscape. I might just be slow in the head but by the time my brain recognizes something of interest it's already behind me at higher speeds. And I resist turning around just to look or take a picture. I was sitting on the Thunderbird at about 30mph when I noticed the fog strewn across the farm. I don't want to miss this stuff.
I was getting hungry but still would stop to examine some odd detail along the road. The road surface was wet from an early fog but the Thunderbird offered no trouble or complaints as I moved along. The riding position on this bike was near perfect for me. An upright seating position, bars that were wide and just right for me, and foot pegs that seemed to be exactly where my body thought they should be. Both rear footbrake and shifter lever were easy to find and use. Something I can't say for every bike I've ridden where they seem small and hard to manage with the standard issue scooter clod hoppers I wear courtesy of Wolverine Boots.
Fog strouded the Sunset West Diner in Pleasant Gap. It looked like something out of Twin Peaks. Very odd. The Triumph looked appropriate in the lot. It is a handsome motorcycle. Triumph does an outstanding job of producing machines with classic lines. For anyone wanting a big cruiser with elegant lines and complete functionality this is worth looking at. Twice.
Fat and happy from my standard breakfast fare it was time to see how the Thunderbird performed in it's more traditional role as a highway cruiser. Jump on Interstate 99, twist the throttle and watch the needle on the speedometer leap to 80 in no time. All similarities to my Vespa evaporate on the freeway. With so much power, torque, and a smooth, stable ride at any speed I was willing to travel. Even the windblast in my chest seemed stable.
Central Pennsylvania is a beautiful place to ride. The views along the highway can, at times, be breathtaking. Looking at the Triumph I can easily imagine riding it anywhere in America.
The single guage on the tank is a model of simple design and complex function. In addition to the big speedometer a button on the right-hand grip allowed me to toggle through a variety of functions like fuel level, mileage remaining, clock, trip meter and more. And there was a readout for RPMs too but I wasn't concerned about that. Between the engine sound and it's ability to pull at any speed in any gear I didn't pay much attention to how fast things were spinning around. I was just having a fine time riding.
The big gas tank was easy to put fuel in. Not something I would normally notice but for some reason it seemed easier to see what was happening as I added. With all these new bikes I worry about splashing gas all over pristine paint and chrome. Not a worry with this bike.
I stopped to visit with the Nittany Road Riders who were taking part in Chris Kepler's 7th Annual Pennsylvania Grand Canyon Ride. The Thunderbird was the lone cruiser in the group but I'm certain it would have no problems keeping up. I found myself wishing I could go along but duty called another direction.
Around town the Triumph Thunderbird continues to excel. Up and down alleys, backing into parking spaces, making U-turns -- whatever I asked the bike to do it complied without complaint. Or perhaps I should say my skills did. With solid riding skills on a small scooter or motorcycle the transition to the Thunderbird is simple. My limits were apparent and areas to practice more were as well.
I rode the Triumph to work on the last day I had it. Backing through a gap between a pickup truck and another bike and into one of the motorcycle spaces was far easier than I would have expected. Standing there before going to my office I wondered how I could have dismissed any interest in a cruiser style motorcycle. I had ridden them before. I can remember riding a Harley back in the 1970s. Maybe that was the problem. This wasn't the 70s and this bike was a 2010 Triumph Thunderbird.
I've been converted. There is a place in my garage for the Thunderbird. Figuratively speaking.