A motorcycling legend was born in 1949 when Triumph took its highly respected 500cc Speed Twin engine and bored it out to 650cc, creating the Thunderbird, a machine intended primarily for the American market where power and comfort were valued above all else. Subsequently, the name has been revived intermittently for Triumph’s medium-sized, classic-styled general-purpose bikes.
The Thunderbird 900 was launched in 1995, featuring a water-cooled 885cc three-cylinder engine, fed by three 36mm Mikuni carburettors and producing 68bhp. Like the original Thunderbird, the new model was intended to revive sales in America when Triumph returned to the Stateside market following a period of reorganisation under John Bloor.
Visually, it owed much to the fondly-remembered Triumphs of the 1960s, with all its chrome, wire wheels, pea-shooter exhausts and the famous fuel tank badge. The 885cc triple was, by this point, a tried and tested unit used in a number of other models so it was a safe choice for this new nostalgia-inspired model but, for the Thunderbird, the cylinder head, crankcase and covers were outwardly modified in order to resemble the air-cooled engines of the ’60s.
Of course, one feature of the Thunderbird which wasn’t tied to the past was its performance, and with a top speed of 122mph, it provided a fast and comfortable ride in keeping with modern standards. This perfect marriage of old and new succeeded in making the Thunderbird not just a great success in America, but all over the world.
This Thunderbird was first registered on 1st March, 2001, and supplied new through the Motorcycle Centre of Orrell, Lancashire, to a Mr. Frank Monks of Coppull. The bike remained in the Chorley area until 2013.
It has obviously only ever been used sparingly throughout its life, as the MoT record confirms that it has covered just 4811 miles. The vendor is the fourth owner. He bought it on a whim during lockdown in April, 2021, but also purchased a BMW not long after, and has therefore come to the conclusion that the Triumph will have to be rehomed.
The Triumph comes with a decent paperwork file which includes the logbook and a detailed record of 13 MoTs, the earliest of which dates from 2004. Suffice it to say, a currently valid MoT is among them. There is also an undated invoice from Sheldon Motorcycle Centre detailing an MoT, oil change and fitment of a new oil filter.
Original factory and dealer literature includes the Pre-Delivery Inspection sheet and the plastic owner’s wallet, which contains the Owners Handbook and Motorcycle Service Handbook. The service book contains only two stamps, from 2007 and 2013. There is also a spare key.
The state of this Thunderbird almost defies credibility. One would think it impossible that any bike could still look so clean and immaculate at 20 years old, but here is proof to the contrary. Obviously, this is a genuine low mileage bike and so one expects it to have survived well, but it looks like it has only just been driven off the showroom floor. The vendor suspects it has never been used in the rain, and we would agree that such is probably the case.
On a cosmetic level, everything is superb – the paint, the chrome, the instruments, the seat upholstery, and the rubber and glass parts. Even the engine, which would be within its rights to display a few greasy marks, looks clean enough to eat one’s dinner off it. The wheels, exhaust pipes, rocker cover and crankcase covers are all positively gleaming, and a better example will not be easy to find.
Were it not for some slight imperfections on the tank badge (which may just be an accumulation of dirt), we cannot think of much that would stop this bike winning a concours prize.
The bike starts on the button and runs happily, with a healthy-sounding rumble. The vendor advises that it should ideally be allowed to warm up before a run, which of course is true of anything with a carburettor. Although there is not much of a record of any mechanical work being undertaken, with fewer than 5000 miles behind it, it probably hasn’t needed any.
From a safety point of view, everything should be in order as the bike passed its MoT on 8th April this year with no advisory points.
There exists a certain stereotype which has it that owners of classic British bikes spend most of their time sitting at the side of the road, getting covered in mud and oil. This is most certainly a cruel misrepresentation of classic motorcycle ownership, but the fact remains that, at the end of the day, more modern bikes do tend to have a better record of reliability.
Since a lot of people like the idea of a running a classic bike but lack the time or skills to give it the maintenance and upkeep it needs, what could be better suited to their needs than the Triumph Thunderbird 900?
Like most modern bikes, the Thunderbird is sure to have a long life on the road before any major work is required, but this particular example is uncommonly good. Having covered under 5000 miles, it’s not far off brand-new, and it shows in its excellent outward appearance. If you want a bike which combines classic looks with modern usability, this Thunderbird is as good as anything you’re likely to find.
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