Not quite sure what it’s supposed to be
The late 90s/early 2000-era Thunderbird Sport is an interesting mixture of classic good looks and sporting ability. Between the chrome, beautiful paint and lace wheels, the bike can easily be mistaken for just another modern interpretation of a 60s or 70s motorcycle. When you get a little closer, though, and notice things like the dual disc brakes up front and fully adjustable suspension, you realize there may be more to the bike than just a walk down memory lane.
I found the bike on Craigslist almost by accident after selling my ’06 Multistrada 620. It was in Medford–about a 3.5 hour drive from my house in Bend. I hastily put together a trip with a buddy to go down and bring it back. I drove a rental car down (cashier’s check in hand) a few days after seeing it on Craigslist–too quickly to even do much research, so I really had no idea what I was buying.
My first ride aboard the bike before handing the check over was eye-opening. It felt considerably faster than the Multistrada I’d just sold. It was heavier, but carried its weight much lower. And it was quiet with the stock pipes. After living with loud pipes for more than two years I thought I was ready for a break. Things weren’t all sunflowers and roses, though. The turn signals didn’t work and one of the owners had “shortened” the clutch and brake levers, which took some getting used to.
After the ride, I had some reservations, but ended up buying the bike and riding it back over the mountains and on to Bend. I managed to get a few good rides in before the season ended, putting about 3000 miles on it before being forced to sell it because of pay cut.
What’s it like to ride? Depends on how and why you’re riding it. The bike has two very distinct personalities. Around town (and under about 3500 rpms), it sort of a cross between one of the new Bonnevilles and the Thruxton with more power than either one. The riding position isn’t as comfy as the Multistrada’s with a bit more forward lean and considerably narrower bars. I found myself not wanting to commute or run errands on it as it just wasn’t as comfortable as my KLR650.
As a touring bike–well the T-Bird Sport isn’t a touring bike. The clearance between the seat and exhaust isn’t enough for saddle bags, which restricts you to a tank and tail bag at best. The narrow bars and high gas tank wouldn’t allow for fitting a very tall tank bag. The riding position can feel cramped after more than an hour or so in the saddle as the pegs are set relatively high (though you can still grind them fairly easily in corners). Then there’s the wind protection–or lack thereof. Though the bike is capable of high speeds, I often found myself cruising at more like 55 or 60 because anything more than that really generates a lot of buffeting–which you tend to notice more when all you’re doing is watching the scenery roll by.
As a sporty standard, the bike was downright fun–especially after boring out the mufflers (found that I tend to use the sound of the bike a lot more than I realized when I ride), turning out the fuel-air mixture screws, and dropping the forks about 10-12mm. The motor in the T-Bird Sport makes about 80 horsepower and for me, somewhere between 80 and 100 horsepower is a real sweet spot. Plenty of power to go fast, but still easily manageable. Once you get up past 3500 rpms, the engine really wakes up and the exhaust note is this strange and wonderful snarl (similar to the other triple reviewed here, the 1050cc Triumph Tiger) that just encourages the rider to be a little…naughty.
I’d call the Thunderbird Sport a neo-classic roadster. It’s sporty enough to be fun for an hour or two and great to look at in your garage or parked in front of a coffee shop. I enjoyed owning and riding it, but won’t miss it much because of its very narrow focus. I think the next one will probably be a bit more of a jack-of-all trades…like my old Multi or that Tiger….or maybe somethign completely different–like a Ural sidecar rig.