Royal Enfield has come a long way from being on the verge of shutting down to struggling with the sheer amount of demand. All this change thanks to the Unit Construction Engine that turned the image of the brand in a different direction. The very first motorcycle to get the new heart was the Thunderbird. Replacing the 350cc AVL single-spark engine, arrived the UCE Twin-spark that started the process of making Royal Enfields faster, more efficient and above all easier to live with and the Thunderbird has really struck a chord with young buyer in particular. So is this machine a true cruiser or a Hardly Davidson?
The Thunderbird has rather obvious design pros and cons. Overall the bike looks very well structured and everything is in perfect sync. For example the seat and panels are aligned magnificently and the streamlined design moves fluently throughout the body. However, the ICBM exhaust is excessively large. The tip of the exhaust is a good few inches ahead of the rear tyre, so parking the Thunderbird back-first may result in heart pinching knock on the exhaust. The backrest is solid and can be trusted not to break unlike many after-market backrests that non Thunderbird riders have to use. Apart from this the display has been orchestrated very well, but is illegible when hit by sunlight.
The Thunderbird is perfect for riders above the 6ft height mark. Raised handlebars, deep sunk-in and wide seating make it ideal for long rides. The 19 inch MRF Nylo Grips are surefooted and enable brilliant control, but a patch of water may be a little unnerving. Unfortunately the suspension is not perfect for city roads. The telescopic front forks are delicate and fork seal ruptures are to be expected while the twin gas charged shock absorbers at the back need to be adjusted a few notches to handle weight better. If rider and pillion are a bit on the heavier side, chances are the mud-guard and tyre will come in contact. The seats could use a little more padding. Since the suspension is a bit of a let-down, 2-3 hours of riding will have you doing a bit of yoga to gain sensation in your rear end.
The Thunderbird is fast and delivers the torque when needed. Peak power is at 19.8 BHP at 5250 rpm and maximum torque is 28 NM at 4000rpm. The revs are most comfortable at the 70 kmph mark. Reaching 120 kmph takes a while, but isn’t difficult. However, the vibrations are enough to register on the Richter scale and the balance goes off by quite a bit at high speeds. The occasional sprint on the highway is fine by the bird, but prolonged high speeds will not go down well with it and the bike will let you know. The brakes are perfect and works well at all speeds although the rear brake loosens up after every 80 kilometers or so. A 280mm front disk and a 150mm rear drum brake provide ample stopping power and are very reassuring.
All in all this is an ideal highway cruiser and maintains the Classic Royal Enfield essence while being a modern move for the oldest production motorcycle company in the world. The Thunderbird still faces a few manufacturing defects of a cable here and a wire there, but Royal Enfield has definitely given a boon to long distance riding and made a bike that is a better performer and a lot easier to live with.