Triumph Thunderbird Sport
1997 - 2004 865cc, OHV, four-stroke triple
Why you might like a T-bird Sport ...
Comfort: Classic sit-up-and-beg-posture.
Vibration: Smooth engine. Triumph got the balance right.
Wheels: Aluminium alloy for reduced unsprung weight.
Pillion: Decent saddle for long distance hauls.
Engine: Strong, durable, heavily engineered.
Torque: Gets it on nicely from the mid-range upward.
Depreciation: In demand. Prices appear to hold well.
Chain final drive: Easy final drive ratio changes.
Presence: You'll be noticed by all but the very blind.
Six-speed gearbox: Upgrade from standard 5-speed T-birds.
Servicing: Straightforward. Owner friendly.
Seat height: Will suit most riders. Pillions will help.
Engine sound: Classic Hinckley triple roar. Grows on you.
Liquid cooling: The bike stays calm whatever you do.
Braking: Twin front discs. Lots of stopping power.
Power: Around 82 horses at the crank. Less at wheel.
Clutch: Hydraulic. Nice, progressive feel. Bites clean.
Modern classic: Look after it. The future will love you.
Suspension: Just right for us (too soft for some).
Handling: Corners or straights. The T-Bird rolls on and on.
Fuel consumption: Around 45mpg is possible.
... and why you might not like one
Weight: Top heavy for many riders. 500lbs overall.
Finish: Keep on the right side of corrosion (nuts, bolts, etc).
Starter clutch: Needs a good battery for smooth operation.
Grab rail: Doesn't have one. Strap only. Optional back rest.
Noise: Dated engine is a little rattly, but tolerable.
Silencers: Luggage & footrest woes with early bikes.
Enamelled engine: Watch for scabby examples. Hard to fix.
Looks: Dumpy design lacks grace and elegance.
Silencers: Stacked on early bikes. Awkward. Impractical.
Handling: Some guys call them wallowy and lardy. We don't.
Centre stand: Hasn't got one of these either, not as standard.
Damage: Plenty have been dropped due to weight issues.
Cleaning: Hard to get into the tricky bits.
Horn: As with most motorcycles, it's feeble.
Horn: Untidy placement on the left side of the engine.
Price: Second hand values hold well.
▲ Left hand view of the early Thunderbird Sport. None of the Sports were fitted with hard grab rails or centre stands as standard. Clearly, Triumph aimed these British muscle bikes at the solo riding experience. The chopped front mudguard suggested that this was more about urban racing than international touring.
▲ There's very little we didn't like about the Triumph Thunderbird Sport. But if you plan to carry luggage or a regular pillion, choose the model above with a 3-into-2 system with a silence each side. The passenger pegs are lower, and throw-over bags present no problem. However, the early bikes with the two silencers on the right side are visually cool. Some riders feel that these early models have a (slightly) better finish and are (slightly) less prone to corrosion. But there ain't much in it.
▲ With its 17-inch wheels and 43mm Kayaba front fork, the steering is a little quicker than on the standard Thunderbird 900. The extra (310mm) front disc and improved suspension will encourage you to misbehave. There's a small, but not insignificant range of bolt-on goodies for the Sport'; some from Hinckley, and some from who knows where? Just buy the best bike you can and love it. There are no serious known problems. Just the usual irritating things like duff ignition coils and the occasional popped seal or dodgy clock. Mostly, these Trumpets just roll on and on. But wait! Is it worth more than a standard 900 Thunderbird? You tell us. Either way, factor in an extra 10 percent or so. All the Sport engines are black finished, incidentally. Colours include
Racing Yellow/Jet Black with Silver striping; Tornado Red /Jet Black with Silver striping.
▲ The Triumph Legend (1998 - 2001). If you're looking for a cheaper Thunderbird, this is it. Same 885cc engine. Same general feel. Same presence. But the seat is lower by an inch or two, the suspension is more basic, and braking power is down a few notches. Nevertheless, these cost-cutting, reduced power (65hp) Legends are good value entry-level triples. Colours were Cardinal Red, Obsidian Black, or Imperial Green. The wheels are 17-inchers.
▲ Thunderbird Sport spare parts are still relatively easy to source. Secondhand fork yokes are generally around £150 - £250 a set; wheel bearings are around £20 a pair (2015 prices). A replacement radiator will set you back around £120. But if you're thinking of long term ownership, you'd be well advised to stock up on a few consumables, and maybe invest in a spare petrol tank and side panels, etc. But generally, you can get pretty much whatever you want at reasonable prices. Keep in mind that many parts from the standard 900 Thunderbird, Legend and Adventurer will fit. For oil, a 10W40 semi-synthetic will do fine.
▲ Left to right: Triumph Thunderbird Sport Quick Release Thumb Bolts. Designed to replace those tricky under-the-seat standard removal screws, these doo-dahs cost around £25 a pair plus £2 P&P (Sept 2015 prices). Talk to email@example.com based in Lancashire. Next, those Barnett clutch springs will help you get a grip and maintain it. Prices are around £15 to £20 for a set of four. Check eBay or similar. They're kicking around somewhere. Finally, that's a Puig Fly Screen. It's also available for other bikes (Triumph and otherwise), but the Thunderbird Sport item will set you back around £45 plus around £6 P&P. Talk to: firstname.lastname@example.org (based in Germany).
1997 Triumph Thunderbird Sport specifications
Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line, triple
Bore/stroke: 76mm x 65mm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Fuel system: 3 x 36mm flat slide CV carburettors
Transmission: Gear primary drive. Wet, multi-plate clutch. Six-speed gearbox
Headlight: Single 12-volt 60/55W halogen H4
Frame: Micro alloyed high tensile tubular steel
Swinging arm: Aluminium alloy
Wheels: Front, alloy 36-spoke, 17-inch x 3.5-inch. Rear, alloy 40-spoke,
17-inch x 4.25-inch
Tyres: Front, 120/70 x 17-inch. Rear, 160/60 x 17-inch
Front fork: 43mm cartridge with triple rate springs, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear suspension: Rising rate monoshock with adjustable preload,
compression and rebound damping.
Front brakes: 2 x 310mm discs, 2-piston calipers
Rear brake: 285mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Length: 88.5in (2250mm)
Width: 27.6in (700mm)
Seat height: 31.1 inches (790mm)
Wheelbase: 62.2 inches (1580mm)
Dry weight: 494lbs (224kg)
Maximum power: 82hp) at 8,500rpm (83PS)
Maximum torque: 56lb.ft at 6,500rpm (76Nm)
Maximum revs: 8,750rpm
Top speed: 130mph
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Brakes, wheels and suspension
Thunderbird Sport 900 engine & performance
Seat height and weight
Frame & swinging arm
The 895cc Triumph Thunderbird Sport was introduced in 1997 and was dropped from the range in 2004. Five to six years in production is hardly a record-breaking manufacturing run. So what the hell was wrong with the bike?
Not a lot actually. In fact, almost nothing. But Hinckley's new Bonneville had been fairly recently released (2000), and there was was no sense in having two bikes competing for what was largely the same money. And maybe even then, Triumph had other plans for the illustrious "Thunderbird" name.
The Thunderbird Sport, like the Hinckley Bonneville, was clearly intended to appeal to traditionalists. With its sit-up-and-beg riding position, its flattish handlebars, its conventional saddle and the fairly neutral footrest position, the bike was developed from the standard Thunderbird 900 introduced in 1995.
Like the 900 T-Bird, the Sport was capable of a respectable 82hp. But unlike the 900, the Sport's engine wasn't restricted. Therefore, instead of choking the inlet tracts, Triumph allowed the bike to suck in whatever fuel/air mixture was possible by the normally aspirated engine.
Featuring twin discs at the front (as opposed to a single on the standard 900), stiffer suspension, 17-inch aluminium alloy rims (as opposed to an 18-inch/16-inch chrome steel combo), slightly lower bars, and twin silencers on the right (intended to evoke the heady days of the X-75 Meriden Triumph Hurricane), the Sport was a horse of an entirely different colour.
Fundamentally, the engine is the same as that used in the contemporaneous Triumph Tiger Trail. Modularity, after all, was the watchword during the early days of Hinckley.
With its DOHC, 12-valve, 76mm x 65mm, in-line, three-cylinder, liquid-cooled lump, the Sport is easily capable of 130mph.
The bike is ideal as an all-round fast commuter-cum-tourer-cum scratcher-cum bar hopper. Its comfort zone is around 60-90mph, and nobody talks about these near "bomb-proof" engines without mentioning the "grunty mid-range" and the oodles of "confidence inspiring" torque (56lbs/ft @ 6,500rpm.
We test rode one of these Sports way back when the bike was launched, and we were highly impressed.
Seat height and weight
It's a heavy beast, mind. And if you're used to more traditional British twins (that weigh in at around 400lbs), the T-Bird Sport, at 494lbs, will raise concerns even as you first straddle it.
So okay, at 31-inches, the seat height isn't a particularly difficult stretch for most riders, but the width of the bike makes for a fairly long-path-to-ground.
Worse still, the engine (like all early Hinckley bikes) is top heavy. Consequently, if you're of a more compact stature, you definitely won't like this bike in stop-start traffic on a greasy road.
However, if you can live with that kind of uncertainty, the virtues of the Sport easily overcome most of its vices.
And keep in mind that lowering kits are available to drop the seat height by around one inch to one-and-a-half inches. Doesn't sound much, perhaps, but it can make a significant difference and increase confidence.
With its hydraulic clutch and lusty engine, the bike moves off eagerly and gallops into the mid-range like the thoroughbred that it is.
The six-speed gearbox (5-speed on the standard 900) is mostly notch free, but you need to work at it a little to get fluid changes up and down. Once or twice we felt a small but irritating lag in shifting and fluffed a cog. But most owners talk largely of clean gear changes with no false neutrals.
We should mention here that the bike we rode had less that 1000 miles on the clock, and that's a long way short of the huge mileages that these bikes are capable of.
We've since heard of examples that claim over 100,000 miles with only a top end overhaul (plus the usual collection of chains, sprockets, pads and plugs), and we've got no doubt that things will ripen nicely as the fruit matures.
Triumph was certainly confident enough to offer the bikes with a two year unlimited mileage warranty, and we'd trust in that.
Frame & swinging arm
The frame is steel. The swinging arm is aluminium alloy. The front fork is the cartridge type with triple rate springs, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping. The rising-rate monoshock is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Handling, despite the bulk, is surefooted. Yes, you can ground it out if you're desperate and heavy on the brakes, and it's easy to get over-eager.
And that's a mistake, because this is not a sports bike. It just thinks it is when the going is good.
Looking after a T-Bird Sport is fairly straightforward, and pretty much everything is do-able by the home mechanic. But if you're from the old Triumph school (i.e Meriden bikes), you're gonna have to get used to things such as the crank position sensor or the cooling fan switch. And you'll have to become familiar with the intricacies of bucket and shim valve adjustment.
Naturally, you'll need a few special tools (including a rear axle stand) and a decent workshop manual (the Haynes manual is pretty good, but imperfect).
You'll want a carburettor balancer too.
But generally, these bikes are easy to live with, and all the problems are know-able.
Overall, this is a cracking motorcycle, and we reckon it's going to be a future classic with a very decent price on its head.
Any of the Thunderbirds of this vintage (including the Legend and the Adventurer) are great machines, both solo or two-up (yes, we tested it two-up as well). But the Sport, with its extra stomp and extra stopping power, is the one we'd pick.