Royal Enfield Thunderbird review / road test ( avl powered engine / without twinspark )
Note. if you are looking for Royal Enfield Thunderbird twinspark review click here.
Act I, scene 1 takes place on the Pune-Mahabaleshwar highway as Sirish puts the cruiser-styled Lightning 350 through her paces. This was the first bike from Royal Enfield to feature a five-speed gearbox with the shifter on the conventional, left side of the bike. It’s a radical change for the decades-old, conservative manufacturer of the Bullet. The gearbox on the Lightning impresses and forms the high point of the road test.
Shifting is smooth, eliminating the constant struggle to shift cogs on the Bullet.
Another positive facet is the absence of false neutrals, a bane of old gearbox.Yet another boon is the Performance as the Lightning 350 recorded the highest top speed achieved on a bike built in the country, having crossed the 110kmph mark, after the RD 350 which to date remains the fastest bike manufactured in India. The ultra macho Lightning with its thunderous exhaust roar, deafening engine clatter and five-speed shifter under left foot evoked rave reviews but alas! never made it to an assembly line.
Scene 2 is set in Delhi and Auto Expo 2002 where CEO Siddharth Lal unveils the Thunderbird, Royal Enfield’s latest entrant into the cruiser segment. His aim is to roll out a new bike every six months, and he has abided by his word in the last year. The Lightning 350 was followed by the Bullet Electra and now here comes the Thunderbird.
Prominent among the cosmetic refurbishments on the Thunderbird are the five-speed gearbox with shifter on the left side, new dials, disc brake on the front wheel, bazooka-like silencer and lo and behold, a self-starter. As promised by Lal, five months down the line the Thunderbird wings it to the OVERDRIVE garages, sans electric start but with the disc on.
Scene 3 plays out on the Pune- Mahabaleshwar highway with yours truly cruising with the ‘Bird, wide grin splitting my face. Even as I revel in the cruise, the revamped styling, mechanicals and Performance register their impact. To list them all, there’s the AVL block, followed by the shifter for the five-speed gearbox on the left, CV carb, CDI ignition and disc brakes on the front wheel.
As I coast into town I revel in thoughts of the Performance test next morning and my grin only gets wider.Whatever the model churned out by Enfield every one of them has a unified personality and character.
And what character, conjuring up visions of long roads seldom travelled slipshod with worn leather, sunlight bouncing off your shades, scruffy beard grissled with road dust, the idle beat of the exhaust filtering down your brain as the miles get pounded underneath, the short halts to light up your brand of smokes as you ride mile after mile and roadside cafes that serve gut wrenching liquid to set fire in your belly. But this necessarily need not mean that only hard men ride hard machines and every effort has been taken to soften the image. So it is little wonder under the keen eye of Siddarth Lal, avid biker and far-sighted economist that this company is seeing an about face.
Styling: Striking enough to elicit envy.
The Thunderbird embodies the cruiser image to the hilt with loads of chrome and what is not chromed is buffed for good measure. The front resembles the city bike or the Lightning 350 with the headlamp set high up on tall forks. The indicators get clear glass treatment.
The twin instrument cluster pods lose the black plastic shroud as on the Lightning and now exude class and functionality reaches new high.
It houses a rather optimistic 160kmph speedometer, 8000rpm tachometer, fuel, odometer and tripmeter all set against a dull blue background with white pointers which all work with minimum error. The ammeter is a thing of the past and the design details on the pods are testim ony to the effort to leave behind the conservative and lacklustre. Upswept handlebars are now closer to the rider with chrome mirrors atop chrome stalks.
The front alloy-spoked wheel houses a twin pot disc brake from Pricol which is surely one of the finest braking units on any bike in the country.Switches for headlamp combining flasher, horn, indicators, decompressor and engine kill are within easy reach. Quality of switchgear still feels tacky. The classy switches and electric start on the bike at the Auto Expo were absent on our road test bike.
No sweat, the CDI ignition has simplified the kickstarting routine.The fuel tank retains its teardrop contours but there is perceptible improvement. There is minimal graphic display and an absence of cumbersome fuel tank extensions while weld lines are cleaner. The paint job is eye-catching with strong vibrant shades.
There are no pannier boxes, instead a parcel shelf with lockable plastic covers sporting the Thunderbird logo has been inducted, with the left side enclosing the battery. The chrome cylindrical casing behind the parcel shelf is a dummy and serves no other than a decorative purpose.
The side stand is chromed and far easier to employ.The one-piece stepped seat derived from the Machismo provides adequate comfort and a firm cushioned backrest in true cruiser tradition has been added for the pillion. The rear end is similar to the Lightning exc ept for the clear glass indicators and the Thunderbird logo on the rear plate of the backrest.Which brings me to what seems like an unforgivable character flaw: the signature tub-thumping exhaust note that’s music to a Bullet lover’s ears has been buried under miles of muffler.
For once engine clatter cannot be drowned by the exhaust note however hard you wring the throttle. Imagine Pavarotti crooning to Backstreet Boys’ tune! However, there is good and valid reason for the detour which I will dwell on later.Fit and finish has significantly improved compared to other bikes in the Royal Enfield fold.
Revised head, block and oil pump show no sign of leaks and routing of the clutch cable reduces chances of cable shear. There is still the constant fuel leakage from the fuel tank cap though the incessant vibrations that loosened most fastenings has considerably reduced.
Engine amp; Transmission:
The Thunderbird makes do with the AVL reworked A350 cylinder head and block. First introduced in early 2000, this vertical single cylinder unit displaces 346cc. Though the internal organs retain the age-old pushrod overhead valve system, changes have been incorporated in the block which now is made of an all-aluminium alloy with a cast iron sleeve.
The height of the cylinder head has been increased and to accommodate the engine in the same frame the sleeve has been pushed further inside the crankcase, altering its external appearance. The same 18bhp max power now comes at a lower 5500rpm. What this translates into is quicker acceleration compared to the standard Bullet with the same (70x90mm) bore and stroke configuration.
The engine breathe s through a Mikuni constant vacuum carburettor which is yet another first for Enfield. This not only aids combustion, improving initial pick-up but coupled with the CDI ignition completely eliminates cold start problems. An advantage of this type of carb is the smooth power delivery.
Unlike the old Dell’orto carburettor that suffered from flat spots, the CV carb only deposits a charge into the combustion chamber when the engine calls for it.
One drawback of the AVL block has been the level of engine noise. The decibel count on this stroker has increased considerably and the mechanical racket in the case of the Thunderbird is louder than that emitted by its exhaust.Which brings us to the second quirk. The exhaust note has been restrained to a large extent by employing a longer and slightly wider muffler in keeping with the new NVH regulations prescribed for engines over 250cc capacity.
These regulations are strictly in tune with the European Commission’s latest NVH regulations. Accordingly Enfield was left with the option of employing twin silencers or designing a large diameter pipe or increasing the length of the current silencer.
When we visited the Tiruvottiyar plant in Chennai we were amazed to see the flights of fancy taking shape in some out and out weird silencer designs. There was a single pipe unit which somewhere along the way found itself divided into two, a ridiculously fat pipe nicknamed ‘elephant foot’ etc, but in the end the long pipe version won the vote.
Complying with regulations has forced Enfield to bring about a change in the torque characteristics and 26.97Nm max torque now shoves through at a higher 3500rpm in part by advancing the ignition timing to 12o BTDC at 1000rpm to 22o BTDC at 2000rpm.The five-speed gearbox engaged via a heel-toe shifter on the left side of the T’Bird will finally see itself on a production series. When we tested the Lightning 350 there were a few ignorable oddities.
On the whole shifting through the cogs was a smooth affair in contrast to the older gearbox and there were not too many false neutrals. With the T’Bird Enfield has gone a step further in refining this box to perform better. Shifting into first is smooth and noiseless, it is simpler to find neutral and false neutrals I encountered only a couple of times in over 500km of riding.
Not much has changed. Why tamper with a good thing that has performed well, consistently. The single downtube uses the engine as a stressed member and exhibits superb st raight line stability. The T’Bird, like the rest of her kin, is a dream to ride on highways.Front suspension employs hydraulically damped telescopic forks and the rear is outfitted with a short swingarm with five way adjustable shock absorber.
Adequate over most surfaces, pounding the T’Bird for long over rough stretches will require the softest setting at the rear. As cruiser her capabilities are limited compared to the Machismo or even the standard Bullet. Though ride is compliant, handling is an entirely different ball game.
Turn-in is hampered by the handlebar grips being too close to the body and cornering with too lean an angle is a strict no-no.
The positioning of the handlebars in relation to the seat and footrest is comfortable as long as roads are straight and curves gradual. However the best way to approach sharp curves is to not lean too hard into the corner but to cut speed, approach in a lower gear and make a clean turn.
How does one expect a cruiser to perform. Sprint, top speed, quarter mile runs are never a measure of this class of motorcycle though they are due their importance in the overall scheme of things.Roll-ons. This class of motorcycle is never going to enter a drag meet though if put against whatever Indian manufacturers have to throw her way the Thunderbird would outclass many.
As functionality goes the T’Bird will undertake more overtaking maneuvers past trundling trucks and trailers. This is where the 27Nm of torque makes all the difference. The new NVH legislation restricts the engine, so now the max torque has been brought in at a higher 3500rpm.
This difference shows up in the roll-ons where 30-70kmph in third gear is achieved in just 7.5sec which is a whole second quicker than the Lightning. However the T’Bird loses this edge as we shift up, and 30-70kmph in fourth is covered in 11.8sec as compared to 11.4sec taken by the Lightning. In fifth gear the T’Bird covers the mark in 24.4sec whereas the Lightning did it in 15.8sec.
By virtue both engines generate the same torque at different rpm, but the engine that develops max torque at higher rpm gains the edge in a lower gear during roll-ons but loses this advantage in higher gear. By the same virtue the engine that generates higher rpm should achieve a higher top-speed. This is not the case with the T’Bird as the wider exhaust diameter restricts revs to average a top speed of 107.6kmph, less than the 112.9kmph top whack of the Lightning.
Acceleration to 60kmph took 7.7sec whereas the T’Bird averaged 22.2sec in the quarter mile run at max speed of 91.0kmph.
Acceleration is strong in every gear which make her ideal for highway cruising.Braking figures are nothing short of impressive. Above all else is the presence of a huge 280mm diameter ventilated disc on the front wheel and the conventional 6 mechanical internally expanding single lead drum brake at the rear. Standard issue dishes out a mechanical internally expanding 7 twin lead drum brake.
The disc should have found its way onto the Bullet years ago, but better late than never. The disc brake version notched some impressive figures with the T’Bird stopping on a dime in 2.5sec within a distance of 21.3 metres keeping its line with minimum theatrics. Now three digit speeds on this cruiser doesn’t seem too scary.
Employing a CV carburettor should have proved a boon to the mileage. But the furthest she stretched a litre was a meagre 40km while the worst was a measly 28kmpl. An overall mileage figure of 34kmpl with a 14.5-litre tank gives her a range of 491.3km.
The Lightning could go over 700km on a full tank.
There is nothing quite as tantalising as a ride on a cruiser and there’s no bike that can hold a candle to the touring abilities of the Enfield fleet though opinion is divided on this count. There are those who absolutely detest the Bullet and its kin, spewing vile filth on the eccentricities that are second nature to this family. Then there is the other side who place it on a tall pedestal, stay awake all night polishing it and set off riding in the wee hours to escape traffic and noonday sun to get to their destination absurd kilometers away.
The Thunderbird with myriad hues and shades tries hard to chart a course all her own but loses track in quite a few respects. There’s plenty of modern technology stacked within to make it more proficient in its ways with the engine and transmission being refined to appeal to wider audience. There is the ‘for men only’ feel inborn, nothing can shake that but at the same time its gone a little soft in the head.
There’s a remarkable improvement in build quality of the T’Bird, a facet both manufacturer and consumer took for granted in the past.
By general consensus if it’s a Bullet, it will leak oil, the bolts will come off, the brakes need to be activated a few miles away, cables will snap, the tank will leak fuel and the sky shall surely fall on my head (to borrow a phrase in Asterix-speak – By Toutasis!) yet I will ride and live to tell the tale. The T’Bird has lost the sonorous timbre an integral part of Enfield’s immortality, so where does that leave it.
There are design cues that will be the cynosure of many a feminine eye, not to mention the myth that only real men ride Enfields. She performs ably as a cruiser, offers comfortable ride with sufficient power on tap and is able to call it quits at a slight tap on the brake lever. But the Thunderbird lacks the savage, almost psychotic dazzle of the Lightning.At Rs 71,590 ex-showroom Bangalore, this soft-tail presents decent value for money.
But no matter how high this bird flies, it’s not going to be in exalted orbit, where eagles dare.
- The Motorcycle Obsession: What I want: Royal Enfield Bullet Electra
- BULLET ELECTRA – Reviews Price Specifications Mileage Ratings…
- Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo 500 – Over Bored
- 2006 Enfield Bullet Electra Troubleshooting, Repair, Maintenance & Tune…
- Royal Enfield Thunderbird Royal Enfield Thunderbird Price India Royal…