Wednesday, April 20, 2016

THE TRIUMPH THUNDERBIRD – THREE MONTHS IN


Learning to relax in comfort

The wooden drawer pull on the antique desk had slipped free of its screw.  In order to remedy this circumstance, a trip to the hardware store was in order.  I hoped there’d be such a mercantile in Bolinas, California, because I’d never been to Bolinas before and with clear skies and highs in the mid-70s, it was a perfect day to explore a bit more of the California coast.

I’d purchased a ’15 Triumph Thunderbird new in January.  The local dealer (Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph – ask for Bill) offered this big cruiser at a deep discount and I was eager to try a motorcycle genre different than any I’d ridden before.

Did I say different?  Boy Howdy!

The big cruiser rests heavily on its side stand, generally an off-putting first impression for the likes of a BMW / Guzzi veteran.  But once I balanced it between my bent legs, feet flat on the showroom floor, I knew a test ride would be necessary.  About a mile into that experience, different felt pretty compelling.

Now, with nearly 1500 miles on the clock and while engaging in that 180-mile round trip to the hardware store, I took stock of my new mount.


California’s Route 1 has to be one of the world’s best motorcycling roads.  Except for a very few cliff-side spots where the Pacific Ocean is showing the civil engineers who’s really the boss, the road is well paved and nicely maintained.  Stretches along the tops of bluffs affording views of a vast ocean and gorgeous hills are punctuated by short twisty sections into and out of streams that empty into the sea.  The State of California offers many places where the rider can pause and be enveloped by the grandeur of it all, several with access to beaches.

With each pause on the T-bird, I was greeted by at least a wink or a nod and frequently a question or comment that lead to conversation.  The thing invites attention: those seeking anonymity need not apply.

 At about 3:00, fellow on a bruised Gold Wing eyeballed the engine and the seat and the acres of chrome and asked how I liked it.  Since early morning I’d been studying for this exam.  I shared some of the following with the Wingman:

  • The motorcycling press says that Triumph has set the standard for seating comfort on this ‘Bird.  After over seven hours in the saddle, I have to agree.
  • Many cruisers emit quite a bit of heat from either exhaust heads or from rearward cylinder (if a Vee-twin) but due in part to the parallel twin design of this 1700cc engine, I’ve felt zero discomfort in this regard.
  • The exhaust note is a soft rumble.  Others may prefer something that announces to folks in the next county that somebody on a bike may be coming, but I like the tenor of the music this machine plays.
  • The thing is not awash in technology.  I don’t need to know my lap time, the altitude, my average speed, current status of the Dow Jones Industrials or my MPG.  I do like to know the current time, number of miles until empty and length of my trip.  A button on the right grip offers this and only this.  (I also didn’t pay for a radio I wouldn’t use.)
  • The T’bird has a couple of hundred pounds on my former GSA, but it plants itself well on the pavement and seems much more stable when crossing those stiff, late afternoon on-shore breezes.
  • The bike likes sweeping turns and the engine’s massive torque doesn’t necessarily require me to downshift when powering out of one.  Tight, twisty turns are a bit more work for the rider.
  • It is really easy to throw my leg over the low seat and being flat-footed in filling station is a pleasant change that I was ready for.
  • The nature of the powerful bike – perhaps due to the cruiser style seating position – allows me to feel more relaxed, engaged in the ride in a different way that the brisk Moto Guzzi or rugged BMW (both very fine scoots!) of my recent past.  That takes a little getting used to.
  • A downside?  The thing is so flashy with its Caspian blue and white livery and hand painted coach lines that I feel obligated to keep it particularly clean.
  • Did I mention that you meet a lot of people?

The story goes that the folks in the village of Bolinas guard their privacy so greatly that they’ve removed the directional signs on CA 1 indicating where you turn in order to find their coastal Brigadoon.  I used a map.  A gentle hill with a nice two-lane separates the town from the world on the east side of the San Andreas Fault.  From the county beach a few blocks through town, the Farallon Islands – some twenty miles distant – seem close enough to touch.

A homemade chicken tamale waited for me at the Coast Café (Think Globally – Eat Locally) and the tiny hardware store did, indeed, have just the piece my old desk needed.


Clouds began to slide in on the way back up the coast offering a graying cast to the roiling sea.  With slightly muted light, the ride seemed different, but just as delicious reminding me that any road you take in the opposite direction is a different ride. 

Seven-plus hours in the saddle and, now, a thousand-and-a-half miles on the clock and I am beginning to feel one with the bike.  The different I was looking for has proven to be so captivating that today, when my wife suggested I could use a haircut, I found there was a great barbershop in a neighboring town about 28 miles north of home.

o0o

Today’s Route:  From San Francisco and US 101, head north on CA 1 toward (and past) Stinson Beach; from Santa Rosa and US 101, follow any route to coast range and coastal towns such as Guerneville and Jenner (on CA 116) or Bodega/Bodega Bay, head south on CA 1 through Valley Ford, Tamales and Marshall.  Coming from either direction on CA 1, good luck finding the turn off to Bolinas.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

3 comments:

  1. You know you are enjoying the ride when you look for excuses to go just that much further for what you need. Triumph sure makes a nice bike.

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  2. Neither human behaviorists nor transportation engineers have yet fully grasped the apparent correlation between motorcycle ownership and the slowness with which even minor errands are completed. ‘Tis a riddle for the ages.

    I’m curious about some of your word choice, Dave: “The nature of the powerful bike – perhaps due to the cruiser style seating position – allows me to feel more relaxed, engaged in the ride in a different way that the brisk Moto Guzzi or rugged BMW (both very fine scoots!) of my recent past.”

    Likely I’m just reading something into it, but “scoots”?... ;-)

    Good story, man. I enjoyed it.

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    1. Term of endearment. (You should hear all the such-terms to which my dog Edward responds...)

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