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Triumph Thunderbird LT vs Indian Chief Vintage
It doesn’t, quite literally, get bigger than this
I love monster movies. I find the idea of a monster assaulting a grand city irresistible, though I don’t know why. I think directors of such movies, too, are not very sure about why their monsters choose to attempt to destroy swathes of urbania. But, the visual treat these films deliver is priceless.
Monsters were the first thing that I thought of when I saw the Triumph Thunderbird LT and the Indian Chief Vintage. Why? For starters, both the motorcycles are ginormous. Both have engines that are much bigger than the ones found in an average sedan, and together they outweigh an Maruti Alto by 45kg.
Cruisers are the monsters of the motorcycling world. While compact, nimble and fast motorcycles can claim to be the pride of sportsbike makers, cruisers unapologetically show the world that they are a lot more about style and riding comfort than lap times.
The Triumph Thunderbird LT (Light Touring) is a shinier version of the Thunderbird Storm. It has bucket-loads of chrome, and the windscreen, saddlebags, and a huge backrest for the pillion complete the long-hauler look. There is so much chrome on this two-tone motorcycle that it’s easy to overlook subtle details such as the pin-striping that separates the two colours. I even like the white wall tyres that especially suit the white-and-blue paintjob.
What makes the Thunderbird LT visually so different from other cruisers is the parallel-twin engine layout. The cruiser world is filled with examples of long stroke V-twins, and parallel twins are rare, especially in the 1000cc-plus segment. The liquid-cooled 1699cc motor makes 93bhp and 151Nm of torque, which should be good enough for most cruiser chores.
The Indian Chief Vintage, on the other hand, has a very different approach to styling. Yes, it, too, has loads of chrome, but it stays true to traditional Indian styling and is clad in a whole lot of metal. Since this was Indian’s comeback motorcycle, Polaris has lavished special attention on the design.
I love the way the front fender covers almost half the wheel, and the war bonnet that is placed atop it. The tanned leather seats and bags all add to the Vintage’s visual appeal. Some might find the styling of the Vintage a bit over the top, but it works for me. And, it doesn’t end there; even the styling of the engine pays homage to Indian motorcycles of yesteryear.
Vibrations were almost absent at idle, and it is enough to trick you into thinking this is a gentle motorcycle. Twist the throttle, and the LT lunges forward. You can feel those 380 kilos as the engine quickly tries to build up speed. Unlike typical cruisers, the engine felt edgy and always ready to go. Its charging-bull attitude made me want to push the bike harder and forget the whole laid-back riding philosophy that is associated with cruisers. The LT feels happy being on the higher end of the rev range. I found myself sticking to third or fourth gear for most of the ride, as it complemented the edgy nature of the engine. Though the gearbox felt clunky (by design), the heel-shifter helped in shifting quickly and effortlessly.
In comparison, the Indian Vintage felt more relaxed, the way a cruiser should. Slip it into any gear, and the engine pulls with purpose. Though the motor makes 11Nm less than the LT, it makes its peak torque 550 revs earlier than the latter. This helps the Vintage deliver fantastic acceleration, and its exhaust note sounds the sweetest between 2000 to 2800rpm. Again, if you are looking for a louder exhaust note, both companies will be happy to sell you an aftermarket one that can wake the neighbourhood.
While Chris Chaves, my colleague, enjoyed gunning the LT down the highway, I was happily sailing behind him at 90kph, with the cruise control on (yes, the Vintage gets cruise control, too). The gearbox is smooth, but I did miss the convenience of a heel-shifter (an optional extra). The Vintage feels much nicer to ride on the highway, thanks to a bigger windscreen. It keeps most of the windblast and bug-splatter away from you. Yes, you can get a bigger windscreen on the LT, too, but only as an optional extra.
In the city and on the highway, the Vintage is much easier to manoeuvre, thanks to the lighter handlebar that makes turning into corners, or dodging traffic relatively hassle-free. In contrast, the LT’s handlebar is heavier, and while this delivers a more planted feel at high speeds, there’s a catch. Changing the LT’s trajectory takes some planning. Even moving this hulk around a parking lot could mean enough exercise to skip the gym for a week.
By the time we exited National Highway 8 for State Highway 57, in Rajasthan, we had already done some 250 comfortable kilometers. Things started getting bumpy on SH57, but both cruisers were up to the task of soaking up uneven surfaces. You hardly ever notice any bumps, and the saddles take care of stuff the suspensions can’t filter. The roads got narrower and more crowded as we got closer to our destination, and we slotted into lower gears and used the brakes more often. The Vintage’s braking is just like its acceleration and has a relaxed feel to it. It is progressive and it does the job. The Thunderbird’s brakes have good bite, and as soon as you go on the brake lever, those pistons dig into the 310mm disc upfront and bring the motorcycle to a standstill.
We reached Sambhar Lake by early evening, and the place looked surreal. The sun had sucked the wetland dry, and salt had corroded everything around it. Abandoned buildings were slowly falling apart, and the place looked apocalyptically beautiful. Both the cruisers looked perfectly at home there.
I was mighty impressed with the Triumph Thunderbird LT when I tested it last month. It is one of the best cruisers in the market today. The LT’s engine has powerful mid- and top-end grunt that will be appreciated by people who are not looking for a typical cruiser. Also, it carries a price tag of Rs 15.75 lakh, which is almost half the Indian Chief Vintage’s asking price of Rs 28.50 lakh.
On the other hand, the Vintage comes across as a much more usable cruiser. It’s easier to manage the Vintage around the city and on an open highway, and it also feel more relaxed. Plus, it looks mind-bogglingly beautiful from any angle. It comes with tech such as Cruise Control, ride by wire and also features keyless ignition. Sure, that still doesn’t justify the hefty premium that you have to pay for the Vintage over the Thunderbird. But if you were to put the price aside, the Indian Chief Vintage bests the Thunderbird LT across a range of parameters, and is just that bit more appealing. In the end, the buying decision might boil down to personal taste and the commodiousness of an individual’s pocket. But, for a guy like me, for whom bigger is always better, it has to be the Indian Chief Vintage any day.
(Words: Abhinav Mishra, Photos: Nitin Rose)