RE Thunderbird Twinspark: Sparks Re-ignited

Royal Enfield's retro-cruiser has just gone modern with a new twinspark engine. Does it still carry its old school charm? Abhishek Nigam finds out




I was over the moon when the boss asked me to cover the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey. I mean who wouldn't? I was headed to every bikers dream destination, the ever challenging Leh-Ladakh. There was one slight hitch however, I was going to ride a Royal Enfield and the most I had ever ridden on a bike from this legendry marque was one short circle in my building compound and with its right side shifter it wasn't really a pleasant experience. But the bike I was going to ride for the Odyssey was RE?s all new Thunderbird Twinspark which was going to mark a whole new beginning as far as technology goes for this historic brand.


The original Thunderbird was launched in 2005 replete with a laid-back cruiser styling, conventionally placed gear and brake levers, twin-pod instrument cluster, a modern AVL engine and more colors than black. The bike proved to be a success with the Thunderbird offering very good performance and head-turning looks with an iota of reliability which was needed the most. The Thunderbird was the 'bullet' for the younger generation trying to combine old school charm with all the user friendliness of a modern bike and it succeeded to quite an extent. Come 2008, RE announced the introduction of the all new Thunderbird Twinspark and the changes are more than just an additional spark plug.

On the Outside



On the outside the outside the TBTS, as it is affectionately called, sports no major changes in the looks department. Thankfully it looses the garish two tone paintjob with the tank and panels being unchanged. Only subtle badges on the side panels and the pillion backrest announce the Twinspark technology. The new Unit Construction Engine looks nice with the matt silver finish and seems to be less prone to corrosion. Overall the bike is a definite headturner with its girth and shining chrome all around giving it loads of presence. Even the fit and finish seemed slightly better than the previous bike. Our test bike came with the shorter louder endcan, but we were told that the production bike would get the longer pipe that came with the previous version to keep emissions and decibel levels under check.

Under the tank


Now let's get into the heart of the matter. The Unit Construction Engine integrates the engine, gearbox and clutch unlike the earlier cassette type gearboxes. Another major change is the location of the chain sprocket, chain and the entire rear brake assembly on the right hand side to avoid transmission losses. The inclusion of hydraulic tappets take care of the pushrod adjustments while at the same time provide more precise timings. To provide ease of use under heavy traffic conditions, the TBTS now comes with a new six-plate clutch which results in a claimed 25 percent reduction in clutch effort, and a redesigned oil pump gives twice the oilflow compared to the earlier spindle-type pump making the engine more efficient. All these changes carried out have not only made the bike much easier to run but at the same time made it more reliable as well.

RE claims the TBTS to have a 10 percent increase in performance over the earlier AVL 350 engined Thunderbird. The only way to find that out was by giving the bike some head. On the performance runs, the TBTS thundered its way to 60 km/h in 5.22 seconds going on hit a top speed of 114.73 km/h. Just comparing these figures against the recently tested Yamaha FZ-16 tells us that the TBTS is 0.38 seconds quicker to the 60 km/h mark and then further widens the gap by almost 2.5 seconds before hitting the ton. Although the bikes are leagues apart, the performance figures speak volumes about the new bike's performance gains. I distinctly remember, while riding in the mountains, the TBTS was much less affected by the altitude and accelerated without a hitch unlike its struggling predecessor. Vibes though are still an issue and exploring the upper limits of the powerband for more than ten minutes will leave your fingers numb. Outright performance apart, the bike is totally at home cruising lazily at around 80 km/h with the rev counter hovering around the 3500 rpm mark. Overtaking is hardly a chore, with the 28 Nm of torque available at the slightest twist of the throttle.


The Ride


Before taking the first corner I had a lot of doubts in my head. The bike is shod with 19 inch MRF crossplys at the rear while ribbed MRF's do the duties upfront. Also being in the cruiser mould, the TBTS was not really expected to dance around the corners. But all those thoughts vanished the moment the first corner was dispatched. The bike handled every corner thrown at it with the finesse of a ballet dancer displaying amazing agility and balance. Only the low set footpegs seem to spoil the party abruptly, by grounding out before lean angles get really serious. But that's understood since the bike is meant for laidback cruising rather than sport riding. Braking too was spot on with the huge 280 mm disc-152mm drum combo offering plenty feel and bite.










The Bike and You


We certainly believe the overall efficiency of the engine has gone up in spades. Apart from the excellent performance figures, the fuel efficiency has gone up as well. In our city cycle the bike returned 43 km/l while on the highway the figure went upto 51 km/l giving the bike an excellent touring range of around 700km on a full tank.

Times are definitely changing at Royal Enfield with the LB 500 and the Twinspark highlighting the company's foray into a technological zone. With this bike, RE hopes to rope in the younger generation offering all the merits of the previous bike and then some. With emissions becoming stricter by the day, the days seem numbered for the old cast iron block and the use of more efficient technology is imminent. But technology comes at a price with the Twinspark retailing for over a lakh of rupees. However its much more bike than its predecessor since at the same price the new Twinspark actually offers so much more.