Jul 25, 2012

9 Royal Enfield ThunderBird 500. Missed Opportunity?

I would have redesigned and repositioned the Thunderbird..

Royal Enfield is on the verge of launching a new and bigger Thunderbird 500 (cc) in India. It is being positioned as the ultimate touring machine. Will it be another best seller from Royal Enfield?

I actually can’t find a category for the Thunderbird..

it's confused..!!

For the record, the Thunderbird is only sold in India and not exported anywhere. Why? Because in export markets Royal Enfields are bought because of its 1940’s-50’s British bike heritage/styling. The Thunderbird is anything but a retro styled British bike. Royal Enfield seems to have put in a lot of effort in the new Thunderbird 500. But despite the efforts the basic theme/styling of the bike still is same as the current Thunderbird Twinspark (350).

According to me Royal Enfield has not totally learned from the success of its "Classic" range in India.

Royal Enfield: “Classic” Turnaround

Made primarily with the export markets in focus, Royal Enfield never anticipated the huge demand that its Classic 350/500 models generated in India. In fact they are still struggling to meet the domestic demand for the Classic 350/500. The waiting list for these models is as long as 9-10 months. The most important learning point for Royal Enfield here was that the Classic 350/500 models were successful in grabbing the attention of the traditionally “non-Royal Enfield” biker. The increasing number of upwardly mobile young riders on the Classic as seen in our cities is proof of these successful conversions.

Royal Enfield: More than just a “Bullet”

Before the Classic models, the Royal Enfield and “Bullet” name was used interchangeably and loosely. In fact when initially launched the official mini site for the classic model was www.bulletclassic.com. But success of the Classic gave an opportunity to Royal Enfield to sort out its brand strategy in India. So now we have 3 sub brands: Bullet (350/Electra Twinspark), Classic (350/500) and Thunderbird.

As a bike enthusiast, I understand the "Bullet" and the "Classic"..

The “Bullet” range is reproduces the original 60 year old Royal Enfield design. The 350 Twinspark with just one body color. (i.e. Black) is more original than the Electra Twinspark which is a modern interpretation of the Bullet with color options, gas filled rear shock absorbers, front disc brake and an electric starter.

The “Classic” range is the modern interpretation of a retro/timeless design with modern features like fuel injection. With Rs. 1.5 lakhs one can now become a biker with retro/mature/classic taste. Among a sea of plastic bikes/bikers the “Classic” models give a change to stand apart in the crowd. No wonder why non Royal Enfield/new/young bikers are now ready to make the “Classic” transition.

In summary the Bullet appeals to the traditional hardcore Bulleteer and the Classic appeals to the biker with an evolved/mature taste. So where does the Thunderbird fit in?

..but I do not understand the "Thunderbird"..!!

In 2002 dreams of owing a Harley Davidson in India were just .. err dreams. Bike enthusiasts used to modify the Bullet to make Harley Davidson lookalikes. The Thunderbird was therefore conceptualized to appeal to those bikers; therefore it got that scooped seat, raised front suspension and tall-wide handlebars. In 2002 the Thunderbird might have cut ice, but in 2012 with the real McCoy (Harley Davidson) present in India, the Royal Enfield Thunderbird appears well.. confused.

With 19/18” wheels (front/back) the Thunderbird is anything but low slung; even with its scooped seat. The raised front forks are nowhere like the kicked out forks of a proper cruiser. Even the footpegs are positioned like a normal road bike and not like the feet forward position of a cruiser. I actually can’t find a category of motorcycles in which I can fit the Thunderbird.

(2012) Thunderbird 500, a Missed opportunity

The Thunderbird might have a few fans in India but I really doubt if the new Thunderbird can expand the base in a big way. I have my doubts if the Thunderbird 500 would be able to replicate the same “Classic” phenomenon of converting a breed of traditionally non-Royal Enfield bikers. The styling of the Thunderbird is confused. It is not an honest traditional British bike, nor is it a true American style laid back cruiser. Thanks to the global exposure, the Indian biker has matured a lot in his taste and aesthetic sense to make out the difference.

Had I been at the helm of Product Planning at Royal Enfield, instead of continuing with the current confused positioning, I would have repositioned the Thunderbird as a “Modern Royal Enfield”.

Bullet: For the traditional hardcore “Bulleteer”
Classic: For the biker who wants to showoff his mature taste in bikes
Thunderbird: For the biker who wants a “Modern Royal Enfield”

How? By following the design of the Harley Davidson “Sportster” and chucking out the cruiser ambitions. The Sportster design is not the traditional Harley Davidson Cruiser design. The footpegs are not feet forward and the front forks are not kicked out. As the name suggests the “Sportster” is a sportier/modern interpretation.

An honest copy of the Sportster is better than the confused styling of the current Thunderbird. Also Harley Davidson is not that strongly associated with the Sportster/Roadster styling as it is with the feet forward, low slung cruiser styled models.

A modern day Royal Enfield.. yes, that's how the Thunderbird should have been. Don't you think so?

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This is to remind that the Views or Opinions in the blog are entirely mine unless explicitly stated. The Views and Opinions published in this blog should in no way be related to any other person or organization associated -- directly or indirectly -- with me.


Anonymous said...

I bought this bike last year after owning FZ16 for 2.5 years. I would not have got this if it were not for this confused thing about this bike. I wanted a bike with raised handle bars for relaxed shoulder/arm posture (have issues with back & my neck) during long rides and definitely not a cruiser sytle front foot pegs 'cause i wanted to be able to stand on the pegs while going a bit off roading...
Thunderbird suited me perfectly and last month I covered Zanskar & Ladakh on it - 3760km in 20 days half of which was done solo. Not a single issue during the whole trip even when it was a bit overloaded.
I'm a happy customer & no complaint from my side :P

-Nirmal Das

Anonymous said...

@Mr Payeng. And why is it that you don't think that NEW THUNDERBIRD 500 can't do it the way R.E. CLASSIC's did.
Belive me the new features included in the TB 500 are the once long being wanted by the R.E.(royal enfield) FAN'S.
A ROYAL ENFIELD for a die hard R.E. fan is not just a machine to be owned and changed with the upcoming so called UPGRADES in months or years , its a relation that lasts longer then that .
No bike is perfect you have to live with it and understand.
I feel the updates on the TB 500 make perfect sence and people should appreciate the effort put by ROYAL ENFIELD to understand the needs of modern riders.

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

@Nirmal and Anon

I have never ridden the Thunderbird so am not commenting on its riding ability.. nor am I doubting it. I am pretty sure that the Thunderbird 500 will only carry the Thunderbird experience forward.

The T'bird will appeal to its current fans. But I seriously doubt that the Thunderbird 500 will have the same impact (i.e convert non-RE bikers into RE bikers) that the Classic 350/500 had.

These days most desi bikers appreciate a good design (am still not doubting the dynamic and utility of the T'Bird). I have made myself clear in the above post that the design of the Thunderbird is confused.. and ungainly .

Can anyone tell me into what category of bike does the Thunderbird fall into?

Anonymous said...

Hey bro, I'm not complaining against anything you have said, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion and I respect that.
I added my comment just to let you & others know that there are people who cares less about what design a bike pertains to or what category it belongs to but more about the utility/functionality of a bike. TBTS has served me well thats all i wanted others to know...
and you are right Tbts 500 is no revolutionary like classic in any way but the features are the ones a tourer dies for, many modify their bike to get this feature. If RE is providing them as stock no one will complain I'm sure.

Prakash said...

One of the other reasons thunderbird did well was because of the gear shifter positioning. If i am not wrong, when the Thurnderbird was introduced, it was the only one in the RE stable to sport a left side gear shifter. This attracted bikers who were hesitant to shift to a traditional right side shifter. The same reason holds true the massive sale of the new crop of Enfields in India.

I agree with u that positioning of T-bird is somewhat confusing. Bcos of the same reason, a t-bird fetches a lower resale values than a Standard 350 of the same year.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree the positioning of this bike is a bit.. awkward. Still It's a wonderful bike and I'm actually looking forward to book one. Reason?
I can't see too many options for day long cruising.
Avenger is too low for my taste. And it's not as comfy as a T'bird.
With a fuel tank of 20 lit (more than a tata nano), front and rear disc brakes, EFI, powerful headlamp with a high beam, broader shock-abs, removable rear seat, bungie hooks etc.. this is a much improved bike oevr it's predecessor. It's a perfect cruiser for me, and I don't really care about which category it falls in. For that sake, I'll call it as "Indian Cruiser." :P

I'm sure there are many more ignorant bikers like me, who'll agree. :)

Anonymous said...

If Mahindra Xylo is a SUV, then why not a Thunderbird should be cruiser... If Sharukh Khan could suppose his acting skill as equivalent to Dilip Kumar, then why the hell a Thunderbird owner should not think that he is riding a cruiser???

Reeto said...

Having personally owned a TBTS and a Machismo AVL 500, I can definitely vouch for the fact that the Machismo way better in terms of feel and stability. The TBTS is a good looking machine but what appeals more to the eye is a Machismo or a Classic. Personally I never liked the soft suspension of the TBTS which used to weave and wallow a lot in bumpy corners, the Machismo as well as the older Standard 350/500 were better off in this regard. RE should have offered the additional utility-based features on the Classic and other existing models instead of creating an entirely new TBTS 500. The Thunderbird is honestly more of a poser, the only useful utility were a fuel guage (which acts moody and displays the wrong reading on most occasions) and a trip meter.

Killerdove said...

Hi! First off, I ride an LB500 Machismo and have also had a number of joyrides on a TB350 that I often borrowed from a generous friend.

Now, let's come to the point of the Thunderbird 'falling into a category'. Why does it have to fall in a category? Not many products fell into categories when they were conceptualized. They rather STARTED their own niche. The bridge cameras(hybrid of point-n-shoot and SLR), crossover SUVs (hybrid of station wagon and SUV) and assault rifles (hybrid of battle rifle and sub-machine gun) were all pretty confusing when they came out. But you would agree they all have done remarkably well! And so has the TB. If the need to belong to a category is that mandatory, then let's say the Thunderbird is a 'Crossover Cruiser'. I think that will have most of us happy.

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