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Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 Test Ride Review

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Thunderbird 500 Test Ride Review

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 – Click above for high resolution picture gallery

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 Review

Bike tested: 2012 Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500

Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 1,82,571/-

Royal Enfield hardly puts a foot wrong these days. If at all, the company can only be blamed for not anticipating the demand for its models and planning the production accordingly. Much to the envy of competing brands, Royal Enfield has struck jackpot with every new launch and each model in the lineup carries waiting lists varying from a few days to as long as 5 months. So, when it was first unveiled at the 2012 Auto Expo, the Thunderbird 500 was expected to carry the legacy forward. Now that it is launched in the market, let’s find out if it matches our expectations.

Styling – When the Thunderbird was first launched in 2002, it marked a departure from the usual design trend of Royal Enfield. The Thunderbird was the first, and till date, the only motorcycle from the company that shed the classic ‘retro’ design and tried to look modern. Competing in the cruiser segment helped, as the Thunderbird came with design and proportions that were different from the other models in the line-up. Rest, as they say, is history. Since then, Thunderbird has been a big success for Royal Enfield and its sales never waned until the production was stopped a few months back to make way for the new model.

Why fix something when it isn’t broken? That is exactly what Royal Enfield thought too, as the Thunderbird 500 is more of an evolution of the original than an altogether new design.

The basic shape is carried over and the new model is instantly recognizable as a Thunderbird. What sets the Thunderbird 500 apart though are the modern touches that has been brought into the mix. The headlight, for example, is an instant attraction that grabs many an eyeballs. The projector lamp housed inside a rather cheeky-looking LED ring looks good and works great too. The profile has been kept largely unchanged except for the shape of the seats and the badges which are now three-dimensional. The taillight steals the show at the rear with 5 streaks of Light Emitting Diodes weaving their magic. We would have preferred a better-shaped and slightly bigger lens for the LEDs though.

There is no dearth of bling factor with the instrument cluster, suspension springs, exhaust pipe and shrouds for headlight, taillight and indicators, all finished in chrome. The engine and transmission casing is now painted in black and adds to the visual appeal. The edges of the fins that aids in engine cooling are finished in a contrasting silver, which is pleasing to look at. The fuel tank of the Thunderbird 500 is huge and muscular with an offset filling cap that looks a bit odd. The individual seats and the backrest are shaped superbly and flow with the design of the bike. The pillion seat can even be removed in case you need additional luggage space on one of those long solo rides.

Attention to detail is great and the new Thunderbird comes with ‘RE’ branding even in the foot pegs. Build quality has improved significantly and the new Thunderbird is definitely the best-built Royal Enfield motorcycle that we have driven till date. Long-term reliability is still suspect though, what with the new Thunderbird boasting of many electrical and electronic features that might start giving niggles over continuous usage.

Instrument Cluster and Switch Gear – At first glance, you will be hard-pressed to associate this instrument cluster with a Royal Enfield, what with its permanent blue back-lighting and LCD digital display. Beneath these modern touches are the familiar twin circular pods finished in chrome. While the left pod houses the speedometer, digital odometer and twin trip meters, the right pod houses the tachometer and other tell-tale lights. Surprisingly for an Indian bike, speed is indicated not only in kilometers per hour, but also in miles per hour.

The LCD panel in the cluster also incorporates provisions for displaying data like average fuel-efficiency, service due warning and hazard light indicator, all of which are featuring in a Royal Enfield motorcycle for the first time. The only grouse that we had was the difficulty to decipher data in bright sunlight, which might prove to be a big distraction on the move.There is a vast improvement in the quality of switches used in the new Thunderbird and this is quite apparent in the engine kill switch, which is chunky to operate and is finished in bright red. There is still room for improvement though like, for instance, the buttons for hazard lights, mode selection and reset, which look and feel flimsy.

Performance and Gearbox – The new Royal Enfield Thunderbird comes in both 350cc and 500cc variants, the latter of which is all-new and was sent to us for testing. This engine is the same 499cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled, 4-stroke, twin-spark unit that powers the Classic 500. While the power output of 27.2 bhp and a peak torque of 4.17 kgm might not look impressive for a 500cc motorcycle, the Thunderbird doesn’t let you down on the road. Turn the ignition on and the trademark thumps fill the air. Rev the engine hard and the exhaust note gets ballistic as you near the redline.

When we last experienced this engine in the Classic 500 Desert Storm, we appreciated its excellent low and mid-range. The Thunderbird 500 is no different. Abundant power and torque is available at a flick of the throttle in all gears which makes the Thunderbird 500 extremely comfortable to drive both in stop-start city traffic and on an open highway. Brought almost to a standstill once due to a pedestrian who decided to cross the road all of a sudden, we were able to continue riding in third gear with barely any knock. Now, how many 150cc motorcycles possess that capability? Though the indicated top speed is 130 km/h which we didn’t get to test, the Thunderbird 500 feels comfortable in speeds between 80 to 90 km/h, when all the moving parts seem to be in perfect harmony with each other.

The 5-speed gearbox shifts in a 1 down, 4 up pattern. While the gear ratios are well placed, the gears shift with a clunky noise that Royal Enfields are famous for. Though the clutch isn’t hard, it requires some effort to slot the gears into place and false neutrals kept engaging while shifting down. The average fuel efficiency during our 120-odd km test ride was 26 km/l, but expect this figure to go up significantly if you don’t push the bike in higher revs like we did for most part of our test. With a tank capacity of 20 liters, the Thunderbird has a superb range, making it ideal for long distances.

Riding Dynamics – The new Royal Enfield Thunderbird comes with split seats for the driver and the pillion rider. While the former gets a nicely-shaped saddle wide enough to accommodate even bigger frames with ease, the latter compensates the lack of width with a perfectly-placed backrest that offers support at the right places. But, there were a few complaints about the front seats not being comfortable from certain riders. The Thunderbird 500 comes with telescopic forks up front and dual gas-charged shock absorbers at the rear. The ride, as a result, is plush and the Thunderbird doesn’t throw you around over potholed roads. The footrests are ergonomically perfect which makes riding the new Thunderbird a pleasure. Having said that, you don’t really end up stress-free after a ride as the vibrations from the engine make their presence felt on your body after a certain distance. But, it has to be said that the vibrations are a whole lot better than the Classic 500.

Just like the earlier Thunderbird, straight line stability is excellent and the Thunderbird 500 stays glued to the road even in speeds in excess of 100 km/h. With a kerb weight of 195 kg, we didn’t expect the Thunderbird 500 to impress us with its cornering capabilities. But to its credit, the Thunderbird 500 maintained its composure on corners better than expected. Unlike the earlier model, handling is pretty much predictable and you don’t feel jittery taking the corners at a reasonable pace. Inside the city, the new Thunderbird does feel heavy to manuerve, but again, it surprised us with its agility. Do not expect it to beat a Yamaha R15 or Honda CBR in handling though. This belongs to a different league and needs to be treated that way.

Despite possessing disc brakes in both wheels, braking leaves a lot to be desired. The brakes lack bite and the bike doesn’t seem to lose speed urgently. Moreover, the test bike generated strange noises from the discs every time the brakes were applied. This is one particular area where Royal Enfield has a lot of work to do.

Verdict – The Thunderbird 500 is, in more ways than one, a dream come true for Royal Enfield aficionados. With good looks, plush ride and superb stability on the highways, they have always embraced the Thunderbird. With this refresh, Royal Enfield has brought in some much-needed modern touches and a host of other features including an all-new 500cc engine, making the Thunderbird one of the best cruisers available in the market.

But, with an asking price of INR 182,571 (on-road Mumbai) for the 500cc variant, the Thunderbird is now ‘the most expensive’ motorcycle manufactured by Royal Enfield, thus losing its ‘value-for-money’ proposition. And that makes it vulnerable to the competition. Do not worry, you still have the Thunderbird 350 at INR 143,000 (on-road Mumbai) which comes with all that is available in the 500 sans the engine.

What’s Cool

* Modern yet classic design
* Long list of features
* Superb straight-line stability
* Good handling

What’s Not So Cool

* Pricing (500cc variant)
* Sub-par braking capability

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 Specifications

* Engine: 499cc, Air-cooled, 4-stroke, Single Cylinder
* Power: 27.2 bhp @ 5250 rpm
* Torque: 41.3 Nm @ 4000 rpm
* Transmission: 5-Speed, Constant Mesh
* Top Speed: 130 km/h
* Fuel Consumption: 26 km/l
* Fuel Type: Petrol
* Suspension: Telescopic forks (Front), Twin gas-charged shocks (Rear)
* Tires: 90/90-19 (Front), 120/80-18 (Rear)
* Brakes: 280mm Disc (Front), 240mm Disc (Rear)

Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 Dimensions

* Overall Length x Width x Height: 2060 mm x 790 mm x 1205 mm (without mirrors)
* Wheelbase: 1350 mm
* Ground clearance: 140 mm
* Seat Height: 775 mm
* Fuel Tank Capacity: 20-liters
* Kerb Weight: 195 kgs

Text: Aravind Ramesh
Photography: Arun Varadarajan & Aravind Ramesh

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ysak

    OMG..!! Rs. 1,82,571/-

  • Kedar

    wow mind blowing pictures Arun & Arvind. Kudos. Nice write up too. Enjoyed a lot. Keeping writing :-)

  • rajesh

    Stunning bike only let down by over optimistic pricing!!

    • We agree, we were slightly disappointed with the pricing too (of 500 cc variant).

  • RE heading the right way and finally listening to consumers. Though they are improving by their own standards, I feel there is lot of scope to catch up with industry standards. I hope they divert some of their advertising budget into QC.

  • Arjun

    Omg price it is killing man. Too over priced well just a thing at the end of the day to get something good I guess we have to pay a good price. But seriously if the price would have been 1.50 it was a killer @ this price.
    The photographs are very good the background is superb overall 100 out of 100 for the snaps.
    And 50 /100 for the price

  • sushant

    Royal Enfield is finally getting there

  • rohit

    which colour looks best on it

    • Rohit, that is a personal preference. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

    • R thomas

      I’ve booked ‘Flicker’ – gloss black. Twilight – Blueish Black (blueish tinge at day, look black at night) & Stone – Black matt (my original choice, but being a matt finish paint, additional care while cleaning and I was not too sure about this)


    Money is not a matter for Riders, if person want to enjoy with nature….they can manage it.

  • Yogesh

    Good write up! How was the braking ? Since this is the first RE bike with a rear disc brake. is the braking responsive ? Or needs to applied hard for a normal stop too. Are the tires in this different from the earlier TB ? I’m bit wary of a dual disc brake without ABS … any thoughts on that ?

    • Yogesh, as we have mentioned in the review, braking is not upto the mark. The brakes lack bite too, you need to get used to them before you can be confident of the bike’s abilities.

    • John Luther

      Hey Arvind,
      I am really interested in buying one- Royal Enfield TB500. But my first love was CBR250R. And I still love it.. But ever since i saw the TB500 it had struck me straight away.. I couldnt decide on which one to opt for. Would u plz help me choosing one based on my requirements..
      I am 6 feet tall with a well built body.. I should be able to drive on city roads as well as the highway.. Top speed is really not a priority since I prefer that Classic Feel.. But I should be able to hit around 110kmph with ease.. I am a college goer.. So I obviously opt for more stylish one.. The one with uniqueness..
      With more comfort.Not to forget reliability. I dont go on long rides often. I would probably hit around 30-55 km on a daily basis.. . Mileage and price are not much of a concern.. I hope this information is enough for u to suggest me the better bike. Thank you in advance.

    • Don’t expect same level of reliability from TB500 as you expect from the CBR250R.

    • John Luther

      Thanks a lot Faisal for your timely reply..
      But apart from reliability do u think TB500 is a better bike for me?? And is TB500 very bad at reliability?? Will it really hinder me from going on long rides or hitting out the dampened roads during a heavy rain? Thanks in advance.

    • You will have to visit workshops way more often than you would in a CBR250R.

  • aazam

    does the new tb (both 350 & 500cc) comes equipped with O2 sensor and catalytic converter?
    pls reply as it would certainly help me to decide or defer the purchase.

  • ghanesh

    I am 66 kg and 5’11’ in height will thunder bird 350 suits me (i dont have a well built body)

    • Yes Ghanesh, it will. You will get used to it with time.

  • Kunal Kadu

    Dear Arvind,

    I am planning to book a RE soon. Earlier I had fixed my mind on Desert storm, but since the launch of Thunderbird 500 I am in two minds. Can you please guide on which would be a better buy Thunderbird 500 or Desert Storm.

    • Hi Kunal, the decision should be based on your requirements. Both are great bikes in their own respect, but the Thunderbird 500 is a tad better if you are into highway riding.

  • Ravindra

    I hope you wil pass my honest opinions to the RE design team who designed the Royal enfield.

    The old design of RE Twinspark was great.The new Thunderbird 500 design is really bad.

    It looks like the old Yamaha RD350 from the side now.From behind it looks like a 100 cc bike .There is no characteristic of a cruiser design left in the thunderbird now.Its a mess.

    The sales of the new TB are going on as RE fans dont have other option to TB now.

    You should revive the TB twinspark design and add all the technical improvments to that design.RE should scrap this design of new TB.

    The tank looks bulky and uglier…there is no angular rise to the tank as it was in the old TB..The tank s flat straight and out of line when u see the bike from sidewards.From rear too..the thin tyres…the smaller rear seat Rest…congested back seat….and smaller tail lamp makes it appear like a 100 c bike from behind.

    The power on the bike and its mileage should be improved as well…as well as the vibrations problem .

    A Perfect thunderbird would have Fat beefy Rear tyres…It would be longer in length than the current bike..It would have the raising neck design with the Fuel tank more beautifully and artisticaly designed raising to meet the handlebars.

    The split seating should be removed as it makes the bike ugly.The single curved seat on the old TB looked good.

    RE twinspark thunderbird was at one time the roaring Lion king of all bikes ..but this one looks more like a confused fat cow…

    Please change this design and relaunch a more refined , worldclass design..RE shouild not feel shy in employing international designers to make the new thunderbird.This inhouse design experiment looks crued and it hasnt worked.

    If atall RE thinks of correcting its mistakes on the same model.

    It should increase the lenth of the bike ..change the seat shape..give the old seat on the bike and make it more long and comfortable..The fuel tank shape should be changed ASAP.

    The rear rest of the seat should be incresed in height and size.The tail lamp looks very tiny.ruing the look of the bike from rear.The handlebars can be more artistic like that ofa cruiser. an it should appear like a curved profile from side..rather than a fat straight line.

    The height and size of suspensions should match that ofa acruiser.

    Other accessories like Alloy wheels and real quality acessories like the back and side compartments as in the Harley davidson…welded logo plates on the tanks..etc.will improve its looks.

    For the price of 1.85 lakhs we can expect much more from RE.

    Even the incoming Hyosung 250 cc will give a run for its money to RE.

    Now for the RE classic…Here too the bike has been shrunk in its over all size to match the height and size ofa a100 cc bike.

    It looks so smal compared to original RE. The rear headlight is placed so low in height..The tyre size or the height of the bike is also less.Its like somebody shrunk the original bike. Besides that its handling needs to be improved as the handle is very heavy to turn…The finishing of the bike leaves a lot unfinished business.Adding to that the rust and cranky movable parts like breaks and gear shift levers.

    Just beacuse there is a dedicated fan circle for RE as theres no option to it right now esides doesnt mean that public will tolerate this shoddy work for ever.

    RE should wake up and put their heads together to address these complaints and come up with a world class cruiser bike in the same price tag that can give Harley a run for its money.

    ASAP u need to borrow new designers from aboad…Upgrade the bike technologically keeping its classic looks..and dont go on squeezing the size of the bike as u are killing the original brand.

    I hope you will take my suggestions positively as I am Diehard RE fan and hope to see great world class quality products from RE.

    Please do pass my suggestions to your designers.These arer not just my thoughts but the collective thoughts from our group of RE Users and enthusiasts.RE should talk more to its fans and customers to get a real life 20 – 20 vision of its products.

    • srikanth

      I dont agree with you.

    • Thanks, that was one exhaustive comment. Though some of your points are valid, we do not agree to your comment in its entirety. We do understand that you love Royal Enfield to the core though.

    • R thomas

      You have the right to your opinion, but that is simply not the case. People love it for it’s looks. I suspect you own an old TBTS and seem to be envious of the new model.

  • krishna

    I agree with mr.ravindra seriously RE need to stop shrinking its bikes classic or new TB doesnt look or feel RE anymore they look like pony of previous RE they’ve lost that macho feel and looks excellent write up ravindra

  • Nadeem

    Mrs . Ravindra i also not agree with u ! Thunderbird is very nice bike !

    • vishi

      Enfield has been appreciated for its roaring thump and comfy seating posture. Only Electra and standard can be expected to be like REAL old school bullets, others are just upgrades on these! I dont think anyone like me who has been riding REs since a long time, will ever like thunderbird rather would ever consider thunderbird a “Bullet” ofcourse it might be a very good “Bike”… apologies no intentions to hurt anyone, just thoughts of mine. Cheers!

  • harshavardhan

    Dear Arvind beautifully written article..I have been waiting for a TB since 2002 ( i was in college) but could not buy it then even though the price of it was 90 k. But being a TB enthusiast I could not stop my self when the 500 version was launced, so i searched on the net for reviews and your review has been really helpful in my decision making and I have finally booked a TB 500 and now I’m eagrly waiting for the delivery….thanks a lot for such a unbiased review..keep up the good work..happy riding

    • Thanks Harshavardhan. Wishing you happy mile-crunching in the Thunderbird 500.

  • Shivendra n tripathi

    When I decided to buy RE 350, I thought there are very few who r as passionate as me. Bt now feel good to see all comments. Even two months sounds like years after booked this killer machine. W8ing too much eagarly…

  • Kasi

    Is it possible to increase the back disk rotor size from 240mm or change it to two pin caliper?

  • R D

    Hello Royal Enfield ,
    We need to have many more bike accessories than accessories to thge drivers attire.
    Accessories such a Harley davidson stylke side and rear luggage carrier compartments, good Karley style windshields , Harley style seats,….plate foot rests, .extension Tail lamps on rod mounts , ..for the desert storm ..typical world war 2 style accessories like the original Royal enfield C5.Also additional colurs for Thunderbird 500. May be a C5 style carbon coated black desert storm.(I mean with all shiny metal painted black except the khaki body paint on it)
    Dont make them monotonous bland bikes..give options to the customers

  • R D

    Hello Royal Enfield ,
    We need to have many more bike accessories than accessories to the drivers attire. Accessories such a Harley davidson style side and rear luggage carrier compartments, good Harley style windshields , Harley style seats,….plate foot rests, .extension Tail lamps on rod mounts , ..for the desert storm ..typical world war 2 style accessories like the original Royal enfield C5.Also additional colurs for Thunderbird 500. May be a C5 style carbon coated black desert storm.(I mean with all shiny metal painted black except the khaki body paint on it) Dont make them monotonous bland bikes..give options to the customers

  • Reeto

    Rode a friend’s TB500 last week with him as pillion. Stability seems good but Tyre and Brake combo doesn’t inspire confidence on wet roads. The rear disk brake seemed spongy, much like the rear drum on the CL500. Had high hopes from RE regarding marginal increment in top end performance, but all hopes gone down the drain. At a speedo indicated 120 kmph, the vibrations are simply too annoying. Cruising at 100 kmph shouldn’t be an issue at all, though the erstwhile Machismo AVL 500 could manage the same without creating a fuss. Rear suspension should be set at position 3 for carrying a healthy pillion on Bombay roads, the factory setting is perfect for a single rider. Front suspension is good, absorbs road undulations well. The hefty price tag doesn’t justify the quality of the bike; a well maintained RE Machismo AVL 500 can still match everything that the TB500/CL500 manages to offer in terms of performance.

  • Yasin

    Dear Arvind,

    Great article, though i dont own the RE but yet engaged with RE for decades. Now i have planned to own RE was scrolling down the reviews on The RE model.
    I would like know few things on the RETB350 . …
    1. is the Thump quite same like OLD RE classic 350, if i need to have the same i ll need to change the Silencer, is it possible on TB350.
    2. If i need to change the tyre to bigger size (front and rear) what is the maximum size i can enhance on TB350 with out changing the swing arm. (mileage no matters, but the tyre should not touch the swing arm and in front for the fender).

    Rest its RE a legendary manufacturer in India ……….

    Thanks in Advance, awaiting for your reply.

  • Shaji Chacko

    This is the ultimate bike with HIGHEST engine life factor TB-500=>2.24 & Old 500=>2.8 who noz may be highest in the world.The ultimate TOURER. The VALUE 4 money Bike.

  • guest

    RE released Lightning 535 before Thunderbird.

  • Agastya Kusum

    interested in test ride

  • kumar

    Which 1 is low maintenance bike thunderbird 350cc or cbr 150r and also for potholes road. ?

  • Sanjay

    Hi everyone,
    My wife is hellbend to buy me the TB500 for our 10th anniversary. I did test drive the bike and enjoyed it very much. Going by all the reviews that I’ve read, I just have one thing to say to every critic here is that nothing is perfect in this world and we will always desire to reach perfection. I agree it has few flaws, but we cannot always have the cake with a cherry on top. Having said that I’m almost at the verge of deciding on TB500, however, my only question to Aravind here is that between my wife and I, we weigh close to 200 Kgs. Does TB500 have good shockers to manage our weight on potholes and speedbreakers without hampering the mudguard.
    Would appreciate your immediate revert

    • Don’t worry about the weight, the Thunderbird 500 can handle it.

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