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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,

Am new to forum and doing research prior to purchasing a Thunderbird or Thunderbird Sport. Hope this is the correct place to post my inquiry.

My understanding is that there are a few issues with wiring harness faulty grounding or shorts?, possibly weak coils, alternator bolt breakage and infamous sprag clutch. Secondary issues may involve low battery, ignition timing & maybe valve adjustments that could be contributing with above to create starting backfire incidences that make life hard on the sprag clutch. I wonder if all above issues contribute to sprag clutch failure since it is the part that takes the motor force when starting backfire occurs. Starter sprag clutch takes the toll from all other failures.

Am i correct in understanding that the sprag clutch has under gone four redesigns to strengthen it and improve durability. My understanding is that last redesign increased size of the sprag clutch and it won't fit in older motors without splitting the cases and grinding/cutting of cases for clearance of new part $$$$.

The big question is did the fourth generation sprag clutch successfully reduce frequency of sprag clutch failure? If so do you know when Triumph started using this fourth generation part in production of Thunderbirds and Thunderbird Sports.

Limited purchasing power $$ and need to compare/ factor cost of refitting fourth generation sprag clutch part to older Thunderbird or buying newer year Thunderbird that has the fourth gen sprag clutch.

Appreciate any insights and clarifications.
Thanks
 

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Just buy a Legend instead:D
Foul 1, Ssevy, Legend has the same Sprag clutch... Basically a budget T-Bird :p Most of the other issues "plague" it also....

Drtski - most of the issues you read about here are overblown. With simple maintenance, most of these issues will never happen. If you get a '97 or newer T-Bird, you should be fine with the sprag clutch. All the T-Birds required splitting the cases to fix the clutch, with exception to maybe a few early '95's. Keep your battery well charged and you may never have an issue. Clean carbs for quicker starts also help.

The grounding issue with this bike is very minor, and only involves a temp light coming on slightly early. There are few issues with shorts on the bike, equal with most other japanese motorcycles I have owned.

Weaker coils seemed to plaque the '99 and '00 year models the most. You can upgrade them to aftermarket very cheaply.

I don't know of any issues with ignition timing and valves. Valve adjustments are simple shim over bucket, and simple to do yourself.

I would not recommend buying a low mileage bike unless you plan to go through it and clean the entire fuel system. IMHO, look for a bike that has at least 1000 miles per year of age. These motors are strong - they have been known to go over 100k miles. One famous 885 engine went to 250k miles before being retired.
 

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If you get a '97 or newer T-Bird, you should be fine with the sprag clutch.
Since the Legends were all made after these dates, don't they all have the better sprag clutch? That was my point, not that the Legend is a better model (even if it does look cooler with the black engine:D)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Appreciate the reply but let's get real. Seems to be quite a few posts and google hits regarding Triumph starter sprag clutch issues to dismiss the problem as "overblown". Doubt that the owners that had to pay for 8-12 or more hours for labor on such repairs thought the issue was "overblown". My understanding is that Triumph didn't cover parts or labor nor acknowledge frequency of failure. My searches resulted in references to 3 Triumph starter spraq clutch redesigns, if not an issue why was part redesigned 3 times. Look no brand or model is perfect and i do like Triumphs, but all potential buyers need to know what to expect in repair expenses. Especially when there is a history of similar problems. So are you saying that the 97 and newer models have the 4th generation starter sprag clutch and that this 4th generation part fixed the problem. Does anyone know how i can verify the part # for the 4th generation starter sprag clutch?
Thanks
 

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After I bought my 96 and discovered the dreaded sprag problem I called Ma's Cycle in Fargo and talked to Bob about the issue. My thought was to purchase a sprag clutch and have it installed BEFORE it went out and Bob (unknowingly) confirmed Scot's take that the problem is mostly overblown. He thought they replaced "maybe two".....
 

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I'm not sure about the 4 generations of sprag clutches, and whether there is any way to verify through engine numbers, etc., but it seems logical that the later the year of the bike, the better the odds that it would have the later design installed. You probably figured that out already though. Not to poke a hornet's nest or anything, but I think the assurances that you seem to want are not really possible here. As an example, let's say that the sprag clutch issue is primarily dependent on battery condition, which has been pretty well-chewed over here. Since nearly everyone has had a battery go weak at one time or another, the year and the mileage might really be inconsequential as compared to the number of times the bike was cranked with a poor charge. Scot's comments about keeping the battery well-charged and squeezing the clutch when cranking are really the practical application of all of the discussion and summation of this issue that is available on this forum. It is about as "real" as you are going to find. What are the odds of a failure? Who knows, and even if they are high, they may never include the individual bike which you purchase. If you can't live with the uncertainty of a possible sprag clutch failure, there are lots of other great bikes out there that you may enjoy every bit as much as one of ours.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Mark...thanks for getting involved in discussion. you make a good point. if Ma's Cycle in Fargo repaired 2 bikes with this problem that's a number to work with. don't know how many Triumphs in Fargo area but imagine it's one of the smaller cities in number of Triumphs owned & ridden (no offense Fargo or Triumph owners). anyway the point i'am trying to make is if 1 motorcycle shop in Fargo did 2 repairs how many more failures were repaired by other dealers/repair shops in other cities around the country. gets down to repairs per number of Triumphs in area. sure that i could have made my point better but hopefully you get the idea...thanks again.
 

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The triples where introduced in 1990. If the sprag clutch problem had been huge, Triumph would have retained the inspection cover from the earlier models that allowed them to change the sprag without engine stripping. Also, there is no way they could have been down to less than 1% warranty claims by 1995 if a significant number of engines failed to be started with the electric leg.

If you can handle a wrench, you will find that you can fix the starter sprag clutch for a few dollars by replacing the spring surrounding the sprag - the pit is having to strip most of the engine in order to get to it. This is more time consuming than difficult.

As to choosing between the standard Bird and the Sport, it depends on what you expect from your motorcycle. Whereas the Bird, along with the Legend, often finish last or near last in comparison tests, the Sport has won or stayed near the winner more often than not.

How do they differ? Not having ridden a Sport, I can only repeat what the magazines have said. The simpler Thunderbird (and Legend and Adventurer) have a crude rear shock absorber that gives a poor ride and poor control. Low, forward footpegs reduce cornering clearance. Tall handlebars make you fight the wind at elevated speeds. The fork lacks adustability, and the overall suspension performance makes the bikes feel a bit numb, whereas the Sport communicates what's going on between tyres and road.

The lesser models also are described as very nimble and easy to ride (one compared it the the 535 Virago!) while the only complaint about the Sport has been that it takes a lot of effort to change directions. This could no doubt be helped a little with different tyres. Also, unless you crank up the rear suspension, it will drag the pipes on the right before the pegs touch down.

However, if you like one look over the other, a set of Race Tech Gold valves and a new rear shock will raise the chassis competence of the non-Sport versions to mimic that of the Sport. Only the Legend runs on the same wheels as the Sport, the standard and Adventurer runs on narrower rims in different dimensions, limiting tyre options.
 

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Ma's is a very good target market for the sprag issue, as the issue has been known to most likely perpetuate itself in cold weather environments, where the starter get more of a load during colder starts. Once again, if you get a later model triple, and take good care of your bike, the sprag is a non-issue.

Faffi sums up the other choices to be made quite well. I also prefer the silver engine of the T-Bird - looks more classic, easier to maintain.

Ski - I have been riding these bikes and hanging out with folks that own them for 12 years. They are great bikes to own, with a few minor character glitches easily remedied. If that concerns you and you don't like a little wrenching here and there, always Hondas are an option (but my '84 Interceptor was a lot more trouble).
 

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I'm with Scot on this. I have a very early 95. (First series VIN). I live in a rather cold area but run the bike once the salt is off the road, usually April thru Novemeber. My bike generally starts immediately (I keep my carbs very clean and always have the clutch engaged and the battery in good working order)..a 15 dollar battery tender for off season keeps it that way....my current battery is over 5 years old..these are simply good habits to have with any bike. I know a few folks with Tbirds/Legends/Adventurers and know no one who has had the dreaded spraug clutch issue. (Hope I'm not the first).
 

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Well, I had the sprag issue on my bike on a 20 degree night in the Wisconsin wilds in 1998. My bike is a 7/95 manufacture date - first of the 1996 model year. I was not keeping it on a Battery Tender at the time, it was bone stock, and took quite a bit to get it going when cold.

Mine was repaired under warranty. It also gave me the option to upgrade the bike to a 6-speed tranny, using TBS components ... :D
 

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Your all starting to scare me....

I bought a new-to-me 95 T-bird late in the spring with 15k on it. So far I've put about 2k on the clock myself. I've told myself to stay away from the Sprag clutch discussions but I keep clicking on the threads. I have to admit I have more than once thought about selling this thing for fear of the dreaded Sprag failure. I never heard of this issue before I bought this bike. I have a buddy who just sold his 95 after buying it off the showroom floor. He never had a problem with his. Also, this is my third tripple having had a 955 tiger and a 955 sprint. When I came across this T-bird in great shape, with farkles for only $2500 I just had to have it. I thought I got a great deal. How often do you come across a bike of this quality with low miles for that price - and in the spring no less?

I'll admit the bike isn't perfect. The rear is a bit soft, the brakes are not inspiring and wind management is not easy. But it is a better all-arounder than the other trumpets I've had. I road it for 14 hours this past weekend on a long trip. I was sore and cramping but the bike did a wonderful job.

All that being said I am concerned about this clutch thing. How long can you crank when you start for it to be "acceptable"? I always start with the choke out and it seems to kick after a couple of seconds. Is that too long? Will I wear out my sprag? In other words, how much cranking is too much? How do I tell if my battery is good? Just check the voltage across the terminals? What is the target voltage then?
Ok. Let's say the sprag thing goes on me. What does it cost to fix it assuming I'm way too ignorant to try it myself (I've never taken an engine apart and have no clue where to start)? Can I just figure it's all labor and multiply by my shop's rate?

Any advice is much appreciated. The last thing I want is a huge repair bill and a bike that's always in the shop. Last summer I bought a new KLR. The thing was in the shop for 8 weeks for two (2!) engine rebuilds for burning oil. When I got the bike back I sold it and swore I'd never get another bike.... until I saw this creampuff on ebay. And here I am, worrying about a sprag clutch that I know nothing about....
 

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eric p,

with all due respect, I think you are getting your knickers in a twist unnecessarily - especially for $2500. As one Philly guy to another, I think you are epitomizing the Philly mentality of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", which we Philly sports fans do so well. You can "what if..." ad nauseum, but re-read what's been posted re: keeping your bike fit, and the likelihood of the sprag failure sounds as likely as the Eagles winning the Super Bowl or the Flyers winning the Cup (woulda said the Phils's winning the Series, but...*G*). Don't want to sound as if I'm coming down too hard (like the typical Philly fan). If you're ever coming out to Chester County and want to ride some great twisties, let me know. In the meantime, take care of your scoot, and it will take care of you! *LOL*
 

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Spag Clutch

I bought a new-to-me 95 T-bird late in the spring with 15k on it. So far I've put about 2k on the clock myself. I've told myself to stay away from the Sprag clutch discussions but I keep clicking on the threads. I have to admit I have more than once thought about selling this thing for fear of the dreaded Sprag failure. I never heard of this issue before I bought this bike. I have a buddy who just sold his 95 after buying it off the showroom floor. He never had a problem with his. Also, this is my third tripple having had a 955 tiger and a 955 sprint. When I came across this T-bird in great shape, with farkles for only $2500 I just had to have it. I thought I got a great deal. How often do you come across a bike of this quality with low miles for that price - and in the spring no less?

I'll admit the bike isn't perfect. The rear is a bit soft, the brakes are not inspiring and wind management is not easy. But it is a better all-arounder than the other trumpets I've had. I road it for 14 hours this past weekend on a long trip. I was sore and cramping but the bike did a wonderful job.

All that being said I am concerned about this clutch thing. How long can you crank when you start for it to be "acceptable"? I always start with the choke out and it seems to kick after a couple of seconds. Is that too long? Will I wear out my sprag? In other words, how much cranking is too much? How do I tell if my battery is good? Just check the voltage across the terminals? What is the target voltage then?
Ok. Let's say the sprag thing goes on me. What does it cost to fix it assuming I'm way too ignorant to try it myself (I've never taken an engine apart and have no clue where to start)? Can I just figure it's all labor and multiply by my shop's rate?

Any advice is much appreciated. The last thing I want is a huge repair bill and a bike that's always in the shop. Last summer I bought a new KLR. The thing was in the shop for 8 weeks for two (2!) engine rebuilds for burning oil. When I got the bike back I sold it and swore I'd never get another bike.... until I saw this creampuff on ebay. And here I am, worrying about a sprag clutch that I know nothing about....
In order to obtain a very long life out of your sprag clutch the following is important:

carbs must be in a good state of tune and spark plugs correctly gapped.
battery must be fully charged and in good condition. Using a battery tender is advisable.
ensure your battery terminals are secure and clean ditto the starter solenoid terminals
engine oil must be kept clean and if living in a very cold climate go to a lower viscosity.
to take additional strain off the sprag prior to starting engage 1st gear, with the clutch lever held in rock the bike backwards and forwards. This has the effect of 'unsticking' the clutch plates and ensuring only the crankshaft is being turned over by the starter. Just holding in the clutch lever when the bike is cold (especially having sat overnight) does absolutely nothing in most cases.
more importantly, don't panic!

I have a Mate with a 98 Adventurer with over 90,000 miles on the clock. He has had no trouble with the sprag.
 

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Johnathanrsr, I'm not originally from Philly but maybe the mentality around here is starting to rub off on me a little. But you've got to admit, hanging around here and reading about the Sprag issue every week gets into your brain after a while. I'm not terribly attached to this bike yet so it's not too lateto punt it for another tripple of some sort. Like others here I'm just wondering if I'm eventually going to regret buying a '95. By the way, your old saddlebag brackets have been working out great. I had to drill a hole but otherwise they fit perfectly.

That is good advise about rocking the bike a bit. I have noticed that it's a bit tough to move at firt when I roll out of the garage to start it outside. I will roll it a bit when I start it up in the afternoon at work. I have not been doing that. I will also go with the lower viscosity oil - as low as the manual will allow.
Still have a question on starting: As soon as I hit the starter button how soon should it start to give this sprag thing a fighting chance. I mean "one mississipi, two mississipi, ... etc. is OK and what is not OK.?
 

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I'm just swapping the engine over on my 24k mile '95 tbird. the sprag has gone.....do I care....to start with yes, but I'll fix it in my own time, and then have an excellent spare engine that can sit in my garage forever....it is unlikely that I'll ever use it, but for the sake of £150 it can be fixed and I know it's history. Knowing what I know now, I would have just fixed it and not bothered with the replacement engine.......but you live and learn.

Rob
 

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Apparently, it can be fixed for a fraction of that by replacing the spring inside, according to several sources on this forum. It seems that wear isn't the culprit, just that tiny circumference spring getting a little too slack.
 

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With respect to the value of the T-Bird Sport, I seem to have noticed a rather wide range of 'buy it now' and reserve proces on eBay. It seems some people consider the Sport to be a rarity and others are a bit more realistic. Personally, I 'd like one, but I wouldn't pay a big premium for a used bike.

THere's too much else, too many other bikes out there.
 

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If your bike is tuned properly, it should start instantly. I never use the enricher on my bike. I literally touch the starter and she is running. If she stalls after the initial firing, I restart her and just crack the throttle a touch for about 10 seconds. That's it.
 
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