Triumph Speed Triple: the original bad-boy from Triumph (the modern era Triumph, I mean, not the original ones). Designed to be ridden to London’s Ace Café, and look like it’s owner had just cobbled it together in the shed at home before he’d left. And then take on other tough-looking machines and race them through the back-roads and by-ways. Over the years it has become a bit more refined in appearance, but there’s still enough of the mongrel café-racer look about it to retain that character. I’d wanted to ride the Speed Triple for a long time. I’d ridden a couple of Street Triples, (click here for the most recent test), but hadn’t sampled the larger original. A chance to do so came when the Triumph test-fleet came to a local Triumph dealer. The model I test-rode wasn't the standard model though, it was the up-spec Speed Triple R. So what's the “R” model all about? Triumph describes it in these words: “We took the Speed Triple, the world's first and best factory street-fighter with its head-turning, angry style and added the best components the motorcycle industry can offer, from Öhlins, Pirelli and Brembo.” That means up-graded suspension, brakes, and tyres. So the intention was to make it go, stop and handle even better than its look suggests it will.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
As I said above, it’s become a bit more refined in appearance over the years. In particular, like its smaller stable-mate, the headlights now look like they were fitted at the factory, rather than stolen off another bike and bolted on. But they still add character: now they look like two angry eyes peering out from under the little screen thingy. And the front brake master-cylinder no longer looks like something they’d forgotten on the assembly-line, and just whacked one on the end of a piece of hose just before it left the factory. Yes, it still looks a bit like an after-thought, but it doesn’t wobble and bob around like the old ones used to. (Well that’s what it used to do on the Street Triple anyway). I reckon it looks good. More refined, yes, but it’s still got the attitude. It looks sporty and purposeful: and the R version even more so. Looking closer at the bike, the R-spec up-grades were perhaps most obvious with the Pirelli Diablo tyres, that looked like lightly-grooved racing-slicks. I thought, “I wouldn’t want to ride that in the rain!” The riding-position is pretty good – especially considering the type of bike it is. You sit high and lean forward to reasonably low-set bars, but it’s not uncomfortable, and doesn’t put excessive weight on your wrists. When I got back from the test-ride I was feeling some soreness in my neck though, from having to tilt my head up to look straight ahead. The foot-pegs are set quite high, but again, that’s as you’d expect on this type of bike. The hand controls are all easy to get to and use. The foot controls aren’t quite as easy though. The gear-lever is set low, requiring you to angle your foot down to get at it; and the brake-lever seems tucked-in and not the easiest to find. No doubt you’d get used to these if you owned it. The instruments, housed in their little binnacle, are generally clear, although some minor items, such as the clock, are not easily read. Disappointingly, there was no gear-position indicator. The seat is firm, but not too bad: certainly not plush, but sports-bike comfortable. (In other words, it’s hard for an old bloke, but comfortable for a sports-rider).
OUT ON THE ROAD
The engine fires up with the typical Triumph whistle; and that unique character of the triple sound. It’s a unique sound that really starts to come on song at higher revs. Like all Triumphs it’s quite tractable, pulling from around 2,500rpm with just a few vibes to tell you that it’s happier above 3,000. From around 5,000rpm it flies! Compared to its smaller-engined sibling, it has – as you’d expect – noticeably more power and grunt. I didn’t get a chance to really wind it up, but whenever I did drop back a bit, got a bit of room, and gave the throttle a good twist, it surged ahead and soon caught up to the bikes in front. The engine is exactly the same in this R model as it is in the standard model. The R add-ons just allow you to lay that power down a bit better – and stop it again – compared to the standard one. The gear-change felt a little clunky, although it was smooth enough in operation. Clutchless up-changes were no drama. Top gear runs at about 27kph per 1,000rpm which I reckon is just about perfect for this bike. It’s low enough to give it spritely top-gear performance, but high enough to let it cruise easily on the highway. At 120kph it was cruising effortlessly (until slowed by the bikes in front of me). You’d expect the bike to handle well, especially with its up-spec suspension, and it does. No, I wasn’t laying it over and scratching foot-pegs, but what I appreciated was the easy way it attacked corners: gentle counter-steering is all that is required to tip it in; and when tipped in it remains stable and very predictable. It will also easily change its line through the corner if required. There is a caveat though. With the suspension set up very firm (to get that solid handling and prevent any wallow when you flick it around) its forte is obviously smooth-surfaced twisties. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of that on the test-route we rode, which involved a bit of suburbia, a winding mountain back-road with various lumps and bumps, a bit of open back-road and some highway. A great all-round, real-world route, but not where the Speed Triple wanted to be. So I wasn’t able to enjoy the bike in its element – well, apart from just a couple of sections we encountered that did fit that required road type. But even then, of course, I wasn’t riding the bike to anywhere near its potential – you’d probably need a race-track (and a much faster rider!) to do that! But on these often bumpy roads the lack of compliance in the suspension seemed to make it prone to being bumped off-line; so I was approaching corners even more cautiously than I normally would, wary of it being upset by what the road-surface might throw up during the corner. Andrew, a much younger riding acquaintance (and reader of this web-site), warned me about the ride. He had ridden the Speed Triple earlier in the day and said it rode hard. When I spoke to him he had just come back from riding the Tiger Sport, and he said he thought the Tiger would probably be faster over give-and-take roads such as we were riding, because of its more compliant suspension. I reckon he was right. The suspension is quite harsh: even on suburban roads I was being bounced off the seat. On those rougher sections I described, it gave my old back some nasty jolts. After the ride my back was quite sore. The suspension at both ends is adjustable for rebound and compression damping (and presumably, pre-load, although the specs didn’t say so), so in theory, you should be able to improve the ride quality a bit. But it’s always going to be more suited to a smooth track than a bumpy back-road. On smooth roads it was a real hoot! (And would’ve been even greater fun if traffic – including some of the other bikes – didn’t get in the way!). Powerful, fast, and very stable, with great handling.
I have to mention this. Over recent years Triumph has come under question, from some people at least, over issues of reliability and quality. I’ve heard of people having great service from their Triumph; and I’ve heard of some having problems. A former owner of a Triumph Sprint once told me, “It was great up to 40,000km, and then it started falling apart!” He sold it. On the day of the test a former owner of a Street Triple told me that he’d had a lot of trouble with the bike. Many parts had to be replaced, including the rear sub-frame! He sold it. I’ve heard of other issues with the Street Triple too, including ECU failures. During my test-ride, as I accelerated out of a corner there was a loud “Clunk!” from the back end of the bike – loud enough for the following rider to hear it. The bike still felt okay, so I kept going, but when we stopped I looked to see if anything had broken or fallen off: but there was nothing obvious. I have no idea what it was – but it didn’t sound like anything off the road hitting the bike, and the rider behind me didn’t see anything flicking up (or falling off). So I don’t know what it was, but if it was mine I’d be a bit worryied about it. In my opinion, and I may very well be wrong, quality is a bit hit-and-miss with Triumph: many of their products give excellent service, but there are others (seemingly a bigger percentage than the typical Japanese), that do experience problems. SNAPSHOT The original street-fighter from modern-day Triumph; now with a few refinements to its styling. It’s a sports-bike that isn’t too extreme in riding-position; and it’s fast and easy to ride. The R-spec model adds to the sports-bike nature with up-graded components. On smooth roads it’s a hoot, but it gets a bit unpleasant when the road gets even mildly rough. I think that the standard model (which I haven’t ridden) would be a more practical choice for an any-day, all-roads, rider. (And you’d save $3,000 on the purchase price). But if you want the big-name add-ons, with all that brings, this is the one.
Engine: 3-cylinder, 1050cc. Power: 101kW at 9,400rpm. Torque: 111Nm at 7,750 rpm.
Suspension: Front: Ohlins 43mm upside-down fork, 120mm travel. Rear: Ohlins mono-shock, 130mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 17.5 litres.
Weight: 186kg (Dry).
Seat height: 825mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17”, Rear: 190 X 17”
Brakes: Front: Twin 320mm discs, Brembo calipers. Rear: Single 255mm disc, Nissin caliper.
Price: $19,990 (+ORC).
NOTE FOR 2016.
There was an official launch of a new model in early-2016, but from what I can establish, this is it! Specifications changed between the previous model and the 2016 model, and the specs of the latest model line up with the one I rode here.
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