Let’s not beat around the bush – the latest Triumph Speed Triple is a shitload of fun. I’ve come close to owning a Speed Triple many times but, as I suffer from the ‘want everything for nothing’ condition, it hasn’t happened yet. – Cam Donald
Despite the Speed Triple being released 22 years ago, I didn’t notice it until I became a road rider, back in about 2000. Its versatility appealed to me. As an everyday runabout, it offered an upright and comfortable ride.
I could use it for jaunts to local watering holes and it would command respect where anything besides American-made rarely does. Plus, it has enough performance for the annual Tassie trip and wouldn’t be left behind by my mates on sportsbikes.
These types of reasons have undoubtedly played a part in winning the hearts of thousands of Speed Triple owners.
I ended up buying a conceptually similar Buell XB12SS to tick those boxes. I love it, but the Speed Triple ticks them better.
It’s been a busy year like no other for Triumph, with the iconic British brand releasing no fewer than six models, plus variants such as the S and range-topping R in the Speed Triple range.
Triumph’s research and development team must’ve been burning the midnight oil to get through all the new models.
Hence, you could excuse it for leaving the tried and tested Speed Triple untouched for another year.
When the new model was unveiled I expected a few updates and a power increase. I had reasons for these thoughts. First, the Thruxton R café racer packs a 71kW (95hp) punch which, compared with the original Thruxton’s measly 30kW (39hp), is a gigantic leap. So surely Triumph’s ‘hoon’ bike would also get a substantial kick?
As the naked-bike offerings grow, so do performance figures.
The Aprilia Tuono claims 130kW (175hp) and the BMW S1000R claims 119kW (160hp), as does Yamaha’s forthcoming MT-10. You’d think Triumph would want to close the gap between it and the competition but, looking at the Speed Triple’s spec sheet, I was surprised to see a peak power figure of just 103kW (138hp).
What a wonderful time it is for those of us who lust for high-powered motorcycles. Only 50 years ago, bikes such as the Honda CB750 and BSA Rocket 3 left riders fearful of more than 60hp (45kW) and here I’m saying “just 103kW”.
A big power figure will catch your attention, but how it gets there is what counts. You can hold the biggest numbers on the dyno, but if the engine only makes ‘usable’ power at the top of its rev range, it’s useless on the street.
Compare the Triumph’s torque delivery with its competition’s and you get another story.
The Aprilia Tuono Factory: 120Nm at 9000rpm. The BMW S1000R: 112Nm at 9250rpm. The Yamaha MT-10: 110Nm at 9000rpm. The Triumph Speed Triple: 112Nm at 7850rpm. We have a winner.
Not only is the Speed Triple’s outright torque figure comparable, but it is also produced 1150rpm lower in the rev range than the next in line, the S1000R. Suddenly the performance gap isn’t so big.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Triumph hasn’t simply updated the trusty Speed Triple. It has dissected the model and rebuilt it with a long list of improvements.
It’s retained the well-known 1050cc liquid-cooled 12-valve DOHC inline three-cylinder engine, but with 104 new parts. Topping the list are new pistons, crankshaft, cylinder head, airbox, exhaust system, gear linkage, radiator, electronics and a slipper clutch. Little was left untouched.
Together these changes only raise peak power by 2kW (3hp) but increase mid-range torque by more than five per cent.
Other big changes include the switch to ride-by-wire throttle and switchable ABS and traction control. There are also multiple rider modes – Rain, Road, Sport and Track – plus the ability to create your own.
Fuel capacity is down from 17.5 litres to 15.5 but, with improvements to induction and electronics, fuel efficiency is up by a claimed 10 per cent.
The Speed Triple’s styling has also been updated to appear more aggressive. This has been achieved with a new twin-seat design and a headlight assembly set lower on the bike. The fuel cap on the redesigned tank now is the highest part of the Speed Triple. All this has been done while retaining the same titanium-coloured twin-spar aluminium chassis and single-sided swingarm.
With more high-performance naked bikes than ever fighting for market share, a good bike launch is a must. It gives distributors a chance to showcase their wares and gives journos a chance to gather their thoughts for you, the reader. If a launch route has bad roads, the bike won’t get a fair test. Triumph knows this and chose a route that started at Albury, NSW, and took us through some of the country’s best high-country bitumen.
If I had a dollar for every turn on this route, I wouldn’t have to work for a month.
With the bikes ready to go, we chose our steeds. I went straight for the R model (as if you wouldn’t) and we headed out of Albury towards Tallangatta via a mix of back roads that seemed to be made of corrugated bitumen.
I expected a firm ride from the R’s Ohlins suspension, and a firm ride it was. My 75kg frame may be lighter than average, but I still think the bike is over-sprung.
At street-legal speeds on this bumpy section, the ride was harsh on my arms and arse.
Besides that, I could feel the new bike was thinner (20mm in the seat/tank) and more precise in its steering. It also feels lighter, so I was shocked to learn it’s six kilograms heavier than its predecessor.
This shows how the overall handling of a motorcycle has more to do with how ‘heavy’ it feels than the number on the scales.
With the re-shaped cockpit encouraging your weight forward to the wide handlebars, the Triple requires little effort to muscle it from one turn to the next.
Gearbox ratios are good – there’s a nice low first for jumping off the lights, and 4000rpm in top gear will have you sitting on 100km/h with ease. Brembo four-piston radial Monoblock calipers paired with twin 320mm floating discs offer pure performance with stopping power and excellent lever feel. Triumph has worked with Brembo to tune these race-oriented brakes for less initial bite. The result is a brake with more refined control and easier use in the real world.
Changing rider modes is easily done on the fly via the left switchblock. The only setting that can’t be changed while in motion is the rider mode. This option gives you the ability to disengage traction control and ABS. I never bothered, as they work well and don’t hinder the riding experience.
I could feel a distinctly different throttle response from the mellow Rain mode to the razor-sharp Track mode. For me, Sport was the best compromise between throttle response, ABS and traction control. As you select up from Rain, you get a more responsive throttle and less intervention from the safety nets.
Stopping for morning tea, I tried to soften the R’s suspension settings to see how the bike responded. It was interesting to see the shock compression damping was set standard at 18 of the 22 clicks available, leaving minimal room to adjust upwards via the clickers.
A factory default setting is typically near the middle of the range. As the spring had no numbers, I asked Triumph Australia’s technical manager, Cliff Stovall, about the rear spring rate. Cliffy has a wealth of knowledge and knew the spring rate was 10.5kg. To me, it would be better off somewhere closer to 9.5kg.
My partner, Kaz, has the 675cc Street Triple R and, even with the fork and shock at the softest settings, she finds it harsh over bumps. Stiff springs seem to be a Triumph trait on its R models.
Continuing the ride, post adjustments, I noticed an improvement but was keen to compare the R with the more civilised S.
CHALK & STEEZE
The Speed Triple S was plush by comparison, as the Showa front and rear suspension was much more compliant over the bumps of back-country roads. Suspension aside, the two models are identical, but I felt no need to adjust the S’s suspension.
By day two I was almost sold on the S being my weapon of choice. But I knew the day’s route would be faster and smoother, so I gave the R another chance. And I’m so glad I did. The R comes into its own when riding hard on well-maintained roads. Yes, the suspension is firm but this gives a more agile ride, allowing the bike to be flicked without a hint of wallowing.
There’s less squat when hard on the gas and less fork dive when hard on the picks. I was seeing a new side of the Speed Triple R and I liked it.
It’s amazing how a simple change of road conditions had me totally sold on the R model. Some honest appraisal of where you intend to ride will be needed when choosing between the two.
So how does the new model compare to its competition? A handful of throttle in top gear won’t send the bike surging forward as quickly as an Aprilia Tuono or KTM 1290 Superduke R, but does that matter? Drop two gears and do the same and your knees will grip the tank as white-knuckled hands try to hang on. Drop two more and flick the clutch and you’ll be on the back wheel in a blink.
In the real world, the Speed Triple will more than hold its own, plus it’s a Triumph and the British brand still means a lot to many.
Unlike its competition, the Speed Triple has some heritage and Triumph has managed to modernise the bike while retaining the DNA of the original. It would function perfectly as an everyday commuter, weekend sport tourer or hoon machine, just like the first model back in 1994. The difference is that the new bike will do everything with more ease, speed and safety. And that’s what counts.
SPEX | Triumph Speed Triple
TYPE: Liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC, inline three-cylinder
BORE & STROKE: 79 x 71.4
COMPRESSION RATIO: 12.25:1
FUEL SYSTEM: EFI
TYPE: Six-speed with wet, multi-plate slipper clutch
FINAL DRIVE: X-ring chain
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
FRAME TYPE: Aluminium tube twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION: Showa 43mm USD, adjustable rebound and compression damping, 120mm travel
S: Showa monoshock, with rebound and compression damping, 130mm travel
R: Ohlins TTX36 twin-tube monoshock with rebound and compression damping, 130mm travel
FRONT BRAKES: Twin 320mm floating discs, Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, switchable ABS
REAR BRAKE: 255mm disc, Nissin twin-piston sliding caliper, switchable ABS
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
DRY WEIGHT: 192kg
SEAT HEIGHT: 825mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 15.5L
WHEELS: 3.5×17 (f), 6×17 (r) cast-aluminium alloy
TYRES: 120/70 (f), 190/55 (r) ZR17
POWER: 103kW (138hp) at 9500rpm
TORQUE: 112Nm at 7850rpm
PRICE: From $A17,900 (S), $20,350 (R), plus on-road costs NZ TBC
COLOURS: Diablo Red/ Phantom Black (S), Crystal White/ Matt Graphite (R)
WARRANTY: 12 months
Test Bike Supplied By: Triumph Australia