Road Test: Triumph Speed Triple

It's the best looking bike of the year bar none. But is Triumph's new Speed Triple all show and no go? Urry heads south to find out.

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By Jon Urry on Sun, 27 Apr 2008 - 08:04

Visordown Motorcycle News


I'm excited. Well, I think it's excitement I'm feeling. It could be terror. The French taxi driver is doing about 100mph and the people carrier appears to have suspension made from sponge cake. Not that the continual pitching from side to side appears to be bothering him. Oh no, he's too busy adjusting the volume of the moody jazz CD that's playing over the car's stereo to be distracted by what the car is actually doing. Or where it's going. Or the fact we are gently wobbling our way towards the Armco in the centre of the dual carriageway.

No, it's definitely excitement. I've been in hire cars and taxis the world over and, having survived a trip through Kathmandu in the back of a particularly psychotically driven tuk-tuk, it takes a fair amount to scare me. Excitement it is then. And the cause? I'm about to ride the new Triumph Speed Triple.

I've been looking forward to getting a go on this bike ever since I first saw it at a show last September. If it went half as well as it looked then it was going to be very special. Then I interviewed one of the test riders during the development story we ran a few issues ago, who told me it did. By which point I was fairly frothing at the mouth at the thought of swinging a leg over it. And now I'm going to get the chance.

About 15 of the new bikes are lined up outside our hotel in the south of France the next morning, in a variety of costumes. There are the three colour options, yellow (although it's more of a goldy-yellow), metallic blue and black, and some are fitted with the optional extra tiny front fairing (which I reckon looks a bit naff). Some have colour matched belly pans to boot.

Standing next to the bike it looks small, but perfectly formed. The painted black engine has stainless steel engine bolts that make it look like it's been peppered with bullets, the black frame looks smart, the stumpy under-seat pipes menacing, the five-spoke wheels stylish and the new inverted forks with their gold tubes and black base look great in contrast with the gold radial calipers. The whole effect is mean, moody and purposeful. Just what Triumph is aiming for.

The press conference the night before was full of words such as 'iconic', 'passion' and 'primal', and talk of returning back to the original 1994 Speed Triple's aggressive look and rawness, rather than the softened-down versions that have superseded it. The Speed Triple is a bike designed to stir emotions with both its styling and character.

"We want you to feel like you are sitting on an engine with a wheel at each end," a Triumph man told me. "The clocks and lights are especially low so nothing blocks the view. Just you and the road ahead."

Which is exactly what it feels like. The seating position is typical Speed Triple, and any other naked bike for that matter. You sit upright with the pegs slightly higher than the old model's and your arms at a comfortable distance apart on the flat bars. Not too spread out, not too close together, just a natural riding position. It's comfortable and, surprisingly, the seat is really well padded. Although the pillion 'seat' looks like a complete waste of time. It's too small and the pillion pegs must be designed for vertically-challenged midgets.

Pulling out of the hotel, and still in first gear, I banged the throttle open quickly just to see what would happen. The front wheel shot up into the air as the triple engine delivered instant grunt. Although the new Speed Triple uses the same next-generation triple engine as the new Sprint ST, Triumph has tuned the 1050cc motor and fuel injection on the sports tourer for a smooth, linear delivery. On the naked Speed Triple the tune is for instant power.

In first gear this is quite aggressive, which is also due to Triumph dropping the gearing on the new Speed Triple, but get it into second and, rather than front-lifting power, you just get instant, strong acceleration. But it's wonderfully smooth as well. That's the beauty of the three-cylinder engine.

The latest generation of triple really is fantastic. It doesn't do anything all that amazing, but it is just a lovely motor to use. The torque 'curve' feels like more of a straight line; it's very flat from low down, meaning there is always acceleration when you want it, and gear shifting is kept to a minimum. Which is a good thing because I reckon there is something of a question mark over the gearbox.

I rode three different Speed Triples during the day and none of them had particularly good gearboxes. The change was quite stiff and clunky, which I found strange as the Sprint ST I rode just a few weeks before had an excellent gearbox, and the two bikes share the the same motor. It could be down to the engines being new and needing a few more miles bedding in, but it's still worth mentioning.

Despite the fact Triumph has kept the same geometry as the outgoing Speed Triple, the new-style swingarm has shortened the wheelbase slightly and with it speeded-up the steering. Triumph admits it isn't aimed at trackday riders and has gone for stable, quick road handling rather than out-and-out sports performance, but it's still very impressive. On a twisty French road the Triple was excellent fun and demolished the bends. The benefit of big, wide naked bike bars is the extra leverage they offer, helping you muscle the bike into corners and kind of compensating for the lack of otherwise more sporty geometry.

On the smooth roads the new inverted forks offered much better feedback and a more secure ride than the old 'right way up' jobbies but felt slightly stiffer, giving a slightly firmer ride. Where the old model absorbed large jolts, the new one tends to transmit them through to the rider slightly more, but they make the bike handle better, which is the trade off you're going to get. A bit of comfort in exchange for sporty ability, a fair trade for a bike that Triumph admit is aimed at riders who are only ever going to go for short blats on it.

Which probably explains why some of the Speed Triple's practical touches are, well, simply crap. The mirrors are next to useless and show nothing but elbow, while the clocks, with their digital speedo tucked away in the bottom of the rev counter, are set so low they are very hard to read. The actual information display is excellent; like the Sprint ST, the Triple has a fuel economy meter, clock, range in tank, trip and top speed indicator, and even a set of rev-warning lights. It's just that the one thing you actually want to see - the speedo - is almost hidden. Which is a bit daft .

But there is a trick to reading the display: hoik a massive wheelie. The Speed Triple is quite simply the best wheelie bike I have ever ridden. I admit to being fairly crap at mono-wheeled antics, but give me a Triple and I am king. It's bloody brilliant at them. Second gear, dab of clutch and you're up, up and away. If you want to learn to wheelie get a Triple (just don't try it in first gear).

So, after waiting in anticipation for nearly five months to ride the Speed Triple, was it worth the wait? Oh yes. Despite its faults, I really want one. The mirrors are crap, the clocks useless and the radial brakes only as good as the current bike's stoppers, but I loved the Speed Triple. It's got so much character, a simply beautiful engine and looks stunning. I've fallen in love with it.

I'm lucky enough to ride every new bike made, and every now and then one simply blows my mind. Last year it was Ducati's 749R. This year it's the Speed Triple. If you have any interest in buying a naked bike try the Speed Triple. It's bloody marvellous.

VERDICT

A stonking slice of British beef. Minor niggles overshadowed by storming motor, but it wins hands down on looks alone

SPECS

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 2005

PRICE NEW - £7699

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1050cc

POWER - 116.9bhp@8900rpm

TORQUE - 73lb.ft@7300rpm

WEIGHT - 189kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 815mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 18L

TOP SPEED - 146.4mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 140MILES

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