BARCELONA’S a fashionable, modern city, with a stack of heritage behind it, a booming economy – and a MotoGP circuit out the back.
Where better, then, for Triumph to launch its new 765 Street Triple? A bike (and a company) with impressive history, which is sailing high in the sales charts – and has a MotoGP link lingering about in the background...
We're here for a lightning day out with Triumph's new naked sporty-roadster. Half a day on the Catalan mountain roads behind Barca, then a half-day supersaver trackday ticket for Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. And we're riding the top-spec RS version of the 2017 Street Triple: the new 765cc, high-tech triple that aims to redefine the class – using an engine that's set to power the next generation of Moto2 race bikes after 2018.
Triumph's clearly proud of its new baby, and on paper at least, that looks pretty well-founded. A super-grunty new lump, ride-by-wire fuel injection, updated frame and swingarm, top-spec chassis jewellery and a slew of electronic aids – all present and correct, and ready to build on the base of an already strong bike. Legend has it that Triumph boss John Bloor's (possibly apocryphal) design brief for the last big Speed Triple update was "Don't f*** it up." They didn't with the Speed – have they with the Street?
It's hard to tell at first. We set out from the hotel on a cool, damp, eight-degree Spanish morning. There's mist draped over the hills, the roads are slick with moisture and the odd muddy trail from a dirt track entrance. That wouldn't have been such a problem if we hadn't been riding the RS, with its flash Pirelli Supercorsa SP tyres. A fabulous rubber option on a hot dry trackday – but they're not working well this morning, and we'd have been better off with a more road-biased tyre.
The rest of the bike is far more encouraging. The engine is the focus of much of my attention, and the signs are excellent. It feels more like a big-bike motor, closer to the Speed Triple than the old Street. Not that surprising of course – a 2017 765cc triple is probably approaching something like a 2010 GSX-R750 in terms of output. In fact, the Triumph is about 10hp down at the top end, but has the same peak torque figure as the Suzuki inline-four, in a lighter chassis.
That extra grunt over a 600-class machine is telling when we get off the mountain backroads and onto some faster, more sweeping roads. Give the new ride-by-wire throttle a big handful in second gear, and you can lift the front wheel with ease, even at motorway speeds – a trick that's far harder with a less beefy motor.
Stuntery aside, the fuelling is crisp and clean, albeit occasionally abrupt in the top-power 'Track' mode round town. The noise is fabulous though – Triumph's clearly worked out the trick of making a stonking aural noise bubble round the rider's head, yet managing to pass strict noise regs. The intake roar is hard-edged, raw, and super-satisfying. Combine it with the quickshifter that's standard on the RS (and optional on the S and R), and you have the ingredients for a brilliantly beguiling riding soundtrack.
After the engine, the electronics are next to grab my attention. We had a brief explanatory run-through outside the hotel, but it takes a while for the basics to seep into your brain. At the heart of it is the new colour LCD dash, which is an excellent, top-notch set-up (it comes on the RS and R; you get a more basic monochrome screen on the S). Combined with new switchgear that includes a wee joystick, you can quickly scroll through options and settings – ABS and traction can be turned on or off, you can make your own custom riding mode on the R and RS, and there are Rain, Road, Sport and Track modes pre-set for you too. It's a level below the top-spec superbikes: there's no IMU inertial measurement unit to give the ECU info on lean angle, pitch and yaw. But you have more control than some set-ups; turning the ABS off completely isn't an option on several higher-end machines.
There's a tiny bit of nannying going on: you can't turn off TC or ABS while on the move, and if you do turn them off, they re-set every time you switch the bike off. That's a wee shame – if you want TC on the twisties and big wheelies on the straights, you’re going to have to stop in between.
But I'm comfortable with no traction at the moment: the temperature gauge on my colour dash is now reading 12 degrees, the roads are drying out, and the Supercorsas are warming up nicely. I've left the ABS on though: the Brembo M50 calipers up front are mighty sharp and powerful, and while I'm not really fazed by them, I'm grateful for the safety net of the ABS when I run in a little hard on some patchy, damp, shadowy bends.
The Street steers quickly enough, but with loads of precision and stability too. The chassis engineer tells us later that the more powerful engine meant they needed to relax the steering geometry a little to increase the bike's fundamental stability. And indeed, there's no flapping from the front, even with the sporty rubber and no steering damper. It just feels the way you'd want a really sorted, responsive naked roadster chassis to be. The suspension is spot-on too; the RS comes with Showa Big Piston forks and an Öhlins single tube rear monoshock, which is pretty much the top drawer for this class of bike. The wheel control is excellent with the standard settings, and there's plenty of fettling options for you to dial in your favoured behaviours, on road or track.
And we've arrived at the track now. I'm keener than usual to get on – the forecast said rain by 4pm, and the clouds are looking rather threatening. The Triumph guys are on the ball though – they swap round the lunchtime tech presentation so we can get on track straight off, after the marshals have had their lunch.