LET'S HYPOTHESIZE that you’ve got a mate who espouses the virtues of three-cylinder engines at every opportunity; every time you meet him for a coffee at your local bike meet, he bangs on about how his beloved triples offer a perfect balance between smooth, high revving inline four-cylinder power and the mid-range grunt of a twin.
And that’s before he proceeds to tell you about the character of his favourite engine configuration.
You think you’re immune to it but over time, the constant pro-three-cylinder rhetoric starts to rub off. You find yourself wanting to suckle on the nipple of the triple…
Fortunately, you’re not short of choice. Two of the most exciting three-cylinder bikes to grace showrooms in 2017 are Yamaha’s eye-catching, budget priced and updated-for-2017 MT-09 and the new Triumph Speed Triple 765 RS – the range-topping model in the family of new Speed Triples. We plumped for the top-bollock RS not just because it’s got the most power and best spec of all the new Street Triples, but also because we wanted to see whether, if you’re in the market for a naked three-cylinder, you need to spend RS money to get the best bike.
Indeed, Yamaha’s MT-09 is proof that if you’re looking for triple trouble, you needn’t spend big bucks because Yamaha’s asking price of £7,799 gets you an 847cc three-cylinder engine that makes 115hp and 65.5lb/ft torque. A quick power run on the Dyno at Steve Jordan Motorcycle in Bookham, Surrey revealed the MT-09 to be making 105.5hp at 10,811rpm and 55.93 lb/ft at 9,068rpm.
For 2017 the MT-09 has also had a restyle plus improvements to its suspension, plus its existing electronic aids (power modes, ABS and two-setting traction control) are now accompanied by a quickshifter.
Splash a bit more cash (£2,101, to be precise) on the range-topping Street Triple 765 RS and your £9,900 gets you Triumph’s 765cc three-cylinder motor, which makes a claimed 123hp and 57lb/ft torque. We stuck the RS on the dyno at Steve Jordan Motorcycles in Bookham and it made 121.48hp at 12,153rpm and 55.57lb/ft at 9,666rpm.
Like the MT, it’s also got a quickshifter, riding modes and traction control.
But there’s far more to the Street Triple 765 than that, so much so that it shames the MT-09 with its premium feel and the composed, assured ride it offers. The RS’s accomplished feel is evident before I’d even turned the key; the Triumph’s badges, lustrous matt silver paint finish and gorgeous rear subframe all indicate that it’s a classy bike. All this is accentuated once it’s sitting next to the MT-09. By comparison, the Yamaha looks like it’s awaiting a dash of colour to go over its primer grey paint job and its intakes and light front light assembly look plasticky, unsophisticated, perhaps even crude when sharing the same car park as the Street Trip’.
If the MT-09 were a piece of clothing in my wardrobe, it’d be my all-black Nike Tech tracksuit. The Street Triple RS would be my favourite grey suit. Unless I had a court appearance, I’d pick the tracksuit all day long – it’s more striking, bold and aggressive than a staid old suit. That’s exactly what the MT-09 is – it looks aggressive, modern, like something lifted from a Japanese manga comic. It’s edgy and I like it for that. It makes the Triumph look dull and safe – like a Street Triple. I don’t think the Triumph’s ugly, just a bit beige and I wouldn’t own one for fear of people thinking I was older and more sensible than I really am. And what of the restyle for this year? This bike could well be the previous generation of Street Triple.
And the MT-09 is just as striking when you’re gunning it down the road. Although it’s down on horsepower compared to the Triumph, the MT blows the Trumpet away with its torquey power deliver, making it a more exciting bike on the road - interesting becasue although on paper the MT has a little more torque, the dyno revealed it to have only a fraction more torque. Crack the throttle and the MT-09 punches forward like a hoodlum legging it across council estate after robbing a helpless granny - the Yamaha’s CP3 engine delivers rampant shove throughout its midrange and up towards 10,000rpm. For city riding, screaming away from roundabouts and laying down power on your favourite winding road, the MT-09 feels strong like Arnie in the '70s and more characterful than the Striple, helped no doubt by how light it feels – 193kg wet with a full tank.
That’s not to say the engine in the Street Triple RS (claimed dry weight: 166kg) is boring. It’s gloriously smooth and linear. It invites you to wring every last drop of power from it before asking the quickshifter for another precise gear change. Keep it spinning above 8,000rpm and the rev counter charges for the redline with such a clean rush that you’d swear there was another piston pumping away in the block and because of the way the motor is so smooth and game for a thrashing, the Street Triple delivers a different experience to the MT – a more precise and refined experience.
The MT-09 certainly feels a bit more unrefined compared to the Street Triple. In fact, it’s positively unruly. Where the Triumph has sweet fuelling and a lovely throttle response in whatever riding mode you have it in (Rain, Road, Sport, Track and Custom), the MT-09 can feel unpleasantly sharp in the most aggressive of its power modes (A) unless you’re being aggressive back. It can also feel a bit snatchy in standard mode when going from closed to open throttle. Although the MT-09 has a more exciting engine, it requires a more delicate touch, unlike the Street Triple, which has fuelling and electronics that are totally on your side as you push to explore what the engine’s offering.