Triumph Speed Triple R review

Triumph call it the ultimate Speed Triple. We'll be the judge of that

Ah, the R. A letter that invokes visions of exotica, exclusivity and excess carbon fibre. For those lucky enough to have owned one, those thoughts are quickly dispersed by the memories of a numb arse, stiff neck and probably sore wrists, too.

The R, once preserve of the superbike set has spilled over into almost every category. Should the letter R be reserved for superbikes and what really makes a bike justify the addition of the coveted R status? Has its significance been lost? In a world of increased marketing hype and tenuous links to racing, it appears the R now gets splashed around so much that it is to motorcycles what the word 'executive' is to a block of flats.

So is the Speed Triple R worthy of its R status? Better suspension? Check. More stopping power? Check. Less weight? Check. Gratuitous amounts of carbon fibre? Check. A more powerful engine? Erm, well, no. Triumph have kept the engine's output exactly the same as the standard model. Surprised? Well, I was too, to be honest.

What’s new?

Let's look at all these cool new parts. Triumph aren't just name-dropping; it's all proper stuff and very similar to what's used on the Daytona 675R.

The Öhlins forks use the NIX30 cartridge kit, the same as used on the Daytona 675R and soon to be released Ducati Panigale S. The 30mm piston in the forks is used throughout most of the Öhlins range and is designed to improve feel. The stock Speed Triple uses 9.0 springs in the forks, but the R uses 9.5; so slightly stiffer, but not extreme. The rear shock is the Öhlins TTX36, as used on the Daytona 675R and Panigale S. Once again, the spring in the Speed Triple R's rear shock is slightly stiffer than that of the standard bike; it uses a 100 instead of a 95.

The Brembo monobloc braking setup is the same as what's on the Daytona 675R but also very similar to the setup on Ducati's 1198SP, Aprilia's RSV4 and the KTM RC8R. None of which are known for being under-braked. Steel braided brake lines come as standard too, common sense really, but also a nod to the fact Triumph haven't skimped on their vision of creating the ultimate Speed Triple.

If exclusivity is what you're after, then look no further than the wheels. The forged aluminium 5-spoke wheels have been made especially for Triumph by PVM and are 1.7kg lighter than the standard model's wheels.

The Speed Triple also gets a heavily revised gearbox, which will also trickle down to the standard model. 10 of the 12 gears, both shafts and selectors have been revised and each gear now features 5 dogs, not 4 to increase 'the opportunity for engagement'. Put simply, the changes are designed to make gear changes slicker and smoother.

Last but not least in the arsenal of any serious 'R' contender: lashings of unnecessary yet at the same time completely necessary carbon fibre. Afterall, we've already established it wouldn’t be an ‘R’ without it.

So what’s it like to ride?

At first I was dubious when I heard the launch location was the MotoGP circuit Jerez. If it was host to GPs then I thought we'd spend most of our time flat on the tank with the throttle wound open, but Jerez is one of those circuits that has a great balance of fast flowing sections, power straights and tight hairpins. Lap times around here don't differ that much between 1000s and 600s.

Sat on the Speed Triple R it doesn't feel any different to the standard model; there's still the roomy feel, thanks mostly to the wide bars but the footpegs remain in the same position too, so the overall comfort hasn't changed. Seat height remains the same, rake and trail remains the same – it hasn’t been jacked-up at the back or shoved on its nose.

It's only when you're rolling that you start to notice the difference between the R and the standard version. Although the weight has only been reduced by a couple of kilograms; it's weight-loss where it counts. Sure, although lightweight wheels aren't the be-all-and-end-all in terms of handling, you can really feel the reduction in wheel inertia, it feels like you're holding onto the handles of a space hopper; the front feels light and eager to change direction and we're barely out of pitlane.

Lots of aspects of the Speed Triple R were vying for my attention as I got increasingly dialled into the circuit. At first, you have to recalibrate from previous experiences on how larger naked bikes handle. The Speed Triple R is so agile and doesn't require much effort to get it to drop in or to pull it back to an apex. Despite its wide bars it doesn't need to be muscled and hustled around, it's really light on its feet. Again, that 2kg weight loss doesn't really do the bike justice, it feels like 10kg.

The revised gearbox is crisp and if it wasn't, on a circuit like Jerez, you'd soon know about it. I didn't have any trouble shifting, it didn't drop out of gear and took plenty of abuse. They've definitely cracked it with this version.

When you're getting to grips with a circuit, most bikes feel up to the task, but when you push on, some quickly reveal their true hand. Having not ridden a naked bike with such good suspension on track for a long time, I forgot just how much corner speed you can carry. The Speed Triple R doesn't give up when the pace picks up, far from it, it wants more.

The Speed Triple R comes with three suspension settings in the manual; Track, Sport and Comfort. Our bikes were setup between Track and Sport. The forks were sublime, firm without being solid and the 30mm cartridge kit makes for vivid feedback – you can carry superbike levels of corner speed, which feels odd on a naked bike but as you go from one apex to the next, you can almost feel the thickness of the paint on the track’s edge.

Good suspension is nothing without good tyres and Triumph haven't skimped on these either. The Speed Triple R comes with Pirelli Supercorsa SP, their top-spec road rubber. Putting the bike on anything less would be like sending Usain Bolt out in the 100m final wearing wellies.

The only trade-off to good suspension and sticky tyres was occasional peg-scraping in the slower corners. The bike’s geometry isn’t limited, it's just the tyres and suspension are that capable and that confidence inspiring you'll keep on adding lean. It’s not like the footpegs have huge hero-blobs either, so to avoid grinding everything out, you quickly adjust and hang off a bit more. I’d rather that, than have rearsets that mean your knees sit at the same level as your chin.

As I got to learn the circuit and my trust in the front end kept building, I wasn't just impressed by how much corner speed the bike could carry but also how late you could get on the brakes. I love these Brembos; they’re the same ones I use on my 848 Challenge bike. When I first rode with monobloc Brembos I felt slightly apprehensive - like the first time you stick your tongue on a 9V battery - but these Brembos aren’t massively more powerful than standard radial brakes, they just feel really precise. Thanks to the front end and those tyres, you can brake so much later than you think and that’s not just a throwaway comment, you can bury the front end in the braking zone even to the point where the devil on your shoulder says: “Enough’s enough”.

All this track riding is very well but let’s be honest: not a lot of people are going to buy this bike purely for trackdays. For some riders, the R badge is as intimidating as it is appealing but it’s worth mentioning that exotic suspension doesn’t automatically mean a bone-shaking ride. Its quality components and wide range of adjustment mean you can select the right tool for the job. The firmer-than standard suspension can be softened off to be supple for the roads while maintaining a high level of feedback.

So who's going to buy one?

The standard Speed Triple costs £8,799 while the Speed Triple R costs £11,299. That £2,500 sounds like a lot, but the individual extras would cost you almost £4,000 if you bought them separately. There's no doubt this Speed Triple R would be comfortable chasing sportsbikes around racetracks for as long as you could keep it in tyres, but when you look at the bike to see if any of the changes would make it less capable on the road, the answer is no. Why? Well because it's got the same engine, smooth and torquey. The riding position hasn't changed, the bars aren't any wider. The standard bike is already great on the road, the additional parts on the Speed Triple R just add to its ability without compromise.

Does it warrant its 'R' status?

When I first saw the specification of the new Speed Triple R, I wondered why Triumph hadn’t touched the engine but after riding the bike on track it becomes clear that it was never a question of 'does the standard engine have enough power?' but 'can I use all the power the standard engine has?'. Only when you’ve got such a well-sorted chassis and such capable brakes can you really plunder the depths of what the standard bike’s engine has to offer. An 'R' doesn't have to be a bone-shaker, wrist-breaker. It doesn’t need any more power, really, it doesn’t. But if you’re the sort of person who wants the ‘ultimate’ then you’re not going sit comfortably with the knowledge that your Speed Triple R is the same as everyone else’s Speed Triple R and it’s not like Triumph have left you with much else to tinker with..

Triumph Speed Triple R: £11,299 (£11,899 with ABS)

Speed Triple R - The Rivals

MV Agusta Brutale 1090RR

Ducati Streetfighter S

KTM Superduke R