Living with a 2005 Triumph Speed Triple

Someone rides around on a Speed Triple

July 2005

Last year I had a bright red Speed Triple, which I appreciated for its power delivery and assured ride, and slowly came to accept it for its quirky looks. But as soon as I saw images of the '05 version I realised my ugly duckling had transmogrified into an elegant swan, albeit one with bug eyes and a stumpy ass. I knew I had to have one, and now I've got it I'm like a dog with twice the usual number of genitalia.

As you approach the bike the headlights are the only indication of this bike's heritage. Even the single-sided swingarm has been shortened. In fact, the apparent 'shortness' is one of the most noticeable things about it, an illusion exaggerated by the lack of a substantial pillion seat. In fact the 1429mm wheelbase is a whopping 12mm longer than the old model, and all the other physical dimensions are pretty much unchanged. How easily the old peepers can be deceived!

Sling your leg over and those of you who have experienced the old Triple will be hard pushed to recognise this new bike. The riding position is much more pushed forward and aggressive; it forces your elbows out and immediately tempts you to wreak havoc. The clocks have been reworked with a multitude of functions. In addition to the usual stuff you get tank range, journey time, average speed, and a very entertaining set of disco gearchange lights that, if the clocks weren't set so low, would probably be quite distracting. There's even the facility to record your top speed, not something you want the coppers to know about. I reckon I'll have to spend a day with the manual working it all out.

Turn the key and there's a delay while the ignition sets itself and all the lights stop flashing. Only then can you start the bike. It doesn't fire up that confidently, but once running it sounds almost as good as it looks, even with standard pipes. It'd be nice to get some louder cans, just to continue with the hooligan image.

Now, I don't claim to be a wheelie monster but in first gear it's almost impossible to keep the front wheel down, and the tweaked 1050cc engine pulls just as smoothly as the old 955cc lump, but with more grunt. The worst bits so far are the brakes, spongy and lifeless, as they were on the old model, and the mirrors, which show elbows in great detail but not a lot more. Also the oil warning light came on the other day, but the chaps at Jack Lilleys assured me it's only a malfunctioning sensor which will be replaced accordingly.

I am a huge fan of naked bikes and poo-poo those who bleat on about fairings, but the riding position does make motorway munching a more physical pursuit. It's the A and B roads where this bike really rocks. The upside-down forks are firmer than old and, although the lumps and bumps are more noticeable, the handling is much more responsive.

It's only got 1200 miles on the clock and it's only just run-in, but already I'm dreading the day when I have to give it back. This is a great bike.

December 2005

Big engine, great handling and head-turning looks. This is the perfect bike for a posey designer type such as myself. In a time when so many bikes seem to be chasing each other's design tails, the 2005 Speed Triple still maintains its individuality. Even though Triumph has opted for the oh-so-fashionable underseat exhausts, they're not the sleek single exit efforts of the sportsbike world, tucked away neatly below the rear light like a metal sphincter. Oh no, quite the opposite. These are chunky, chrome plated, twin rear-facing rocket launchers which not only look good but sound pretty cool too, giving just enough bwoarr and burble to keep a rider's ego massaged without attracting any unwanted legal grief.

A couple of weeks ago I applied some 'bling' with a bit of extra coloured plastic from the Triumph store cupboard. A headlight fairing, seat cowl and belly pan add enough splashes of colour to attract even more admiring glances without losing its air of something that's gonna bite-yo'-ass if you look at it funny.

The reality of the riding experience is quite the opposite. The new 1050cc lump delivers its power as effortlessly and consistently as its predecessor, only more so. Power delivery is smooth and it pulls like a train in every gear, which has a tendency to make one a little lazy with gear changing, but it's worth keeping the revs between 5000rpm and 8000rpm for the best fun. The throttle does seem to be getting a bit snatchy at slower speeds, but that's probably more because of my enthusiastic and repeated applications of it than anything mechanical.

The riding position is nigh-on perfect, especially for my decrepit 6ft2in frame, and the new fairing displaces just enough air to make it functional as well as decorative. The geometry means that the bike begs to be wheelied (if only I were equal to the task), but a word of warning - it does mean the front end can go a little light when powering out of bends.

Average tank range to the fuel light has dropped from 120 miles to nearer 100, probably a side effect of all that throttle abuse. The Michelin Pilot Powers finally ran out of steam after 5000 miles of loyal service and I was so impressed that I replaced them with more of the same.

Complaints? Well, I'd be a traitor to my Britishness if I didn't have any. One minor gripe is the layout of the clocks. The speed is displayed low down and out of your eye line in the rev counter circle while the time is displayed prominently on the left. It took a while to get used to doing 7500rpm at a speed of 9.15am.

A more major and continual grievance is the thorny subject of the Speed Triple's brakes. They've never been the best, and when the '05 bike came out with radially-mounted Nissin calipers it seemed that Triumph had finally sorted it out. Unfortunately things are still not right (and, judging by some of the e-mails I've received, I'm not the only one suffering). Freshly bled, the system functions perfectly, but within a few hundred miles the lever becomes spongy, developing far too much travel - to the point where you can pull it right back to the handlebars. Hardly confidence inspiring.

Unless you're prepared to bleed your system every evening, a quick (but still tedious) fix is to strap up the brake lever overnight. This will return an amount of response but it's only temporary, and suggests that air is getting into the system. Owners of new bikes shouldn't be expected to bodge their brakes like this.

Triumph has had the bike back and applied a silicone-based grease to my caliper piston seals, but as with bleeding this provided only a short respite. Some of my correspondents suggest the master cylinder ought to be replaced with a bigger-bore item similar to the Nissin set-up on the CBR600, which has some of the sharpest brakes on the road.

People 'in the know' I've spoken to point the finger towards the seals, which are gripping the pistons and pulling them away from the pads, causing the sponginess. The silicone grease solved this briefly but after a while the lever travel returned. A long term solution would be to fit Teflon coated replacements to prevent the seals getting a hold (as on the new Daytona 675) but I haven't heard if Triumph is considering this as a fix. Perhaps the grease has cured the problem on other bikes and mine has some other problem. Until then I'll have to continue sacrificing my boot heels as additional brakes.

March 2006

The Triple is back from Triumph after having its brakes sorted out. Again. But this time it looks like it may have been cured - I hope.

For those who haven't been following this saga, the Triple has been plagued with brake sponginess since I've had it. And it's not just me; other people have ridden the bike (see opposite page) and noticed it.

According to Triumph, a lack of grease around the caliper's pistons caused the problem. Dealers have all been issued with service bulletins over this, so owners should have found their bikes sorted at the first service. As for mine - well, it was greased up last month, and the sponginess recurred, so back to Triumph's workshop it went. This time they swapped my complete calipers for a new set straight off the production line, and sent mine back to Nissin for testing. A faulty caliper? Possibly. Only time will tell. It also came back clean, which it hasn't been throughout my stewardship.

Since the onset of winter I've found a new irritation with the Triple. With my bulkier winter boots I can't flick the sidestand out while sat on the bike (illustrated below). The knobble you catch to swing it out is too small. When it's cold, and you just want to get indoors, this is really annoying.

I've also noticed the pillion seat has become discoloured under the cover.