Review: Triumph's Speed Triple takes a great leap forward
The 2011 Speed Triple R reduced Loz to a dribbling idiot. The 2016 model is faster, tighter, more compact, smarter and much more refined. It's a grown-up three-cylinder hooligan machine most riders will be able to extract the best from on the street.
Triumph's Speed Triple is one of the original bad-boy streetfighters, a big fat liter-class nakedbike with sportsbike suspension and brakes. The concept is so normal to us now that it's hard to recall just what a strange idea it seemed like back in 1994.
But as somebody who rides about 95 percent street, 4 percent dirt and 1 percent track, fast nakeds make a lot of sense to me. They make lower speed action more involving, and high speed runs feel downright epic. With flat bars and spacious seating, they're a thousand percent more comfortable than a sportsbike, but every bit as aggressive on a fast road. Short of a fast racetrack, I'd pick a nakedbike for pretty much any road duties.
I'd never tried a three cylinder engine before I hopped on the 2011 Speed Triple R, and it was a revelation. Gruntier and torquier than an inline four, revvier and more flexible than a twin, it struck me as an ideal motor for road riding. At the time, Triumph and Benelli were the only major companies producing a big triple, but they were such a success that other companies have jumped on board since. Yamaha's 900cc triple has been incredibly popular, and MV Agusta's mid-size triple platform has arguably rejuvenated an ailing company. They're just flat out a good thing.
The Speed Triple seems to have fallen out of the super-naked category in recent years, with its 130-odd horsepower spec sheet looking a bit tame next to the wild excesses of the 180-horsepower KTM Super Duke 1290, and a group of 4-cylinder, 160-horsepower beasts from BMW, Yamaha and Aprilia.
But the horsepower war was always irrelevant to road riding, so Triumph has wisely avoided getting involved. Who cares how much power a road bike makes when it's about to hit its rev limiter? What's much more important is whether you're packing a decent shunt on a midrange corner exit.
So don't be put off when you see that the new 2016 Speed Triple "only" makes 140 horses. It has got the goods where it counts, and a giant fat torque curve that comprehensively humbles the S1000R all the way up to nine grand on the tacho.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the new Speed Trip is a minor update; the key visual elements don't change a lot. The frame is identical, the big fat black motor looks about the same, and the twin underseat silencers look very much like the ones I immediately pulled off my 2014 model.
The headlights are new, which has inspired much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Speed Triple faithful, who hate anything that's not perfectly round. They now include daytime driving lights, although I'm not sure exactly what those do that the regular headlight doesn't. But the seat and tank are noticeably slimmer and smaller, giving the new bike a compact and light feel, particularly if you're steeping straight off the old one.
And the second you fire up the engine, you realize things have moved a long way on from the old bike. This new motor has some 104 changes over the previous model, from new piston, crank and combustion chamber designs, right through to a new airbox, a much freer-flowing exhaust system and a feather-light slip assist clutch.
But the biggest change, inspired mainly by Euro IV and V emissions standards, is the ride by wire throttle. Thanks to this one major change, the fifth generation of this 1050cc triple feels about as close to its predecessor as it does to a Kenworth truck.
Like the Tiger Sport 1050 we rode a couple months back, the Speed Triple's throttle is feather-light to the touch. It spins up effortlessly with or without a load on it. In fact, in first and second gear it jumps away so quickly on half a handful that it feels like it could genuinely get away from you.
I've never felt like the 2011 model needed traction control, but this 2016 bike … whoo. Part of it is the way the throttle is mapped; the old bike required a long turn of the wrist to fully open the throttle, but the new one has a few different options, again thanks to that fly by wire throttle.
Road mode is a decent improvement on the old throttle mapping, with an incredibly soft and gentle takeup from a closed throttle, and a very progressive map. You still get access to full power, you just need to turn the throttle a fair way like the old bike. Track mode, on the other hand, is a virtual quarter-turn throttle with immediate results – and yet, very little throttle snatch again.
There's other modes too – rain, sport and a programmable "rider" mode – and they affect not only the throttle map, but also differing levels of ABS and traction control intervention.
I'm not gonna lie, traction control and ABS tend to get switched off the minute I start a bike up, because it's rare that I ride a motorcycle between two points without wanting to wheelie or stoppie it, and these safety systems just poop the party.
And here's where Triumph's masterstroke comes in. The British get it. The kinds of riders that love these naked brutes don't want their hands held by some superfluous safety system if it's going to stop them from having fun.
So in Track mode, traction control will intervene to stop a wheelspin, but let you wheelie to your heart's content. And ABS will likewise let you roll a stoppie as long as you want, but will kick in and save your bacon if you lose traction and start to slide a wheel. It's magnificent. You can leave it in rain, sport or road mode if you want it to keep both wheels on the ground. And you can program your personalized rider mode to turn the whole shebang off if you want to drift or back the bike in unassisted.
The bike can do this magic thanks to the inclusion of an inertial control unit, which knows what lean angle and pitch the bike's at, and can make sophisticated decisions like this. It's also the sort of thing that could be used to implement a cornering ABS system, but this Nissin ABS system doesn't have that functionality yet.
Another thing the bike doesn't have, which I feel it should, is cruise control – something that popped up on the Tiger Sport 1050 as standard. Leaving it off the Speed Trip seems sad at this price point, and it's not even a catalogue option. Pity.
This is the kind of bike that's built to inject a lot of fun into a daily commute, but like most bikes it comes alive on a twisty road where you can belt the throttle to the stop and throw it around. And when you're getting on the gas at a decent lean angle as you come through a corner, you really do appreciate the creamy smooth way the fuel injection comes in.
The 2016 model is only two kilograms lighter wet than my 2014 model, and even that's mainly because it holds two liters less fuel. Yet it feels much lighter and more compact somehow. Presumably the 20 mm narrower seat and waist have a lot to do with that.
The suspension on this S model, I'm less of a fan of. Some weird decisions seem to have been made here, chiefly that the bike feels like its weight is biased too far toward the back, making the front end feel vague and tend toward undesteer, and that the stock settings on the shock lead to a bouncy, loungey ride if you take it through some bumpy corners.
The Showa forks and shock are adjustable for preload, rebound and compression damping. Mind you, there's nothing in the underseat tool kit to help you get onto the preload adjusters at either end, and like the previous model, adjusting the rear preload means you need to either pull the exhaust off or bludgeon the collars with a hammer and drift.
I ended up maxing out the rebound damping on the shock to keep it from bouncing me out of the seat, then pulling out four half turns of compression damping to help it deal with harsh bumps without transferring them directly to my spine. That sorted the rear out, but over four or five decent rides I didn't come up with a clicker combination that would give me the kind of scalpel-like steering I know this bike is capable of from the front end. I didn't want to go messing with things too much by dropping the forks 10 mm or so through the triple clamps, but that's what I'd try next if it was my own bike.
Perhaps we can blame worn tires here, or the fact that I'm a fair bit heavier than the average rider, but I put a skinnier buddy on to make sure I wasn't imagining things, and he had similar issues.
Also, to be fair, these limitations really only showed themselves at a pretty feisty pace over bumpy corners. On a smooth road, the stock settings made for a pleasant and fast ride.
And of course, this is the S version. There's an R version for a few grand extra that puts Ohlins suspension at either end, and I've got no doubt that changes the game substantially. Interestingly, on the Australian launch, the assembled motojournos were reportedly split on which model they preferred, some liking the firmer approach of the R, and others preferring the comfort of the S.
Either way, even without the suspension 100 percent to my liking, I found this a fun, fast and furious ride in the twisties. The surge of torque from that big triple lets you lean back and hoist the front wheel on a corner exit in second gear, and the riding position gives you plenty of room to move around and get off the bike in the corners.
The 2016 Speed Triple's fuel tank holds two liters less than the previous model – it's now down to just 15.5 liters (4 gal). But the new motor is so much more efficient on the highway that I found myself seeing range figures up to 350 km (220 mi). On the flipside, mooching around town or going crazy out in the twisties, economy takes a huge hit. I saw the fuel light as early as 160 km (100 mi) into a tank on more than one occasion.
So here's a couple of things I'd change immediately if I owned one of these handsome critters, apart from spending some time on the suspension.
Firstly, I'd lose the big twin exhausts. They sound fine and they look distinctive, but at the end of the day they're a large mass of metal high and wide on the back of the bike, doing the opposite to mass centralization. They're 600 grams lighter than last year's bike, but I'd be fitting the smallest, lightest, low exhaust I could find (perhaps the Arrow low boy out of the accessory catalogue) to keep the weight light and low and help the bike change directions even quicker.
Secondly, the bar end mirrors would go. They work well as mirrors, but if you split lanes through traffic like you should be able to in every civilized country, you'll find they restrict your progress a lot more than regular mirrors. Luckily, Triumph has provided screw-in mounts for regular mirrors right there on the switchblocks.
That's more or less it. I'd probably try to find a way to get rid of the small flyscreen as well, which looks good (and less like a silly pirate hat than the old model), but still funnels wind and bugs up my nose when I'm riding open face. But hey, I'm a screen hater from way back, most normal people will actively enjoy this one.
As big a difference as it it going from my 2014 model to this 2016 S, it's even more jarring coming back to my bike when I drop this red baby off. I'm struck by just how much bigger the old bike feels. How much more effort it seems to be making to spin up the motor. How heavy the clutch feels and how far I have to turn the heavy throttle to get it to party.
The times, they keep on a-changing, folks. And it feels like the Speed Triple is starting to mature at the ripe old age of 22. In its new form it feels tighter, lighter, cleaner, smarter, more modern and a mile more refined than ever before. From the nice stitchy two-piece seat, to the well integrated dash and switchgear, it's a class act. It's a bike that encourages you to dig in and explore its full, fiery performance potential on every ride, and that's just the way I like 'em.
And if the cost of progress has to be that my 2014 model instantly feels like a dinosaur, then such is life.
The Triumph Speed Triple S retails for AU$19,490 in Australia, US$13,200 in America. The R model with carbon fiber bits and pieces, and Ohlins TTX suspension, goes for AU$22,290 in Australia, US$14,900 in America.