Moto-journalists are all alike; we think we know it all when it comes to bikes. Take me picking-up the 2009 Triumph Speed Triple that was used for this article. Since I was swapping out the 2009 Triumph Bonneville SE that I had just finished testing, Triumph Media Guru, Jim Callahan tried to give me some helpful advice. “Don\'t forget this isn\'t a Bonneville”, he said. “It\'s got a LOT more power”, he added. Good advice since I just spent a month on a bike that, while completely enjoyable to ride, wouldn\'t wheelie (at least in my hands) without a 500 pound passenger jumping up and down on the rear seat; and maybe not even then.
So how did I respond to this gem of information? I should have said “hey thanks for the reminder Jim. I\'ll keep that in mind and take it easy the first few miles”. That would have been responsible. What I did was laugh and said yeah, yeah got it covered. No worries mate. Tally-ho. Jolly good and a bunch of other things that we Yanks think all the British blokes say that sound so cool. Sometimes I\'m an idiot.
Luckily my moment of idiocy didn\'t result in any physical damage to myself or the bike although parts of my psyche are still warped and scarred.
My first taste of what the Speed Triple was about happened at the first light I came to on A1A. Green light. Roll on the throttle, roll on some more throttle...and suddenly my will power and self control were trampled, crushed and left for dead by a 130 horsepower freight train that will pull the front wheel off the ground from about 1500 rpm to redline just on throttle alone. The 77 lbs ft of torque and short 56.2 in wheelbase contribute to this lunacy as well. The Speed Triple begs, cajoles and almost forces you into the kinds of raw, wanton acts of pure hooligan silliness that your adult, responsible brain just isn\'t designed to cope with.
Two lights later I was having some big worries about spending time with the Speed Triple; I was going to get a huge ticket. I was going to lose my license. I was going to go to jail and be in a cell with Bubba. I was going to have to call my wife to bail me out and pick me up. The last thought made me realize that maybe Bubba wasn\'t such a bad option.
Nevertheless, I struggled (sometimes in vain) to be a good law abiding citizen and eventually made it home without any additional weight being taken out of my wallet (not that there is much there to begin with). This was my first real introduction to the Triumph Speed Triple. Welcome to Hooliganism 101.
Back in the day (1994 to be exact) Triumph sprang on unsuspecting riders an 885cc, 3 cylinder whirlwind with enough attitude to make every scofflaw on both sides of the pond drool with desire. This was something new; a bike powered by a large displacement motor, with decent suspension bits, and styling like nothing else on the road. Sure, Ducati had released the Monster the year before, but the Monster was light and feathery where the Speed Triple was brash and in your face. Fast forward to 2009 and you\'ll find the lightest most powerful Speed Triple built to date. This is both a good and bad thing. Good because it is lighter and has more power and bad because it is lighter and has more power.
I hadn\'t spent a lot of time on a Speed Triple until this test so I was really looking forward to seeing what all the fuss has been about over the years; especially as I think the Street Triple is a neat piece of kit and possibly the best small displacement naked bike out there. How would it\'s big brother stack-up against it?
Like all the liter-class triples from Triumph the Speed Triple is a real ripper; HP up top with a broad torque spread across the board. While I love this motor in the Tiger I constantly felt like it was almost too much, day to day, in the Speed Triple; short wheelbase plus a strong, torquey motor can equal some harrowing moments if not treated with respect. Get carried away at the wrong moment and someone is going to get hurt; quickly. This is one of those times when more doesn\'t equal better. Sure for sheer hooligan fun, the Speed Triple has the bases covered but for daily “save your license” type riding you constantly feel like you have to reign the bike in; at least the rest of the bike is up to the task of hanging with the motor..........
…....Except for the transmission. I can\'t for the life of me figure out why but every liter class triple I\'ve tested has the same issue; a slightly notchy transmission when up-shifting below 5k rpms. Above 5k rpms and the bike shifted fine, if a bit industrial. Below 5k rpms and you\'d better make sure that you were firm on the shifter or else you\'d grind gears like no tomorrow. I actually make this sound much worse than it is only because the transmissions on the 675cc bikes are so good that it spoils you. However, the transmission is the weak link in an otherwise great drivetrain.
Bikes like the Speed Triple aren\'t just about how far or how easily you can wheelie, they are also about handling. While some manufacturers are going with a 190 series rear tire, Triumph is holding onto a 180/55/17 rear on the Speed Triple. Mate that with the 120/70/17 front tire and finding a good tire that fits your personal riding style is a non-issue. The tires that were fitted to the press bike that I had were a set of Mezteler Sportecs that I found to be decent although they were more like sport-touring tires than out right sport tires in the way they behaved. Good grip but not a lot of feedback.
An integral part of the handling quotient is the suspension which Triumph addresses by putting 43mm USD forks on the front and a monoshock on the rear. After fooling around with different settings I got the suspension set where I was happy although when Carlos got on for the photoshoot he thought the bike rode a little rough and choppy. He normally rides a bike that has a little bit longer wheelbase than the Speed Triple so that explained the choppy part and I take full responsibility for the rough part. See I tend to get a bike set-up to handle the worst of the bumps, both mid-corner and on the straights, then throw on my gear and go ride. With all the usual adjustments for preload, compression damping, and rebound, plus dual-rate springs, one could easily tune away on the suspension until perfection was reached; I just don\'t have that kind of patience.
One place where no adjustments are needed (which is good as there are none available) are the brakes. Triumph found that putting radial-mounted calipers on a bike without a radial master cylinder (like some manufacturers do) didn\'t gain much over traditionally mounted calipers with a standard offset master cylinder so the Speed Triple gets both; radial calipers and radial master cylinder. And it shows. Stopping the Speed Triple was a joy if only because the brakes were so good. Literally one of the few true “two-finger” brake set-ups on the market today; not only powerful enough but also easy to modulate with only two fingers. Stoppies, were I inclined to do them, could be accomplished with little drama (except for me screaming like a little girl inside my helmet).
Triumph uses what I\'ve come to call their standard sport dash on the Speed Triple; with some minor variations this same basic dash layout is found on the Speed Triple, Street Triple, Daytona 675, and the Tiger 1050. Triumph uses it amongst all those models because it is a good, concise layout. All the important numbers are where you\'d expect them to be and quite legible at speed. The one downside of the layout on the Speed Triple is the same downside as on the Street Triple; the buttons that need to be pushed to reset the trip meters are hard to get to requiring two fingers and a contortionists flexibility to reset the trip meter after getting gas (or any other time).
The Speed Triple has never looked like anything else on the road and the latest iteration of the bike follows suit. I just know that in 50 years when we are all sitting in floatchairs at the nursing home, our grandchildren are going to come visit us (see you tell this is all a fantasy just by that statement) on bikes that float above the ground yet look exactly like the current Speed Triple. Between the Blazing Orange paint, the styling and the full 3-2-1 Arrow exhaust that Triumph put on this press bike there was no such thing as “sneaking around”. Everywhere I went the Speed Triple drew attention like a naked supermodel walking down the street. Unless you like attention the Speed Triple (especially in Blazing Orange with the Arrow exhaust) is not for you.
The one question I got asked more than any other was; “Would you rather have (as in buy), a Street Triple or a Speed Triple?”. Unfortunately the answer isn\'t that cut and dry. Making a comparison between the two bikes, while inevitable, isn\'t really fair. It is sort of like asking which handgun is better, a .22 Beretta or a .50 Desert Eagle. They don\'t compare. If ease of handling, light weight, and flickability are the things that make you drool then the Street Triple might be the bike. However, if power, power, and downright brutally fun power are the things that get you all excited then the Speed Triple is right up your alley.
Just remember that absolute power corrupts absolutely so don\'t call me to bail you out. Oh and tell Bubba I said hi.
Note: For those t-hat like to know the mpg figures I found that the Speed Triple averaged 35mpg while in my care, control, and custody. Not a great number by any stretch but one that is understandable considering the pipe and the fact that you almost literally cannot ride this bike in a sane, restrained manner.