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?
First thing that smacked me upside the head was that the Speed Triple is NOT just a bigger, more powerful Street Triple. Well maybe it is but in gaining size, weight, and most importantly power, it gains in some places (expected) yet loses in others (not expected). One thing was clear; “sledgehammer” describes the Speed Triple better than “scalpel”.
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 loved 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 RPM.
Above 5k RPM and the bike shifted fine, if a bit industrial. Below 5k 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 photo shoot 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 that like to know the MPG figures I found that the Speed Triple averaged 35 MPG 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.
From “J.W.” (March 2012): “I got a 2010 Speed Triple, matte black with stock pipes up high against the tail. Bought it used last summer; I believe the previous owner didn’t like that it is always straining at the leash and kept it less than a year. I, however, have a great time on it.
Granted, it does push you to cut time off drives (this past weekend I took it on a start-of-season ride up the interstate in Colorado. A drive that usually takes an hour fifteen to an hour and a half, on the Speed Triple was an hour flat).
I started riding a year ago on a 1986 Suzuki GS650GL that I bought for under $800 and fixed up for a road trip around the Midwest. By the end of the summer I knew motorcycles were going to be a long-term activity and threw myself in with a 2010 Speed Triple.
Now I can listen to it happily growl down the highway at 85mph for hours on end, and if another sport bike catches my eye I can catch up to them with the lightest turn of the throttle. I couldn’t be happier.”
From “G.A.M’ (1/10): “Great review! I appreciate very much the author’s efforts to make it clear that this motorcycle will stand up and howl (and presumably bust your butt) if not treated with utmost respect. I am not that much interested in a bike that will run on one wheel for more than a mile, but it’s clear that the Speed Triple is a great and unique motorcycle.
I am a sucker for that which is different and unique, and better. Do you remember the ’80’s Audi with the 5 cylinder engine? Do you also remember the commercial with the German engineers all sitting around discussing the unique design? One engineer said “Hans just smiled” when they suggested a five cylinder engine. Hans, he has that dry German sense of irony. That commercial ran about two weeks, shorter only than the “If Teddy Kennedy drove a VW, he’d be president today” commercial (better Snopes that one).
In my humble opinion, V4’s and triples are the most interesting motorcycle engines presently in production. Nothing against some of the nicely balanced twins presently in production, but V4’s and triples seem to embody some of the best engine performance characteristics currently available.
More on point, I have been enamored of Triumph Triples since my riding buddy in college rode a Triumph Trident. I was always intrigued at the triple format. I was riding my Honda 750 Super Sport at the time. I once tried to ride his “Trumpet” down the street, but being on my fourth Honda with the shifter on the left and brake on the right, I looked like a drunken cripple trying to drive his ’72 right hand shifting Trident down the road. I was braking when I wanted to shift, trying to shift by hitting the brake, and so I walked the bike back to Tom and assured him I had done no real damage, to anything but my pride.
But ever since then, I have had a yearning for a triple. I didn’t even know at that time that a triple is perhaps the perfect compromise between the torque of a twin (without the vibration inherent in vertical twins), and the engine speed and high RPM power of a 4 cylinder engine. After thirty years off from motorcycling, I came within a hair’s breadth of buying a Triumph Sprint (riding position nixed that one at age 55) or a used Thunderbird (couldn’t agree on a price). I think the Thunderbird Thunderbird Sport (discontinued) would have been about perfect, but couldn’t find one. I ended up with a Honda V4, and I love the V4.
But in my heart of hearts, I would really like to try a triple next. The Street/Speed Triples seem the best of what is presently available as a new bike. Or maybe the Tiger. So many great bikes, so little time. Thanks again for a great and insightful review.”
From “R.C.” (1/10): “Another great review. Thanks, webBikeWorld!
And a BIG thanks to Triumph for building the Speed Triple and bringing it to us here in the States. It is truly in a class by itself on so many levels.
I have always been a big fan of Japanese bikes and have owned over 40 of them. I have pretty much run the gamut from mid-1960s models to the mid 00s. My current bike, an ’06 Honda 650cc dual sport, is starting to bore me (they all do after a while, it is my biggest weakness with bikes) and I am thinking of getting another big street bike.
As usual, I headed on down to my local Japanese Big 4 “Mega-dealer” to see the 2010 line-up. It has been a while and I wasn’t sure what was being offered.
HOLY SMOKE!!! I must have missed it! When did the Power Rangers and the Boozefighters take over motorcycle design in Asia? I swear, unless some drastic changes happen in Japan, I’ll never own another Big 4 bike. They just do not seem to get it any more. I didn’t see 1 street bike of any kind that inspired me. As a matter of fact, the vast majority were absolutely disgusting; either WAAAY over-styled and racy (almost ‘space-aged’), or big, fat, heavy, low, and s l o w. The Universal Japanese Motorcycle – un-revolutionary but stunning, practical but fun, simple but functional, and comfortable but respectable – currently does not exist except in Europe!
I have always drooled over the Speed Triple and several other Triumphs, but I couldn’t quite justify deserting on my Japanese roots. Thanks to reviews like this one, and Triumph’s wonderful dedication to ‘the fine art of motorcycles’, I am now entirely convinced that a beautiful, British racing green, Triumph Speed Triple will be the 1st European bike to reside in my garage. And it won’t be the last if Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha can’t pull out of this styling ‘black hole’ that is currently dragging them down.
Could Triumph be engineering the beginning of the end for Big 4 dominance? In my eyes, the answer is a resounding YES!”
From “C.J.” (1/10): “The Triumph Triples are nice bikes but I don’t like the high placement of the stock exhaust pipes. In my opinion both bikes look much better with the low mounted, Arrow exhaust. Lower mounting keeps heat away from the rider and passenger and provides more options for soft luggage.
I wish Triumph would change the design of the stock exhaust system to be mounted like the Arrow pipe in your review. I would be more inclined to purchase one if that were the case. Great website. Keep up the good work!”
From “K.M.” (1/10): “I just finished reading the Speed Triple Review. Great review! I’m a HUGE fan of nakeds (Street Triple owner here!).
Triumph triples are simply amazing engines VERY well suited for street use. They pull like an ox down low yet still have enough zing on top to satisfy most speed junkies. They also seem just as happy putting around as they are winding it out.
The Speed Triple and it’s sibling Street Triple seem to have wrapped up that agility, power, and fun character in a seemingly perfect package. I’ve found, as you have, that the Speed is more scary serious, while the Street is more outlandishly fun. Yet BOTH have each quality in them.
I wish more U.S. riders would let go of their “race replica” clip-on bikes and give these (and similar nakeds) a try. They are SO much more fun on the street! And after all…isn’t THAT what riding is all about? :-)”