Triumph Speed Triple

Ask any number of enthusiasts how they perceive Triumph’s Speed Triple and almost unanimously terms like hooligan and streetfighter will pop up. There was indeed a time when Triumph’s naked was exactly that kind of a machine, to the point of actually embodying the concept of hooliganism. That, however, was generations ago and today’s Speed Triple just isn’t that motorcycle anymore. 

The 2015 version was already tremendously more mature than the first gens and, although the aggressive styling of the thoroughly revised 2016 seems to indicate the original anti-social personality of the bike is more present than ever, the truth is the Speed Triple has now evolved even more toward maturity and balance. 

So has Triumph’s legendary naked been stripped of its edge and charisma and has it morphed into a stylish but docile naked? Absolutely not and quite the contrary! 

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The current Speed Triple is as astonishingly competent as it is multi-faceted. Not only is it just as capable of high performance as it is of dealing with the daily commute, but it’s also very gifted when it comes to the most belligerent two-wheel antics if that’s what its rider wishes for. From endless wheelies to stoppies to lung-darkening burnouts, it’s all right there if that’s what makes you tick. Always has. 

But, what the 2011-2015 Speed and especially this new one add to the bike’s fun nature is a remarkable level of refinement and a phenomenal sense of balance. It’s a combination that’s simple and extraordinarily complicated—simple because at the end of the day, it’s all about a sensation of effortlessness and rightness. And complicated because very, very few motorcycles on the market today achieve that state of grace. Essentially, it is an exercise in restraints and good judgment. 

Imagine a disc perfectly balanced on a needlepoint that represents the symmetry and the rationality between performance and comfort and handling and stability and accessibility achieved by the previous generation. Now imagine having to make that package progress. Increase any of these elements too much and the balance is gone, replaced by the more common result of a motorcycle that is focused either on comfort, on performance, on long distances, etcetera.  

But restraint and good judgment have clearly been part of the evolution process that resulted in the 2016 Speed Triple: the new bike has been deeply modified, yet still puts its rider in a very balanced and unquestionably fun environment. The list of changes is long, beginning with no less than 104 mods to the highly acclaimed and now ride-by wire controlled 1050 Triple. New pistons, crankshaft, combustion chamber, ECU, cylinder head, airbox and 70 per cent better flowing exhaust add about five per cent torque in the mid range and five more horsepower. 

There’s also a new slipper clutch with reduced lever effort, a revised six-speed transmission and a full electronic suite with five riding modes (including a rider configurable one) acting on traction control, ABS and throttle mapping. 

Styling is all new (including a redesign of the trademark twin headlights) and significantly improved, which is by no means an easy feat on a motorcycle with very little in terms of body parts. Other than the $16,300-Öhlins suspension-equipped R-version tested on these pages during the Spanish world press launch, a standard, Showa suspension-equipped $14,500 S-model is also offered. The R also adds a few carbon fibre and billet machined parts along with “R” detailing on the new two-piece seat and a red subframe. Weight is identical for the S and R at 192 kilograms dry. 

What all this amounts to is by no means a reinvention of the Speed Triple, but rather a very logical and cautious progression of the concept. Occasionally I dream of an ST with bigger displacement (maybe 1200cc?) with tons of additional power over the 1050, but this one blows me away just as it is. The near 140 hp it offers isn’t superbike power, but it’s more than enough to have plenty of fun. 

Much more important than the number is the way the gem that is Triumph’s 1050 triple makes power and especially torque. With a relatively low redline of 10,000 rpm, the motor never feels stressed and is always strong. Combined with the pleasant exhaust and intake snarl, it all adds up to one very special mechanical experience, and one that is unique to Triumph. 

Having fun making the Speed Triple wheelie out of corners on tight Spanish roads, and on the Calafat Circuit during this model’s press introduction event, I sometimes wished for 15 or 20 more hp to go really crazy. And maybe one day a Super Speed Triple will come along to go head-to-head against something like KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R. 

But being a monster is not what the 1050 Speed Triple is about. And what it’s about is so good and balanced and seamless and simply fun that it deserves to be ferociously guarded. 

There really isn’t a whole lot to complaint about here. Maybe my biggest pet peeve is how relatively little the triple can be heard by the rider when moving. On a Trophy, maybe the argument can be made for a quieter motor, but on a Speed Triple, the engine’s unique character should be celebrated with a considerably more audible intake chant. 

Other than that, the Speed Triple is a beauty. All that talk about balance and refinement comes from every single aspect of its ride down to the smallest details. For example, the riding position is just right: sporty, yet comfy, with a wide handlebar that leans the torso forward just slightly, but without loading the hands. 

The footpegs are set low enough that they drag pretty easily on a racetrack, but the upside is added comfort on the road. Choosing a ride mode is now easier with a dedicated button, and Triumph is one of the manufacturers that get traction control versus wheelie control right: wheelies are tamed in Sport, Road and Rain modes, but allowed in Track mode, in all cases with TC still active. 

Handling-wise, the Speed Triple truly offers the best of two worlds: lightness, stability, confidence and accessibility on the street, and near racer-replica precision on the track. Suspension action on the Öhlins-equipped R versions tested is remarkable, meaning it’s compliant on the street and controlled on the track. There’s even a surprisingly comfortable seat. 

The Speed Triple then is much more than just a hooligan machine, although it can be that too. But in a practical sense, it is one of the best, most polished and well-behaved Real World motorcycles money can buy. Well done, Triumph.