Video road test: Triumph Speed Triple R
By Loz Blain
November 26, 2012
There's nothing exceptional to point out on the Triumph Speed Triple R's spec sheet. Its power figures are quite modest compared to the big guns in this day and age, it doesn't look particularly special, and it doesn't come loaded with sophisticated rider aid technology like a lot of the bikes we've reviewed lately. And yet, I've never had so much fun on two wheels, or fallen so hard for a bike so fast. So what is it about this snub-nosed British bad boy that makes it such a compelling ride?
I am an unashamed nakedbike fan. In my garage you'll find one stock naked and three formerly faired motorcycles that I've chopped and hacked into ratbike streetfighters. I love the stripped back look, the meaty engine swinging freely in the air. I love the wind and the riding position and the fact that fast feels faster when you're not hiding behind a fairing. The first bike I ever really clicked with was a Honda Hornet 919.
I mention these facts to demonstrate why you're not going to get a remotely objective review from me here: if I was to sit down with a motorcycle designer and custom build a bike from the ground up just for me, it would end up pretty much exactly like the Speed Triple R. Usually I'm visiting far-flung reaches of the motorcycle world with our Gizmag reviews – not this time. I loved this bike to bits 10 seconds into my test ride. For the rest of this column, I'll be barely restraining myself from gushing superlatives.
The Triple has a big, smooth, grunty 1050cc inline triple engine that perfectly bridges the gap between a torquey twin and a revvy inline four. It's injected, of course, but the throttle mapping is spot on – smooth on uptake, gentle and manageable on a squeeze, raucous and torquey on a grab.
It only makes 135 horsepower, which isn't a lot next to monster nakeds like the BMW K1300R (172hp) – and yet it never feels underpowered on the road. That's at least partially due to the totally street-focused gearing (first gear won't take you much over 100km/h). Efficiency isn't bad – the fuel light came on for me after 165km of city riding, but according to my calculations, it comes on very early and there was probably more than 40 or 50km range left in it.
The Speed Triple is the epitome of a nakedbike to me – it's as simple and transparent a bike as I've ever ridden. It does exactly what it's told at all times, whether that's trundling slowly and smoothly around town (try that on an Italian twin!), ripping through twisty country roads or performing a variety of one-wheeled shenanigans that we'll get to later.
It's the kind of bike that disappears underneath you, leaving just you and the road and the ride. Like all good nakeds, it's minimal to look at from the rider's seat, which only serves to amplify the "magic carpet" effect.
Our test bike was the R version – which means it comes with Ohlins front and rear suspension, Brembo monobloc brake callipers, a few bits of carbon fiber and ABS. Naturally, it handled and stopped beautifully – but honestly if it was my dollar buying, I'd save a few thousand dollars and go for the standard version.
Pillion comfort has definitely improved since the previous model shape (2005-2011), which had a passenger pad the size of a CD case. The new Triple is far from plush, but it's a bigger and more secure seat than the older one. The rider's seat felt like home to me immediately – I love the upright naked feeling, head up high to see further over traffic, arms out wide for huge leverage on the bars. It puts me straight into attack mode on the road.
And that's where I stayed for the whole 10 days I had it – the Speed Triple is so responsive, so easy to ride and so full of laughs that I quickly found 10-minute commutes turning into 2-hour backstreet fangs. I just didn't want to get off the thing. I felt young and stupid and impulsive again, it was like the Speed Triple transported me back to my first few years of riding.
That's a big thing to say – I get to ride some of the best damn metal in the business in this job, some really impressive bikes. But at the end of the day, this one flicked my switch more than any of them.
We have to briefly mention stunting – you can't get away from the Speed Triple's amazing capabilities on one wheel. I've always been partial to a cheeky wheelstand, but I think it's our editor Noel who summed the experience up best. He took the Speed Triple around the track twice, then came back and said "I've never done a wheelie in my life. I just did six wheelies without even meaning to."
Open the taps on the big Triple and it will rear up like it was born and bred to operate without a front wheel. It's part big grunty motor, part short wheelbase, part beautifully responsive throttle and part riding position. The combination is extraordinary, I've never ridden anything that feels so comfortable and controllable to wheelie.
In fact, this may be the Speed Triple's greatest strength and its greatest flaw. Riding it, you feel like an unstoppable stunt god of the highest order – and as a result, you have to seriously weigh the excitement of an extraordinary ride against the chance of losing your license to ride altogether.
I guess it comes down to what sort of rider you are. This bike can certainly be ridden sensibly – it has exceptional manners, in fact – but if your riding habits tend toward the naughty side, the Speed Triple will probably bring out the best and the worst in you.
Personally, I found it one of the most engaging, simple and rewarding rides I've ever tried. I'm not sure if I ever want to ride anything else again. I'm in love.