Reveling in Rebirth

In 1969 Triumph introduced the revolutionary T150 Trident, its first sporting three-cylinder motorcycle. But the British manufacturer had little time to enjoy its success: Only a few months later the Honda CB750 trumped the Trident’s alluring styling and performance with a 4-cylinder engine and superior reliability. Sophisticated Hondas eventually stole the limelight from the British company, and even the Trident could not save Triumph. A downward financial spiral eventually resulted in the company’s liquidation in 1983.

Helmet: Arai  RX-7 Corsair
Suit: Kushitani 2-piece
Gloves: Kushitani GPR
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa. (Click image to enlarge)

Eight years later Triumph emerged from the ashes. And though its initial bikes sold well in England, it took the 1994 debut of the Speed Triple for the brand to recapture the nostalgia of its Sixties heyday. The 885cc Speed Triple’s modern package was compelling and dynamic enough to compete with Japanese models. Stripped down and aggressively styled, its main attraction was a visceral quality that delivered a soul-stirring connection between bike and rider. The Speed Triple didn’t make excuses for itself, offering instead a spare and muscular visual presence backed up with an intensely entertaining ride.

Eleven years after the Speed Triple’s debut, Japanese, Italian, and even American offerings have crowded the naked bike market and further challenged the underdogs from Great Britain. But constant improvement since 1994 has made the 2006 model the company’s finest naked bike yet, offering the double threats of formidable power and agile handling. Its 1,050cc engine produces gobs of low-end torque, fantastic throttle response, and plenty of smooth power that peaks with 128 hp at 9,100 rpm; the combination of fat low-end torque and rev-happy, high-end power is bridged with a seamless silkiness spread lavishly through the powerband.

Containing that power is an aluminum frame that provides an impressively tight chassis. Precise steering comes courtesy of a steeply raked fork. Though its ease of steering action is inviting at lower speeds, the lack of resistance can sometimes feel loose at higher speeds; some degree of dampening might eliminate this characteristic, which is amplified by the bike’s aggressive geometry. The dynamics also seem to facilitate front-wheel lifts during hard acceleration, a sensation that is either thrilling or terrifying, depending on the rider’s constitution. (Click image to enlarge)

The Speed Triple’s maneuverability is heightened by its relatively squat wheelbase of 56.2 inches, a tall seating position, and handlebar ergonomics that allow effective leveraging of the bike around turns. The grips are swept somewhat forward, but are not so dropped as to cause wrist strain. Flinging the Speed Triple across switchbacks is simple: it changes direction with such ease that turns are stalked and traversed with the thrill of a hunt. Thanks to an engine that combines a triple’s fierce personality and sound with smooth, free-revving refinement, the Triumph also inspires high-speed, straight-line blasts. In fact, choosing between seductively winding roads and expansive open spaces is tough. The Speed Triple’s razor-sharp responsiveness inspires both hardcore speed and finessed, spirited flicking around turns.

The physical proportions of the Speed Triple are consistent with the definitively British sensibility of a high-performance powerplant in a relatively lightweight package. Though its dry weight of 416 pounds is not quite superbike material, the sensation of tossing that mass around inspires feelings of kinesthetic abandon.

Stellar braking power comes courtesy of radial 4-piston calipers, which produce strong, easily modulated stops. Linking the bike to the road are elegant 5-spoke wheels, connected up front via the steeply raked forks and coupled with dual-rate springs and adjustable preload, compression, and rebound damping. A single-sided swingarm offers even more mechanical peek-a-boo, lending the bike a clean look rounded out by twin, round headlights.
Inspired by the European street-fighter aesthetic, the Speed Triple is a model of the compact, efficient styling inherent in the hooligan-bike archetype. A tubular, aluminum alloy frame visually merges the seat and tank to the largely visible mechanical components, which appear to be cradled by the curvaceous exhaust system that terminates with a short pair of silencers.

A large analog tachometer and a digital speedometer provide key information at a glance, while fuel economy, average and top speed, and distance-to-empty displays are available at the touch of a button. Rev-happy riders can program a shift light that provides a progressive color-coded indication of the engine’s rpm. (Click image to enlarge)

Perched above the Triumph’s seat, wrapped around its tank, and straddling its high-revving engine, the Speed Triple’s sharp handling and responsive engine offer a challenging dynamic that rewards riders who approach the edges of its ability. By building modern bikes that recall the spirit of classics such as the T150 Trident, Triumph has experienced yet another renaissance by refusing to yield to the status quo.

Whether through its whimsically overpowered übercruiser, the 2.3 liter Rocket III, or the highly anticipated Daytona 675, Triumph will continue to underscore its reputation as a company that defies the banality of corporate mentality. And while those bikes have decided appeal, it is the Speed Triple that most successfully ties the adventurous days of the company’s past with the promise of a bright future.

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