Naked SportBike, All Dressed Up
Does it surprise one for a moment that the champion of streetfighters comes from the country that originated hooliganism? That English heritage dates back to the 19th century, and is both a mark and a badge. While we decidedly pass on the destructive behavior, getting a little rowdy with the throttle inevitably seems to come with the territory when riding this particular high-performance motorcycle.
The Triumph Speed Triple is a motorcycle that epitomizes the streetfighting ethos. The 1050cc in-line 3 is shared with the Sprint ST sport tourer and Tiger adventure bike. But, instead of fairings and bags, the Speed Triple is seriously naked, with its 131 hp engine hanging provocatively from the tubular fare, and unapologetically bulbous twin chrome headlights showing the way. The Speed Triple isn’t just brawny; it is clearly a bit of a bully, too. (Click image to enlarge)
Our Speed Triple was taken for a ride on the wild side with a series of accessories from Triumph’s own catalog. Carbon fiber appears everywhere from the front mudguard to the cush drive cover. The fly screen makes the Speed Triple look as if you have just exited from your own secret cave on the dark edge of town, ready to swoop through the night with silent perfection.
Except for one thing. This Speed Triple has an Arrow 3-into-1 exhaust system that is anything but stealth.Designed for "off road use only", according to Triumph, the gorgeous Arrow exhaust performs quite a few different duties. Exiting from just under the engine in modern MotoGP manner, it’s made of titanium and stainless steel and is lighter and much better looking than the standard twin-muffler underseat exhaust. The Arrow mounts closer to the bike’s center of gravity, and boosts both torque and peak power. And, oh yes, it also makes the hooligan’s presence quite apparent when the engine runs up to its five-digit redline. (Click image to enlarge)
This additional attention may turn out to be unwanted, as you’ll undoubtedly be behaving badly when the Triumph’s slightly oversquare motor starts roaring with rage. You see, the Speed Triple is a bad influence, as it tempts you with both appearance and performance. Clad in black, much of it unreflective and unrepentant, it is also accented with fully adjustable rich gold forks and highly effective twin four-piston radial front brake calipers; the Speed Triple is a volatile combination of stealth and excess.
Like a devil whispering—make that howling at 10,000 rpm—in your ear, the Speed Triple suggests that you succumb to its hooligan birthright and perform acts that are better left a secret to your insurance company. While you will not wheelie through the business district after midnight on your Tiger, you probably won’t realize you have been doing it repeatedly on the Speed Triple until you stop to take a breath. Was that a BMW 650i that provocatively revved its 360-hp motor while passing you, luring you to give chase? Of course it was. When a red light eventually ends the friendly rivalry, you find the driver rolling down his window to grin widely and simply say, "Nice bike." But the Speed Triple disappears into the vanishing point when the light returns to green. (Click image to enlarge)
Triumph purposely built temptation into the Speed Triple, but they also backed it up with the mechanical hardware to make the implementation of that inducement as safe as possible. Handling is nearly neutral, with a reassuring nod toward stability rather than unpredictability.Perhaps a bit stiffly damped for urban assaults—pavement irregularities will not be casually ignored—the Speed Triple’s taught suspension comes into its own when abandoning the city for the rural twisties. The upright seating position, as well as the seat itself, is comfortable. The handlebars provide the rider with good leverage, though the machine only requires muscle when the rider makes a large mistake. The radial brakes, as mentioned, are superb performers, bringing the Speed Triple back under the speed limit if it happens to exceed it inadvertently.
Just as the handling and suspension complement each other, so, too, does the motor. With the Arrow pipe quietly (at first) pulling from idle, it gains power in a linear manner and the decibels do not begin to climb noticeably until the rev counter reads 6,000. Indeed, it is possible to ride the Speed Triple responsibly, but it requires a heightened capacity for self-control.
When you do ride it casually, it is quite enjoyable, but push it hard, and you will notice something during sharp deceleration—the Speed Triple’s 6-speed transmission can be a little notchy and occasionally refuse aggressive downshifts. This is something we’d like to see sorted out. Fortunately, the exemplary brakes bailed us out more than once.
In this issue,we have a story on women and the motorcycles they covet. The Triumph Speed Triple 1050 is unapologetically masculine in its demeanor and appearance. The exotic howl of the Arrow-exhausted triple might as well be a testosterone pump into the jugular of the rider, jolting him into a hooligan state of mind. Be careful.