2013 Triumph Trophy SE Motorcycle Test
Scotland and England may have had a tumultuous relationship in the past – Braveheart only scratches the surface – though for the past 300 years since the signing of the Treaty of Union, the relationship has been mutually beneficial.
So, it’s no surprise that Triumph’s newest pride of England – the 2013 Triumph Trophy SE – is quite ready, willing, and able to show its prowess in Britain’s northern-most region.
We based our test of the Trophy SE in historic St. Andrews, home of The Old Course, a set of golf links that are a mere 600 years old. It’s a welcoming town to golfers, and the city’s reverence for the past also extends to the magnificent ruins of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, which date back over 850 years.
As I was there to ride motorcycles, I avoided the duffers and hubbub in town, preferring to stay just two miles north of town at the modern Fairmont St. Andrews. The five-star resort hotel was the site of the 2009 G-20 Summit, hosting financial leaders from across the globe, and overlooks The Torrance and The Kittocks Courses. A health spa is there for spouses who choose to eschew the pillion, and the Fife Coastal Path pleasantly links the Fairmont to St. Andrews by foot.
Darts at the Rock and Spindle the evening prior to my ride, as well as a full English breakfast replete with thickly sliced bacon, black pudding, and baked beans at The Squire, put me in the perfect frame of mind to pit the Trophy SE against the challenging roads of Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park.
For dedicated followers of the Triumph marque, the name Trophy is not a new one. The name dates back to 1948, when the Meriden factory turned out a Speed-Twin based off-road machine with roots in the factory effort at the first International Six Day Trial. It won the Trophy class, and the name for the TR5 was born.
Hollywood has been kind to the Trophy; James Dean owned one, and iconic sitcom character The Fonz rode a Trophy TR5 Scrambler Custom in the television show, Happy Days. Both the truly, and the imitative, cool understood the appeal of the rugged 500cc pre-unit twin.
The name fell into disuse during the 1960s, until resurrected in 1970. Now unit construction, the TR5T Trophy Trail took the British team to more gold medals at the 1973 ISDT in Dalton, Mass. Within a decade, Triumph was no more.
When the current guardians of the Triumph name began selling motorcycles in September 1991, the Trophy 1200 was the first machine from Hinckley to hit the showroom floors. A 1200cc sport-touring inline four and 900cc triple were made, and the Trophy 1200 evolved into a straight-up tourer by the time it disappeared from the lineup in 2003.
Last year’s debut of the Tiger Explorer 1200 made the return of the Trophy something of an inevitability. The largest triple had arrived on the scene, and it made sense to please those who are looking for a comfortable tourer that retains the sporting capabilities that permeate all Triumphs.
As has been the irrevocable trend of the ’10s, the Trophy SE (America only gets the upgraded version) is festooned with electronic buttons and motors. When it comes to the long haul, we are not the least bit hesitant to assistance from migrating electrons, and the Trophy wisely uses Franklin’s discovery.
One doesn’t have to wait long to enjoy the scenic Kingdom of Fife, as enjoyable roads start at the end of the Fairmont’s driveway. Taking a route that included B9131 and Higham Loan allows me to bypass St. Andrews’ city center and quickly make my way north.
My first experience with the linked braking system clears out the morning cobwebs. The radial mounted twin front discs are strong, despite the fact that only three of the four Nissin calipers are actuated when using the hand brake lever. Initial bite is soft, just as I like it, but the deceleration comes on extremely quickly for a touring bike – not exactly startling, but still surprising.
These first two roads are indicative of much of what I will be riding on – narrow country lanes with seemingly constant elevation change and the kind of illogical redirections that are common on ancient paths. Pavement quality is good however, and the first order of the day is selecting the suspension settings.
The days of spanners and hammers to change damping and spring preload are disappearing fast; the WP suspension is electronically adjusted on the Trophy SE.
Rather than an unnecessary array of suspension options, Triumph keeps it simple and practical with three damping (Sport, Normal, Comfort) and three preload options (Solo, Solo plus Luggage, 2-Up). Alone and packed lightly, Normal and Solo are a natural place to start.
It is difficult to argue with Normal on the Trophy SE. It is a nicely firm damping setting that allows negotiation of corners – expected and not – without knocking you about on the occasional bump in the road.
A cool morning, the generously protective fairing does its job well. I click on the SE’s heated grips and seats – toast is made quickly. Triumph has gone to great pains to direct engine heat away from the rider, though a vent or two that would allow it through when desired would be an appreciated feature. Regardless, my AGV Sport Telluride ensemble vents are zipped closed, and I am untroubled by the cool temps.
Comfortable in both ride and personal temperature, it is time to shift my notice to the Trophy SE’s magnificent motor. I was already aware of the appeal of the 1215cc triple, having greatly enjoyed it on the Tiger Explorer. Here on the Trophy SE, the motor is slightly retuned (though still with the same cams) for more torque over a wider spread.
Indeed, from 2500 rpm to 9500 rpm, you will have at least 75 ft/lbs of torque at your disposal, peaking out at nearly 90 ft/lbs at about 6500 rpm. Acceleration only requires a running engine and a willingness to twist the long-throw throttle – downshifting is purely optional, though you have six gears to choose from, including an overdrive cog.
As nearly flat as the torque curve is, the horsepower also comes on in a linear fashion from 2000 rpm to 7000 rpm, where the increases come a bit more slowly until peaking out at a claimed 132 horsepower just shy of 9000 rpm and the redline. Unless you’re passing and need the short-distance rev-out, click up a gear at 7000 rpm and the performance of the big triple will be as fully satisfying as it is reassuringly predictable.
Ride-by-wire can be a blessing or a curse, depending upon the skill of its implementation. The engineers at Triumph nailed the rideability portion perfectly – the throttle butterflies are flawlessly manipulated by an electronic motor – as there are no hitches or hiccups present.
Neither as buttery smooth as the larger multis, nor as reassuringly pulsating as a twin, the triple is a bit on the buzzy side for a tourer. The sensation is always there, though it’s never excessively intrusive. Still, we would not turn our noses up at a bit more vibration damping.
Crossing over the Tay Road Bridge – a straight causeway linking Newport-on-Tay and Dundee – I work through the menu to access the Comfort suspension setting, and the Trophy SE isolates me nicely from the expansion joints and roughness of the bridge.
The town of Dundee provides an opportunity to compete with automobiles on urban grounds. While it weighs in at a claimed 662 pounds ready to ride, the SE acquits itself nicely in crowded conditions. I learn to rely on the softer foot brake pedal, which only works on the rear disc in most applications.
If I have a need to push harder, the valve opens, sending braking power to that fourth front caliper. I don’t have to worry about pressing too hard, as ABS is there to rescue me. The premium Pirelli Angel ST rubber provides additional braking capability. The linked braking occurs transparently, though the ABS is detectible. The entire system, however, inspires trust, which will be helpful when I shortly reach the meat of the ride.
One of the largest (1748 square miles) and newest (established in 2003) parks in the National Park Authority, Cairngorms National Park strikingly captures the green and desolate beauty of the Scottish Northern Highlands. A93, the Old Military Road, takes you into the heart of the Cairngorms mountain range on a road seemingly built for motorcycling.
Tricky elevation and direction changes greet everyone in the park, and if you are riding a motorcycle aggressively – I encountered no law enforcement – you will need to be on-point. A93 is so extreme in places that I found the front wheel clawing the sky as the road dropped away from me, proving that the traction control sentry is on duty.
The road isn’t perfectly paved, so the stiffer Sport suspension setting is only for the hardiest of souls. I try the Comfort setting for a while, before deciding that the added composure of Normal suited me just fine. The Trophy SE does not even think about wallowing, and I can enter corners with confidence that the bike will do of it what is asked. There is no excessive diving in the Normal mode, even with the aggressive front binders in action.
Here, reliable tires are a must, and Triumph could have hardly made a better choice than the Angel ST. I can heel the Trophy SE over at whatever speed I like, and do so without a hit of pushing or the back end stepping out.
The SE has 51.5-percent of its weight on the front tire at rest, so front-end stability was a strong focus for the engineers. To make sure the back of the bike has a reliable footprint, Triumph went to a 190-width rear tire. Cornering is not compromised with the wider tire, and it feels as planted and secure as the weighted front.
A broader rear also helps high-speed stability, and there are a few straights along the way that inspire one to test the bike’s limits. At very high speeds, the Trophy SE is impeccable. Triumph is quick to attribute that to its new Dynamic Luggage System, which links the panniers and allows them to pivot freely through a five-degree arc. When you’re behind the bike, you can certainly see the bags move back and forth in unison, and the movement can be tested at rest, as it is free swinging.
The idea of the system is that it isolates luggage loads in the chassis, while giving unwanted oscillation waves a place to dissipate. Given that we didn’t have an SE without this feature, or with the bags locked in place, one has to take the effect of the system at Triumph’s word. Independently, however, one can attest to the bike’s stability at speed over less-than-perfect roadways, as well as ruler smooth stretches.
Although the snow-free Glenshee Ski Center offered a nice coffee and hot chocolate break early on in the park, my stomach demanded a more substantial stop in Tomintoul.
Highly rated by reviewers and the public, The Clockhouse Restaurant at The Square is a must-eat stop. I ate lightly, as there were still many miles to travel. My herb chicken with cranberry sauce was delightfully appropriate, and the service was unhesitatingly pleasant. It is a seasonal stop, though you aren’t likely to want to ride a motorbike through this area from November to March.
Still on the Old Military Road, though now designated the A939, the road continues to captivate with unexpected twists and turns. The scenery is unabated, and I am embarrassingly caught gawking over a blind hill, only to be greeted by a slow-moving truck trailed by multiple vehicles.
While I was not convinced that putting full force on both brakes immediately was going to save me, it was my only option. Much to my relief, the Trophy SE slowed me down much more quickly and stably than anticipated, and tragedy was averted. It was a great reminder to keep my eyes on the road a bit more carefully if I was going to ride at a brisk pace, though the incident did give me a chance to test the brakes in a way that I could not have done voluntarily. Whew!
Following lunch, speeds picked up as the route turned to larger roads, including divided highways. More traffic meant more passing opportunities, and a continued lack of law enforcement allowed me to ride at a natural pace.
Passing comes easily to the big triple, though you do have to keep in mind that the grip needs a healthy twist to open up the throttle bottles. For all the electronic options on the Trophy SE, there are no alternative power maps. We would like to see a faster revving option with a shorter twist for times when they’re desired. If you are not ready to grab a handful, the SE will not seem as sporty as it actually is.
Longer stretches in the easily adjustable saddle are rewarded with comfort. I preferred the higher seating position, as I was still able to touch the ground easily with my 34-inch inseam, and it gave me more legroom – something I almost always want on a sporty touring bike.
The standard windscreen is electronically adjustable, with the highest position meaning I am looking through the shield and can ride for a bit with my faceshield up. When it’s low, you get a controlled flow of air that hits the body comfortably and is not fatiguing.
I settled for an in-between position and was satisfied most of the time. Triumph offers a wider and taller accessory shield for those who demand more protection.
Another stop for refreshment at The House of Bruar in Perthshire, a touristy, yet still appealing complex that offers clothing for visitors, as well as birdseed for the locals. Delicious pastries and beverages await the discriminating traveler.
After starting up again, the low fuel light’s presence made itself known on the highly customizable, dot matrix control panel (a color LCD would be a nice touch on a flagship bike of this sort, as would a built-in GPS system). Filling up at Perth confirmed that the seven-gallon fuel tank has no effort delivering 200 miles, no matter how hard the bike is flogged.
A spirited ride back to the Fairmont revisited many of the same roads taken on the way out. A spin through St. Andrews, and the obligatory ride through The Pends Arch – part of the Old Monastery of St. Andrews – make for a perfect ending to an astoundingly enjoyable ride.
The backroads of Scotland are a vigorous test for a touring bike in a variety of ways. The 2013 Triumph Trophy SE gladly rose to the challenge, unreservedly showing its mettle. Sporty touring machines open many doors to enjoyment, and the Trophy SE is an extraordinarily worthy addition to the class.
Photography by Alessio Barbanti, Paul Barshon, Don Williams