What sport bike fan amongst us doesn’t already love Triumph’s little Street Triple? One would be hard pressed not to have a big smile on his face after a blitz through the mountains on the naked bike with a Daytona 675R-derived engine.So does one really need to pile on the fun factor by testing the updated 2013 model in the mountains above Almeria, Spain? Of course – even if it means risking lost luggage on Iberia Airlines.
The Street Triple has been a proven winner for half a decade. It has been Triumph’s top seller, moving 50,000 units in the past five years – not bad for the mid-sized Hinckley manufacturing facility in the West Midlands.Three years ago Triumph engineers went back to the drawing board and began conceiving ways to make the much-loved Street Triple even better, by tweaking the styling, improving the handling, and reducing weight.On first look, the most obvious change to the Street Triple is at the back end. Rather like the rise and fall of hemlines dictated by fashionistas, the twin high-riding exhaust canisters have been replaced with a new low slung exhaust that sits under the rider’s right boot – MotoGP-style – lightening the look of its rear and centralizing weight.At the front of the Triple, the love ’em or hate ’em distinctive protruding headlamps return—now lowered and brought closer to the frame. When set off by the accessory fly screen, they integrate much better with the angular face of the bike.Okay, so the middleweight street scrapper looks lighter and sharper; after a day of acclimation, I will see how this steed gallops across the Andalusian countryside.Sitting in the rain shadow of the Filabres and Alhamilla mountain ranges, Almeria only gets 26 days of rain a year, yet I arrived under gloomy skies. Several hours of exploring downtown Almeria on foot were not dampened by the off and on light drizzle, nor did I cut short my visit to the impressive Alcazaba to hunker down in my spacious and gracious digs at Hotel Envia Almeroa.The medieval fortress overlooking the town and bay of Almeria was declared an Historic Artistic Monument and National Artistic Treasure 80 years ago, and walking through the Islamic enclosures and Christian castle, viewing the extensive water channels, cisterns, and fountain, made me wish I had paid more attention in my three years of high school Spanish classes; most of the information plaques do not have translations. It was fascinating, nonetheless.The panoramic views from the tower roofs stretch from the sea to the Castle of San Cristobal to the north, and beckon me to find a faster mode of exploration of the landscape, so I return to Hotel Envia and lay out my leather ensemble for the next day’s adventure.The 5-star Hotel Envia sits in the town of Vicar, nestled in the hills west of Almeria, with a beautiful golf course spilling down the hillside toward the Mediterranean, and an extensive modern wellness center just steps from the lobby.Unfortunately, time did not allow for any of the therapeutic massages, facial esthetics, or Osteopathy sessions from the ample menu of treatments at the spa. However, I managed to work out the kinks from my 20-hour journey in the well-equipped fitness facility.After a night that the succumbed to full-on rain showers, I was relieved when I awoke to a crisp and promising morning, the sun sparkling out of a Mediterranean blue sky. The 2013 Street Triple R was waiting on the cobbled stones in front of the hotel.I found my eyes moving over the bike from part to part, my hand touching the clean lines and appreciating the tight tolerances. Sliding a leg over the lean machine, I set a foot on the peg and brake, and thumbed the starter. The distinctive triple barks to life and I reflexively twist the throttle a couple of times just to listen to the quick-revving engine’s eager din.I resist bolting off long enough to note a few of the accessory items fitted to the bike I am riding. One of the coolest goodies is the LED turn indicators, whose slick Euro look is not US-legal due to DOT nanny state requirements.Plenty of other aesthetic and functional accessories are available to Americans, and all are well executed. Triumph understands that a good number of the ST owners will remove the license plate hanger, so the rear was designed to make this easy.With the plate holder and passenger pegs off, the bike looks clean, fast and ready for the track. Other cool items from the long list of options available for the Street Triple R include CNC-machined brake and clutch levers, Intellishift quickshifter, and a stainless steel Arrow muffler with a carbon fiber tip.The R is an easy-going ride when you want it to be – its smooth engine and low-end torque are welcome as I carefully navigate the village neighborhood where La Envia is located. The streets are still lightly damp from last night’s rain and my attention is split between the bike and watching road signs.For easier slow speed control, first gear is slightly higher than last year, and the shifting is smooth as I click up to second through the roundabout and join the narrow road snaking down the hill toward the Mediterranean.A short ride along the coast allows me to steal glances at the sea while the brisk morning blast over the top of the flyscreen envelops me in a rush of anticipation. Two-lane mountain roads await and I am looking forward to testing the compact bike’s improved handling, though last year’s model left little to complain about.Heading north on A-92, a nicely paved highway that winds into the mountains, I hunker down in the comfortable seat and lean into the wind. The Street Triple R may have been bred for agility both in urban settings and winding roads, but it is also convincingly stable at high speed in a straight line. It is easy to find yourself flying along faster than the posted speed limit, and since I was warned to be on the look-out for unmarked silver SEAT Alteas handing out tickets, I kept an eye on the nicely legible digital speedometer.Farther into the Spanish countryside I transition to A-1178 and climb into the mountains on tightening roads. For 2013, Triumph has made significant changes to the Street Triple R’s chassis by lightening parts, redistributing the weight and changing the bike’s geometry.Sixty percent of this year’s 13-pound weight savings comes from the new exhaust system, with the asymmetric swingarm and new wheels contributing another 25-percent of the reduction. Most importantly, almost all of the weight savings comes off the Triple’s rear half.At a lithe 403 pounds, the Speed Triple R is easy to move around. The new R has a half-degree steeper rake than last year, tightening it up to a taut 23.4 degrees. That allows quick turn-ins as the road serpentines, and the additional weight on the front tire—52 percent of the R’s weight is now on the front half of the bike – gives the confidence needed to initiate hard turns.The fully adjustable KYB 41mm inverted forks and rear shock had been dialed onto the softer side for my 112-pound weight, and the consistent response from the well-balanced suspension encourages me to push ever harder. The bike feels planted in corners, yet line corrections can be made without upsetting the chassis, and on exit the R is easily pulled upright.As the kilometers (when in Spain…) rolled by, I felt myself in a dance with the R – accelerating, braking hard, leaning, twisting, confident in the bike’s capabilities, enjoying its triple note song. The flawless Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsas contribute to a secure feeling, never wavering or losing grip no matter how far I heeled the bike over.I stopped in the small town of Tijola and caused some momentary excitement for the teenage schoolboys who climbed up the fence of their schoolyard for a better look. I think they were surprised to see a strawberry blonde American woman on a sport bike stopping on the small street in front of Restaurante El Paso. They continued to chatter in Spanish, and after a couple of waves and holas to boost to my ego, I stepped inside the neighborhood cafe.Family-owned restaurants are frequently the best places to sample authentic cuisine and, because gazpacho originated in Andalucia, I was in for a treat. The bowl of cold soup was topped with a saucer of fresh chopped vegetables and croutons, which I promptly stirred in and devoured. It was the most down-home, best-tasting gazpacho I have ever enjoyed (don’t tell my mom).The gazpacho was followed by a traditional Tortilla Espanola, a Spanish omelet filled with potatoes and onions, and served with fresh salsa on the side. This signature dish was wonderful and satisfying.After lunch I made a quick stop at a nearby Repsol station to fill the R’s 4.6-gallon tank. New throttle bodies and EFI calibration are claimed to improve fuel consumption‚ – 30-percent in urban use – but I can’t be bothered to check. My concern is the function of the EFI system, and it is flawless. There are no surges, backfires, or other misbehavior when riding easy or hard.Approaching the pump, I appreciated the extra three degrees of steering arc that Triumph gave the 2013 model. This is a welcome, real-world enhancement that can be appreciated every day in parking lots, garages, and when making tight U-turns. In order to eke out this extra maneuverability, Triumph redesigned the front end of the frame.I aim the Street Triple R toward A349, a billiard-table smooth two-lane winding road that was surely laid out by a two-wheeled speed enthusiast. With fast sweeping turns and frequent passing lanes I find myself accelerating hard and tripping the programmable shift lights at 11,500 rpm – just before 11,850 rpm, where the short-stroke triple hits its 94-horsepower peak.Shifting is flawless when the R is ridden aggressively. The throw is short and sure, with no false neutrals or strange gaps in the six-speed transmission. The cable-actuated clutch is equally impressive.One might reasonably expect a smallish 675cc motor to be a bit peaky, but Triumph has tuned any such misbehavior out of the motor (which is internally identical to last year’s powerplant). The torque curve is as flat as the Mediterranean from 3000 rpm to near the redline over 12,000 rpm, so you get a consistent pull at any engine speed in any gear.The buffeting wind whips around my body as I fly along A-349. There is something intoxicating about speed on two wheels instead of four. Each incremental twist of the throttle heightens my awareness of being in the elements.I am in my own world of white noise blur and wind blast, me and the R, cutting through the Spanish mountains. I tighten my grip on the bars and suck in a few long deep breaths of the rushing air as I push the pace.It is easy to imagine how much fun the R would be at the track, even without clip-ons and a fairing. The bike holds its line on ultra-fast sweepers – solid, secure, and tight. The accessory flyscreen helps direct the wind blast over my helmet as I venture into triple digit speeds.When it comes time to slow down, the four-piston radially mounted Nissin calipers up front, controlled by a radially mounted master cylinder, are undoubtedly up to the task. Get on them hard when flying downhill, and the rear tire will lift in response, though the R retains its composure. While the pre-production Street Triple R that I rode did not have ABS, this safety feature will be standard in the US and Canada.Although apparently unchanged from last year, the Nissins felt like they had a sharper initial bite than before; I will assign responsibility for that to the steeper rake. The rear brake is uncommonly useful and not Northern Californian to lock-up thanks to good feel.The scrubby mountain chaparral and pine trees rushing through my peripheral vision remind me of my Southern California stomping grounds, and then the occasional road sign for La Menas, and the Aceite de Oliva mill I passed, remind me that I am speeding through the Spanish mountains. The lack of law enforcement was also welcome.On my way back to Almeria, the A-349 drops into the Tabernas desert, where quite a few Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in the 1960s, including A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I took the Street Triple off-pavement briefly to peek at Texas Hollywood, one of several Western-styled theme parks in the area, which remains an active film set.How to best finish off a day of exhilarating riding through the Spanish countryside? How about dinner in a cave? Restaurante Asador La Gruta sits in the hills overlooking the coast and provides a unique and memorable dining experience. After a seemingly endless array of appetizers – cold meats and cheeses, scrambled eggs with ham and garlic, and local grilled vegetables – I had to make room for the incredibly tasty entree of grilled pork loin.Too good not to indulge in, I tried to stretch out the bench racing from the day’s ride with my dining mates as long as possible as the dessert tray would soon follow. Specializing in grilled meats and fish, La Gruta also has a 30,000-bottle wine cellar built into the limestone walls.It is tempting to tinker in an effort to attain perfection. Sometimes, when an attempt to make something better misses the mark, you wonder what they were thinking.Triumph clearly understands what makes the Street Triple R so popular and has not touched its essence. The improvements are carefully evolutionary – fine-tuning the chassis and leaving the motor untouched.The result is a motorcycle with updated styling, along with even more sport-focused handling to match. Yet, it is still an exceptionally friendly mid-sized naked sport bike that can please experienced riders while not intimidating the novice sport rider. For 2013, Triumph gives the Street Triple R just the right amount more.Photography by Alessio Barbanti, Stefano Gada, Simon Carter and Kelly Callan
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