2016 Triumph Speed Triple R Test
In 1994, Triumph unveiled the first Speed Triple, a stripped down, upright motorcycle that ardently appealed to motorcyclists desiring a performance machine with everyday rideability. The buying public responded in earnest, with sales accompanied by a spate of enthused euphemisms such as “naked” and “upright,” intended to define this new two-wheel category.
However—possibly to Triumph’s chagrin at the time—the term that stuck was “hooligan”, which more accurately captured the rowdy essence of the machine. In the 22 years since the Triple first broke ground, other manufacturers have followed suit with their own naked upright machines. However, Triumph unofficially remains the sole custodian of the Hooligan description, which the British marque now wears as a badge of honor.
For 2016, Triumph has updated its rebellious offspring with 104 refinements—more evolutionary than revolutionary—that usher the Speed Triple into a rarefied combination of raw motorcycle experience and technical prowess. The marketing materials attempt to brand the machine a Performance Roadster, but the 2016 Triumph Speed Triple R remains steadfastly a Hooligan.
Aesthetically, the new machine is an appealing blend of modern design cues that pay homage to that classic Speed Triple essence—attitude. The dual headlights have been reshaped, looking like cat eyes for an appropriately mischievous appearance.
A small, but surprisingly effective, fly-screen shields the new instrument cluster and has a distinctive intake duct integrated into the assembly, which is mounted low on the front end to give the bike a more compact and aggressive silhouette. Bar-end mirrors are a nice nod to café racers, and have an exceptional range of view.
A carbon fiber front fender, machined billet aluminum handlebar clamp and riser, and tastefully pinstriped wheels add a touch of class. The fuel tank has been reshaped with sleek, wedged lines and is accented by sharp slivers of carbon fiber radiator panels and a belly pan that frame the heart of the Triple R, its eponymous inline-3 engine.
Finally, the new Street Triple R’s seat has improved cushioning, a more compliant contour, stylish stitching, and is embossed with the new Triumph logo. The seat is 20-percent narrower at the tank juncture to permit a more straight-legged stance when stopped, and to accommodate shorter riders.
The majority of changes for 2016 have taken place within the crinkle-black cases of the 12-valve, 1050cc power- plant. A new piston design and reshaped combustion chambers give the Triple increased power with a quicker revving character courtesy of a lighter crank, translating to 140 horsepower at 9500 rpm. Mid-range torque has been increased five-percent at its peak, providing 83 ft/lbs at 7850 rpm, and is now spread more generously over the entire powerband.
To feed the Triple’s new internal machinations, the airbox and intake ports have been improved to increase flow while the exhaust headers have been redesigned for a more efficient expulsion of gasses. It all culminates with a new exhaust system and dual mufflers that are 70-percent freer owing than last year, while retaining the signature Triple exhaust note—albeit with a slightly richer and deeper snarl. The improved performance levels of the fully reworked engine are realized via a new ride-by-wire system.
Unleashed on the sweeping mountain roads of Spain, the Speed Triple R upholds its tradition of rider comfort and ease of maneuverability, which has been substantially emboldened with a more spirited demeanor. To properly showcase the improved performance levels of the new machine without fear of interference from the authorities, we cut loose on Circuit Calafat, outside Tarragona, Spain.
Calafat is the track Triumph engineers used to develop the machine, chosen for its similarities to the type of sporting roads most Speed Triple riders will seek out. The track has a tight, technical layout that requires a potent engine with strong acceleration to get going out of tight, second-gear corners. Also, Calafat rewards adept handling that can manage the array of directional changes.
The Speed Triple R resonates beautifully, with crisp throttle response mated to a broad powerband that allows each gear to unwind in a smooth, steady wave of usable, tractable power. The beauty of the Triple’s engine is its versatility; keep the revs in the sweet spot with corresponding gear changes for maximum drive, or go in a gear high and let the torque pull you out. The result is a motorcycle that accommodates laid back rides or aggressive canyon running with equal grace.
Enhancing the engine modifcations are five riding modes —Rain, Road, Sport, and Track. The modes can be changed on the fly, and are easily managed with accessible switchgear. Each of the settings has a unique throttle response, with varying degrees of intervention from the ABS and traction control.
While eyebrows may be raised at the thought of reining in the Hooligan with civilizing such as traction control, this is not an issue. Traction control and ABS are also fully configurable outside of the riding modes, and can be defeated. The latest Speed Triple R packs an impressive punch, putting its power to the pavement with confidence-inspiring controllability.
For most riding, the six-speed transmission is succinct, with shifts unfolding effortlessly. Spacing of the Speed Triple R’s gear ratios is well laid out, with first being low, and easy on the clutch. One area where the bike needed to be coaxed with a smooth hand—or foot, rather— was grabbing gears under extremely hard acceleration.
If the shifts got sloppy without a sufficient cut of the throttle, the tranny would refuse to go into the next gear. This one idiosyncrasy, exhibited only in the high rpm realm of the racetrack environment, simply requires focused shifts, aided by smooth clutch control to ensure the shifts execute as desired.
Aiding downshifts, the new Triple R is fitted with a slipper clutch that effectively smooths out even the most overzealous downshifts, and eliminates virtually any wheel hop. The end result is a solidly planted rear tire for added control. The clutch has a very light pull, easing operation, and is enhanced with a well-shaped lever that has consistent feel through the entire range of motion.
The front end of the Speed Triple R is uncanny in its responsiveness. This is partially due to the factory-mounted Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SPs. The other major contributing factor is the weight bias shift engineers achieved by lightening the exhaust system and reducing mass behind the center point of the machine.
This seemingly minor modification means 52-percent of the Triple’s 423 pounds (claimed dry) are on the front wheel. The result is a responsive turn-in, with a feeling of the rider being in full communication with what the front tire is doing at all times.
The Triple R exhibits impressive stability. Whether under hard acceleration or seriously aggressive braking, the bike is absent the jitters that often afflict a motorcycle with such responsive geometry. Contributing significantly to these smooth manners is the fully adjustable Öhlins suspension—43mm NIX30 upside down forks on the front and a twin-tube TTX36 RSU shock handling the Triumph’s single-sided swingarm on the rear.
The Triple’s ample stopping power comes courtesy of a pair of radial Brembo Monoblock calipers and 320mm floating discs—fairly standard issue these days. The front calipers have been tuned to reduce initial bite, granting the Triple a controlled feel.
This motorcycle is blessed with impressive specs and a laundry list of top tier components, with updated fuel injection, and an advanced drive train that gets its power to the pavement with amazing fluidity.
Kudos to Triumph for managing to imbue the 2016 Speed Triple R with the latest advancements to both enhance and tame the potent three-cylinder, while retaining the heart and soul of a Hooligan that exudes a rawness that continues to appeal to the senses.
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 10 Pro Cypher MC-1F
- Jacket: Cortech Latigo 2.0
- Gloves: Cortech Adrenaline II
- Pants: Cortech Apex 2.0
- Boots: Cortech Latigo WP Road Race
Photography by Alessio Barbanti and Matteo Cavadini
Story from spring issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; check out the digital version.