2004 Triumph Speed Triple Comparison

Kevin Duke | November 28, 2004
The Speed Triple’s top-rated suspension and steep rake allow it to be more willing when bending into corners - Just ask Dr. Ngo.
The Speed Triple’s bug-eye face, bundle-of-snakes aluminum frame, and single-sided swingarm are as distinctive as the three-cylinder yowl coming out the exhaust pipe.


Triumph Speed Triple – Three cylinders howling at the moon

The VTR has an unobtrusive, clean design, while the Z1000 is angular and nasty. The Speed Triple, meanwhile, just looks bad. Certainly, a large part of the Trip’s appeal lies in its uncommon features. Its snaking alloy frame tubes, blacked-out engine, the single-sided swingarm and distinctive double headlights set it apart from all the pretenders to the streetfighter crown.

As with the S3 we reported on in our bike test, the example in this comparo exhibited poor low-speed carburetion from its fancy fuel-injection system. It carburetes poorly when cold, sometimes stalling, and it sputters at steady throttle below 3000 rpm. More annoyingly, it stumbles when picking up throttle below 2500 rpm, right around parking lot speeds, and it’s followed by an abrupt surge in acceleration. This forces a rider to be cautious or concentrate on slipping the clutch when accelerating from very low speeds.

But this is one of the Trumpet’s few foibles. It fires up without a fuel-enrichener lever (the other two in this trio demand some lever pulling) and settles in to the three-cylinder’s characteristic uneven idle. Its clutch that works so stellar when launching hard is slightly vague at lower rpm, but once rolling a rider is free to dip into the splendid well of power available from beyond 3500 rpm. Recent transmission changes have gotten rid of the box-of-rocks sound when idling.

We were a little surprised when the best the 955cc inline-Triple could do on the dyno was 104 horsepower. Nothing to sneeze at, but down a half dozen from our previous tester. Regardless, the Triple never felt underpowered in this group, and, in fact, it cranks out class-leading ponies from 3500 to 7000 rpm, right where it’s used each time you fire it up. Just as satisfying as this midrange bulge is the exotic sound emanating from its three-into-one exhaust, just begging for less restrictive baffling to unleash more of that soulful sound.

One aspect of the naked streetfighter movement we really enjoy is the ability to fit the bike to its rider. A tubular handlebar, such as on the S3 and Z, offers quick and easy riding position changes. The bar on our Triumph was rotated too far forward in its clamps, so we just loosened a couple of bolts, rotated it to perfection, and the riding position changed from shit to shiznit. And that wide handlebar supplies mafia-like leverage when it comes time to straighten out some backroads.

We were going to write an informative caption  but we think this picture says a lot about the Speed Triple and its bodacious midrange.
We were going to write an informative caption, but we think this picture says a lot about the Speed Triple and its bodacious midrange.

The Speed Triple’s seat is a bit tall for shorter riders, and noticeably higher than the Z, but it is more comfortable that the perches on the VTR and Z1000, though it can’t be confused with a plush touring saddle. The pillion pad is also the best in this group, and we appreciated having useful cargo room below it. A seat cowl is standard equipment, as it is on the others.

The Speed Triple’s engine is smooth at cruising speeds, much smoother, surprisingly, than the V-Twin in the Honda, and in a different league of silkiness altogether than the buzzy Kawasaki inline-Four. The eyebrow fairing above the double headlamps looks ineffective, but it actually does a decent job at deflecting enough wind to make freeway travel bearable. Our previous S3 tester didn’t have what is now a standard-equipment item, and it not only redirects some airflow but also cleans up the look of the front end.

As in our Reality Bike shootout, the Triumph is the only member of our trio with a suspension fully adjustable at both ends. Not only does this mean a rider can more accurately dial in his bike, but also that the design of the dampers are intrinsically more sophisticated and better able to control movement.

The Speed Triple uses its best-in-class suspenders and sharpest steering geometry to good use when chasing down your shadow along favorite canyon road. It turns in with the quickest flick, feels the most balanced mid-corner, and has the midrange beans to haul ass until the next bend. The only time the bug-eye headlights aren’t leading the charge is when speeds near triple digits and the Super Hawk’s extra stability and sporting riding position make it a better platform.

Our article about the upcoming 2005 Speed Triple tells you all you need to know about the shortcomings of the 2004 model. Radial-mount brakes will be an upgrade from the soft-bite brakes on our tester. It had a fair amount of travel before actuating the 4-piston calipers that have more power than initial impressions lead you to believe, though not much feel. Shifts through the notchy gearbox sound like a rifle bolt, so we’re hoping the ’05 S3’s transmission is an improvement over the clunky, recalcitrant gearbox in our much-used tester.

Kevin Duke

Contributing Editor|Articles | Bashing
A legend in the motorcycle industry, Duke Danger is known for his wheelie riding antics, excellent writing skills, appetite for press intro dinners and a propensity to wake up late. Once a fearless member of the MotoUSA team, the Canadian kid is often missed but never forgotten.