It wouldn’t be a streetfighter comparison without Triumph’s Speed Triple. The British bike has defined the class ever since its 1994 debut. Over the years the S3 morphed into icon status, serving as the flagship model of the reborn, Hinkley-based Triumph. The Speed Triple has also been a perennial favorite of the MotoUSA testing crew, and a regular in our naked motorcycle comparison reviews. For the 2011 model year Triumph revamped its popular Speed Triple in an effort to keep pace with the ever-changing competition in this class.
Gone are the Speed Triple’s signature round bug-eye lamps, replaced with a pair of more modern looking, angular headlights. After that the physical changes aren’t too dramatic. Fans of the old bike won’t take issue with the additional bodywork, a tasteful side cowling flanking the radiator and resting below the familiar twin tube rails of the aluminum frame. It’s those tricky headlights that change the entire look, and the new styling split our testing crew.
The Triumph Speed Triple continues to impress our testing cadre with its playful Inline Triple and robust performance.
The distinctive 1050cc Inline Triple engine received some tweaks too. The internal architecture remains unchanged, but a revised airbox and new engine mapping wring out a little bit more power. Dyno runs measured 125 ponies at the rear wheel (124.95 horsepower), and torque production (76.39 lb-ft) is second only to the wild-card Diavel. That means the Speed Triple is the high torque king of the regular comparison competitors.
At the drag strip an 11.258 quarter-mile and 3.206-second 0-60 places the Triumph just a sliver behind the Kawasaki and Ducati duo, beating only the Honda through the trap. If those extra tenths of a second during performance testing give the impression that the Trumpet’s slow, guess again. On the street the Speed Triple plain hauls. Its broad powerband ensures ample acceleration from its meaty motor in any situation.
The 2011 Triumph Speed Triple distinguishes itself with the most consistent torque curve. It also sports the most robust bottom-end of all, save the Diavel. But where the Duc feels rough and choppy down low, the Triumph delivery is pleasingly smooth at any revs and sounds great doing it.
One thing we can’t get enough of is the Triple’s playful character and sound. Torquey like a Twin, but revving like an Inline Four. It’s the best of both worlds argument we always tout whenever a Triumph is tossed into the mix. The Triumph is different, and different is good.
Triumph engineers have squeezed more horsepower out of the 1050cc Triple (top). The Triumph instrument console is notable in this comparison as the only analog tach (bottom).
“Typically I don’t find the Triple as appealing as my coworkers; I like it, but don’t get all glassy-eyed about it,” admits JC. “But, for some reason the three-cylinder in this Triumph model has a lot of character. The exhaust note is pleasing and it is an absolute blend of a Twin and an Inline Four. The torque spread is great and it revs without the vibration of the Italians and the buzzing of the Japanese. It’s a workhorse engine that’s still fun.”
“One of the most unique sounds in all motoring disciplines,” chimes in Steeves. “I’ve heard Honda’s oval piston NR was a thing of beauty, but until my virgin ears are blessed with that symphony, the melodic tune of the Triple is the coolest thing I’ve heard!”
The six-speed transmission feels more sorted than we recall from past S3 models. The Triumph’s drivetrain isn’t as slick as the Japanese units, but it easily edges the Italians. Test riders also dig the S3’s shift light on the dash.
“As far as the gearing goes, the Triumph is probably the best on the street and track,” deems Ken. “It is an excellent complement to the power churned out by the Triple and that makes it very easy to ride.”
The Triumph battles with the racy Ducati Streetfighter for top honors in the handling department. The 2011 Speed Triple benefits from a host of chassis updates. Steering geometry is more aggressive, with its 22.8-degree rake 0.7 tighter than the previous model and the steepest of this evaluation. Its 3.6 inches of trail is the shortest of the test, as is the 56.5-inch wheelbase. The new Speed Triple also has a longer, lighter swingarm, which mates with a half-inch wider, and also lighter, rear wheel. And those aren’t the only changes, as Triumph relocated the engine for a more front-biased weight distribution. The latter claim we can confirm. Rolled onto our scales the Speed Triple registered a fully-fueled curb weight of 481 pounds – with 243 up front and 238 in the back.
The chassis alterations make for a quick-turning motorcycle, a notable improvement over its predecessor. Not only does the Triumph feel more flickable, it’s steadier and more willing to push the performance
envelope. The new 43mm Showa fork up front, which now offers three-way adjustment, is teamed with a three-way adjustable Showa shock. The base suspension setup is a fair compromise, more comfortable on the street than the firm Ducati Streetfighter, but sprung stiffer than the Honda.
“As far as a multi-purpose handler goes, the Speed Triple takes the cake,” declares Ken. “This bike is equally at home on the street or track and absolutely capable of humbling any sportbike with the right rider at the controls. On the roads it is taut enough to keep a fast pace yet soft enough to shield the rider from smaller road imperfections.”
Our first ride evaluation reckoned the S3 improved on the track, and the British bike exorcises some of its past criticism with its performance at Streets of Willow. The track was one area where its handling limitations were most manifest in past Streetfighter shootouts. This time around the track showcases its improvements.
Radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers handle the braking duties up front. Triumph’s planned 2012 R-spec of the Speed Triple will source monoblock Brembos, but these current stoppers get the job done with authority. Again, great bite and feel, though the Triumph borders on grabby – almost too powerful at the lever.
“Holy Pow-Pow-Power Batman! These big boys were borderline too aggressive,” says certified stoppie instructor Steeves. “I like my lever to have some range and throw. A 3mm lever pull gets you stopping quicker than a fat kid seeing a free cake sign.”
The headlamps look different, but thankfully this is the same old Speed Triple when it comes to one-wheeled hijinks.
After enjoying their slice of free cake, testers fat or slender should enjoy the supple seat on the Triumph. At 32.5 inches high, its width might prove problematic for the shorter statured, but it got overall high marks from our testing entourage. Same goes for the upright riding position, which features a slight forward cant. The handlebar height and foot peg position prove some of the friendliest for street riding.
“This is by far the best seat,” argues JC. “This bike has the best combination of rider layout, upright seating and seat foam. While none of the bikes have wind protection, the Speed Triple puts the rider in the best forward, wind-cutting position without too much emphasis on the wrists.”
Instrumentation got varied marks. This reviewer fancies the analog tach and left-side digital speedo, deeming it the easiest to read. Others felt the Trumpet’s dash looked dated compared to the fancy all-digital arrangements: To each their own… The MotoUSA house divided in styling judgments too.
“The Speed Triple style may be getting old but the recipe is still producing one of the best all-around streetfighters,” argues Ken. “It is comfortable, the engine doesn’t buzz and the riding position is conducive to long stints in the saddle. For the most part the Speed Triple works well as either a touring or a sporting motorcycle and that type of versatility is a commodity these days.”
- Inline Triple exudes character and charm
- Handling much improved from predecessor, with versatile suspension
- Comfortable ergonomics for street work
- New styling didn’t impress our testing crew
- Rings in a full grand more than Japanese rivals
At $11,999 the Triumph packs a thousand dollar premium over its Japanese rivals, but it’s three grand less than the Ducati. British motorbikes may not qualify as motorcycling exotica like the sultry offerings from Italy, but the Triumph delivers a distinctively exotic riding experience thanks to its three-cylinder engine. No doubt plenty riders will fork over the extra shekels for that character.
Triumph has improved one of our favorite mounts. The Speed Triple remains a flagship model for the British marque, and a potent performer in the streetfighter class.