Triumph’s Speed Triple has always been more Sex Pistols than Rolling Stones, more rebellious punk rock than mainstream rock-’n’-roll, a streetfighter that has been offered in such in-your-face colors as Nuclear Red (hot pink) and Roulette Green (think fluorescent antifreeze). But like most hellraisers, the Speed Triple eventually grew up. (It turns 22 this year, old enough to buy its own tall boys of PBR.) Its last major update was in 2011, when its signature twin headlights were changed from round to pentagonal (akin to giving Sid Vicious a crew cut), its ergonomics were relaxed and optional ABS gave it a whiff of sensibility. For 2016, Triumph endeavored to make the Speed Triple more refined and give it more of the original’s rough-and-tumble attitude—a sheep in wolf’s clothing you might say…if sheep made 140 horsepower.
Starting a street ride on a cold morning on cold tires, as we did at the press launch in southern Spain, normally requires finesse with the throttle. But there was little reason to worry because the new Speed Triple is swaddled in a security blanket of electronics. Throttle-by-wire enables multiple engine maps and selectable riding modes (Road, Sport, Rain, Track and Rider, the last being customizable) that adjust throttle response and traction control and ABS settings. Full pull—140 horsepower and 83 lb-ft, claimed—is available in all modes, but the rate at which they’re doled out varies. Thankfully, Triumph nailed the calibration on the electronics, with precise throttle response and nonintrusive intervention by the nannies.
Displacement of the Speed Triple’s in-line triple is unchanged at 1,050cc, but more than 100 changes to the engine resulted in more power, less mechanical noise and better fuel efficiency. It revs up with urgency and the Speed Triple’s most endearing trait—an endless supply of torque delivered with a rambunctious soundtrack—endures. There’s more grunt throughout the rev range, with the biggest boost in the midrange, and the higher-flow exhaust has lighter dual cans—still mounted under the seat—that emit a deeper sound. Such a broad powerband means the 6-speed transmission is often on standby, but gear changes are easier thanks to new slip-assist clutch. Once the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires got warm and sticky and the road changed from straight to sweeping, powering out of every corner felt like being shot from a cannon. The Speed Triple would growl, I would grin, again and again.
The high-zoot Speed Triple R ($14,900) we were riding features fully adjustable Öhlins suspension, along with a smattering of carbon fiber and billet aluminum parts, a color-matched belly cowl and go-fast red on the subframe, wheel pinstripes, radiator cowls and seat stitching. (The base Speed Triple S, which costs $13,200, gets fully adjustable Showa suspension and forgoes the fancy bits.) The R’s top-shelf NIX30 upside-down fork and TTX36 twin-tube monoshock smoothed out pavement imperfections better than Botox smoothes out wrinkles, delivering a firm, responsive ride.
After 100 miles on the street, we changed into leathers and spent the afternoon lapping Circuit Calafat, a tight, 2-mile track where the Speed Triple was developed. Few Speed Triples ever lay a tire on the racetrack, but Calafat provided a safe, controlled environment to test the different riding modes and see how the bike handled at high speed and under heavy braking. The bike was unflappable, with predictable handling and rock-steady composure at speeds well over 100 mph, and the Brembo M4.34 Monobloc radial front calipers squeezed the 320mm discs like a gorilla on steroids.
A streetfighter’s stock in trade is aggressive styling, and the Speed Triple’s lower headlights, stubby flyscreen and reshaped steel gas tank give it a more hunkered-down appearance. Changing the headlights in 2011 was controversial, so for 2016 Triumph has gone back to round ones housed in teardrop shells. New bar-end mirrors look trick and provide a great rearward view, but they blur easily and occasionally got knocked out of position by bumps. Overall weight and chassis geometry are roughly the same, but the rider sits more forward on a new two-piece seat that’s narrower in the front and wider in the back. The Speed Triple may look tough and minimalist, but it’s actually quite comfortable and has a fully featured LCD instrument panel paired with an analog tach.
Although Triumph has clung tightly to its original hooligan bike image, the Speed Triple has evolved into a well-rounded, civilized machine. Like most grown-up rebels, it can be as fun and rowdy as ever on the weekends, but come Monday it shows up for work on time and gets the job done.
2016 Triumph Speed Triple R Specs
Base Price: $14,900
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 79.0 x 71.4mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically-actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 22.9 degrees/3.6 in.
Seat Height: 32.5 in.
Claimed Dry Weight: 423 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gals.