Yes, this is a review of the 2021 Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS, the legendary streetfighter from Hinckley that has been completely redesigned. More power, less weight, all the must-haves – you get the idea. For me, testing the Speed Triple was personal. But before I get into it, you should know the backstory.
London, England, 1998. I can still fit everything I own into the trunk of a hatchback, and for the first time in my short life, I’m earning more money than I’m spending. When my employer relocates me to a new office in the financial district, my commute becomes a 45-minute crush on the Tube. With a modest pot of cash building in the bank, I decide now is the time to buy my first proper motorcycle. Lane splitting in Britain is legal, and I plan to join the multitude of well-healed professionals commuting through the traffic and into the city each morning.
It’s the same year Triumph gives its naked hooligan, the Speed Triple, an aggressive redesign. Introduced in 1994, the Speed Triple had already left its mark. The new styling for ’98 includes wider, higher bars and distinct double headlights under a minimal flyscreen, a design that Tom Cruise immortalized in Mission Impossible II.
The engine is now the 955cc Triple from the Daytona, producing a whopping 130 horsepower. I visit the Triumph dealership in Vauxhall so often the sales staff make fun of me and pretend to close the shop, telling me, “turn off the lights when you’re done sitting on it.” The Speed Triple’s price tag is hanging from the handlebar: £7,999 (around $13,000), which is about ten times more than I’ve ever spent on anything.
Alas, saving for my first proper bike is competing with the fiscal demands of London’s nightlife, and ultimately, I scale down my plans. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R I buy leaves £2,500 for some decent gear, but as much as I love the Ninja, I lament the hooligan and tell myself there will always be a next time.
Fast forward to 2005. London is history, as is the Ninja. New York is now my home and the center of the universe. Business is going well, but occasional rental rides are not cutting the mustard from a thrill perspective. As if in answer to my thoughts, Triumph releases the fourth generation of the Speed Triple, with a larger 1,050cc inline-Triple and a new chassis. But it’s the massive dual underseat pipes, which help expose the single-sided swingarm, that catch my eye.
I head down to the Triumph dealer in SoHo and climb aboard. It’s bigger than I remember, and meaner looking. I decide, right there and then, I’m going to buy it. But a test ride is “out of the question” until I get a New York driver’s license, as is insuring any bike I buy. I book the test, but somewhere along the way, a petite Italian also catches my eye, and suddenly I have a shared bank account and an eye-watering mortgage. My new fiancé doesn’t think a new motorcycle is a priority right now.
Time marches on. With each generation, the Speed Triple gets better and better. And with each passing year, it seems farther out of reach.
Now it’s 2021, and I’ve been living in Los Angeles for a few years. A few weeks after starting my new job at Rider, our EIC says he needs me to test the new Speed Triple 1200 RS. And just like that, I’m holding the keys – a keyless fob, actually – to a machine I’ve coveted for years.
Revised from the ground up, the new Speed Triple certainly looks the part. The underseat pipes are gone, replaced with a superbike-style can, but the fox-eye headlights, which replaced the iconic round ones in 2011, are as menacing as ever. It feels more compact than I remember, with a narrower seat and gas tank. Our test bike’s color scheme is the Matte Silver Ice option. Sapphire Black is also available and both colors are understated, flying in the face of its many candy-colored rivals or even the garish colors offered on Speed Triples in the past, like Nuclear Red and Roulette Green. But it’s no sleeper. Huge Brembo brake calipers and Öhlins suspension are clear indicators of the power they’re tasked with harnessing.
Triumph completely redesigned the Speed Triple’s engine, starting with an increase in displacement (1,160cc, up from 1,050) and a race-bred oversquare piston configuration. A bigger bore and a shorter stroke result in a higher redline, now 11,150 rpm. A new ignition system with twin-tip spark plugs improves combustion, and a new air intake and free-flowing exhaust system help squeeze every available horse from the Hinkley hooligan. On Jett Tuning’s rear-wheel dyno, the Speed Triple grunted out 165.5 horsepower at 10,800 rpm and 87 lb-ft of torque at 8,500 rpm, figures that are much higher than the previous model.
Triumph’s engineers must have been busy because, despite the performance gains, the new engine weighs 15 pounds less than before and is Euro 5 compliant. Lighter moving parts have significantly reduced engine inertia, promising a very revvy engine. A lighter slip/assist clutch assembly has fewer plates but more friction per plate, and it’s linked to a new stacked 6-speed gearbox with an up/down quickshifter. An all-new cast-aluminum chassis is both stronger and lighter, further cutting the Speed Triple’s curb weight down to just 437 pounds.
Compared to the Speed Triple R we tested back in 2012, the 2021 RS makes 40 more horsepower and weighs 40 pounds less. Take a moment and let that sink in.
The only Speed Triple 1200 available for 2021 is the RS model, and with that designation comes premium equipment. Fully adjustable Öhlins suspension includes an NIX30 inverted fork and a TTX36 twin-tube rear shock. Braking at the front wheel is supplied by twin Brembo Stylema radial monoblock 4-piston calipers clamping 320mm discs, and at the rear, a single Brembo 2-piston caliper. Tires are grippy Metzeler Racetec RR tires with just a hint of rain sipes.
Brembo Stylema calipers, coupled with Metzler Racetec RR tires make for truly impressive stopping power.
After getting acquainted, I start to get a feel for the Speed Triple’s handling as I make my way out of the city. The ride is firm, as is the seat; not a stone, but not plush either. The quickshifter works beautifully, especially at the higher rev ranges, but I can’t find neutral to save my life. By the time I reach the back roads I feel acquainted enough to really open up the throttle as I exit a familiar, sweeping corner. Thump-in-the-chest acceleration follows as the engine spins up almost instantly. I know this road intimately, but suddenly it feels shorter and I’m up to the next corner before I know it. With a firm, progressive pull on the brake lever, the stopping power from the Stylema calipers feels like I just launched a parachute. I lose my flow through the corner because now I’m too slow.
A few miles later and I’m coming to grips with it. The Triumph is in Road mode and I see no reason to change that. The body position is spot-on for a naked, the sporty side of neutral, and despite the firm seat and significant bend at my knee, I’m not uncomfortable. The bars are wide but steering inputs are precise. Triumph has moved the footrests inboard slightly, and when I get confident enough to test the sticky Racetecs, I find plenty of grip and cornering clearance.
Now that my brain is properly calibrated, I come to appreciate the phenomenal brakes. I can be heavy on the rear with no issues, and the front brakes are immediate without being snappy. There is barely a whiff of dive in the fork. Our test bike came straight from a track test, and the suspension was carved-from-granite stiff. We turned the clickers on the Öhlins NIX30 to remove nearly all of the compression and rebound damping, and the ride was much improved. Taut and responsive, though as a 160-pound rider I’d like to go softer still.
The Speed Triple is a breeze to ride, despite the race-bred engine. The performance is staggering, but not unwieldy. Thanks to the abundant torque it’s happy to tootle about in the higher gears. Throttle response is sharp but manageable, and when I’m a little heavy-handed, wheelie control kicks in and levels things out (you can turn it off and wheelie away if that’s your thing). The bike feels smaller than it is, and is eminently flickable, darting into corners on demand with eye-popping acceleration on exit. Sometimes the firm ride can be unsettling on less-than-perfect roads, but through a smooth series of corners it’s like magic.
The cockpit is nicely understated, and the dash is clear and readable in bright daylight and in the dark. Snazzy graphics add a bit of flare.
Triumph applied its standard minimalist approach to the cockpit. A low-reflection, 5-inch TFT display defaults to a view of the tach, gear position, and speed, and snazzy dash graphics rotate the default screen to the side when you access the menu. A new six-axis IMU sensor empowers a full suite of electronic rider aids, including multi-mode cornering ABS and traction control. There are five riding modes: Rain (power is restricted to 99 horsepower), Road, Sport, Track, and Custom. On the street, the Speed Triple is more than saucy enough in Road mode. All-round LED lights, backlit switchgear, keyless ignition, and cruise control are standard.
The Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS exceeded my expectations. As I rode it more and more, I adapted to it, and I’d like to think it adapted to me. We got to know each other. I grew more confident in its handling and braking capabilities, which allowed me to explore more of its performance envelope. The mighty Triple rewarded me with one of the most thrilling riding experiences of my life. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this case, there was no letdown. I still love the Speed Triple. And yes, it was worth the wait.
2021 Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS Specs
Base Price: $18,300
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline Triple, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 90.0 x 60.8mm
Compression Ratio: 13.2:1
Valve Insp. Interval: 20,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Multipoint sequential EFI w/ throttle-by-wire
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.5 qt. cap.
Transmission: 6 speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar frame, bolt-on aluminum rear subframe & single-sided cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 56.9 in
Rake/Trail: 23.9 degrees/4.1 in
Seat Height: 32.7 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, fully adj., 4.7 in. travel
Rear: Single shock, fully adj., 4.7 in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm floating discs w/ 4-piston radial monoblock calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 220mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast aluminum, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast aluminum, 6.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 437 lbs.
Load Capacity: 430 lbs.
GVWR: 867 lbs.
Horsepower: 165.5 @ 10,800 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Torque: 86.9 lb-ft @ 8,500 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 29 mpg
Estimated Range: 119 miles