Have some sympathy for Triumph's Product Manager, Simon Warburton, who was tasked in July '07 by company owner John Bloor with overseeing the development of the new version of the British manufacturer's iconic Speed Triple.
It was a big task to improve on the bike that invented the streetfighter segment back in '94. With more than 65,000 examples sold since then, the Speed Triple is the best-selling model of the Bloor era, good for almost 15 percent of the 500,000-plus bikes built since Triumph's rebirth in '90. Thus it's easy to understand the boss's concern that Warburton's design team get it right. "JB told us he wanted us to produce the next generation Speed Triple, with a new chassis and uprated engine offering more power and torque," Warburton recalls. "It had still to be recognizably a Triumph, but modernized. Although the main message to us was, in his words, 'Whatever you do, don't f**k it up!'"
The most controversial aspect of the redesign became apparent the moment the covers were whipped off the new Speed Triple at Intermot. Gone are the distinctive round headlamps with chrome bezels, replaced by twin separate pentagonal lights. "Originally we planned to keep the same lights as before," admits Warburton, "but once we had the complete prototype built up, they just didn't look right. So we went the whole way and changed them; some will like them, others won't. But it's the bike underneath that counts."
The Speed Triple's seat has...
The Speed Triple's seat has been subtly reshaped, with added padding and a narrower front section (assisted by the redesigned frame) resulting in much better overall ergos, with the rider positioned closer to the bars.
I'll say. The chance to ride the new Speed Triple came at the Ascari Race Resort in southern Spain, and as soon as you sling a leg over the bike, you realize how different it is. The all-new tubular aluminum twin-spar chassis has been completely redesigned to put more weight on the front wheel for better grip, along with sharper steering geometry for quicker handling, and a more spacious riding position that's not only more comfortable - thanks also to a thicker re-profiled seat pad - but also contributes to the improved handling. The three-cylinder 1050cc engine is located 3mm further forward in the frame, and has been canted an additional seven degrees, now slanting the cylinder block at 24 degrees. The rider has been moved a hefty 44mm closer to the front axle courtesy of a re-sculptured fuel tank, with the battery relocated to just behind the steering head, and the redesigned 2.2-pound-lighter cast aluminum single-sided swingarm is 18.5mm longer. Together with a steeper 22.8-degree rake and 90.9mm trail for greater stability (versus the previous 84mm trail measurement), these changes also result in a 10mm longer wheelbase at 56.5 inches. This helps achieve a 50.9/49.1 percent front/rear static weight bias, compared to the old bike's 48.6/51.4 rearward tilt.
All that number crunching results in a bike that immediately feels quicker and more agile-steering than the previous Speed Triple. The reach to the Magura tapered aluminum handlebar is shorter thanks also to the new riding position, which has you sitting noticeably closer to the front wheel. That's a spinoff from the considerably narrower rear subframe where the seat meets the fuel tank; the new Speed Triple frame is actually narrower than its Street Triple kid sister. This makes the bike feel slimmer when you sit on it, and combined with the slightly lower 32.5-inch seat height makes it easier for shorter riders to touch the ground at rest. The footpegs are also 16mm narrower and 29mm further forward than on the old Speed Triple.
The result is a bike with considerably improved steering and more nimble handling over its predecessor, with great turn-in on the brakes. That delivered more controlled turn-in without sacrificing agility, allowing you to take full advantage of the much-improved Brembo radial front brake package on the new Speed Triple. This was introduced three years ago on the previous model, but I never cared for it on the grounds that it was too grabby, with a fierce initial response that wasn't easy to modulate. That's now been addressed on the new bike, with a Brembo radial master cylinder replacing the previous Nissin unit in actuating the four-piston/four-pad calipers. These grip the 320mm Sunstar floating front discs with greater precision, and there's now much better feel to the lever response than before, in stopping a bike scaling 6.6 pounds less than its predecessor at a claimed 471.8 pounds fully fuelled. ABS is now available as an option on the Speed Triple for the first time, although the 5.5-pound weight penalty it entails all but cancels out the weight saved on the new bike. Regardless, there's no longer any fear of upsetting the chassis if you use the front brake mid-turn, and even with the forward weight bias and more radical steering geometry, there's no trace of instability when you brake aggressively.