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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 24 June 2008
Evolving through the Nineties, the Speed Triple series features brutal boot boy engines, fuel injected in later models, ready to rocket this aggressive looking beast to the dark side of 140mph.
Utilising the beautiful chassis from the original T595 sports model of 1997 in the `97 onwards T509 Speed Triple was another smart move by the Hinckley Massive.
A little expensive for sure, also one of the strangest styled bikes on the market - especially in the lurid lime green paint option - today´s Speed Triple is nevertheless a real throwback to the old rocker machines that Triumph were once famous for making.
Very much a gentleman thug of the old school.
In 1994, Roland Brown took Triumph’s Speed Triple for a ride down memory lane.... more precisely the Ace street circuit, a run up London’s North Circular Road starting at the site of famous sixties bikers’ (and now reborn) haunt the Ace Cafe.
There’s an aura about the place even now. The shiny black Triumph looks a little lost, surrounded by family saloons in the car-park of an anonymous north London tyre depot. Only the name ’Ace Vehicle Deliveries’ above the small remaining stretch of the old building’s distinctive original windows confirms that this place was once the Ace Cafe, most famous of all the rocker haunts in the Sixties.
But even 25 years on you don’t need much imagination to recreate in your mind the nights when this motorcyclists’ meeting-place teemed with Bonnevilles, Dominators and Tritons. Back then, the sound of Elvis, Eddie Cochran or Buddy Holly on the juke-box would be punctured by the roar of open megas as another black-leather-jacketed rider blasted off down the North Circular Road at high speed, aiming to complete the pre-set 3.5-mile course before the record had finished.
Like the Ace Cafe, Triumph motorcycles have seen plenty of change since the days when British bikes ruled the roads and Meriden-built parallel twins were among the quickest of the lot. But for all its sophisticated 12-valve engine and its massive rear Michelin (containing enough rubber for a dozen Avon Speedmasters), the Hinckley firm’s new Speed Triple is a spiritual descendent of the cafe-racers that once dominated biker hangouts like the Ace, Johnsons and the Busy Bee.
Ace bars apart (ever wondered how they got the name?), if there’s one thing the Triple shares with those old cafe-racers it’s attitude. Lean, simple, unfaired but at the same time aggressive and sleek, the Triple is from the same naked modern musclebike school as Ducati’s Monster. With torquey three-pot motor, upmarket cycle parts and a distinct absence of unnecessary frills, it’s built for coffee-bar cowboys who take their bikes expresso style: simple, black and strong.
Depending on how you look at it, the Speed Triple whose name recalls an even earlier Triumph, Edward Turner’s legendary 500cc Speed Twin of 1937 is either a sporty version of the naked Trident 900 or a naked version of the Daytona 900 sportster. While sharing the basic water-cooled, 885cc three-cylinder engine layout and steel spine frame of both bikes, the Triple differs enough from either to be very much a distinct model.
Its engine is the same 97bhp unit that powers the Trident, Trophy, Sprint and Daytona 900s (only the pokier Super Three and softer Tiger differ in output), but this bike alone has five gears instead of the others’ six. To match its lean look and all-black engine and bodywork (yellow paint is an option), the Triple also gets alloy silencers whose dark finish makes a half-hearted attempt to look like carbon-fibre.
There’s no pretence with the cycle-parts. Forks are hefty 43mm Kayaba units adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping; the same Japanese firm’s shock can be set for preload and rebound damping. Front brakes are a combination of 310mm floating discs and four-pot Nissin calipers Triumph’s top spec apart from the new Super Three’s six-piston set-up. And the three-spoke wheels hold Michelin Hi-Sport radials, the rear a massive 180-section cover on a suitably broad 5.5-inch rim.
Even before you pull away, the view from the Triple’s cockpit ensures that the bike feels like no other Triumph. Its clip-ons are set low, pulling you forward over the large tank. Adjustable fork-tops poke through the top yoke, whose new badge looks neat when new but would rapidly be spoilt by a key hanging from the ignition. Small warning lights sit in a neat alloy console between the white-faced 150mph speedo and a tacho redlined at 9500rpm.
The Triple’s distinctive character shines through the moment you open it up, when its blend of zippy engine, responsive handling and windblown riding position combine to give an impression of easy speed. Without a fairing and with much of your body weight over the front wheel, the bike has less of the top-heavy feel of previous Triumphs. Despite its fairly narrow bars, conservative steering geometry and 460lb of dry weight, the Triple accelerates and steers with an urgency that’s immediately appealing.
Surprisingly the Triple did not share the other 900cc models’ liking for effortless wheelies on the throttle, due presumably to its taller first gear and front-end weight bias. But the extra power this bike puts to the ground means it scooted away from the line even more rapidly, stomping effortlessly through the ton and topping-out at a respectable 130mph despite its unfriendly aerodynamics.
Speeds of 120mph plus are for short distances only, but the hunched-forward riding position means that unlike most naked bikes, the Triple does allow you to use most of its straight-line performance on a regular basis. The clip-ons are a pain in town (though at least there’s a reasonable amount of steering lock) but come into their own on the open road, where the wind takes the weight off your arms to allow comfortable cruising at an indicated 80mph or more.
The engine’s trademark smoothness adds to the Triumph’s effortless feel, and its new gearbox serves to emphasise the supremely relaxed way the big triple goes about its business. Having often questioned the 900cc lump’s need for six gears before, I’m glad to confirm that the absent cog wasn’t missed at all. (In fact I’ll admit riding a good few miles before even noticing the change.) The big triple simply feels right with five speeds, and I’m surprised Triumph have no plans to modify the other models too.
One major benefit of the gearbox mod is that broadening the top ratio makes the Triple an even better A-road bike than it would otherwise have been. So torquey is the motor that fifth really can be used from 50mph all the way to well over a ton. Confronted by a typical slow-cruising line of cars, you can hang back for oncoming traffic to pass and then with a glance in the mirror, a stab of the indicator button and a crack of the throttle sweep nonchalantly past without even having to think about changing down.
That flexibility helps make the Triple pretty useful for long hauls, too, at least by the standards of unfaired bikes. The modular 5.5-gallon gas tank is good for the best part of 200 miles (I averaged a respectable 40mpg), and the seat gives you no reason to stop earlier. In wintry November the cold got to me long before then, but the Triple would make much better all-year-round transport than a typical high-barred naked bike.
The 900’s handling and roadholding were well up to scratch, too. Stability was no problem, the Triple tracking straight and true at over two miles per minute (with just a momentary bar-shake over cats’ eyes and so on). This is the lightest and lowest Triumph model yet, as well as one of the best equipped. With no centrestand to get in the way it also has heaps of ground clearance, only the footrest hero-blobs digging in even at pretty serious cornering angles.
Steering was acceptably light despite the Triumph’s conservative 27 degrees of rake and 105mm of trail. My only real chassis complaint was that I couldn’t eradicate the Triple’s slight tendency to fall into a bend, despite fiddling with the fork adjustment (eventually ending up back at virtually the standard settings). Perhaps that was due more than anything to the spine-framed bike’s inevitably high centre of gravity. The shock also worked well, just allowing a slight rear-end squirm when max grunt was fed through that immensely grippy rear Hi-Sport.
The Speed Triple’s nonchalant high performance, potential for chassis tuning and vast acreage of rubber would doubtless have blown the minds of the Ace Cafe regulars back in the Sixties. It’s sobering to think just how much bikes have advanced since the days when the fastest sportsters had 50bhp and skinny, hard-compound tyres. Motorcycles are by no means the only things to have changed since then, though, as taking the Speed Triple around the old Ace street circuit confirmed.
Back in the early Sixties, when on a good night the Ace would be packed with up to 1000 bikes, the classic trick was to set the juke box spinning before running out and kicking your engine into life. Heading out onto the North Circular, you’d first roar under a succession of railway bridges. There was a set of traffic lights shortly afterwards but late at night, given a clear view to each side and with few cars on the streets, many riders would risk running the red before charging flat-out towards the next fast right-hand bend.
London’s roads are much busier now, and the Triple’s superior speed and handling were of no advantage as I pulled out of Just Tyres’ car-park, onto the North Circular and straight into a typical near-stationary lunchtime traffic-jam. These days you’d have to be crazy to shoot the lights even at 3am, and by the time I was gunning the Triple smoothly away past a big modern IKEA superstore on the left I was well behind schedule.
Clear tarmac and almost 100 horsepower meant I closed on my imaginary Triton-powered rivals before the right-hander, and the Speed Triple whistled effortlessly through the curve at a speed that would doubtless have had most Sixties specials wallowing and grounding. Checking the wide mirrors for blue flashing lights, I accelerated hard towards the Iron Bridge left-hander and then suddenly hit the Triple’s excellent brakes much harder, as I noticed the sign warning of Gatso speed cameras up ahead.
Frustrating, yes, but perhaps the warning was just as well. The Iron Bridge was the most notorious spot on the Ace course, once claiming the lives of no fewer than seven riders in a fortnight (according to Mike Clay’s brilliant book Cafe Racers) in the days when the police were equipped with nothing more sophisticated than a V8 Daimler sports car. At high speed even the new Triumph’s superior grip and ground-clearance might have been tested by the deceptively tightening left-hander.
Besides, I’d never have made it back in time however hard I’d ridden. In the old days the rockers scratched round Neasden roundabout before roaring back up the North Circ the way they’d come, but now it’s impossible to get back onto the dual-carriageway without navigating several time-consuming junctions and an underpass. Never mind getting back before an Eddie Cochran single ended. The tyre depot’s radio must have blared out half a dozen tunes by the time the Triple and I completed the lap.
Not that that’s any criticism of a bike which, for all its inevitable similarity to other Triumph models, manages to project a strong and entertaining character all of its own. The Ace and most of the bikes that made it famous have long gone, but the spirit of the pure, simple British cafe-racer lives on in the Speed Triple.
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph speed triple.
Engine Water-cooled transverse triple
Claimed power (bhp) 97bhp
Compression ratio 10.6:1
Transmission Five speed
Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Michelin Hi-Sport radial
Rear tyre 180/55 x 17in Michelin Hi-Sport radial
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Front suspension 43mm telescopic Kayaba, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One Kayaba damper, adjustments for preload and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Nissin calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Nissin caliper, 255mm disc
Top speed 150 mph
Fuel capacity 25 litres
Current price £-