What makes a Speed Triple special? Well, unlike virtually every other naked performance bike, it was conceived from the ground up to be what it is here. No detuning, no decontenting. That may not sound like such a big deal, but the result is a cohesive package in which every component has been conceived from the beginning to emphasize accessible performance over race track success. A motorcycle free to be the ultimate riding machine for the road rather than one being pressed into service away from its natural race track home. But, this new Triumph Speed Triple R adds some very superbike-like components with its top-drawer Ohlins suspension, Brembo brakes and lightweight wheels. Does a road bike really need race-spec components? Maybe somewhat counter intuitively, we went to Jerez this week to find out.

The Speed Triple

Take the basic performance motorcycle archetype — an aluminum perimeter frame, a powerful engine, tight geometry — and re-conceive it away from what’s needed to win races. Instead of that ultra-peaky inline-four, swap in a torquey three-cylinder engine. Instead of clip-ons and a fairing designed to maximize aerodynamics, swap in low-mounted flat bars and no plastics, emphasizing both comfort at road speeds and control. But, keep the wheelbase short and the suspension steep. Complement that with brutal, minimalist styling. What are you left with? A bike that looks like it wants to punch you in the face. A bike that doesn’t look like it crawled out of the pages of a cheesy superhero comic book. A bike that’s equally at home slicing through urban traffic as it is dragging knee on a mountain road.

This model, with its 1050cc motor, was introduced in round headlight form back in 2005. 133bhp, 82lb/ft and 471lbs (wet) wasn’t cutting edge at the time, much less today, but Triumph made up for it with a swollen mid-range, very fast steering and a general feeling of capability far exceeding its paper. All that is backed up by that unique triple growl.

The Speed Triple is Triumph’s best-selling model, occupying 10.6 percent of the roadster market across the US and Europe. With a name stretching back to 1994, it’s their de facto flagship too. The company itself calls it, “the most important bike in the Triumph range.”

Circuito de Jerez

We’re all familiar with Jerez from watching epic MotoGP battles between the likes of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi or Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, the latter pair famously collided there, deciding the 1997 F1 World Championship.

Flying there to ride a brand new motorcycle feels pretty special. You’re struggling into your leathers in the same garage in which racers slide easily into theirs. You figure out what the curbs feel like on your knees in the same corner where Lorenzo stuffed Rossi back in 2010, when the two were still in the same league. They feel pretty bumpy and slick. Your chin is on the tank on the same straight, just in my case that was at 135mph instead of 185. And I braked way sooner.

Just north of the Mediterranean Ocean in southern Spain, it’s pretty warm, even in January, and its main straight is just a third of a mile long, making it an ideal place to launch a naked bike like the Speed Triple. The thinking goes that its performance won’t be lost in the depths of a very high speed straight like the one at Mugello.

But, it also presents some unique challenges, particular for a road bike. Very fast and very smooth, Jerez is incredibly tough on tires. The stock, street-compound Pirelli SC2s were going off after just two sessions, spinning up on corner exits as they did so. Pirelli brought a literal mountain of tires to keep up with the 20 or so journalists who flew in from around the world. The 3rd and 4th gear sweepers, too, are the kind you wouldn’t normally want to take a naked bike around — there’s a lot of full throttle at full lean that would tie too-soft, too-cheap, too-underdamped suspension in knots. Such a perfect surface and tires this sticky are just capable of generating an awful lot of g-forces.

What Makes an R?

Triumph’s R formula is a pretty simple one. Take an already very, very good motorcycle and throw thousands of dollars of the best suspension and brakes there are at it. Cut the buyer a big price break — you’re looking at at least $6,579 worth of upgrades on this Speed Triple R for just a $3,200 premium. Unlike the Street Triple R or 675 R, The Speed gains fancy forged wheels too, massively reducing unsprung weight. All of that is then denoted with classy, understated graphic upgrades. Out goes the classic swoopy Triumph logo and in comes a modern font and subtle red Rs and pin stripes. Some really, really high-quality carbon fiber cosmetic parts — made on the same line as carbon parts for the Audi R8 and Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.

Triumph doesn’t just order its NIX30 forks and TTX36 shock out of a catalog. Instead, the two items are the product of a bespoke development program run by both the bike maker and Ohlins. Testing is conducted by Triumph’s own test riders, who evaluate a huge number of unique damping rates and spring weights, eventually arriving at a final solution that’s mastered by two identical sets of control suspension. Triumph retains one set and Ohlins another; the function of all production units can then be evaluated against those.

Wheels are forged aluminum PVM items that retail, on their own, for $2,980. Unlike cast wheels, forged aluminum isn’t porous, which means it can be machined down to the absolute minimum amount of material while retaining its strength. Wall thickness on the stock, cast wheels is 4.0mm. On these PVMs, it’s just 2.5mm. This reduces weight on the front wheel by .7kg or 16 percent. On the rear it’s 1.0kg or 20 percent. Most of that weight comes out of the rim which, since it’s on the outside extremity of the entire wheel, really helps reduce inertia. Front wheel inertia is reduced by 16 percent; rear by 25 percent.

Lower inertia means the wheels resist acceleration less. Lower gyroscopic forces speed steering. Less unsprung weight gives suspension an easier time, enabling it to more effectively keep the tires in contact with the surface, boosting both compliance and grip. Less inertia translates to more powerful braking.

A Spanish race track, a British road bike and an awful lot of American greenbacks

This R also debuts a couple mechanical upgrades that will roll out to the regular Speed Triple in 2013. ABS, which all US models will be equipped with, is now switchable via the instruments. It’s a road-oriented system and Triumph pulled the fuses on all bikes at the launch since we were only riding on track. The gearbox has also been upgrade in the name of slicker shifting, a traditional Triumph bugbear. Gear splines are now formed rather than cut, materials have been strengthened and there’s a new five dog design to replace the old four. That should make shifting more positive and engagement more reliable. 6th gear has also been reduced by 3.4 percent, so should pull stronger than before.

In Action

It’s possible to take Jerez’s Turns 11 and 12 flat out in 3rd gear if you use all the curb on the entry, apex just right, then ride the curbs on the exit. Doing that, especially across the slick blue and white paint, takes a lot of confidence, but confidence is what the Speed Triple R specializes in. Keep it pinned deep into the turn onto the main straight, grabbing 2nd with a throttle blip as you begin to turn in for a late apex. Full throttle onto the main straight has the rear tire spinning up, but still driving forward and not sliding sideways. Exactly what you want it to do.

Under the flying saucer control tower you can glimpse 215km/h on the Euro-spec clocks. Wait until the green paint on the curb, two fingers on the brake lever and shed about half your speed in what feels like just 20 yards. That the Brembo Monoblock calipers actuated by a Brembo master cylinder through stainless lines are incredibly strong pretty much goes without saying these days. But that the spec on this Speed Triple R also delivers incredibly intimate feel is notable. Some mix of pad/master cylinder spec has utterly removed the grabby inconsistency of the 675 R.

Turn in, hit the apex with your knee and only then do you finally fully release them. Off the brakes, the forks lose their compression gradually, transitioning into extension in a similarly controlled manner as you get on the throttle, hard. It’s only a short, semi-straight to the very tight, decreasing radius Turn 2, but the three-cylinder motor instantly picks up, shoving you out of 1 and into the next braking zone.

Switch to the left, grab another gear and repeat. Then grab another before the high-speed right hander. That gear’s not necessary until the straight, but the strong mid-range can pull it, allowing you to concentrate on the late apex and the very fast exit onto the back straight. Well, grab another gear if it lets you. Despite the changes, the gearbox is still a little more recalcitrant than you’ll be used to if you’re coming off anything non-British. Clutchless upshifts are occasionally refused and gears sometimes snap home with a clunk so powerful you can feel it through the bars. Being very physical with the throttle — powerfully snapping it open and closed — seems to eliminate the issues.

Pulling yourself back on top of the bike at over 100mph, it’s impossible not to put some force through the very wide bars. The now-very-light steering wiggles a little as you do so, but it’s no big concern, keep the throttle pinned and grab 5th even as the bars move around in your hands.

A Spanish race track, a British road bike and an awful lot of American greenbacks

Up a gear before the two left handers, pose in Turn 8 for a knee down shot in front of the “Jerez” bleachers, then head back down into 2nd in time for 9 and 10. A perfectly flat , 90-degree right-hander, you really get some lean on in 10. The Speed Triple has sportsbike-high pegs and subsequent potential for extreme angles, but I never managed to get far enough off it to avoid dragging peg here.

Ergonomics are actually a Speed Triple hallmark. A nice mix of high pegs and not-too-low bars that’s comfy on the road, but doesn’t really expose you to wind blast. Those high pegs are nevertheless low enough not to cramp my 34-inch inseam. I struggle to achieve proper body position on most nakeds thanks to ergonomics altered too far in the direction of comfort, but getting your but crack back and on the edge of the seat, stretching an arm across the tank and keeping your head very low is natural and intuitive here. It’s an arrangement that works equally well on the road and on the track, something very few bikes can boast.

The Result

A Spanish race track, a British road bike and an awful lot of American greenbacks

What seem like fairly simple, basic upgrades actually transform the Speed Triple from capable, fun road bike into a remarkably able track bike. Easily as confidence inspiring in this environment as full-on superbikes like even the user friendly 2012 Honda CBR1000RR, it’s easy to forget you’re riding a naked roadster instead of a full on sportsbike.

The wheels make add an urgency to acceleration lacking from the stock bike while making it even easier to wheelie. In fact, just grabbing full throttle in 2nd or 3rd out of a corner is usually enough. They also make it feel like the front suspension has been made steeper because they speed steering so much. But, because those angles remain the same, they do so without reducing stability.

One problem suffered by the 675 R is spring rates simply too stiff for road use. But that’s a track-focussed razor. Even in R guise, the Speed Triple will still predominantly be used on the road. Rates are only up from 9.0N/mm to 9.5 (front) and from 95N/mm to 100 (rear). That shouldn’t be enough to completely bugger the Triumph’s ability to absorb bumps, but we only rode the bike on a smooth track, not on the road. Fingers crossed. But, at Jerez, the bespoke NIX30/TTX36 combo is revelatory, providing a level of feel and control absent from pretty much any stock motorcycle I can remember riding. Even far faster bikes like the Aprilia RSV4 Factory come with lower-spec Ohlins suspension. Your lap time are obviously going to be higher on the naked bike, but your feel of what the tires and suspension are doing is going to be higher too.

You can read more about twin-tube shocks and what they do for handling here.

It’s not any individual component that stand out however, it’s the cohesiveness of the package. The incredible Pirellis work with the very light wheels work with the perfect suspension work with the amazing Brembos to alter every single aspect of the Speed Triple R’s performance into a completely new motorcycle. Triumph talks about the R being “the ultimate Speed Triple” but, in use, it’s so good that it’s less a case of turning a knob up to 11 and more about playing a different song all together. Yes, the Speed Triple R is faster, smoother and just generally much better in every conceivable way, but only referring to its performance in relation to the base model is to fail to do it justice. I’d peg this as the most capable, usable naked bike on the planet and, thanks to friendly ergonomics and great looks, would happily take it over any superbike.

A Spanish race track, a British road bike and an awful lot of American greenbacks

But that’s where the R begins to run into trouble. Despite the efficacy of the upgrades, it still is an upgraded Speed Triple. One that, at $15,999, prices itself against some very fast competition. For that money you could buy a BMW S1000RR or an Aprilia RSV4 R APRC. A more direct comparison can probably be drawn against the APRC-equipped Aprilia Tuono V4 R. That bike is equipped with inferior components, but has 34bhp more and is $1,000 less. Not to mention the presence of APRC where the Triumph doesn’t even have traction control. Pull the trigger on the Speed Triple R and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most unique and, now, most capable experiences in motorcycling, but you’re going to have to really want a Speed Triple to do so. I know I do.

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