As one of the founding fathers of the streetfighter category, the Triumph Speed Triple has been in constant evolution since 1994. While many of the other brands continue the fight for the performance-naked class championship belt, Triumph aims to continue refining what it feels has been setting the benchmark since the beginning. It’s no coincidence, then, that Triumph has named this 2018 Speed Triple 1050 S and RS “the greatest Speed Triple ever made.” A trip to Almeria, Spain, was in order, to see if the “most powerful, responsive, and best-sounding Speed Triple ever” lived up to such claims. Here’s what I learned.
The Engine Gets A Boost
The Speed Triple has been powered by a 1,050cc motor since 2005, and it continues for 2018, now with 105 updated components in the three-cylinder mill, all of which help boost claimed horsepower to 148 and claimed torque to 86 pound-feet. A new cylinder head increases the compression ratio (12.9:1 up from 12.25:1) and new-profile pistons add cylinder pressure, which in turn improves exhaust-gas flow. Triumph engineers also lightened the flywheel and bumped redline to 10,500 rpm, up 1,000 rpm from the previous model thanks to changes to the valve springs and the hydraulic cam-chain tensioner. The RS model includes a factory-spec, brushed titanium silencer from Arrow, with a carbon-fiber heat shield and end cap not included on the S model.
Its Safety Net Has Grown
Electronics have come a very long way in recent years, and for 2018 Triumph upped the Speed Triple’s technical resume. The RS gets a Continental IMU (inertial measurement unit) system that optimizes cornering ABS and traction control tuned individually for each riding mode (the S has ABS and TC but no IMU). It was definitely confidence inspiring to have in my back pocket while being pelted by freezing rain as we crossed over a mountaintop.
There Are Buttons For Days
Although the adjustable 5-inch-wide, color TFT display can be found on both the RS and S model, that’s pretty much where the electronic similarities stop. The switch cluster on the handlebar uses various buttons and a five-way joystick—a decade ago it would have been enough to confuse an Xbox-loving 9-year-old, but nowadays this is what motorcycle controls look like. The system (along with the dash) is adopted from the Street Triple as well as the new Tiger 800 and Explorer. The buttons feel really well finished and are backlit (nice for night riding) but I still found myself fumbling to switch between modes or figure out which button did what while avoiding oncoming traffic. More seat time would probably help.
The Dash Is Beautiful
The RS model offers six styles of dash layout depending which of the five riding modes you’re in. The S only offers three layouts and is lacking the Track mode that only the RS features. When toggling between Rain, Road, Sport, and Track modes not only do the TC levels go up and down but the ride-by-wire system enables variable throttle maps, which also change to become more or less aggressive depending on the mode. Each of the modes is set in its way based on factory settings but there is a custom riding mode that allows you to choose your own parameters. You can’t further adjust TC levels aside from Triumph’s preset Rain, Road, Sport, or Track levels.
Still The Same Speed
When it came time to really put the Speed Triple’s sporting capability to the test, a torrential downpour cut our track riding to only a few laps. Luckily I had plenty of time on the twisty Spanish mountain passes. The raised rev limit is impressive from an engineering standpoint, I’m sure, but I never really found myself riding near redline. That’s good because it means the midrange is fat, but also the engine felt as if it flattened out around 8,500 rpm, which can be seen on the power charts. The Arrow pipe popped and crackled deliciously at times, but the truth is I was still hoping for a bit more muscle out of the Speed Triple. A fair reminder that the Speed is not the horsepower king of nakeds anymore, and that much of the enjoyment isn’t captured on the spec sheet.
The Brembo brakes are very strong, and the adjustability of the MCS levers is a nice touch. Our testbikes also included heated grips, which, in the 45-degree rainy weather, was a lovely feature. Thanks to an upright riding position and Triumph’s contrast-stitched “comfort” seat (which is wider than most bikes in the class) I felt like I could stay put all day. At 6-foot-4, I felt very comfortable, other than the obvious naked-bike problem of being ravaged by wind to the chest. It’s aggressive without being extreme, clearly designed to be the refined, gentlemanly choice in the flagship naked-bike category. The 2018 Speed Triple is updated but still very much the bike we’ve come to know.
The naked-bike sector—and the Speed Triple, in particular—offers a look that you either love or hate. The Speed’s styling is true to Triumph’s original design, while being different than the other bikes in the class. To me, bikes like Ducati’s Monster 1200 R or KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R are a little more muscular, sporty, and edgy. The Speed Triple is a little tamer in looks, and arguably more genteel. It lives up to those looks by being comfortable and efficient. The RS model definitely is more pleasing on the eye, with the addition of carbon bits and the Arrow exhaust—and you could argue it ought to be, with a price of $16,350. For the S version you’ll save a cool two grand, paying $14,350. That said, it’s still a fair amount of coin and the RS has it licked.
Overall, this machine is a refined, stately, and brawny motorcycle that lives up to the hallowed Speed Triple name. Problem is, the bar has moved a lot since 2005. The Speed’s European competition have grown to be viciously powerful naked superbikes, with electronics that rival a race paddock and track chops to embarrass a club racer. From Japan, there are similarly powerful (albeit less polished) options for thousands less. Triumph could be holding onto its Speed Triple legacy a little too much. Maybe, after 24 years, the Speed Triple is need of a revolution, not just another small evolution. Or it could be the perfect machine for a certain rider—a mature commuter who doesn’t need or want a fire-breathing naked bike but still wants Euro charm and class. In either case, the legend lives on.
|Engine||1050cc, liquid-cooled, inline triple|
|Claimed Horsepower||148 hp @ 10,500 rpm|
|Claimed Torque||86 lb.-ft. @ 7150 rpm|
|Front Suspension||Öhlins 43mm NIX30 fork, adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping; 4.7-in. (120mm) travel|
|Rear Suspension||Öhlins TTX36 shock, adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping; 5.1-in. (130mm) travel|
|Front Brake||Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers, 320mm discs w/ switchable ABS|
|Rear Brake||Brembo two-piston caliper, 255mm disc w/ switchable ABS|
|Rake/Trail||22.9°/3.6 in. (91mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.9 in. (1445mm)|
|Seat Height||32.5 in. (825mm)|
|Fuel Capacity||4.1 gal. (15.5L)|
|Claimed Weight||416 lb. dry (189kg)|