After one full year of ownership, and 13,000 miles, I feel like I can finally give a fair and complete review of the Triumph Speed Triple. In late 2003, a fellow MSF instructor picked up a used 2000 S3. Knowing that I’ve always loved the look of the bike, goofy dual headlights and all — I always thought it looked like something that would bore its way out of your chest, he offered me a chance to take the bike out for an afternoon. Within 20 minutes of riding, I knew that I had to have one. Monday the TL1000S was put up on the block and I started looking for a Speed Triple of my own. Utah, at that time, was without any Triumph Dealership, so I knew I would have to go elsewhere. I found and purchased my 2001 S3, sight unseen, from a small dealership in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Because the bike was an ’01 and because it had spent most of its life parked outside in front of the dealership, it had a few nagging problems. The stock tires were crap. Not that I much like those vintage Bridgestone’s anyway. The bike was filthy dirty, and the shop withheld the fact that they had repainted it from the nasty-ass pink (Nuclear Red) to black in an attempt to sell it. Which, I suppose worked, because I certainly would not have looked twice at a pink one. So, I can’t speak to the quality of factory paint.
On the flip side, the bike came with all the FI upgrades to match the Triumph High-performance pipe that came with the bike. Right from the beginning, the bike has carbureted perfectly. It has never once so much as burped, hiccupped or stumbled in 13k miles. A fact that has, much to my delight, proven itself from over 11,000 feet of elevation to sea level; from 100+ degree days to sub-freezing temperatures. This is a dramatic improvement over the performance of Suzuki’s FI on the TLS which was never quite right, even after an expensive FI re-map.
Triumph’s Sagem multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection system, capable of three million instructions per second, is the same system used by Aprilia and has been hailed as the best Fuel Injection system in the business. The complex FI computer system analyzes and maps the riders throttle inputs then extrapolates and predicts what the rider will likely do next (or so the brochure’s claim). The result is so good that it is transparent – which is exactly how I think it should be. If you notice it, something is probably not right.
The biggest complaint about the t509 speed triple was its lack of power, but the new t955i motor is stonkin’ good fun! After riding it, you’ll soon agree that the motor combines the best aspects of twins and fours. With the pipe and the KN air filter the bike stomps out 80ft.lbs of torque. While Horse Power is down from the four-bangers displacing a liter of whoop, 120 ponies of Triple power feels as refined and vibration free as the equally powerful Fz-1. Power delivery is silk-sheets smooth, ramping predictably from idle to redline, making technical roads much easier than if they were ridden on a V-twin and their tendency of lurchy, on-off throttle response.
Numbers are all well and good, but the tactile, sensory delighting aspects of this motor are what make it most endearing. Even though it lacks the dual-pulse, heartbeat rhythm of a V-twin, there is just enough vibration to let you know what’s between your knees, without ever really distracting you. But the true delight of this motor is how it pleases the aural sensations. For the first two months of ownership, I had a hard time making myself wear earplugs. The intake wail is heavenly and the Triumph HP pipe is loud enough to be heard by the pilot without being too obnoxious for everyone you zip past. What’s most intriguing about the sound is how the pitch changes based on rpm and load. My favorite sounds actually come when pulling hard out of the basement, lugging the motor a bit. The raucous belch rising to a crescendo wail is so wonderful and amusing that it’s impossible not to smile, if not giggle – even after a year of ownership.
After several years of Asian import ownership, I’d grow accustomed to the idea of having to invest a couple hundred dollars, if not more, to make the suspension behave properly. Even though I may be the exception weighing in at under 150lbs, I’ve never felt any need to play with the suspenders. Once I got the bike home I set the sag levels, then adjusted the damping rates according to the owners manual and have done nothing more than ride. Although severely bumpy roads can be taxing and smooth roads are much better (as they would be regardless) the upright seating position and mega-wide handlebar makes coping a breeze because it puts a lot less stress on your wrists and back.
When it comes to braking, the Speed Triple is the king of the mountain. According to the January 2005 issue of Motorcycle Consumer News, the 1999 Triumph Speed Triple (almost identical to 2001) tops the ten best list of 60-0 stops at 106.7 feet. The bike comes with stainless steel braided brake lines, but they are a saddle system, with one line going to the right caliper, then a shorter ‘saddle’ line riding up over the front fender to reach the left caliper. I installed a dual-line setup, with two equal length lines running directly from the master cylinder to each caliper and noticed a significant improvement to brake feel, probably because the two-line systems are easier to bleed.
The handling department is where this bike owns! Because of the upright seating position, the top shelf suspension, awesome brakes and FI, the bike is a dream to ride. It inspires droves of confidence allowing the rider to exploit every ounce of torque without hesitation or fear. It is also quite forgiving if you do something stupid. It wheelie’s like a king even if you suck at wheelie’s (like I do) and will make you feel like a hero on the racetrack or in the canyon.
Much to my surprise, the bike is an amazingly capable tourer. The flyscreen is angled just right and far enough foward to produce turbulent free wind flow. The seating position, again, is comfortable enough for all day jaunts, but sporty enough, with the elevated foot pegs, that you can attack any canyon with confidence in ground clearance. I’ve never, even on the racetrack, touched any hard parts.
The stock seat sucked. The foam was too thin and too soft and left my fanny feeling red after less than 50 miles. A used Corbin was found online and after dying the yellow piping to a subtle black, the seat was installed. My fanny has yet to complain again. The only problem with the Corbin is due to it being wider at the front, making it harder to get my feet in contact with mother earth. I find myself tripoding the bike because getting both feet onto the ground is too much for my 30-inch inseam.
I didn’t much care for the stock handgrips. They were too narrow and I had a hard time keeping a firm grip on them for extended periods because they were also quite slippery. A quick trip to my local Buell dealership for a set of Traxion Grips and I was grinning again. The Traxion grips are thicker at the center, thereby more ergonomic and the rubber is soft and grippy. At $15 dollars they also come with a new throttle tube. The cable attachment of the Buell tube is bigger in circumference than the stock Triumph tube resulting in smaller throttle inputs equating to bigger adjustments. However, I’ve found that this works quite well with the easy to manage engine.
The stock mirrors were worthless, unless you are in love with your elbows. I pitched mine in favor for some Napoleon Bar-Ends. They fit right on and offer an unobstructed view of what’s behind you. The hardest part about pitching the stock mirrors is caused by Triumph using the right mirror to hold the brake fluid reservoir in place. Additionally, Triumph used a very strange thread-pitch making it hard to find a replacement bolt. I opted for a fancy-dancy titanium bolt that I found online. It looks nice and didn’t cost me any weight. On the left side, I simply inverted the conventional mirror mount, hiding the gaping bolt hole on the underside of the bracket.
The “custom” paint from the dealer did eventually start to fail. However, I was still enjoying the bike enough that I decided to repaint it, including designing my own decals for it. I opted for a Ducati color, “Matrix Green”, which seemed appropriate as the bike was indeed used in the first Matrix film. I also had the decals cut in retro-reflective silver. I thought the end result was rather stunning and I’m surprised that Triumph never tried a similar shade from the factory.
The Triumph has been hard on cables. I chewed through two clutch cables in the first six months. The cable will fray at the lever because it rubs on lower-inside of the lever. The cable can only tolerate so many shifts before disintegration. Both times I was extremely fortunate to find the problem before being left stranded. The warning comes when the adjustment goes all wonky. Because we had no Triumph dealership to cash in on my warranty, I had a local shop, Wrights Motorcycle Supply, build me new innards. The first time they duplicated the OEM cable. The second time the built up the cable with a brass collar around the top and installed a rotating eye (the part that attaches to the lever). I also used a copious amount of anti-seize to enhance lubrication. The $16 dollar fix (for both fixes) has resulted in no more problems. When we finally did get a dealership (after the warranty had expired) I called and had them check the bikes VIN number for any recalls. The bike was affected by three recalls. The FI upgrade had already been done, new fuel fittings need to be fit at the tank because they tend to crack and leak fuel, and they were replacing clutch cables because they tend to break at the lever…
The other cable issue is a broken speedometer cable. This one was my fault. In an attempt to snug down the fly-screen, I had detached the cable at the speedometer. When I re-attached it, I had sloppily cross-threaded the cable, putting a slight kink at the head of the cable. It broke 200 miles later. Instead of using a traditional square end, that would allow me to build my own cable from a $6.00 kit (available at any parts store) they used a funky forked end which will require me to purchase the $30+ dollar cable from Triumph.
The bike does have a few other quirks that are probably Triumph specific. It will run with a blown main fuse, but won’t charge the battery. The fuses are labeled with unfamiliar pictographs making it hard to figure out which fuses you need to pull to shut the headlights and tail light off for a track day. The front seat is bolted on, making it really annoying to gain access to the battery, but quick release kits are available, or you can get install the bolts upside-down, drill a hole in the bolt and use a few clips to hold the seat in place. The air filter in an exercise in finger contortion to gain access. The seat cowl needs to be shimmed to get it to fit properly without contacting the rear fender. The rear wheel bolt is an odd size and hard to find (a monstrous 46mm). The idiot lights are faint and hard to see in bright sunlight. The radiator and oil cooler are really in harm’s way. I plan on building some screens to protect them from road rubbish. A hugger should be fitted to protect the rear shock that is directly in harms way from tire fling. But this is all petty stuff and should not deter anybody from a purchase. Reliability was an initial concern but after reading MCN Triumph Readers Survey and a brief summary of “Most Reliable Bikes” in the UK’s Ride magazine (where the ’01 S3 made the top five) quelled any hesitation. After owning it since 2003, it is made with the same level of quality and attention to detail as any Asian. Delightfully, the bike has been the most reliable of any that I’ve owned, requiring the least amount of attention.
When all is said and done, I have never been happier with any bike. It behaves and performs like a sport bike, it’s naked appearance (it looks like a CB750 to cops) keeps it off their radar screen. It holds saddlebags with stability and will run hard all day. But most of all, the relaxed seating position makes traffic, slow speed limits, straight roads, and real world riding in general, more tolerable, thereby saving my drivers license.
Another unexpected perk of Triumph-ownership is that it is loved by all. Hard-core H-D/cruiser dudes love it, sport bike guys appreciate it, and old-timers will cross parking lots to chat with you about it. “I had a Triumph Once – an old Speed Twin in the ’40s.” I’ve even had, not one but a three, mom’s with baby seats in back, smile, wave and give the thumbs up. No other bike I’ve owned had drawn so many positive responses from the huddled masses. It is rare to get gas without someone coming over to talk or ask about it. “Triumph, who makes that?” is common but so is “Wow! I didn’t know they still made bikes! I had a Bonneville when I was in college, that bike was fast!” The only thing I can figure is that it has all the right ingredients. Historic significance (the company is older than Harley), performance, cool-factor, lack of racer-boy plastic, soft t595 styled, organic lines all combine to make the bike appealing. And it’s fun to have a bike that nobody else has … so shhhh… don’t tell anyone.