Is the 2011 Triumph Speed Triple really different from the old one?

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Sure, the 2011 Triumph Speed Triple has a new frame, some engine mods and, most noticably, new headlights, but is that really enough to create a new motorcycle? Kevin Ash just rode the new Speed Triple back-to-back with the old Speed Triple to find out. — Ed.

You know a bike is loved when forums everywhere are dripping with venom because the new one’s got different shaped headlamps. And that encapsulates the dilemma facing every designer charged with updating an icon: Porsche stays safe and ensures the 911 always looks like a 911, but Ducati played with fire and was burnt when the 999 looked very different to the adored 916. The 1098 quickly reverted to Tamburini type.

The Speed Triple is not yet a classic in the mould of these two but especially since the appearance of the 1997 version, inventor of the factory streetfighter concept, the bike’s garnered a faithful following. To these disciples the bike is defined by the circular, chromed pair of lights up front, and now Triumph has messed with them. According to the British factory’s product manager, Simon Warburton: “We did experiment with round lights but they just looked old fashioned on the 2011 bike, they didn’t look right. The new ones keep it looking modern.”

It does, and after some acclimatisation you can see how another round of roundness in place of the pentagonal new might just start to look retrograde, as the 2011 Speed Triple is lean, compact and purposeful, and still unmistakably a Speed Triple.

The engine itself is unchanged aside from an internal mod to reduce pumping losses – bigger holes between cylinders – although exhaust and airbox changes have boosted mid and high torque a little and added 5bhp at the top. There’s a drop at the bottom end of the range though, which we’ll come to.

The chassis is entirely new, with a focus on reducing unsprung weight and centralizing the rest, with more bias over the front. Overall the bike is only 6.6lbs lighter, but this tighter distribution has transformed the handling. It wasn’t bad before but now the Speed feels like the sublime Street Triple, only with a lot more muscle. The riding position’s friendlier, with a shorter stretch to the slightly higher bars and a lower seat that’s narrower at the front. Oh, and the mirrors work.

The extra power means a slightly stronger kick at the top, but whether or not that’s progress is debatable — the initial punch you get on twisting the throttle feels a touch diluted compared with the old. It’s faster but not faster in the first few yards, which I know as we had an old model to ride for direct comparison. Yes, the 11 soon edges ahead, but shouldn’t this bike be about feel, not tenths of seconds?

You can read Kevin’s full review at Ash On Bikes.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

    “There’s a drop at the bottom end of the range though, which we’ll come to.”

    That’s what I was wondering about with the initial information posted up here on HFL. And answered. It’s good to see Kevin’s getting updates at his site, I enjoy his writing.

  • phobos512

    I’m somewhat surprised that with all the claimed weight loss the bike is slower off the line; that would indicate a significant low-RPM torque deficit. Granted it is quickly remedied but I do find it interesting. I wonder if that comes from exhaust valve setup on the new versus old bikes; but then again, they stated it sounds pretty awesome, so who knows.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      It only dropped 6.6 lbs. Granted, from important places, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to counter the adjusted tuning of this engine. There’s always a tradeoff with torque and horsepower. It’s interesting to see the hallmark of naked torque give up some of the low end.

      Then again, people are always demanding higher stats. “Only 130 hp? What a slow piece of crap!”

  • 2ndderivative

    1050 power with 675 handling? Even if there’s less bottom-end kick it’s still a hell of a lot more than what I have now (air/oil cooled inline-4 600).

    I also think the new headlights are meant to work with the flyscreen, in a way that the old ones never did.

    The ABS version of the Speed Triple is my next bike.

  • Pamberjack

    I’m still gobsmacked that people are complaining about the new lights.

    I never liked the old lights, on the Street OR the Speed. I’d read all the great reviews, but I never buy one due to those terrible headlights. Way too bug-eyed. Are you guys blind!?

    And now? I love the new one. I’d drop the coin in a second. Can’t wait to see what they do with the Street…

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      + 1. Why are bikers so damned conservative all the time?

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      Agreed on all counts. I understand being used to something, but don’t make it mean more than it does. Round headlights are not sacred.

      • nola

        “Sacred,” like so many other things, lies in the eye of the beholder. To many of us, the bug-eye lights are the ultimate visual cue of the Speed Triple – the aesthetic soul, a focal point that is unmistakable even though no two people ever agreed on them. Even if you hated them, there was no mistaking that they were trademark Speed Triple, like ‘awkward’ cylinders on an old Airhead, balloon pipes on a Bonnie, or the primary covers on larger Harleys. Once something has been a design mainstay for 14 years, fans are understandably miffed.

        Full disclosure: I ride an S3, and bought the bike initially torn over the lights (I got it purely for how well it fit my need for a power commuter). But over the years I have REALLY grown fond of the bug-eyed Jezebel, and the ’11 model just looks a tad awkward to me. Granted, change is almost always awkward to most people, and this is particularly true when you go f*cking around with a design that so many folks have admired for 14 years.

        On the other hand, I’m sure we can all think of design changes that we initially derided as sacrilege, but came to realize to be a change for the better. Kinda like when your girlfriend got that radically different hairstyle and now you can’t imagine her any other way.

        • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

          Great response, the girlfriend example captures it perfectly. I certainly understand the reasons many find it upsetting, but change is important. With so many options now in the same category as the S3, I know many riders, myself included, who didn’t go for the Triumph in part due to the styling. I’m glad they had the courage to make such a controversial change and avoid the Harley trap of limiting their appeal to current customers.

          They’re outstanding bikes, new or old versions. Though I went another route, I respect the heck out of them.

    • HammSammich

      Personally, I’ve always loved the round headlamps. It’s become a sort of Triumph design signature featured primarily in the Speed Triple, Speed Four, Rocket III, and now on the special ed. Thunderbird Storm, not to mention earlier Tigers, Daytonas and Sprints that framed twin round headlamps within fairings.

      At first glance I was not keen on the ’11 Speedy’s new lights, but I’ve ultimately, come to the realization that this is not really a significant change in the existing design language, and frankly, I’m glad that Triumph is letting its designers take some chances. To me the S3 has always been focused as a streetfighting hooligan machine that can commute as well as it can carve canyons. From the reviews I’ve read so far, the 2011 model only improves upon that, even if it does put on a new pair of specs.

    • Honda

      Do you hate classic VFRs, too?

  • CafeRacer8509001200

    When the 1050 came out, those round headlights looked very out of place on a bike with such angular styling. This looks much better. Surely, what this bike represents is not based solely on the shape of it’s headlights? The term “iconic” has held back a lot of design ideas and entire motorcycles, I’m afraid.

  • panagiotis

    noone said NOT to update the headlights.. but update them with ones that look nice!

    they come out too much and look like there was a fairing there that is now missing.

    Look at what ducati did with the monster.. they updated it with a modern but equally good headlight.

    imagine having two of these on the new Speed Triple

    http://image.automobilemag.com/f/10179474+w750+st0/0807_02_z+2009_ducati_monster_696+headlight.jpg

    • stratkat

      exactly, couldnt have said it better. nothing is wrong with change and updates as long as they are done right. in this case they just dont fit the design of the bike and indeed look like a 916 with the fairing removed, not
      cohesive.

      the other thing is that if you dont want to draw on the bikes DNA (like they did not do with the 999) then design a new bike/model. there is nothing at all wrong with keeping an updated iconic bike in your line, just be true to what makes it unique, and do it right!

  • motoguru

    Sure, the round headlights were iconic, but they were also butt ugly IMO. I love the new headlights, but would probably still do a single headlight conversion.

    It’s the wacky piece of plastic on the side of the motor I can get used to… :(

  • ltgesq

    Maybe, just maybe we could be seeing the headlights and frame of a new triumph superbike? There’s two new adventure bikes, the new gt, a new speed triple, and a daytona R.

    There is only two holes in the line, a dedicated touring bike (shafty couch rider), and a full on large engined sports machine.

    • MikeD

      That is so unreal it might be true.LOL.
      Hoping here…but first kill that Ancient Artifact(1050).Great or Not it MUST DIE(look at it as a Biker God’s sacrifice)LOL.

  • MikeD

    P.S: The New Look is Growing on me.
    But i still feel just like Panagiotis & Stratkat about them lights.