Why the 2011 Triumph Speed Triple makes every other naked look silly

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Just about everyone has a list of bikes that they absolutely must own someday. Mine is always changing, but this week it includes an FZR400, some form of 916-like superbike, a 1985 GSX-R 750, 660cc KTM 560 SMR and this new Triumph Speed Triple. Really there’s only two constants there: The GSX-R and the Triple. Even before I started riding, I wanted one. Something about the look, the hooligan reputation, the wheelies and the serious, almost business-like twin-light streetfighter look is irresistible. When photos showed up of the 2011 bike’s wolf-eye lights, I was one of the people wishing it was a hoax. Then I rode the bike and realized that the lights don’t actually matter. This is the 2011 Triumph Speed Triple.

Sitting on the bike, you don’t see much of those lights. Front and center is the large analog tach. The bright LED shift light is useless in first gear (it’s best to cover the rear brake) but functions beautifully from second through fifth. To the left of the tach is an LCD display showing speed in the center, engine temp to the left, and remaining fuel to the right. The S3′s computer can display miles before empty, a neat feature that more manufacturers would do well to adopt. Triumph doesn’t sell the bike with a fly screen, but they should. With the screen in place, the new lights go from awkward to perfectly acceptable and with a 155mph (indicated) top speed, any wind protection would be greatly appreciated.

The Speed Triple’s charmingly odd looking frame is modeled after Spondon racing frames of the ‘90s. For the first three years of Speed Triple production, the bike had a flex-prone backbone style frame. Back in the day (1994-1996), Spondon was the way to go if you wanted a high-quality, stiff racing frame. Their signature large-gauge aluminum twin-tube look was used on the 1997 bike and though the 2011 frame is made using modern casting methods, it retains this signature styling cue.

The “all-new” frame is a new casting, but houses the same motor (with 5 more hp) in a very similar place as the outgoing model. The swingarm is new as well, and is slightly longer. Fully adjustable forks are new for 2011 as well. The final relevant change is new wheels that drop 5lbs of unsprung weight. These relatively small evolutionary improvements, but they add up to a fast and competent overall package.

Around town, stoplights and stop signs are just another chance to roll a stoppie, then loft the front wheel. If you fear for your license, this is not the bike for you. Buy a Street Triple instead. That said, it’s surprisingly civilized when it needs to be. Quiet under-seat pipes and down-low torque let you put around nice and quiet-like. Gas mileage is over 40mpg when ridden like this, even two-up. If you like powerful wheelie-prone naked bikes, the S3 is great for everyday transportation and commuting duty.

It does have its faults though. A wet weight of 471lbs isn’t all that sporting, but then again, neither are the upright bars. Rough pavement and large throttle openings often induce the most fun headshake you’ve ever experienced. Just stay pinned or open the throttle a little more for a fun leaned-over wheelie. That headshake does turn scary over 100mph though. A steering damper will fix it and should be installed at the same time as your light-weight low mount pipe and flyscreen. Our test-bike has an extra neutral between fifth and sixth that’s supremely annoying and likely damaging to transmission internals. Dealers will take care of issues like this under warranty, but transmission quality shouldn’t be a problem on an $11,799 bike in 2011. This was a known problem on the old bike that’s reportedly been fixed, but it hasn’t been on our test bike. The same problem — false, clunking, grinding neutrals — also occurs if you try and short shift very early. You can ride around it by making sure you run the engine out a bit in each gear, but you shouldn’t have to

The Speed Triple isn’t exactly the only option for a naked literbike, but it is unique. The motor isn’t the most powerful thing around, but you’ll never find yourself wanting more. If you find yourself comparing it to the Z1000, CB1000R, Streetfighter or Tuono V4R, have a look at the chassis geometry. A look at those numbers reveals the true intentions of the S3. 22.8º rake, 3.6″ of trail, 56.5″ wheelbase and 32.5″ seat height are all very sportsbike like. Those other naked liter bikes don’t tend to be quite so steep or short, instead playing it safe or, looking at it another way, playing it slower and less fun. That’s why the S3 steers so fast and wheelies so easily.

Unlike those other nakeds, this isn’t a de-tuned sportsbike either. Triumph has no 1050cc or similar sportsbike in its range, so the S3 was engineered from the ground up to be what it is in this form. That’s evident in the chassis geometry, but also in the cohesiveness of the whole package. On the Streetfighter, for instance, you end up unable to really exploit the full performance of the 155bhp motor due to chassis limitations. No such problem on the S3, it doesn’t need to play second fiddle to any other bike in the Triumph range.

It’s just as fast as a proper superbike on canyon roads, but more comfortable and slightly less work to ride. It’s the perfect bike for an expert rider who knows the difference between Dunlop 209s and 211s and also needs to get to work during the week. Unlike most other performance bikes, it combines all that speed, all that handling and all those wheelies into a package that’ll compete with any classic bike or cafe racer on style, especially in plain white and even with those angular new lights.

  • HammSammich

    “If you fear for your license, this is not the bike for you. Buy a Street Triple instead.”

    This is interesting to me. I haven’t tested a current Speedy (last one I rode was an 08) or any Street Triple, but a friend who has volunteered to lead demo rides when the Demo truck was in Portland rode them back-to-back and swears that the Speed is the one you want to get if you don’t want a high strung, license-forfeiting sort of bike, claiming that the Street is far less calm and collected.

    When I rode that 08 Speed Triple I did notice that it was perfectly serviceable around town taking it easy, but as it was wet out, I didn’t really have the chance (or desire) to push it…

    • GoFasterPB

      What I took away from my demo ride on a Street Triple was that the fueling of that bike is engineered to coerce the rider into license suspension territory at every twist of the throttle. It always wants to play.

      I was under the same impression you are, but have never had a chance to ride the Speed Triple and validate those claims first-hand.

      • HammSammich

        Ah…maybe that’s what my buddy was getting at. I wonder if a “my bike made me do it” strategy would hold-up in court. ;)

        • filly-fuzz

          uummm yeah the street trip ain’t so good at license preservation, that excuse didn’t work for me.

  • JaySD

    Hey Sean,

    Were you and Ashlee heading N on the 405 2 up on the S3 this Saturday afternoon? Thought I might have seen you guys as we were heading up to visit some family. At the time I was extremely jealous of the bike as I sat in traffic

    • Ashlee Goodwin

      We were indeed. That was totally us. :)

      • JaySD

        I figured it had to be you guys, I got the glimpse of the black roadcrafter and pillion in full gear with the backpack

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, turns out an all black Roadcrafter is pretty conspicuous after all.

  • Alex

    Agreed 100%. My 2006 Speed Triple was a brilliant bike. It had enough low-end grunt to roll 1st-2nd-3rd from idle, and still ran up the tailpipes of the 600s on the river bluff roads.

    Definitely my vote for best all-rounder. Plus it’ll fit a seriously tall rider (I’m 6’9″).

  • Brant

    I own one. It did fine at Pridmore’s STAR School. The transmission is a little tractory like you said, but other than that zero complaints.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Hmmm… I always fancied a Speedy… My fancies have been confirmed.

  • Roman

    What’d you think of the seat? I rode the bike for a Triumph Demo Day (exercise in frustration) and the word to describe it would be “crisp”. The engine, the handling, the sound, etc…but the seat seemed to have this uncomfortable, jewels-threatening slant right into the tank. Something similar to the modern Monsters. Other than that, yeah it was brilliant!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I like the seat, no problem with ball crushing or sliding forward at all. Plenty comfy too.

      • jonoabq

        Rode over 1k miles on mine last month, balls still working fine. Very good stock seat, a bit narrower in front (a good thing) than the outgoing version. At highway speeds (with the flyscreen) the airflow is actually somewhat supportive, taking some of the already minimal load off your wrists…but then I’m 5’10″ and 150lbs so I’m fairly comfortable already.
        With some Power Pure’s it’ll keep the already low wheel weight where it is and turn in even quicker than the stock tires allow.

        • Roman

          Thanks for the mini-review. Demo rides only tell you so much. Surprisingly enough, the Speed Triple was one of the easier bike to get on. The Daytona, STriple and Tiger800 were booked solid.

          • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

            Triumph did a horrible job telling people how rad the new Speed Triple back at release time…

  • Rick

    Piuma is not the only road. Where else can you go were the corner shot literally wraps around the logical place to take your static pictures. Efficient for sure.

    • Sean Smith

      Shh. Don’t tell anyone we shot the Z1000 and Speed Triple on the same ride, in the same spot ;)

  • Deep6Dive

    I’m not sure if 5mph more than, the previous 1050′s motor is a worth while change, for the horrid looks. This would be a bike i’d have to ride before even being tricked into buying it, even though this article helped alot. My speed triple is a 2005 and coming in 10hp more than a stock 2011, with much better looks. The tiger800 is next one my list. Thanks for giving what Triumph’s due though, they’re one of the few bike companies making forward progress in these “hard times”

    • Sean Smith

      The Speed Triple I will eventually own will be a black 05-10 model, with low mount pipe, fly screen, single bar-end mirror, and Öhlins suspension.

    • 1

      The 05 is the best looking of the series for sure. The bodywork is tight, the whole thing is balanced purposeful and yells -insanity is the mother of invention.

  • Thom

    OK . Fine , The Trumpy Speed Triple is a decent set of wheels

    So what exactly makes it any better than say the Ducati Street Fighter , KTM Duke etc etc etc etc .?

    Seems to me claiming the Speed Triple “…. makes every other naked look silly ” is a fair amount of Hyperbole .. to say the very least .

    So why the bias ?

    • Deep6Dive

      have you seen the new streetfighter, KTM’s just look like a super moto…… notice spooden frame, when mentioning proper streetfighters.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The chassis geometry is much more sporting and it’s engineered from the ground up to be a Speed Triple, not a superbike that’s been cheapened. The result is a package that works much better with greater feel.

      • Deep6Dive

        and you’re not paying out the ass for an aftermarket frame.

        • Sean Smith

          It doesn’t actually have a Spondon frame, just one that’s obviously modeled after that look.

    • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

      Have you ridden a Streetfighter??? Blech.

  • Dumptruckfoxtrot

    I love Speed Triples, but the headlights do matter to me. It, like the Diaval’s beach ball, is a bit of a deal breaker. I suppose that’s what the aftermarkets for though.


    Can you elaborate on the 5-6 neutral issue? Sounds awful.

    • Deep6Dive

      it’s not bad after triumph replaces it for free.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Try and shift from 5th to 6th on relatively light throttle. Clunk. Grind. Lever again. Clunk. Grind. 6th.

      • Deep6Dive

        if you’re having those issues sounds like you need to work out with a shake weight. It’s a speed triple roll it back and keep it there.

        • Sean Smith

          I usually shift to sixth when I’m tapped in fifth ;)

          • Matt Wisch

            We need a roll eyes emoticon

  • http://lightsoutknivesout.tumblr.com/ Scott Pargett

    Is this Angeles Crest?

    • Rick

      Piuma in the Santa Monica mtns

  • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

    I’ve been going back and forth on Speed Triple vs Street Triple and I still don’t have the answer. I know “depends on what you wanna use it for” but really either bike would work for me (the answer is all round, commuter, twisty day trip, occasional track day, occasional touring).

    I’m kind of hoping in a year or two I’ll get lucky and be able to find the Black/Gold Street Triple R used somewhere, but then another part of me feels like I’ll want the added power of the Speed Triple. I think I just have to go ride them both back to back and see what trips my trigger.

    Have any of you Street Triple owners wished you had gone for a Speed, or vice versa?

    • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

      I had a test ride on an ’05 Speed before purchasing a 2011 Street. I much prefer the ergonomics and weight of the Street. With the revised ergs of the 2011 Speed it might be more appealing.

      I will say I have no desire for “more bike” with the Street. I may still be in the honeymoon phase, but it’s been perfect for me.

    • Denzel

      GB – I had convinced myself the Street was the one, but then rode a Speed, and never looked back. The argument for the Street is the flickable chassis, which would be, in theory, great for your occasional track day, but so is the Speed great for “occasional” track. The beauty thing (eh) about the Speed is the torque. I commute around downtown Seattle, and the hills are now irrelevant. You can explode through gaps in traffic, but it always feels civilized. I think the Street R you’re lusting after is awesome, but you would exploit it on only a percentage of your “uses”. But the Speed feels good ALL the time. And it’s not hard to look at either.

      • Tim

        I have a 2011 Street and cannot imagine how I would use more power riding on public roads. The Street weighs about 420 lbs full of gas so I would expect it to feel more flick-able than the Speed. For me light, narrow, torquey really hits the spot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cheese302 Cheese302

      i went with the black gold street r. If you are serious, i am going to have it for a couple of years then possibly sell it. I havent ridden it much because i injured my shoulder the day i bought it. but i went iwth it purely for the look of the older lamps and the fact that i didnt need the power in the 1050. Insurance is a bit cheaper, its gets me by and its a blast.

      • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

        Yeah, this is exactly the “problem,” Street owners love their Street and Speed owners love their Speed. I need to go ride these things. Does the Street have any niggles like the Speed’s chunky gearbox?

        And Cheese, I’m serious. Definitely won’t be in a position to buy in the next year or so though.

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    HFL group buy?

    • gaudette

      I’m in! Just gotta sell the street first.

  • Steven

    that’s cool and all, but does it come in purple with squiggly writing on it?

  • gaudette

    The third picture with the sticker reminded me of an idea I had a few days ago:

    It’d be awesome if you guys put together a gallery of subscribers bikes with HFL stickers on them. Maybe on facebook, or make it a feature one day. I’d love see other readers’ waving the HFL flag!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, a couple people have suggested that. We’re slammed on some behind the scenes stuff, but’ll get around to organizing something eventually.

    • Sean Smith

      Start putting them on facebook and I’ll make an album out of them.

  • Ozzy

    I like the old one better, there is a major problem with the new S3 as it’s constantly loosing the front! I have now had 6 write-off’s in my workshop on the new model and thats a drop in the ocean when compared with other 22 known write-off’s in Brisbane :(

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      What do you mean losing the front? I thought it had very good front end feel and we never had an issue with it doing anything unpredictable despite riding it very hard.

      • Deep6Dive

        It’s a speed triple, it’s predictable to be rode hard.

    • Sean Smith

      I would guess that squids are the cause of mass front grip loss. Front end feel on the new S3 is amazing, even with the factory Metzlers.

    • jonoabq

      I would think there’s possibly a little more to the story here in the category of user error? This bike is easy to ride fast…faster than one should without trying too hard. I have to constantly remind myself to behave and not do anything too stupid…as stupid usually has consequences.

  • Ozzy

    Oh and those horrific front lights :( they tend to crack due to heat/cold… Triumph is now investigating this issue!

  • JTourismo

    I really enjoy the essence of the speed triple, and for me it is truly one of the best of the full “litre” class. You get the torque and ergo’s for real road riding, and not much of the plastics that ruin so many of the competitor’s bikes. Most importantly Triumph hasn’t fucked with something that works, trying to reinvent the wheel or find niches that don’t exist for a reason.

    In my opinion the lack of fairings always helps rational speeds feel more exciting, and deters the triple digit stuff on the street. But the bikini fairing option is helpful to keep your neck intact for longer rides.

    Great Bike, Great Review.

  • oldblue

    Them lights is awful.

    I’ve ridden the Speed and the Street Triple R and for the roads I ride (tight and twisty) I’ll take the STR every day. While it’s not at all a bad bike, next to the STR the Speedy handles like a wheelbarrow full of walruses.

    • Tim

      Even the new Speed? From what I have read they made it feel more like a Street.

    • HammSammich

      Are you sure you wish to add “handles like a wheelbarrow full of walruses” to your lexicon? Click “Yes” to continue.


      Thanks for that one. :)

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    The 4th pic down makes those headlights look even worse than I thought. jeebus christ! I’d just stick some roundies on there.

    • Tim

      From the front, with a flyscreen, they don’t make me gag. From the side….ugghhh. They are worse looking on the Street IMO as the Speed’s extra bulk offset them a bit. If they want to update the look just integrate them into a small cowling as most other mfgrs do.

    • HammSammich

      The flyscreen does help the look of the new headlights tremendously. I, too, certainly prefer the ol’ stainless buckets, but I can get past the looks of the new lights with the screen…

    • Deep6Dive

      The round ones look better in matte black. The new ones look better in the garbage.

    • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

      With the flyscreen it looks WAY better. I like the old round ones naked and the new Spiderman eyes with the flyscreen.

      • Deep6Dive

        The less plastic on the bike, the more I like it’s looks. Which is why the headlights and rad covers make my stomach turn on this model.

    • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

      7″ roundy FTW!

  • 1

    Pierobon F042 hstreet.

    Top of my list for naked bikes. I’ll take a Pierobon frame over a Spondon knock off any day.

    • HammSammich

      Well, at $26,500, it probably SHOULD top your list of naked bikes. But I’m not sure the $15,000 premium over the Speedy is justified.

    • Sean Smith

      The F042 is beautiful, lightweight and likely handles amazingly well, but lacks horsepower and affordability.

      • 1

        It has enough horse power for the weight, as an air cooled unit.

        Affordability, I’d disagree with that. A truly great bike will see you through 3 of any other bike. So basically, if you buy right, regardless of the entry fee, you’ll be making money… that’s what I tell myself anyway ha ha ha.


    see what ya think when Tuono v4 gets here in March