The MV has slightly more compliant suspension, but it’s more, um, brutal, in all other respects. It’s an exhilarating machine that demands focus and care in the city, so it can be tiring to ride. A light ride-by-wire throttle, a grabby hydraulic clutch, and flawed low-rpm fueling makes stop-and-go traffic a headache. A flat spot off idle followed by a surge of power that invariably lifts the front tire requires you to either drag the rear brake or slip the clutch away from a stop. Then there’s the bizarre engine braking behavior: Roll off throttle at higher rpms and the butterflies remain open, allowing the bike to freewheel like a two-stroke. At 4200 rpm the butterflies snap closed and it feels just like you applied the brakes. In town you cross that 4200 rpm threshold all the time, forcing you to feather the clutch constantly to take the edge off the hit and keep the bike rolling smoothly.
On a fast, flowing road, however, the Brutale starts to make sense—mainly because it handles like a proper sportbike. At higher rpm there’s no hint of the fussy fueling that makes low-speed travel so frustrating, and the throttle butterflies remain open on decel, allowing the Brutale to coast into corners. The lack of engine braking feels strange at first, but once you get used to it, it helps you carve through corners faster and smoother than on other bikes.
The base-model Speed Triple is outstanding in most respects, but slow to turn at higher speeds, making it fall short as a sportbike. The R rectifies that with lighter forged wheels that speed up turn-in, plus firmer suspension that keeps the bike riding higher in the stroke for quicker direction changes. At first, however, our test bike felt too stiff. Taking a turn of preload out of the fork and speeding up the shock’s rebound damping increased compliance, and the reduction in front ride height made it turn in even faster.
The Brutale doesn’t snap onto its side as quickly as the Triumph, but its slower steering makes for more stability once the pace picks up. In faster stuff, the Speed’s steep steering geometry and wide bars make it feel somewhat shaky. But on tight, twisted roads, the Triumph’s smooth power and quick-flick abilities let it walk away from the Brutale, as the MV’s snatchy throttle and wonky engine braking again become problematic.
If you’ve abandoned self-control and given in to the corruptive lure of horsepower, the only thing keeping your speed in check will be lack of wind protection. The Brutale’s riding position—mostly from the narrow bar—is better to counter the windblast, which is a good thing since the MV is an absolute rocket. It accelerates as ferociously as a superbike and rips into triple-digit speeds in a hurry. The Triumph goes nearly as fast, but takes longer to get there. After advocating the Triumph as a potent force for so long, we’re still trying to wrap our heads around the fact that it feels slow compared to the Brutale. The Speed Triple is strong at any rpm in any gear, but the MV simply walks away with arm-stretching, cackle-inducing thrust. Out in the twisties, everyone wants to be on the MV. It’s more fun to flog, if only because the power satisfies some daredevil desire for excess.
Even speed freaks have to stop sometimes. Here, the Triumph’s front brakes prove less than ideal. They have a soft initial feel, presumably due to the ABS plumbing—the Brembo components and braided lines should yield top-notch performance. The anti-lock system works well, but we still pulled the fuse to take advantage of the Speed’s supermoto-like willingness to skate the back tire into corners. You can disable the ABS via the dash, but if the bike were ours, we’d install a switch to flip the ABS on or off more easily. The Brutale brakes are a mixture of Italian and Japanese components, but the setup provides the firmest lever we’ve ever felt and can bring the back wheel off the ground with the effort of just one finger.
After a long day in the saddle, the MV’s seat is a bane. It’s hard and narrow, with sharp edges that dig into your thighs. “There’s no way anyone at MV spent any amount of time on this,” one tester observed after dismounting. Ditto the dash. It’s a carryover from the previous model, which could have been a design abandoned by Fisher-Price. Hard to read and illogical to operate, the dash frustrates with every mile. We managed to change engine modes once, but we can only attribute it to luck—no combination of buttons ever seems to yield the same result twice. The Triumph’s setup, on the other hand, conveys more info and is reasonable to operate. The only issues we had with the Triumph was with laborious shifting at higher rpm and the fact that it had a hard time starting when hot, both issues we’d experienced during the initial press launch.
It’s undeniably thrilling, but unless you have experience rehabilitating pit bulls the MV can seem unmanageable. Everywhere but a fast and flowing back road the Brutale is a chore to ride, and with fuel mileage that never once breached 30 mpg, it’s undeniably a plaything meant for weekend rides or track days.
The Speed Triple R, on the other hand, is content to cruise to work all week but ready to rip a lurid wheelie or slide sideways into the next hairpin if you’re so inclined. It’s got all the caché of an exotic European bike with the functionality, durability, and dealer support of a Japanese machine. Plus it comes with ABS, which is preferable over traction control since you’re more likely to panic-brake than panic-accelerate. We might be wheelie-happy horsepower junkies, but we still recognize a terrific all-around bike when we see it. Triumph’s Speed Triple R isn’t just a kick-ass exhibitionist machine, it’s one of the best all-around streetbikes you can buy.