MV Agusta Brutale 1090R vs. Triumph Speed Triple R | Jailbait

MC Comparison

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

The Speed Triple R’s front wheel hangs above the pavement as third gear becomes fourth, and the numbers on the speedometer flash upward. Next to the Triumph, the MV Agusta Brutale cruises along with both tires on the ground. A rise in the road provides the opportunity, and a slight tug on the bars brings the MV’s front wheel level with that of the Triumph’s. The riders glance at each other and shake their heads. You can’t see it through the dark visors, but they’re grinning like idiots. Again and again this happens, 1200 miles to and from Monterey, a good portion of them on the back wheel only.

Before stabbing out an inflammatory E-mail scolding us for antisocial behavior, take a moment to consider the bikes we were riding: the Triumph Speed Triple R practically begs to be wheelied, and keeping the Brutale 1090R’s front tire grounded is as difficult as getting a CBR250R’s afloat. Combine plenty of power with the high center of gravity brought by a naked bike’s tall handlebar and that’s what you get: Bikes so willing to loft the front that we’re almost powerless to resist. Scratch powerless; utterly unwilling to act like adults, is more like it. We’re not kidding.

There are more reasons to love these bikes than their ability to unlock your inner hooligan. Both are beautiful, with limited bodywork, comfortably upright ergonomics and enough style to make any Bike Nighter swoon. Most people notice the MV first. It appears more exotic, purposeful, and intense. The chiseled tank, single-sided swingarm and meticulously welded mufflers positioned impossibly close to the rear wheel speak to the MV’s handmade status. Those details are juxtaposed with sloppy wiring, an unsightly exhaust flapper, and a dated dash. It’s as though the Brutale’s main form came from a master’s hand, then a junior engineer was left with the task of making everything fit.

The Speed Triple R is no slouch in the looks department, and the more you inspect it, the better it looks. It’s been around for awhile, and the refinement shows. The wiring is carefully concealed and everything looks in its place. These details are important on a naked bike, as there’s no place to hide dirty design work. The forged aluminum wheels—made by PVM in Germany—are exquisite, with a glossy finish that puts the MV’s painted wheels to shame. Gold suspenders, red accents, and carbon fiber give the Triumph a truly custom look. Yet the MV received universal praise from casual observers, while the Triumph was occasionally shunned—always due to the my-fairing-was-crashed-off appearance of those funky headlights.

The Brutale isn’t just a naked version of MV Agusta’s F4 superbike. The Brutale is its own beast, purpose built to give performance addicts a power shot that’ll leave them reeling. The engine is a version of the F4RR 312 mill and shares the same 79.0mm by 55.0mm bore and stroke, but most everything else was reconfigured to suit the Brutale’s purpose. The bike’s most recent overhaul in 2010 saw major mechanical changes, and the first significant aesthetic update since its debut in 2001. The tank, tail, and radiator shrouds were reshaped with sharper lines, and a one-piece seat and more compact headlight were added. The bike received a new tubular-steel trellis frame and longer, lighter aluminum single-sided swingarm, as well as revised engine internals including a counter-balance shaft, new cylinder head, oil pump, engine cases, throttle bodies, and transmission parts.

On our SuperFlow dyno the Brutale turned out 128.0 horsepower at 10,100 rpm, with 75.0 lb.-ft. of torque at 7500 rpm. To help handle all that grunt, the Brutale is outfitted with an electronic rider-aid package that includes two power modes (Sport and Rain), eight-level traction control, and electronically controlled engine braking, just like on the current F4R and F4RR superbikes.

Like the MV, the Speed Triple R is its own machine, and the most thuggish bike in Triumph’s lineup. The Speed Triple has earned numerous accolades, including two Best Naked Bike awards (2011 and 2012) in our annual Motorcycle of The Year balloting. For 2011 Triumph updated the Speed Triple with a new frame, swingarm, and wheels, and also altered the ergonomics considerably. And added those polarizing headlights.

The engine’s peripheral systems were likewise massaged to improve performance. The base model Speed Triple is a stud; the latest R model, which debuted in 2012 with standard ABS, is simply outstanding. Triumph’s “R” packages rival those of Ducati, and like the Daytona 675R, the Speed Triple R receives Öhlins suspension front and rear, Brembo brakes, lightweight forged aluminum hoops and plenty of carbon fiber trim pieces. Besides some redesigned transmission components, the Triumph’s engine is as it was. Strapped to our dyno, the big triple churned out a respectable 119.8 bhp at 9200 rpm and 73.7 lb.-ft. at 7800 rpm. Nearly 90 percent of that torque is available at just 2500 rpm, making the Triumph quick off the line and eager to loft the front wheel.

If the Triumph is partial to wheelies, then the Brutale is properly obsessed. That’s due mostly to short final gearing. First gear is a liability to your license, so it’s best to shift to—or even start out in—second. Even in Rain mode the Brutale power wheelies, and we left the TC system off most of the time since it doesn’t really help on dry pavement; the Brutale doesn’t spin the rear Pirelli, it lifts the front instead!

The Brutale is surprisingly compact considering its XL-sized engine. The bars are fairly narrow and sit close to the upper triple clamp, while the footpegs are close together and set back. The 6-gallon fuel tank is massive, but its tiny waist leaves barely any bike between your knees. Besides a hard, slanted seat, the Brutale is comfortable, though it does throw off some heat in traffic. The Triumph has fewer cylinders, but feels wider at the waist and has a more spacious cockpit. The bars are a tiny bit lower, flatter and several inches wider. There’s more padding on the seat and more space between your knees, though legroom is somehow lacking. The footpegs are unnecessarily high, but at least they’re knurled, unlike the MV’s slick cast aluminum pieces.

Both bikes feel familiar within a few turns, and offer the erect riding position and quick, balanced steering that make a rider feel connected and in control. As with all Triumph triples, the Speed Triple R sounds stellar. There’s that raspy growl from the intake, a high-pitch whine from the primary gear, and a deep, full exhaust note. The Brutale emits a lot of intake noise and has good tone from the slash-cut cans, but the sound isn’t as stirring as the Triumph’s song.

Around town the Triumph is comfortable and composed. The clutch action is smooth, throttle response is exact, and that big triple has enough torque to pull away from stops on a mere whiff of throttle. Rolling the stick back reminds you that there are a trio of 3-inch pistons reciprocating down there, churning up mild vibrations as the revs rise. Still, the wide-set mirrors remain clear and the internal bar ends do their job to quell perceived vibes. The engine runs cool, so there’s no heat warming your feet like on the Brutale.

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.

Zack Courts
Associate Editor
Age: 29
Height: 6'2”
Weight: 185 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

If I were allowed only one bike in my garage, the Speed Triple R would be near the top of the list. It's powerful, all-day comfortable, and dripping with high-end components that make it nimble and supremely compliant on any road. The MV is Brutal(e) in every sense of the word. It's less comfortable than the Triumph, the dash is almost impossible to use, and when a piece of bodywork fell off during testing nobody was surprised. But oh, that motor. The rush of power and willingness to wheelie is the best kind of absurd, and it only took one freeway on-ramp to be addicted. In the end, I'm not quite old enough to know better; Brutale me!

Ari Henning
Road Test Editor
Age: 27
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 177 lbs.
Inseam: 33 in.

These are my kind of motorcycles. They’ve got great ergos, killer looks, and gobs of horsepower. The Brutale can drain your adrenal glands with one twist of the right grip, but just like a sugar rush, it’ll leave you feeling burnt out. For the real world, I’d pick the Speed Triple R. The Triumph does nothing but please. It’s utilitarian and refined, and up for any kind of road riding you’re into. Triumph is on a roll. With the Daytona R, Speed Triple R, and now the Explorer, you can have an all-Triumph garage and have all your bases covered. I’m keen to spend more time on the Speed Triple R. Maybe as my next long-termer?




2012 MV Agusta Brutale 1090 R | Price $16,498

Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 1078cc
Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 55.0mm
Compression: 13.0:1
Fuel system:EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame:  Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension:  Marzocchi 50mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: CRC four-piston caliper, 210mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
Rear tire : 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
Rake/trail: 25.0°/4.0 in.
Seat height: 32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Fuel capacity:6.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 469/433 lbs.
Measured horsepower:  128.0 bhp @ 10,100 rpm
Measured torque: 75.0 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile:  10.62 sec. @ 131.15 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.26 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.):  29/24/27 mpg
Colors: White, red, black
Available: Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact : MV Agusta USA
10 Canal St. #224
Bristol, PA 19007

2012 Triumph Speed Triple R | $15,999

Engine type: l-c inline-triple
Valve train: DOHC, 12v
Displacement: 1050cc
Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 71.4mm
Compression: 12.0:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Aluminum trellis
Front suspension: Öhlins 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Öhlins shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 255mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 22.8°/3.6 in.
Seat height: 32.5 in.
Wheelbase: 56.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 479/451 lbs.
Measured horsepower:  119.8 bhp @ 9200 rpm
Measured torque: 73.7 lb.-ft. @ 7800 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.84 sec. @ 124.64 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 2.95 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.):  42/38/39 mpg
Colors:  White, black
Availability:  Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Triumph Motorcycles of America
385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr.
Newnan, GA 30265

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