Then & Now: Triumph Speed Triple vs. Trident T160

Jolly goode fun

By John L. Stein, Photography by Kevin Wing

In the '60s, Triumphs contended for wins in nearly every kind of motorcycle competition. The long-running 500 and 650cc vertical-twins were joined by an audacious three-cylinder 750 called the T150 Trident in '68, and that model became the basis for additional racing successes from the Isle of Man to Daytona. If only spiritually, the four-speed T150 and later five-speed T160 provided the template for modern-day Triumph's brilliant Speed Triple nameplate, with a Ferrari-esque ripping exhaust note as a central feature.

Restorer Bob Rymer brought along his clean '75 T160, thoughtfully modified with freer-breathing reverse-mega silencers, an earlier airbox and a triple-carb setup. Flood the two outside Amals, thumb the electric starter and the vintage triple growls to life, copious valve clatter almost overpowering the exhaust note. Though the exhaust sounds silky enough, as the revs build so does vibration, and before long the entire machine is dancing like a 53-bhp vibrator. Footpegs, seat and handlebars are alive as we accelerate through the stiff gearbox action. Yet the engine does prove nicely perky, stretching into a high-rpm power peak with satisfying urgency, while the ripping exhaust note merges with an intriguing airbox for an enjoyable overall sound. It was good enough for the T150 to dish out a 12.7-second E.T. at 106 mph back in the day.

Fitted with lower-than-stock bars, the riding position is properly sporting too, and the T160's long, flat saddle lets you pick your position. Vibration is not the only constant: While the steering is light and neutral at lower speeds, power the Trident through a high-speed sweeper and the chassis immediately begins a hip-shaking two-step.

Superbike racer Steve McLaughlin campaigned a Trident in West Coast AFM events early in his big-bike career. "That Triumph was like an animal," he recalls. "There was just a feel about it, and you felt much more connected to it than to a Japanese bike of the period. The best thing about it was its basic stability, and the whole package worked well together. Its challenge was basic reliability; the fundamental parts were all right but sh*t was always falling off!"

The new Speed Triple is the nearest descendent of the T160. Its three-cylinder, DOHC, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine shares literally nothing with the original Trident save its cylinder configuration, but the snarling exhaust note still differentiates it from everything else on the street. The Speed Triple barks to life with a low, guttural note and, like the rest of the modern bikes in this review, it's a snappy revver that's immediately ready to go. Quicker chassis geometry makes it steer lightly and sweetly at low speeds, and it remains confidently neutral when you start pushing the pace.

Most everything is right on this motorcycle, from the seating position to the power characteristics, which offer big low-end torque, a fat midrange and an energetic top-end rush. It's like two or three motors in one, with the first perfect for city traffic and commuting, the second for energetic sport riding and the third for all-out track duty. Emitting a glorious siren's call, it also requires less shifting and provides an easier riding experience than any other bike in this group.

The Speed Triple is likewise infinitely more enjoyable to ride than its predecessor. The controls all work more lightly and smoothly; the engine, gearbox and brakes are significantly more effective; and your overall sense of control and capability are all vitally increased. But what's not necessarily increased is good looks, because as a package the ancient T160 is far more graceful than the Speed Triple. With its awkward humpback tank and orb-like Mr. Krabs headlights, the Idiot's Guide to Dating might even call the newer bike a double bagger.

Fortunately the ergonomics are perfect, balancing between the upright seating position of a standard bike and the wrist-cramping crouch of a sportbike. As such, the Speed Triple is ready for the daily commute, a wheelie session, canyon or track work at any time. Add some saddlebags and it'll take you to Sedona and back just as adequately.

The fork needs some help, however, as throwing out the anchors results in significant nosedive, upsetting the ride experience whenever vigorous braking is required. But that's the Speed Triple's only real flaw, and if you can shelve your gag reflex over the hooligan headlights and a few other styling issues, this is an absolute winner. Fix the few fairly modest issues and the Speed Triple becomes this group's most enjoyable interpretation of its 1970s superbike ancestry.

Verdict: Get one triple to ride, and another to restore.

Price new $2870 $11,299
Dry weight 502 lbs. 467 lbs.
Horsepower 58.0 bhp @ 7250 rpm 117.7 bhp @ 9250 rpm
1/4-mile 12.7 sec. @ 106.0 mph 11.00 sec. @ 125.5 mph
Tire size 4.10-19 front, 4.10-19 rear 120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear
Brakes Dual discs Triple discs
Wheelbase 58.0 in. 56.1 in.

By John L. Stein
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