First Ride: 2008 Triumph Speed Triple

Triumph's factory streetfighter still hits hard

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Since its launch in 1994 the bug-eyed Speed Triple has become a cult classic, even adding its unique charm to movies like The Matrix and Mission Impossible 3. It's also a blockbuster at dealerships, set to ring up its 50,000th sale sometime this summer. Triumph's big, naked streetfighter is its most iconic and successful model worldwide, so updating it is a tricky affair. If it ain't broke, well, you know...

Rather than guess what the next batch of Speed Triple buyers would be looking for (and perhaps risk the model's success by mucking it up), Triumph instead decided to ask current owners what they would change. The company sent out questionnaires at three months and again after a year of ownership, asking for suggestions. There were surprisingly few: "We could have changed more, but in our surveys 98.5 percent of owners said the Speed Triple was either very good or outstanding," reported Triumph Product Coordinator Trevor Barton.

As you might have guessed, Speed Triple updates for '08 are limited to the two most common owner complaints: rider/passenger comfort and front brake performance. Hence the fresh-for-2008 Speed Triple released to the press at Lanzarote, the easternmost of Spain's Canary Islands, looks very similar to last year's model and is nearly identical mechanically except for-you guessed it-uprated front brakes, a roomier seat and passenger footpegs that are now 2 inches lower.




Look very closely and you'll note that Italian style house Marabese added some very subtle touches, including distinctive 14-spoke rear/10-spoke front wheels, new radiator shrouds and more dramatic, chrome-plated headlamp surrounds. In the cockpit, a shot-peened, tapered Magura aluminum handlebar on redesigned risers and a Street Triple-style instrument cluster freshen things up.

From the saddle, the bike feels instantly familiar. Heading out through Lanzarote's black lava fields was an utterly surreal experience, but the bike was totally familiar. The new bar provides the same high, wide stance as before and the riding position is untouched, though the longer seat gives the rider and passenger extra room.

The unique, 1050cc three-cylinder engine is identical to last year, kicking out gobs of midrange torque and a healthy max output of 131 bhp (claimed). On Lanzarote's smooth roads the big lump felt strong as ever, tearing forward at a hint of throttle. The bike pulled crisply from as low as 3000 rpm in higher gears, wheelied on demand and ripped smoothly to the 10,000-rpm redline. As before there was enough vibration to make the Triple feel involving, but not annoying.

The exposed riding position kept cruising speeds well below triple digits most of the time, but there's plenty of extra stomp when desired. From an effortless 80 mph in top gear the Triumph snaps forward instantly without downshifting the excellent six-speed box, hitting 120 mph in seconds and accelerating to a top speed of around 150 mph.

High-speed stability was as good as we recalled from the previous model-no surprise, as the tubular-aluminum frame and Showa suspension are unchanged, apart from black fork sliders. Handling is taut, the front end initially too much so for my liking. Both ends are multi-adjustable, the 45mm inverted fork via a rebound-damping adjuster on the left leg and compression on the right. Reducing compression one turn improved feedback and imparted a quicker, more neutral steering feel. At 417 pounds (claimed,dry) the Triple is not especially light, but it is easy enough to flick onto its side to exploit the generous cornering clearance and grippy Dunlop Qualifier radials.

Another good test of front-tire grip is squeezing the brake lever to experience the considerable force of those new Brembo radial front calipers. Initial bite and overall power are both immense. The new system seemed excellent to me, though some other riders thought the new setup might even be too strong.

As for that new saddle, a single 140-mile ride doesn't tell you everything, but we arrived back at base camp without a hint of numb-bum, so first impressions are positive. The changes this season should broaden the bike's appeal without diluting its hard-as-nails image. The Speed Triple is still bursting with the trademark style, torque and charisma that have made the big, naked streetfighter Hinckley's biggest hit.

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