Naked Bikes Rule!

New-School Cool Takes On Old-School Cred. A Sideways Leer At The Naked Class, Circa 2005

By Charles Everitt, Photography by Kevin Wing

Triumph Speed Triple
Rather than attempt to sustain the suspense (besides, you looked ahead, didn't you, you weasels?), we'll just tell you: Triumph's new-for-'05 Speed Triple is the best naked bike your money can buy.

It earns such accolades for reasons that go like a dart to the heart of what a naked bike is-and what it isn't. For instance, naked bikes are not motorcycling behemoths, such as large-bore tourers, nor are they slow or even particularly practical. They are, however, agile, quick and a five-alarm hooligan hoot to ride.

By simple logic, a proper naked bike must be fairly small and compact to be appropriately agile. Small physical size invariably implies light weight as well, both for nimble handling and optimum acceleration. Essentially it's a formula for sportbike dynamics, but without the seemingly requisite ergonomics that can make such motorcycles painful to ride for some.

It just so happens Hinckley's latest version of the Speed Triple fills that bill with tantalizing ease. To begin with, for a literbike it's marvelously lightweight and compact. At 490 pounds wet, only the Monster is lighter in this bunch. With its 56.2-inch wheelbase the Triumph is the shortest by 0.5 inch compared with the Monster S4R, 0.9 inch less than the FZ1 and a whopping 6 inches shorter than the BMW. Combine its light weight and short wheelbase with the most radical steering geometry of the four and you've got a motorcycle that turns like a rabbit in Reeboks.

Of course, well-thought-out suspension rates contribute to the Hinckley hooligan's handling prowess as well. Riders of average build will find them just right, perhaps surprising a hapless sportbike pilot who's not on his game. The Triple does exhibit some initial harshness over sharp paving irregularities, but for most riders that's a welcome trade-off for how well it works when you're crowding your luck. Fast guy Burke says "the suspension is just a little soft; you have to be riding really hard to notice it. But it's stable, steers well and holds a line well through corners. Great brakes."

"Man, it just works great," says Boehm. "You can get on it and immediately go fast. The engine makes great power everywhere; it never hits hard anywhere, it's just always flexible." True enough; if only the overall gearing wasn't so ridiculously tall, the Speed Triple could have posted better acceleration numbers. It's certainly got the power where you'd want it: down low and in the middle. In the lower three-quarters of its rev range, the Hinckley Triple humiliates the FZ1, and what it does to the Monster is nigh on to criminal; it even clouts the big-horse Beemer up to 4250 rpm.

Carrithers concludes, "This is pretty close to being the perfect street motor." The way the Speed Triple sweeps from apex to apex in this great, growling rush would make you a believer, too. Only the occasional off-idle hiccup on corner exits blots the Triumph's back-road rsum. The engine's also surprisingly cold-blooded for a modern fuel-injected powerplant.

Head back to the city after a day of playing on your favorite corners and you'll see the Triumph is just as capable, for many of the same reasons. Small, light and agile, it makes short work of traffic as you exercise the torque-rich bottom and midrange. For most the ergos are just right, too, though some testers found the seat too scooped out, limiting them to a single position. Taller riders felt they had to keep pushing themselves away from the nicely shaped handlebar.

Is there nothing, then, at which the Speed Triple can't excel? Yep, there's one: extended freeway travel. Our test bike had a nasty high-frequency/low-amplitude vibration from 4500 rpm (70 mph in sixth gear) to 6000 rpm that put some testers' hands to sleep in less than 30 minutes. For another type of motorcycle that shortcoming might be cripplingly limiting, but for the Speed Triple it's just annoying. Practicality, after all, isn't something the Speed Triple needs to address.

What the Triumph does need to do, however, it does brilliantly. When it comes to the hot buttons a naked bike is supposed to press, the Speed Triple nails them time after time. It triple-distills the essence of motorcycling into something pure and crystal clear, leaving behind a precipitate of the unnecessary or the distracting. And yet it doesn't take itself too seriously; where motorcycles such as Suzuki's GSX-R1000 or Kawasaki's ZX-10 are serious as a heart attack, the Speed Triple is playful.

In short, the Speed Triple gives you virtually everything you want from motorcycling, and almost nothing you don't need.

Off The Record
Mitch Boehm

We just love these things. Can ya tell? Not just these four strippers, but the entire naked bike class. With some OEs now giving us 100-proof sportbikes shorn of plastic and fitted with livable ergos, we're delirious-though it is ironic the best ones are coming from Europe and not Asia. I mean, can you imagine an R1 or ZX-10R done like this? Boggles the mind. My fave is the Ducati. I know ... the other bikes are all better functionally and two of them are far better values. But the look of the S4R and the sound it makes at eight grand it just too delicious to ignore. A bit of suspension tuning, some motor work ... it wouldn't take much.

Tim Carrithers
When it comes to money, and most things usually do, the FZ1 undercuts everything else here with plenty left for new handlebars and sticky tires. But what if I actually rationalize blowing $15K on a motorcycle? That leaves the BMW.

Styling evokes the Heckler & Koch MP5K submachine gun-not all bad in L.A. Steering isn't exactly intuitive, but give the Duolever a chance and one 80-mph sweeper will change your mind. The naked K generates more confidence in fast corners than anything but the Monorail at Disneyland. It also pulls harder and offers a significantly greater selection of available destinations.

By Charles Everitt
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