The original factory streetfighter, the Triumph Speed Triple latched motorcycling’s punk movement in 1994, and never looked back.
Now for the 2018 model year, the British brand is updating its venerable streetfighter – dragging the Speed Triple into the digital age with a bevy of electronic updates. and other technical improvements.
With more power (148 hp), more torque (86 lbs•ft), and less weight (467 lbs wet), it is evolution, not revolution for the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple, which comes in two varieties, the S model and the RS model.
Triumph claims over 100 changes have occurred inside the Speed Triple’s 1050cc three-cylinder engine cases, most of them to help the triple rev-up quicker and to achieve its higher redline of 10,500 rpm (+1,000 rpm higher than the previous model).
Riding the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS in Almería, Spain, Asphalt & Rubber got to see first-hand how these updates build upon Triumph’s street-hooligan reputation, and whether the Triumph Speed Triple RS is a worthy alternative to the bevy of robust machines already in this category.
The result? The 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS is a smart update to the British brand’s streetfighter, and though it falls short of the high-water mark in the space, it offers some strong bang-for-the-buck hooning, which makes it very appealing. Let me explain.
More Techno, Less Punk
The biggest draw for the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS is the addition of an electronics suite, which includes an inertial measurement unit (IMU) that powers both the traction control and cornering ABS packages.
The absence of an IMU is biggest difference between the S and RS models (the S suffers through with just “traditional” ABS and traction control systems), in terms of electronics, though the S is also without the up/down quickshifter and keyless ignition system, which come standard on the RS model.
As we have seen with other machines, namely the 2018 Suzuki GSX-R1000, not all IMU-powered systems are the same. For the new Speed Triple, Triumph has decided to link the traction control parameters to the power mode options (Rain, Road, Sport, & Track), which effectively creates four levels of TC intervention.
There is no independent wheelie control, no launch control, no slide control…no alphabet soup of any kind, really. This makes things incredibly simple, when it comes to setup, which you can take as either good or bad, depending on what you’re after in terms of ride experience.
For me, I found this to be a frustration. With rain a constant threat during our launch event, I had a hard time tailoring the traction control not only to the mixed road conditions, but also to what I wanted to achieve with the machine. Power wheelie over that hill, sir? Not so fast says “Road” mode. Le sigh.
Presumably on a race track, the RS wakes up a bit more, but our rain-soaked time at Almería meant only one dry-ish session, which was more of a sighting lap for the conditions, than a proper go at things.
Similarly untested was the Continental cornering ABS package, which promised some interesting features. Rear-wheel sliding is the new thing in the motorcycle industry right now, and Continental has answered Bosch’s challenge.
Fo instance, on the Bosch-powered Ducati Panigale V4, there is a rear-wheel braking slide feature. The same is true for Continental, at least so we are told.
Unlike the Ducati setup though, Triumph’s ABS options are much more simple, and again are tied to the power mode. “Track” mode is available only on the Speed Triple RS, and it changes the ABS parameters to include cornering ABS for trail-braking and stepping out the rear wheel.
This elevates the hoon-factor considerably for the Triumph Speed Triple RS, and again is another reason to prefer the RS model over the more sedate S trim package.
Too Civilized for the Streets?
Riding at pace is where the Triumph Speed Triple really shines. Though the front-end can be vague in its feedback, and the side-to-side transitions happen on the slower side of things, this streetfighter has a boxer’s stance, and is very stable through the turns.
The Öhlins suspension has been tuned quite well too, offering both a planted feeling through the turns, along with ample dampening of speed bumps and potholes – a tough balance to strike.
The rider position is very comfortable as well, and for the most part the controls are well laid out. One gripe I have is with the five-way infotainment switch, which can easily be confused for the turn signal indicator. It is a cumbersome knob. Phrasing?
Toggling through the 5″ TFT color dash can be difficult at speed too, with some of the menu options too small to read quickly on the road. Triumph’s dash design is very busy too, though very stylized, thus I have a love-hate relationship with it.
A complaint I have with the Street Triple 765 too, the new dashes probably looked great on a designer’s computer screen back in the office – they are very attractive and clever in their use of color and style – but the designs score poorly when it comes to giving the rider the information they need, without distracting them from what’s ahead on the road.
Otherwise, fit and finish on the Triumph Speed Triple RS is quite high, helping justify the $16,350 price tag. For that money, you get some carbon fiber bodywork pieces as well, along with a street-legal exhaust from Arrow, which looks very tasty.
I doubt that it would take much to make the Arrow cans a bit…less restrictive, let’s say, which is probably a good thing. Triumph boasted quite a bit about the Speed Triple RS being the “best sounding” Speed Triple ever. I found the exhaust note rather unremarkable however – at least, in its stock form.
A note for riders who put down the highway miles, there is a modest vibration through the bars on the Speed Triple RS, though I heard no complaints about the “Comfort” riding seat that comes standard on the RS model.
In fact, rider fatigue for the day was quite low, which bodes well for those who want a sport bike that can tour too.
Is “Nose Down” Design Code for Ugly?
If the manners of the Triumph Speed Triple RS are downright “British” in how prim and proper they come across, the Speed Triple continues that trend in the looks department, with a face that only Margaret Thatcher could love.
Triumph touts this as a “nose down” design, which is supposed to invoke the aggressive stance of the Speed Triple’s design. The looks of the Speed Triple have always been polarizing though, and the 2018 edition is no different.
Simply, you are either going to love or hate the bug-eyed headlight design that the Speed Triple RS continues, but understand at least that it is a look that comes with a history in the British streetfighter lineage. It is what makes a Speed Triple, a Speed Triple.
And while Triumph has stayed true to the Speed Triple’s streetfighter heritage, at least visually…I would make the argument that the Speed Triple long ago lost its edgy nature.
Still, that added British “sophistication” comes with some benefits. The gearbox is silky smooth (thanks to new dogs and slots), and the slipper/assist clutch helps aid in the shifting function. Similarly, the up/down quickshifter works well, even during street riding.
Quick shifts from first gear to second gear can be a bit rougher, but otherwise I was impressed with the QS unit.
Triumph has elected to keep its front brake package fitted with Brembo M4.34 calipers and 320mm discs, which are mated to a Brembo MCS master cylinder. The brake pads are new for 2018, however. The package provides sturdy braking power, with good modulation. No worries here.
The Brembo M50 caliper might be the rage right now, as well as larger 330mm discs up front, but Triumph shows that you don’t need these spec pieces in order to have good brakes in the real world.
I do question Triumph’s use of cast aluminum wheels though, especially on the RS model. I would gladly trade the Öhlins suspension for forged aluminum wheels. The S model’s Showa suspension is excellent, with Öhlins bringing more to the table in terms of brand value, than actual suspension performance.
However, lighter wheels could greatly improve the real-world performance of the Speed Triple RS, while still offering the same price tag to riders. There is strong lesson about B2B marketing in here, somewhere.
The Final Word
Adding up the mental scorecard, I came away from Spain both impressed with the Speed Triple RS, and disappointed. Triumph’s update to this machine is smartly executed, and the $16,350 pricing helps make a case for the RS model to be in your garage.
Both of these machines have been kept fresh by their respective brands, and offer face-melting power, with robust and powerful electronic packages added into the mix for good measure.
Tame on the streets, but wild between the streets, the Tuono and Super Duke are the true streetfighters in this category – a mantle that Triumph abandoned a long time ago.
The new Speed Triple doesn’t make an honest bid for that title, not even close, but it never was going to, not with a simple model refresh. At the end of the day, this Speed Triple is exactly what it is, a better version of the old model.
More refined now, the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS offers all the buzzwords one expects now from a performance sport bike, but stops there. The electronic adjustments are rudimentary, but polished over with a snappy veneer.
The Triumph Speed Triple RS is competent though, and fun to ride. It blows the BMW S1000R out of the water, and offers a classic package in world that seems to be auditioning for a horrible Michael Bay movie.
There is enough of an edge to the Triumph Speed Triple RS to still call it a streetfighter instead of a roadster (I’m looking at you, Ducati Monster 1200 R), but the machine is easily the most grown-up in the class.
Ample power and fun for sensible sport riding, electronics that don’t requite a CS degree, and bodywork that won’t give you a papercut…it makes you wonder what generation this Speed Triple is appealing to.
In the end, the Triumph Speed Triple RS offers a classy option to a category that is supposed to be anything but that. Maybe they’re right, Punk is dad.
Photos: © 2018 Kingdom Creative – All Rights Reserved