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Common Tread

2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS first ride review

Aug 10, 2018

Introduced in 1994, a year after Ducati introduced the Monster, the Speed Triple was one of the first production naked sport bikes on the market. Its comfortable riding position and sporty performance made it one of Triumph’s best selling bikes.

As sport nakeds became more popular, the Speed Triple just kept on keeping on. Its three-cylinder engine slowly grew in displacement from 885 cc to 955 cc to its current 1,050 cc. Brake and suspension components became more sophisticated, and eventually its iconic twin round peepers introduced in 1997 were updated to an angular design that wasn’t universally accepted as an improvement.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
24 years later and the Speed Triple is still tempting riders to misbehave. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

What started 24 years ago as a factory response to the trend of people rebuilding wrecked sport bikes with a standard handlebar and no fairing is now one of the fastest (and few) growing segments in motorcycling. Hot on the heels of last year’s release of the Street Triple RS, Triumph clearly believes that what people want now is a more sophisticated factory naked bike that can pull double duty on the track without having to upgrade any parts.

That brings us to the 2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS.

The bike

My last experience with a Triumph Speed Triple was in 2013. I was living in Nashville, Tennessee and my “company car” was a brand new “R” model. It followed the Street Triple model at the time, which meant the “R” got upgraded brakes and suspension along with some alternate styling cues, compared to the base model.

Then, in 2017, Triumph introduced an all-new lineup of 765 cc Street Triples featuring three different models: the S, R, and RS. Each model featured distinct differences in engine performance and electronics, in addition to brake and suspension upgrades. So, when less than a year later, Triumph announced the same RS treatment for the Speedy, I assumed it would be more of the same. I was simultaneously right and wrong in my assumption.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
Peak horsepower is up for both the new Speed Triple S and RS models. Triumph illustration.

Unlike the Street family, the Speed Triple only gets two versions: the base S and the upgraded RS. Unlike the Street Triple, both Speed Triple models put out the same power. Both the S and the RS get a seven percent increase in peak power to 148 horsepower at 10,500 rpm (the redline has increased 1,000 rpm over the previous model) and a four percent bump in torque to 86 foot-pounds at 7,150 rpm.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
Fantastic feel and adjustability. If it were possible I'd add these levers to every bike I own. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Brakes are the same for both versions, as well: dual four-piston M4.34 radial monobloc calipers up front and a single Nissin two-piston caliper at the back wheel. I was surprised the RS didn’t get the same M50 upgrade that we saw on the premier Street Triple. The Speedy RS did get the fully adjustable Brembo MCS span- and ratio-adjustable lever, which allows the rider to adjust both the throw of the lever and also brake feel by altering the brake lever pivot distance to 19, 20 or 21 mm. I loved these on the Street Triple RS and I love them here. They offer great adjustability and brake feel.

Whereas the base S model gets traction control and ABS, the RS adds an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The IMU measures roll, pitch, yaw, and acceleration rates, all of which is taken into account as the computer calculates how ABS and traction control are implemented. This upgraded system is referred to as Optimized Cornering ABS (OCABS) and Optimized Cornering Traction Control on the RS.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The TFT dash features multiple layouts and is extremely easy to understand. Triumph photo.

Both bikes get a fully adjustable TFT dash, but the RS gets a few additional layouts to choose from and the addition of a keyless ignition. There is a dedicated button on the left control panel that allows the rider to engage electronically controlled cruise control on both the S and the RS. Below that is a button and joystick that allow riders to control the info displayed on the dash, as well as select the preferred rider mode. In addition to Rain, Street, Sport, and Rider (programmable) modes, the RS also gets an additional Track riding mode.

Rider modes control the throttle input as well as varying levels of ABS and traction control intervention. Rain mode cuts power to just shy of 100 horsepower and allows for early engagement of ABS and traction control. Road mode offers full power (but tames the throttle response) with the same level of ABS intervention but allows for increased wheel slip prior to the traction control engaging.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
This chart helps to illustrate the breakdown for each of the rider modes. Triumph illustration.

With Sport and Track modes, the rider is given full power with an unrestricted throttle response. While in Sport mode, ABS engages in the same way as with Rain and Road but traction control engages much later, allowing for even more wheel slip. Track mode is the only selection that restricts the amount of ABS engagement and offers the least intrusive traction control intervention, short of turning it off. If you do wish to turn it off completely, that can be accomplished in the Rider setting.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The NIX30 fork allows for completely independent adjustments for spring preload as well as compression and rebound damping. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The suspension is the most notable upgrade to the RS. Whereas the S utilizes a fully adjustable Showa suspension, the RS gets a complete Öhlins setup. Up front, the RS wears a NIX30 fork with adjustments for compression and rebound damping split between fork tubes, in addition to preload. The monoshock is a TTX36. Unlike the STX shock found on the Street Triple RS, the TTX utilizes a twin-tube design for independent control of the rebound and compression damping circuits along with an adjustable preload collar.

In order to see how all of this performance and technology works, we kicked off our time with the Speed Triple RS by taking it to New Jersey Motorsports Park for a few sessions on the Thunderbolt course.

Riding the Triumph Speed Triple RS

I also tested the Street Triple RS at NJMP last summer, so I figured it would be spot to start. Speaking of starting…

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
Locating the keyless entry ignition switch under the rider's right leg is kind of a pain to get used to. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Turning on the Speed Triple RS proved to be a bit of a challenge. The keyless ignition requires the rider to initiate the ignition via a small switch found on the right side of the motorcycle, just below where the rider’s knee would be located. I’ve used other bikes with keyless ignition and everyone seems to have their own ignition sequence, but this particular setup doesn’t feel intuitive at all.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
I loved these tires on the Street Triple RS and I love them here, as well. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

In most cases you would want to swap out the stock rubber before hitting a track day. That’s not the case with the Speed Triple. Both the S and the RS are wearing Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. Out on the track, they warmed up quickly and offered unparalleled grip from a street tire. I’ve yet to try the new Dunlop Q4s, but considering how these tires performed, I’d have a hard time arguing for swapping to anything else. (Per Triumph, we were running 28 psi in the front tire and 34 psi at the rear.)

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The Speed Triple RS pulls much harder across its entire rev range than the Street Triple RS. Triumph illustration.

The power was noticeably stronger than the Street Triple RS. The additional 30 or so foot-pounds of torque helped to cover rider errors in gear selection. The Speedy also doesn’t rev as high as the Street Triple, so it’s ideal for riders who prefer a gruntier engine.

The brakes were killer, both in feel and power. I was curious as to whether they’d be as good as the M50s on the Street Triple RS, but Brembo is utilizing revised pads, which they claim provide more initial bite and stopping power. From my experience, they do the trick quite nicely.

As I got more comfortable with the bike, I began picking up speed, nearing triple digits on the back straight, maintaining speed through turn four and braking hard into turn five. It was here I felt ABS engage a few times, chirping quickly, before the bike turned in. This didn’t happen after I switched from Sport mode into Track mode.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The Speed Triple's heavier weight is its biggest disadvantage on the track. Photo by Roy Kim.

The biggest disadvantage the Speedy has over the Street is its weight. Compared to the Street Triple RS’s claimed dry weight of 366 pounds, the Speed Triple RS’s additional 53 pounds are quite noticeable. With a claimed dry weight of 419 pounds, I found myself really leveraging my weight against the bike to get it to go where I wanted on the track. (Insert Lemmy joke about how I have plenty of weight to leverage.) The Street Triple RS, by comparison, was much easier to steer.

The stock suspension settings were a bit harsh, so after the first two sessions I swung by the Markbilt Race Bikes trailer to get the suspension dialed in. Mark Rozema is a former racer who now devotes his time to building race bikes and tuning suspensions. He also sets up camp at select track days to help riders with tire swaps and dialing in their suspension settings.

Triumph Speed Triple RS
The Öhlins TTX shock on the RS is an upgrade over the base Showa unit found on the S model. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

After a few tweaks to compression and rebound damping at the front and rear, Mark sent me back out and told me to check in with him at the end of my session. The suspension compliance was night and day after Mark’s adjustments. It was extremely responsive without being overly harsh. It allowed for much more confidence and thus an increase in speed. I gave Mark a big thumbs up accompanied by a lively grin.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The only modification that I had to make to this bike. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Aside from the adjustments to the suspension, the only modifications we made to this bike during our time with it was the addition of Stompgrip tank pads to the Speedy’s fuel tank. The seating position was more aggressive than I remember previous Speed Triples being. Between the rearsets and low-slung handlebar, I felt a lot of my weight being leveraged over the front wheel.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
Taller riders might feel a bit cramped when riding on the track. Photo by Roy Kim.

The Stompgrip pads helped me lock into the tank and better leverage my weight and body position. At six feet, three inches, I found the bump stop of the rear cowl to be a bit intrusive. It locked me in a position a bit closer to the tank than I preferred. I would have liked the ability to move back an additional inch or two.

Leaving the track in the rearview, the seating position didn’t bother me as much on the street. I found the seat to be rather comfortable without being too soft and I preferred the slightly aggressive position. I mean, the original streetfighters were crashed sport bikes that were rebuilt without the fairings and possibly with a handlebar instead of clip-ons. They were designed for speed, not comfort, yet this Speedy splits the difference nicely.

Speed Triple RS Review
Stop-and-go traffic is painful with a bike that has as much hitch in its giddyup as this one does. Photo by Roy Kim.

I rode this bike to a couple events in the city and, much like the Street Triple RS, I don’t like it as a city bike. It’s just too much. It wants to moooooove. Stop-and-go traffic, red lights, stop signs, and the Philadelphia pothole situation just made me tense while riding this bike. I much preferred to use it to escape the city.

This bike found its happy spot out in the countryside. Unlike the Street Triple RS, which has to be wound up to hit its peak power (a characteristic which makes it ideal for track use), the Speedy makes more torque off idle than the Street maxes out at. What I like about the delivery, however, is that it doesn’t hit too hard right out of the gate. Rather the power climbs strongly and evenly before leveling out. I never really found it to be intimidating.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The Street Mode is the way to go for sporty riding on the street. Photo by Roy Kim.

I did, however, prefer to switch the ride mode back to the Street setting from a throttle perspective. The Sport and Track modes worked great in the aggressive racetrack environment, but they were way too twitchy for real-world street riding. We actually saw the same thing with the riding modes on the Street Triple RS, which is kinda cool when you think about it. Their electronics suite interface is nearly identical between the two bikes, which makes it really easy to move from one bike to another within their line.

I wasn’t paying attention at the office one day and ol’ Lem Lem stole her out from under me. Hence, the big guy has some thoughts he’d like to share as well from his perspective.

Lemmy’s one tank of gas

I stole this bike with Spurg’s full track setup. He asked me not to touch any of the settings, and I was pretty happy to oblige. The bike was, as Spurg has mentioned, much easier to use on the street simply because It wasn’t champing at the bit to be unleashed the whole time. With that out of the way, though, this bike feels less like a street machine to me with each iteration. The brakes are phenomenal, and it makes stupid power. (Yeah, I know it’s “underpowered” compared to some of its competitors, but the fact remains: there’s an ignorant-fast engine stuffed into this motorcycle).

Speed Triple RS Review
The Speedy prefers stretching its legs on long walks outside of the city limits. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Brakes are sublime, and the suspension, even though not set up for me, was clearly top-notch. I disagree with Spurgie on the ergonomics being comfortable. The riding position is so much more aggressive than I ever remember a Speedy being. Here’s the thing, though: It’s too much. I know Spurg seems to like it, but I just don’t need componentry this nice for a backroad burner, nor do I need to be in nearly a full tuck to plonk around the Pennsylvania countryside. I’m sure that sounds nutty, but the whole bike just seems like overkill for the street to me. I’d love to take it to the track and see how it performed, but for me, this bike has taken a serious turn to performance. That’s not what I want, but for those who have long lamented the fact that nakeds are watered-down versions of a race-rep, the Speedy will likely be just the ticket.

The competition

Let’s make a list of all the possible bikes that the Speed Triple RS could consider its competition: 

The Yamaha FZ-09, XSR900, and FZ-10, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R, BMW's S 1000 R, any flavor of Ducati Monster, Kawasaki's Z900, Honda's new CB1000R, the Aprillia Tuono V4 1100 Factory, Suzuki's GSX-S1000, and Triumph’s own Street Triple RS. Not all of those are direct apples-to-apples comparisons, but the list does show that buyers shopping for a streetfighter have a lot more options than there were 24 years ago.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The Speed Triple faces more competition in the streetfighter category than ever before. Photo by Roy Kim.

The main bikes that I would pluck from that list as being most evenly matched would be the KTM, Aprillia, Ducati (1200 R), and BMW. And while all of these bikes make more horsepower, Triumph holds its own by matching them with sophisticated electronics, killer brakes and suspension, and lower MSRP of $16,350 (depending on how you configure your BMW). But I think the biggest competition will be from within Triumph’s own lineup.

For many folks considering the Speed Triple S for $14,350, the real temptation may be the Street Triple RS at $12,500. While it doesn’t have the the brute strength or IMU of its bigger brother, the smaller Street Triple is a more nimble, higher revving package for folks looking for a naked bike for both street and track use. It really comes down to what you’re looking for and how you prefer to ride. I think for most people, the decision will come down to price and power delivery.

Triumph Speed Triple RS Review
The RS is the most sophisticated Speed Triple ever. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Conclusion

The Speed Triple has come a long way from its introduction back in 1994. It’s helped change the way riders look at sport riding on the street, combining comfort with performance. Our very own Lance Oliver was an early adopter with a 1997 version (the first year for fuel injection and the bug-eye headlights) that currently has more 108,000 miles on the dash. Now, Triumph is trying to shift perceptions again and show that a naked bike can work on the track, too. The RS versions of the Street and Speed Triples are an attempt to give riders everything in one package: A bike that can be fun and comfortable on the street yet aggressive and competitive on the racetrack.

And if you’re one of those people out there like Lem who believes that a track bike is a track bike and a streetfighter is just that, a stripped-down bike that belongs on the street, then fear not. Triumph still has a Speed Triple S for that.

2018 Triumph Speed Triple RS
Price $16,350
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC, inline three-cylinder
Displacement 1,050 cc
Power 148 horsepower @ 10,500 rpm*
Torque 86 foot/pounds @ 7,150 rpm*
Transmission six gears
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slip-assist clutch
Front Suspension Öhlins 43 mm NIX30 fork, adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear Suspension Öhlins TTX36 monoshock with preload, rebound and compression damping
Suspension travel front/rear  4.7 / 5.1 inches (120/130 mm)
Front Brake Twin Brembo four-piston Monobloc radial calipers
Rear Brake two-piston sliding caliper
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR17; 190/55ZR17
Trail 3.59 inches (91.3 mm)
Steering head angle 22.9 degrees
Wheelbase 56.89 inches (1,445 mm)
Seat height 32.48 inches (825 mm)
Tank capacity 4.1 gallons (15.5 liters)
Dry Weight  416 pounds (189 kg) *
*as claimed by the manufacturer