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Common Tread

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS first ride review

Oct 11, 2019

When Spurgeon reviewed the 2018 Triumph Street Triple RS, Lemmy tagged along for the video and wondered aloud whether the RS had gotten too far away from the "Street" part of its name in pursuit of becoming more track-worthy. I could say that Triumph must have been listening to Lemmy, but the truth is, he wasn't the only one saying it.

Despite its higher cost and more high-strung nature, the Street Triple RS still outsold the base S and the up-spec but street-oriented R models. For 2020, Triumph has revised the Street Triple RS with the aim of keeping it capable of track-day performance while putting more "Street" back in it.

"This generation of the RS keeps the best of the RS and takes some of the things that are loved about the R," said Triumph Head of Brand Management Miles Perkins. "This is the character of the R with all the performance of the RS."

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS
The 2020 Triumph Street Triple RS has been revised to work better on the street and just as good at the track. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

So how did Triumph do in meeting that goal? I'll get to the riding impressions below, but the executive summary is that Triumph took a balanced, relatively light and very competent performance street bike and updated it to meet Euro 5 emissions standards while improving the nature of the power output. Plus, they addressed what was really my only complaint about the 2018 Street Triple RS. But first, let's look at what Triumph did and did not change for 2020.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS
"Matt Jet Black" is the other color option, in addition to the "Silver Ice" bikes Triumph had on hand for the press intro. Triumph photo.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS: What's new

As Spurgeon's review of the previous model noted, the somewhat tall first and second gear and the focus on top-end power made the RS less user-friendly in an urban setting, though it also made it better suited to the track. The revisions for 2020 were aimed at keeping the top end while improving the mid-range. The lower gear ratios were revised and Triumph changed the intake duct and exhaust cam on the engine. Changes to various parts yielded a seven percent reduction in rotational inertia. The result is nine percent more torque at 8,000 rpm, said Triumph Chief Engineer Stuart Woods. Peak torque also occurs lower, at 9,350 rpm compared to 10,800 rpm on the current version. Peak horsepower claimed by Triumph is unchanged: 121 at 11,750 rpm, exactly 1,000 rpm before the rev limiter kicks in. The chart below compares the torque output of the 2020 model against the current 765 cc Street Triple RS.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS torque chart
Triumph graphic.

We're used to hearing about engineers adding valve overlap — the time both intake and exhaust valves are open in the cylinder — to increase power, but that's top-end power, typically. In this case, the engineers reduced valve overlap. The engine changes work with a new exhaust to provide the mid-range boost while complying with Euro 5, Woods said. The exhaust is freer flowing and uses two catalytic converters. But don't worry, it still tucks away as tidy as before and Triumph even claims it sounds better. Here's a video clip of the bike rolling by on the roads of Spain that might let you decide that for yourself.

Another change for 2020 is the quickshifter for both upshifts and downshifts, which is now standard on the RS. Woods said other changes in the transmission complement the quickshifter so it works better. Higher precision machining allowed removal of anti-backlash gears in the transmission for reduced mass.

Why the addition of the quickshifter as standard kit and not, for example, an Inertial Measurement Unit to add lean-sensitive ABS and traction control? It's simply a response to customer demand, Perkins said. Street Triple buyers wanted the quickshifter. They cared less about an IMU. Also, Triumph is sensitive to keeping the Street Triple relatively affordable. It's definitely no budget bike and bits and pieces from brakes to suspension and the electronics all reflect a clear step up in quality, but Triumph has been able to sell more than 90,000 Street Triples since the model was invented by keeping the price in check. An IMU would push the cost higher.

In addition to the changes in the engine, the new RS gets some styling updates. They are subtle but, to my eye, effective.

Street Triple RS turn signals
Don't expect to see these svelte turn signals on U.S. models, much less the accessory ones that light the LEDs sequentially to indicate a turn. We get the bulbous kind the DOT approves of. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

The original Street Triple, following the example of the Speed Triple, had the round headlights in chrome shells. The look was inspired by the homemade "streetfighters" that created the genre: Riders took crashed sport bikes, stripped off the rashed fairings, bolted on a handlebar and aftermarket headlights and had a comfortably upright motorcycle with ergonomics suited for urban use and still with all the performance of a race replica. Triumph just capitalized on that by giving you a streetfighter from the factory, saving you the trouble of having to crash first and source parts.

new face of the Triumph Street Triple RS
The new face of the Triumph Street Triple RS: new LED headlights dominated by prominent daytime running lights. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

From the minute Triumph binned those original round, chrome headlights, some riders have been unhappy with the looks of both the Speed and Street Triples and Triumph has tinkered with the headlights since. The changes to the look for 2020 are most obvious from the front, with the more prominent daytime running lights over the LED headlights. (Due to regulations, the daytime running lights on U.S. models will be somewhat less bright than on the European models shown in these photos.) But the change I find interesting is best seen from the side. I think part of the reason some riders never liked the new headlights is because from the side view they appeared to be sticking out in front of the motorcycle, rather than integrated into its profile, and the black plastic housing appeared large. All that is trimmed down slightly on the 2020 RS. Will it win over those who are still lobbying for the return of the old chromed pots? Likely not. But I suspect fewer people will find anything to complain about.

Triumph Street Triple RS headlights
From the side view, the headlights still protrude from the motorcycle, but the size of the housing has been decreased. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

So that's too much talk about headlights. At the other end, the tail section gets the flow-through duct-like shapes that we've seen lately on high-performance bikes ranging from the Ducati Panigale V4 to the Yamaha YZF-R6. On the RS, you continue to get the belly pan and the rear seat cowl (interchangeable with the pillion) standard. Examples of other detail changes include different finishes on parts such as the heel guards, a branded handlebar clamp, a new shape for the bar-end mirrors and carbon fiber trim on the exhaust can.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS tail section
The redesigned tail section with the seat cowl, which replaces the rear seat and is included on the RS. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

The TFT dash has been updated and an optional accessory module allows Bluetooth connectivity. That allows you to control your phone or GoPro camera through the controls for the dash. Using the MyTriumph app, you can also get navigation assistance. Select your route in the app while stopped and then the screen will display graphic icons to indicate turns.

The 2020 Street Triple RS will be available in two colors: the "Silver Ice" version seen in the riding photos, which has red decals for accents, and a "Matt Jet Black" version with yellow decal accents.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS on the road
The roads in Spain were enviably smooth and Circuit Cartagena was newly repaved, so about the only jolt to the suspension all day came from the speed bumps. The suspension is unchanged, so I'm assuming it's like before: on the firm side for urban use. It did work well at the track and on the smooth roads we enjoyed. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

Street Triple RS: What's not new

The 2020 model is a revision, not a total redesign, and there's much that hasn't changed. That's good, because there was a lot to like about the previous model.

While the Triumph team worked on the engine, the chassis and suspension stayed the same. You still get the 41 mm Showa Big Piston fork, an Öhlins STX40 rear shock and the Brembo M50 four-piston front calipers and a Brembo single-piston rear caliper that Spurgeon raved about on the previous model. The Brembo radial master cylinder has a brake lever that's adjustable for both span and its ratio of engagement, so you can fine-tune the feel — a quality touch.

Triumph Street Triple RS adjustable brake lever
The brake lever is adjustable for reach and ratio. Nice touch. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

The RS provides the same five rider modes: Rain, Road, Sport, Track and Rider, the latter of which can be used to set up a customized array of settings to suit your preferences. Rain mode limits power, while the others provide full power. As you can see in the chart below, the rider modes affect the throttle map, level of ABS intervention and traction control, but some modes share the same settings for certain parameters. Traction control can be switched off in the customized Rider mode, but ABS cannot be turned off.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS rider modes
Triumph graphic.

Another thing that's not new is the price, despite the updates. MSRP in the United States is $12,550 for the RS and it should be available at dealers in November. 

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS in Spain
Riding the Street Triple RS in Spain. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

Riding the 2020 Street Triple RS

Our introduction to the RS consisted of a ride from the Circuit Cartagena race track out to the seaside town of Puerto de Mazarrón, through a few small towns and the Sierra de la Muela, Cabo Tiñoso y Roldán Nature Preserve and back to the track, where we had three sessions as we shared bikes with writers mostly from the U.K. and Canada. So not a lot of time riding, but a very good time riding.

Triumph makes a point of emphasizing that the Street Triple is the lightest in its class, a claimed 366 dry weight for the 2020 model. I suppose in part that depends on how you define the class, but by any measure the new bike retains the lightweight, compact feel the line has always been known for. The neutral, natural ergonomics make this a motorcycle I could ride all day long, wanting for nothing except some wind protection.

The slipper and assist clutch is light, the brakes are as good as Spurgeon said they were and within a few miles I just feel comfortable with the bike. It always takes me a little time reach an understanding with any motorcycle I'm riding for the first time. With the Street Triple RS, I'm comfortable almost immediately.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS
The Brembo brakes work great. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

I only rode the previous model for one afternoon, so I didn't give it the thorough evaluation the other Zillans did, and it's always dangerous to compare the bike I'm riding today to the one I rode last year. Just the same, I definitely felt that the improved mid-range was significant. So, having started out in Road mode, it was time to test the new bike in the one area where I felt the old one came up short. I switched into Sport mode.

You see, my one complaint about the previous Street Triple RS (which I only rode on the street) was that Sport mode was nearly useless. It made the bike feel like someone had dumped a load of caffeine in the gas tank, making a motorcycle that was otherwise a joy to ride feel jittery. Riding is less fun for me when I'm having to work harder to try to be smooth, and since Road mode provided the same power, I saw no reason to switch into Sport. In his review, Spurgeon preferred Road mode, too.

I was relieved to find that twitchiness is not a problem on the new RS. Riding the 2020 RS in Sport or Track modes provides the same throttle map (only ABS and traction control are different between the two sportiest modes), and it's no longer a struggle for me to be smooth on the gas. (Well, no more of a struggle than usual.) Woods told me that the difference I was feeling had more to do with the changes to the engine than changes to the throttle response. All I know is that it's a significant improvement, in my opinion, to the one thing I disliked about the previous RS.

Sport mode on the current model seemed superfluous, but on the 2020 model it's well suited to its intent, appropriate for use when you hit a twisty road solo. Road mode works fine for daily riding and provides a bit more of a safety net.

Street Triple RS at Circuit Cartagena
We only had three sessions at the track to get used to the Street Triple RS, but it's an easy bike to get comfortable with. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

After the street ride, we had a few sessions at the track. Circuit Cartagena is a constantly twisting track with modest elevation changes and only one real straight, which made it a good venue for displaying the RS's handling. Most of the lap was spent in second or third gear. As your everyday, non-racer track-day rider, I can probably ride around a track just as fast on the Street Triple RS as I can on a race replica sport bike. There are some drawbacks. The front end more easily gets light when I come over a rise or accelerate out of the last corner onto the straight, even if I didn't want it to. And of course there's no fairing to tuck behind at the end of that straight. But, for a rider like me, it's hard to say the RS gives up much to a race replica sport bike on the track. For the many ex-racers in the crowd, the inability to turn off the ABS was an issue sometimes. Maybe I can't brake better than ABS can, but a few people can.

Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires
The Triumph Street Triple RS comes wearing Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires, which work great on the track. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

The quickshifter works well, though like some other riders I found that downshifts at the end of the straight, while slowing for turn one, were hard to accomplish without the clutch and I found myself upsetting the bike as I tried to get down to second gear. A little light pressure on the clutch made everything smoother. The rest of the lap, I never had need to touch the clutch lever if I didn't want to.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS
2020 Triumph Street Triple RS — a little more "Street." Photo by Kingdom Creative.

Conclusion: Who's it for?

The previous Street Triple RS was a bike you could take to the track one day and comfortably ride to work on a mundane commute the next. There was a price to be paid, however. The bike was a bit touchy in Sport mode and by the time you accessed its peak power you were in flagrant disregard on the street. The 2020 RS is just as powerful up top, has even more track-worthy features such as the quickshifter, but it's now a better street bike.

So where does that leave the lower spec S and R Street Triple models? Triumph was determined to keep the focus on the RS at this intro, so Perkins would only say, "We're working on other bikes." Personally, if I were in charge of Triumph's lineup, I'd at least trim the Street Triple line from three models to two, now that the RS is more of a combination of the previous R and RS. I could see having a less expensive R version for street-only riders and the RS for street and track riders, with those two covering all the bases.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS on the track
If you want one bike for both performance street riding and track days, the Street Triple RS makes a compelling argument for itself. Photo by Kingdom Creative.

If you're a frequent track-day rider who's expert enough that the RS is holding you back on the track, then frankly you're probably going to be better off buying a used sport bike and converting it to track-only use. And you've probably already done that.

But if you happen to be the performance-minded street rider who does a track day or two per year and who wants (or can only have) just one bike in the garage that can do it all, it's harder to find a more versatile option than the Street Triple RS.

2020 Triumph Street Triple RS
Price (MSRP) $12,550
Engine type Liquid-cooled, inline triple, four valves per cylinder
Displacement 765 cc
Bore x stroke 77.99 mm x 53.4 mm
Compression ratio 12.54:1
Torque/horsepower 58 foot/pounds @ 9,350 rpm; 121.36 @ 11,750
Transmission Six gears, quickshifter for upshifts and downshifts
Front suspension 41 mm inverted Showa BPF fork; adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension Öhlins STX40 fully adjustable shock
Front brake Twin 310 mm floating discs, Brembo four-piston radially mounted monoblock calipers, ABS
Rear brake Single 220 mm disc, single-piston caliper
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR17; 180/55ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Steering head angle/trail 23.9 degrees/4.0 inches
Wheelbase 55.5 inches
Seat height 33.1 inches
Tank capacity 4.6 gallons
Dry weight 366 pounds