Reee-haa! It was 8am on a nearly empty Srinakarin Road, and I couldn’t have been more excited if you’d given me 10 million dollars and set my legs on fire. Betwixt my gripping thighs was a Triumph Speed Triple 675R, hurtling me like a flesh and bone torpedo along this excellent patch of bitumen smoothness at a speed that shall remain anonymous—which it attained from a standstill in a mere handful of seconds. And this on about two-thirds of the available screaming power of its three cylinders.
This is nothing like the Triumph of old— the great, British-style bike exemplified by the more upright classic Bonneville (which they still build, looking very much like its old self, but with modernised brakes, engine, suspension and the rest). The Street Triple is a cutting edge expression of what two-wheeled machinery can now do. Triumph’s best-selling bike is the formerly troubled marque’s way of showing the Japanese how it should be done.
The Triumph brand has had a long, illustrious and often troubled history. Originally launched in 1902 as one of the first bicycle-cum-motorcycle manufacturers, its first motorcycle was a pushbike with a small engine bolted on. World War I was kind to Triumph in the form of government contracts; they boomed along in the 1920s with such accessories as wicker sidecars, nearly got wiped out by the Great Depression after 1929, but had recovered by the late 30s with the Tiger T100, capable of hitting 160km/hr (which on the tyres and roads of the day, would have been quite a thrill).
World War II wasn’t as favourable for the company as the previous war, since its Coventry factory was flattened by intense German bombing. But after the war, Triumph bounced back yet again, selling large numbers in the American market, breaking speed records, and its Thunderbird 6T was the ride of choice for Marlon Brando in 1953’s The Wild One. In the American market, Triumph gave Harley Davidson a good British-style thrashing, holding more than 50 per cent of the US big bike market by 1969, the same year its Bonneville won a record smashing race at the Isle Man TT.
But complacency set in, and the ambitious Japanese motorcycle makers (heavily subsidised by their government, it should be noted), started producing more technologically advanced and competitively priced bikes, with such radical innovations as disc brakes, electric start and four-cylinder motors (that didn’t leak oil), soon leaving the Brits and Americans eating Tokyo’s dust. Bankruptcy followed, then a merger, then another bankruptcy, then a split-off and then another bankruptcy in 1983, when the brand was acquired by John Bloor, a hugely successful developer, who slowly and surely modernised Triumph, made all the right moves in developing technologies (sinking in a couple of hundred million pounds), and now Triumph is the biggest motorcycle maker in the UK and a serious competitor in the global market—with three factories in Thailand.
Which brings us back to early morning December 29, 2016 on Srinakarin Road and the roaring beast I was sitting on. The engine produces the same power—105hp—as Triumph’s last production car, the TR7, did in 1983. This bike, I came to realise during that last too-short journey, is a symphony of mechanical harmonies, wherein everything matches up perfectly to do what it was built to do as well as or better than any bike in its class.
The Street Triple is a looker, albeit in a modern way. While Triumph’s classic modernised Bonneville shouts “Brit bike!” you could probably put a Japanese badge on the Street Triple and only a select few would notice. As with modern cars designed to achieve a particular end, whether comfortable cruising or pure adrenaline-fuelled sport riding, ultra-refined form follows function and results in a lot of design similarities across brands. Except those bug-eye headlights— those are very British... and effective.
It must be said though that the rear fender/license plate holder stands out like the proverbial canine’s testes—a last minute bolt-on piece. (“Oh yeah, we have to keep mud off the rider’s back, right?”) Conveniently, Triumph offers a tail tidier kit for that purpose—for a little extra wonga, of course. A minor complaint in the fit and finish department was a sloppy right taillight that didn’t fit quite right. A minor annoyance, yes, but when you pay 460,000 baht for a bike—enough for a decent small car—it isn’t unreasonable to expect perfection.
The three-cylinder engine is as sweet as blueberry pie—no sloppy assembly here. You can hear and feel the tightness of it. The thing revs much higher than you might reasonably expect—to 12,000rpm, where it hits peak power. This means you can accelerate from 0-120km/hr in first gear—if you can handle it. Theoretically, if you stayed within legal limits, you would never have to shift out of first gear. A 675cc bike used to be considered mid-sized, but not anymore. There is more instant power on tap here than any sane man requires.
The downside of that is the bike has a minimum speed of about 15km/hr—not slow enough for the city. I stalled it four or five times during a miserable hour-long stint filtering through traffic on a bad day on Sukhumvit. If you want to creep, you have to ‘feather’ the clutch constantly, which after 20 minutes has your left hand in arthritic agony. And all the while, the engine is confused. It wants to go fast, and when it can’t, it grumbles. But when you find some open road, the throttle response is instantaneous—almost too much so—and it takes some discipline to get the hang of it.
The Street Triple’s chassis is very, very tight. You feel everything the road has to tell you, and with its 23 degree front fork rake angle, it just loves to turn. It is so sensitive, lane changes are a matter of think and it does. The Street Triple doesn’t like potholes and bumps much though—a prominent feature of Thailand’s urban roads. If it was mine, I would probably commit the sacrilege of softening the adjustable suspension a notch or two, if only to make it easier on the wrists and spine—then firm it up again for mountain roads or a track day— both of which are this bike’s element.
The brakes are excellent. It is as important how well a bike stops as how it goes, especially on a machine that has you cracking the speed limit in about three seconds. The brakes also have ABS, a welcome feature on Bangkok’s polished-by-traffic roads during rainy season.
You couldn’t call this a beginner’s bike. Jumping from a step-through to this would present some death-defying challenges. You’d really want to spend a little time on a closed circuit first, learning how to control its power and handling response, or one overambitious moment could land you in some serious trouble. But it is a fantastic bike in all respects. Ten years after launch and rave reviews, Triumph has nailed this one down. As it roared its way back to the Triumph head office, I really, really did not want to give it back. This one has officially made it to the top of the wish list and is likely to stay there for some time.
Triumph Speed Triple 675R
Engine: 675cc, inline three-cylinder, 12-valve, liquid cooled
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Power: 78kW/105hp @ 11,850rpm
Torque: 68Nm/50 lb-ft @ 9,750rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 3.3sec, quarter mile 11.6sec
Wet weight: 182kg
Price: 460,000 baht