by Adam Waheed

2009 Triumph Street Triple R

Smoke, tire screeching and sirens. Not the kind of things any of us want to encounter, especially during a motorcycle ride. But when you’re aboard the new 2009 Triumph Street Triple R these are some of the situations that come with the territory, often good but also bad – if you get caught.

So where was the smoke coming from? The rear tire of course. The screeching? Again, rear tire. And the siren? Well, that was an ambulance zooming past in the opposite direction, but it could have just as well been the police because when you’re on this bike you suddenly change.

We’ve felt this way before. In fact, when we rode last year’s original Street Triple this same feeling of lawlessness overpowered our every action. From the moment you hit the starter button to the time you drop the kickstand down, it is as if you relent total control to Triumph’s middleweight streetfighter.

Blame it on its ridiculously friendly liquid-cooled 675cc Inline Three engine, pulled from last year’s Daytona 675 Supersport (however, retuned with a lower redline and different camshaft profiles for increased low and mid-range torque). Simply put, the engine is a masterpiece. It is as mild or wild as your right wrist commands. A flat and no doubt purposely controlled spread of power is achieved right from the bottom sweep of the tach needle making wheelies in first gear mandatory. As the rpm’s climb, so does engine power, but it rises in such a linear fashion that within seconds you’ll be stabbing at the gearshift lever with all seven blue shift lights screaming for relief. This much fun should be illegal; unfortunately some of the time it is.

Adding to the exhilarating thrill of acceleration is the Triple’s unique engine octave. A few pumps of the throttle in neutral and the engine lets out a high-pitched whine. In gear, that whine is quickly trumped by an induction roar that gets progressively deeper, then all of a sudden morphs back into a shriek as the engine hovers near its 12,650 redline (1300 revs shy of the ’09 Daytona 675).

Keeping the engine out of the red and accelerating forward is accomplished via the same six-speed transmission as the original Street Triple, as is the manual cable-actuated clutch. The transmission continues to prove it’s the definition of “close-ratio” as it features gears stacked right next to each other. Add in the Street Triple’s lower final-drive gearing and it’s a recipe for constant left foot work. It’s a small price to pay, however, because with an engine as good as the Triumph’s you’re going to want to keep the throttle pinned as much and as long as possible.

Although the Street Triple’s powertrain doesn’t make use of a slipper clutch (which is becoming increasingly standard for high-performance streetbikes such as this one), the combination of its minimal engine braking and progressive clutch action counteract the lower drive gearing and make it easy not to miss.

So by now you’re probably wondering, ‘Jeez, the R -spec sounds just like last year’s Street Triple, is anything even different?’ Well, yes. The chassis is where the R-spec and regular Street Triple differ.

One of the only drawbacks we found with last year’s Street Triple was its suspension. Although it’s versatile for a variety of riders in all weights and skill levels, it’s definitely on the soft side. And combined with its lack of adjustment (completely non-adjustable with the exception of the rear shock spring preload) it remains the limiting factor when blasting around at speed.

Triumph answered by delivering the R-spec Triple with a 3-way adjustable (preload, compression and rebound) inverted fork and equally adjustable gas-charged rear shock. With the factory settings you’ll notice a tauter feel, front and rear, without it being harsh or jarring. This pays dividends when you’re loading the fork while jamming on the front brakes, charging into a corner hard. However, back out the preload and compression adjustment on the fork and it begins to feel soft and springy similar to the non R-spec Triple’s suspension. Adjustability is paramount and with the R you get the best of both worlds.

Another difference is the R’s higher-spec front brake calipers. Larger radial-mount 4-piston Nissin calipers grab onto a pair of similar-sized 308mm rotors, now with a new Nissin radial-pump master cylinder powering the set-up through stainless-steel brake lines. Out back the same 220mm disc is clamped down by a Nissin single-piston caliper and braided line.

We thought last year’s Street Triple had an above average set of brakes so we were optimistic about the upgraded Nissin’s. But our first ride let us down as initial front brake performance wasn’t on par with the sum of its components, even with around 1000 miles on the odometer. After a few hard stops, the brake pads did finally bed-in and performance improved significantly. As the bike sits now, the brakes are more than enough power to flip you over the handlebar, fortunately there’s also plenty of feel so fast, rear-wheel-in-the-air stops are simple and fun. Just like last year’s Street Triple, the rear brake is about as good as it gets. And with the bikes short wheelbase, low seat height and centralized 425 pounds of mass, it makes for perfect rear brake sideways antics.

Like the standard Street Triple, the R gets the identical frame and swingarm as this year’s Daytona 675. Though where the base Street Triple makes use of slightly less aggressive chassis geometry, the R gets identical numbers (23.9 degrees rake, 92.4mm trail) to the Daytona 675, including the ability to modify the pivot angle of the swingarm if desired.

On paper the R should turn sharper than the standard Triple, but we couldn’t tell any difference. What we did notice is that the Triumph’s agility remains as good as ever. Likewise, its stability, even at high speeds on rough pavement, is extremely planted. Also notable is the continued fitment of Dunlop’s versatile Qualifier rubber and we continue to be impressed with the tire’s quick warm-up times, mild steering manners and outstanding level of outright grip.

The R’s cockpit is a mix of old and new. The seat features a new double-stitched two-tone cover and is now slightly taller (5mm). Magura aluminum handlebars replace the steel bars yet retain the same slightly elevated position and bend. Another plus is the front brake lever now offers 6-position adjustment.

Compared to even a Supersport motorcycle, the Street Triple R feels small. The combination of its slim engine dimensions, short length front-to-rear and low center of gravity make it one of the easiest motorcycles to control. Period. Our only complaint is that handlebar movement is limited due to the steering lock, which makes tight quarters maneuvering more difficult than it should be.

The same slick-looking instrument panel returns and seems to have more onboard functions than the space shuttle. A big sweep tachometer is easy to see at a glance as are the digital speedo and standard warning lights. But when you try to use functions like the lap timer, miles-per- gallon, average speed, and other engine functions, it’s confusing. Further complicating things are the three small buttons on the base of the panel, which are hard to access with or without gloves. Even worse, once you figure out how to navigate through the menus, getting each function to reset is impossible unless you practically study the manual. It’s all way too complicated.

So is the Street Triple R right for you and is it worth the $800 up-charge over the standard Street Triple? Well, if you’re the type of person who has little self-restraint, than this motorcycle will not be for you. It’s one of the few bikes that possess the right combination of power, weight and size, which make it all too easy to get in trouble on a Mad Max maniac binge, and it’s just so much fun. And now with the R’s more competent suspension and brakes, it’s equally as rowdy through the corners. Quite the combination, only downside being you may be attending traffic school quite soon…