MotorcycleUSA Staff

2008 Triumph Speed Triple First Ride

The Smokey Mountains are living up to their name today, with a hazy mist shrouding the forested slopes. Drizzling rain contributes an overcast mood, which is punctured by the vibrant blur of pink Dogwood blossoms flashing roadside. All we need is the call of songbirds to complete the naturalist revelry, but the only sound reaching this rider’s ear is the deep, rich roar of the 2008 Triumph Speed Triple carving its way through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

A perennial favorite of ours, the iconic Speed Triple was one of four bikes on hand when MotorcycleUSA arrived for the Triumph Urban Sport press launch in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Surrounded by some of the best motorcycle roads in the Lower 48, the first half of our day was occupied by Triumph’s mostly unchanged Sprint ST, Tiger and Daytona 675 (the subject of future riding evaluation). The afternoon, however, allowed us to dig into the new 2008 Speed Triple.

Beginning life as the personal side project of a Triumph designer, the Speed Triple has been the hot-selling cornerstone of the British firm for 14 years now. The S3’s success was immediate, selling 1100 units in its 1994 debut – 16% of the fledgling marque’s sales that year. Redesigns in 1996 and 1999 saw the introduction of the trademark bug-eye headlamps and increasing popularity, with some fellow named Tom Cruise riding a Speed Triple in Mission Impossible II and another Hollywood cameo for the S3 in The Matrix. Also increasing were the Speed’s sales numbers and engine displacement, with the last significant redesign, in 2005, bumping the Triple up to its current 1050cc trim. For 2008, the Speed Triple is billed by Triumph as an all-new design, with top-line Brembo brakes and yet another styling facelift.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures: Mission Impossible II

The 2008 S3 still looks like the prototypical streetfighter, but with a subtle makeover courtesy of the Italian-based Marabese design firm – the same folks responsible for the Tiger 1050 redesign.

Up front the fork now sports a black-anodized finish, with the engine area cleaned up by new radiator shrouds and the addition of a sprocket cover and cable guide, as well as new headlamp bowls to house the signature twin lights. A silver-anodized Magura handlebar also freshens up the front, with the biggest ’08 change being, of course, the new four-piston radial-mount Brembo brakes – but more on that later.

Out back is a new seat with roomier pillion accommodations atop a redesigned subframe and rear bodywork. Another striking visual upgrade is the new multi-spoke alloy wheels, the flowery design particularly eye-catching on the single-sided rear swingarm. Triumph claims the new hoops reduce front-wheel inertia by 5%.

The ’08 S3 is also now available in Black Matte and Blaze Orange, which this tester found the most fetching. The new hues join the returning Jet Black and Fusion White configurations.

(The Italian connection with the S3 isn’t confined to the Marabase designers, with the Speed Triple a perennial best seller in Italy. In fact, credit the fashion-conscious Italians for getting Triumph to make the Speed Triple in white, as the deluge of rider requests from The Boot saw white introduced in 2006, where it managed to out-sell the previous best-selling black.)

Riders can further customize their S3 with a bounty of accessory-painted or carbon fiber bolt-on parts. The small front cowling, in particular, makes a tasteful addition to the S3’s minimalist naked look, kind of like those fluffy-toed heels on a Victoria’s Secret model.

While a visual treat, the S3 is still an auditory feast, thanks to that distinctive 1050cc Inline-Three. Enhancing the Triple’s sound and performance are aftermarket pipes from Arrow. The track-only, 3-into-1 “Low Boy” pipe – which was fitted onto the S3 used in our 2007 Streetfighter Comparo – returns for 2008, along with new dual-canister slip-on units. The Arrow slip-ons are street legal but sport internal dB killers that are conveniently easy to remove… Draw your own conclusions about why.

Our testing posse sampled S3s sporting stock cans and both Arrow systems. One of the slip-on units was, ahem, modified, and, yes, they were indeed loud. The Arrow systems come with weight savings and, we assume, performance increases (our 2007 Low-Boy-equipped S3 tester recorded a 13 hp 5 lb-ft increase over stock).

Not that the quieter stock cans really need the extra juice, as that unmistakable Triple sound with rumbling backbeat is as strong as ever. Unchanged for ’08, with the same 79 x 71.4mm bore and stroke, the grin-inducing plant still cranks out abundant torque. Useable power churns out right off the bottom end and builds up to the indicated 10K redline. Throttle response is crisp and power delivery is user-friendly but full of raw character.

Clutch engagement is smooth and sliding through the precise 6-speed transmission is trouble-free, although not quite as slick as the gearboxes on some of its Japanese rivals.

Headlining the ’08 spec sheet are the only Brembo stoppers in the entire Triumph lineup, and they deserve the top billing. The S3’s brakes have evolved from the mushy Nissin units we complained about in 2006 to the much-improved Nissin calipers from last year (the key change was a new piston coating). Now the S3’s brakes are some of the best in the business – radial-mount four-piston calipers clamping down on a pair of 320mm rotors, which feature a new hole pattern to increase heat dissipation.

Triumph promised one-finger stopping power with the Brembos and, boy, they weren’t kidding. As our testing entourage motored through the crooked roads and rugged beauty of Southeastern Tennessee, there was ample opportunity to test the claim. Utilizing the same Nissan radial master cylinder as the Daytona 675, the S3 brakes deliver an incredible initial bite and excellent feel at the lever. Triumph asserts braking power increases of 14%. While our minds can’t calibrate to such precise conclusions, the stoppers certainly are improved.

Yes, the Brembo brakes are the star upgrade, but we also enjoyed the upswept Magura handlebar. A popular accessory upgrade on the previous S3, the new Magura bar is silver anodized 4mm-thick aluminum with the Triumph moniker etched into the top. It is a definite styling upgrade over its cheaper-looking chrome predecessor and the high-placed Magura unit provides abundant leverage for quick turn-ins.

Combine that handlebar leverage with a more-than-capable suspension set-up and the S3 is an agile playmate in the corners. Unchanged internally, the adjustable 43mm Showa fork and rear monoshock deliver stability and suck up road imperfections. Pressed hard the 416-lb (claimed dry) Triumph picks up and dips in without trouble, although it may still be outclassed in this department by some of its aggressive Italian competitors like the Aprilia Tuono and Ducati Monster.

Mix the Triple motor with the straightforward handling and the S3 is a bike that is very easy to ride very fast. This is a good thing, most of the time, but makes it difficult to conform to the state of Tennessee’s stringent MPH limits. Or, even worse, the draconian enforcement by the Federales on 25 mph stretches inside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park . But we digress, as that is another story entirely.

The S3 riding position is unchanged from 2007, at least for the rider, as new passenger footpeg placement provides 50mm (2 inches) more leg room. The upright, standard position felt good to my 6′ 1″ frame, with the only gripe being that toward the end of the day the new seat felt stiff on the old backside. We’ll reserve official sore-seat condemnation, however, as most of our time on the S3 came during the final miles of a long, wet day in the saddle.

At the controls, the attractive digital speedo and analog tach, with helpful shift lights, both come framed in a new case. The case itself is the same one found on the new Street Triple, as are the Arrowhead turn signal indicators. Our lone sniveling stab at the instrumentation is the absence of a gear position indicator.

With an asking price of $10,299, the Speed Triple is a bargain compared to some of its European counterparts, although, again, the Japanese have an advantage here, with the Kawasaki Z1000 retailing at $8,899.

But what it all comes down to, in the end, is a question of character. And the reason why the Speed Triple, and Triumph as a whole, has risen from the ashes is because the British machines plain ooze character. In a world of wailing Japanese Fours and sexy Italian Twins, the knuckle-busting Triumph Triple has carved out and held its own unique place in the motorcycling world. With rides like the Speed Triple, we don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.