I never was much of a hooligan, even in those impetuous youthful years when one is supposed to be a tearaway. Whether it was concern for my fellow motorists, fear of insurance company premiums or simple cowardice, I always preferred the surreptitious wheelie to overtly scoffing of the law. And now that I am on the geriatric side of 50, the chances of my rediscovering any youthful impetuosity are remote indeed. But were I looking to discover my inner hooligan, proclaim it in a loud brash of thundering exhaust and tail-wagging stoppies, I'd do it on this bike: the Triumph's Speed Triple.
This is a motorcycle with a chip on its shoulder. Were it human, it would probably steal your car and crash it into your house. With Triumph's Arrow accessory exhaust fitted to my tester, the thing barked, spit and snarled like a pit bull. If it just drooled raw fuel out the twin Arrow exhaust cans, the whole frothing-at-the-mouth impression of a barely controllable guard dog would be complete.
There's bite to its bark as well. Most bikes in this category are either screaming inline fours or thundering V-twins; the first needs lots of revs to motivate, the second runs out of breath when pushed hard. But, like most Triumphs - at least of the sporting variety - the Speed Triple is powered by the industry's only mass-produced three-cylinder engine. Like the Laverdas (the last mass-produced three before Triumph came along) of yore, the Speed Triple may have an attitude - all bad - but it is mated to one of the best powerbands in the business, offering the wheelie-right-now low-end punch of a big-inch twin with most of the top-end rush of the aforementioned Japanese sport bike. Indeed, throttle response may be a little too immediate. Not only does the 1,050cc double overhead camshaft, four-valve three have oodles of low-end oomph, throttle response from the fuel injection is instantaneous enough to border on the abrupt.
Triumphs fitted with aftermarket pipes often suffer from hyperactive throttle disease (at least that's what I'm going to tell the officer) though it might even out with a little refinement in the fuel mapping. Triumph could probably solve the problem by installing ride-by-wire EFI or a dual-butterfly throttle body à la Suzuki GSX-R. Speed Triple owners, on the other hand, might not appreciate the gentrification.
The Speed Triple's handling is equally as twitchy. Quick to change direction, it never met a pothole that didn't send it straying offline. The suspension - Showa inverted front fork and monoshock (with damping and preload adjustability) - offers excellent damping, but the Speed Triple's chassis geometry and, I suspect, forward weight bias make it extremely eager to change directions.
Once in a corner, though, it needs to be muscled to hold a line, requiring a forceful countersteer or a committed knee-drag to keep it where you want it to go. It's not that it handles badly. Au contraire, once healed over, it corners very well. But like the canine metaphors I've been trotting out, either you teach the Speed Triple who's boss or it can get very unruly indeed.
The odd thing is that, despite all this youthful rambunctiousness, the Speed Triple is very comfortable for old bones. The handlebars, presumably to make wheelies easier, are quite high and the seat cosseting. Because the seat is also high, the footpeg position is fairly relaxed. There's no wind protection to speak off (the small flyscreen is barely an affectation), but the slightly canted-forward seating position bucks the wind nicely. The suspension is firmish, but not decidedly so, and though the engine may misbehave aurally, it doesn't actually vibrate much.
Indeed, the Speed Triple might make an ideal urban vehicle, if you're idea of commuting was riding everywhere at blinding speed, more often than not riding on only the back wheel.
While the rest of the motorcycling crowd - and yes, I am including all you Hog riders out there - may have been gentrified, the Speed Triple is proof that motorcyclists are still rebels at heart.