A year with the Triumph Speed 4

One Year and 10,000 miles with the Triumph Speed Four

story by Gabe Ets-Hokin, Feature Editor, Photograph by Jack Heard, Created Jun. 30, 2005
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I've spent a good deal of my time over the last four years selling motorcycles to people, so I can spend a few minutes talking to a person and guess with a fair amount of accuracy what kind of motorcycle they want.

Most of the folks walking into motorcycle shops have never owned a motorcycle, or haven't owned one in a long, long time. When they are younger- from 18 to 30 or so- they want a sportbike. The older ones want standards or cruisers. They usually want one of the Japanese brands, as the common wisdom of car buyers dictates that Japanese = good value and reliability.

There's another kind of buyer as well as the newbie. This buyer has had motorcycles for a long time and rides every single day. He or she wants something fast but sane, well engineered but not boring, and it has to have value. This rider is more experienced and won't be fooled by cheap suspension and braking components, uncomfortable ergonomics, or cheesy gimmicks. She demands a sturdy, well-engineered motorcycle that is engaging to ride and will last for years. They are kind of like the weird old guy in your neighborhood when you were growing up who had a million miles on his diesel Mercedes.

Here's Gabe imagining how happy he'll be after 54 more payments. I'm one of those weird guys, sans 1977 300D. Over a year ago I assisted a rival website in a 700-mile road test of four budget middleweight standards: the Honda 599, the Yamaha FZ-6, the Suzuki SV650 and Triumph's Speed 4.

I decided the 599 was fun, but overpriced and under-suspended. The FZ-6 was too squishy, heavy and no fun when pushed hard. The SV650 is an excellent motorcycle, no doubt, but I had had one for a couple of years already and wanted just a little more power.

It also didn't hurt that I worked in a Triumph dealer and was offered a left-over Speed 4 for way less than dealer invoice. How could I say no, even to the hard-to-get-used-to Roulette Green?

The story really begins in 2002, after Italy's Triumph importer took the fairing off of a TTT600 and slapped on a Speed Triple dual headlamp. Response to the bike excited Triumph enough to develop the Speed 4 as a production model. Triumph's version uses a retuned TT600 engine with new fuel injection management, different throttle bodies, and a pair of long intake snorkels that you either love or hate. I already tried to take 'em off, but the TT600's ram-air intakes lurk underneath like Moray eels in sewer pipes, even uglier than the covers.

Other than that, the bike really is a TT600 without the big, bland fairing. And that's a good thing, as the TT6It's a solid, reliable and plenty powerful motor. 00 really shines in the handling department with a beefy, aluminum-alloy twin-spar frame and stout 41mm fully-adjustable cartridge forks. Braking is also very good with a pair of four-piston calipers and a pair of 310mm floating rotors. Steel-braided lines transmit fluid from the front master cylinder.

Triumph's take on a 600cc four-cylinder sportbike engine resulted in a smooth-running and durable four-valve, liquid cooled unit with a bore of 68mm and a stroke of 41.3mm. The resulting oversquare mill has a compression ratio of 12.5:1 and a rev limit of 14,000 rpm. Combined with multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection and forced air induction, this gives the TT600 a top-end hit comparable with the Japanese middleweight supersports, if you spot the heavier Triumph a few horsepower here or there. Handling is an especially fine characteristic of the Speed 4, as should be expected from a machine designed to appeal to more experienced riders.

However, Triumph wanted to create a really street-friendly motor, and gave it the tuned-for-torque thing naked sportbikes suffer with. This reduces peak horsepower to 88 at the rear wheel on the MO dyno, with 41 foot-pounds of torque. It doesn't sound like much, especially compared to the latest and greatest 600s, but it does make for a surprisingly tractable motor that still packs a top-end punch when the tachometer needle points at the sky.

Handling is an especially fine characteristic of the Speed 4, as should be expected from a machine designed to appeal to more experienced riders. The rigid chassis and expensive suspension components help the Speed track nicely over bumps, hold a precise line through corners, and give the rider a supreme sense of confidence when compared to other bikes in its price category. On the racetrack the odd-looking bike shines, keeping up with much more expensive motorcycles, and on a tight, bumpy, twisty road-the kind of road the Triumph might encounter in its homeland- the light, easy-to-turn chassis and relatively gentle motor make it a preferable mount to much fancier machinery.

I found myself lagging behind when I was on the R1 or ZX-10, but I was nipping at their heels astride the orange, bug-eyed Triumph.

For instance, I first rode the Speed 4 on my first trip up bumpy, twisty, slippery Mount Palomar in Northern San Diego County. I rode along with two motojournalists mounted on the latest liter-class powerhouses, the Yamaha R1 and the Kawasaki ZX10R. I was offered a ride on the two monster-motored bikes and quickly accepted, trading through the three motorcycles as we rode up the mountain.

It's stable, neutral, predictable and easy to ride fast. I found myself lagging behind when I was on the R1 or ZX-10, but I was nipping at their heels astride the orange, bug-eyed Triumph. Why? The combination of a twisty mountain road, sheer cliffs, and 155 rear-wheel horsepower restrained my right wrist to the point that I was tiptoeing around corners on the bigger bikes, but the baby Speed felt comfortable and familiar to me.

But all is not perfect, so don't think I'm all gaga and dewy-eyed over my bright green tchochkie. The springs are a bit too soft, even for a 150-pound rider like me. (Although a few more months of Publisher Alexander's Redondo Beach Diet should take care of what he considers a severely underweight condition.) The bike is also just a tad lardy for an 88 horsepower sportbike. Maybe it's had too many caramel apple empanadas?

Superbike handlebars are as essential a piece of kit on a hooligan bike as little pom-poms are on tennis socks.

Also, the clip-on handlebars are almost completely unsuited to a bike like this: if the Speed Triple gets them, and it's a street-fighter version of the Daytona 955, why wouldn't they put them on the Speed Four, which is a street-fighter TT600? Fortunately, the lack of a fairing makes a handlebar conversion simple. 

Superbike handlebars are as essential a piece of kit on a hooligan bike as little pom-poms are on tennis socks. They place the rider in an optimal position for stoppies, wheelies and burnouts and the increased leverage makes darting in and out of heavy traffic a breeze. When the road is twisty and bumpy, the rider in an upright position gobbles up sportbike-crouched squids like Joe Cocker gobbling Quaaludes at Woodstock. The superbike bar is the finishing touch that transforms the Speed Four from a good bike to something truly kick-ass.So what is the Speed Four owner to do? LSL Motorradtechnik GmbH has solved this problem with a neat and professional-looking solution. The handlebar kit for the 2003-2005 Triumph Speed Four comes with adapters, clamps, a trick aluminum bar, Spiegler braided-steel brake line, and a mounting bracket for your brake fluid reservoir. You also get a set of vague instructions that read like the label on Dr. Bronner's soap. (Drill holes! Check clearance! Dilute! OK!)

Installation is pretty simple if you have some experience changing handlebars. You do need to mark the proper location on the bars to drill holes for the pins that locate the two switch pods, and the throttle cable is just barely long enough, but installation is straight forward and took less than two hours.

The superbike bar is the finishing touch that transforms the Speed Four from a good bike to something truly kick-ass. It now wheelies with little effort and is great to toss into corners. Mid-corner corrections are easy, making the Four handle like a motocrosser on tight, bumpy roads. The upright seating postion allows 5'6 Gabe to sit further back on the seat, where there's actual padding. Combine that with an almost upright riding position, and the Four is as comfy as a 750 Nighthawk.  

My 2003 Triumph Speed Four actually offers quite good wind protection from the tiny nosecone over the instruments and headlamps, but when I mounted the LSL handlebar kit, I decided a little more wind coverage would be nice. I looked in Triumph's accessory catalog for an extended screen for my bike, but found nothing.

Fortunately, the folks at Laminar offer the Speed Shield in addition to their Laminar Lipp.

The Screen does bounce around a bit, but not because it's flimsy or poorly mounted- it just exerts extra leverage on the OEM cowling, which causes that part to vibrate. It shouldn't be a problem and it's not very noticeable.

Unlike a lot of other add-ons, the Laminar adds to the Triumph's appearance nicely. In terms of effectiveness, it's a trade-off. There's noticeably more wind protection, but the higher profile of the Screen causes greater wind noise and helmet buffeting over 70 MPH. It's louder than with just the stock bikini fairing, even with ear plugs. But it is nice to relax behind at 80 MPH while sitting bolt upright, lane-splitting between a pair of Semis.

I imagine the wind protection afforded by this thing would be even greater if I still had the stock bars, although experimenting by leaning forward to where my head and body would be positioned with the stock bars didn't seem to reduce wind noise or increase wind protection.

Overall, the Speed Screen delivers just what it promises- nice looks, increased wind protection, and a durable, easy installation. I'd highly recommend it, especially considering the reasonable pricing and quality manufacture.

I selected aluminum because it was cheaper, but that was a mistake: the soft metal scratches and tarnishes too easily.

It's not the King of the Hill, but it's the best motorcycle I've owned.

Other than the handlebar conversion and windscreen extension, they only other modification I've done is the Remus exhaust. The Remus is a very high-quality canister with a very durable packing system that MaxMoto, Remus' USA distributor claims is virtually permanent. I selected aluminum because it was cheaper, but that was a mistake: the soft metal scratches and tarnishes too easily. It sounds great, though, and installation was very simple, as the canister just bolts onto the end of the pipe. Triumph doesn't offer special fuel injection mapping for off-road silencers, but the most recent TT600 racing high-performance maps seem to work well. I could not detect any loss of mid-range or low-end power with the new exhaust. MSRP for the aluminum bolt-on canister is $345, $441 for titanium or carbon fiber. MaxMoto claims this muffler will never need repacking. Pete said the same thing after his first week at MO.

The deep, rich tone delivered by this exhaust is a great finishing touch for a motorcycle that is a fine partner in crime for a rider seeking a fun, practical and affordable motorcycle with a dash of exclusivity and style. The Triumph isn't the fastest, prettiest or even most trouble-free motorcycle I've owned, but it has the best balance of all the factors that make a bike worth keeping.

And I do think I'll keep it for a while.

 

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