Get the Flash Player to see this player.LOS ANGELES, August, 1997 -- They're fast. They're sexy. They're impractical. They're temperamental. They look great in a thong. They're demanding, expensive and -- if you're lucky enough to climb on board -- they're a helluva lot of fun to ride. They're the Bikini Bikes, and if you're seen showing them off, be careful, because someone will try to steal them away. The staff at MO felt lucky, so we picked up a few hotties -- an American bombshell, a cool Brit and a sleek Italian -- with which to have our way. Three bikes: the Buell S1 White Lightning, the Triumph T509 Speed Triple and Ducati's M900 Monster. One 45-degree pushrod twin, one 90-degree desmo twin, and one twin-cam in-line triple. Each bike claims king in different areas of style and design. Each bike sets standards in unique arenas of attitude and sound.
These are discriminating bikes for discriminating riders. If you're looking for a long-term stable relationship, look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for a really good time, give these bikes a call. They're built for wild, hormone-fueled flings around town and through canyons -- not for long distance, easy-going day trips to the in-laws. Only real players would choose one of these bikes as their everyday transportation. As enamored as we were, we had to put these bikes through the paces to determine which beauty was most worthy of our affections. Putting them into as many positions as we could handle, we worked them out at the Los Angeles County Raceway.
We strutted with them down the boulevards. We tested their flexibility on freeways and through the helter-skelter surface streets of Los Angeles. We whisked them away into the canyons. We measured their prowess in the dyno room.
"We even had the gumption to violate blue laws and transported them across county lines for illicit purposes."
In all, for four weeks in California's fine August weather, MO ruled the streets of L.A., terrorizing pedestrians, popping wheelies, burning rubber, trying to pick up dates and strafing curbs.
All in the name of complete and accurate reporting, and with a clear goal in mind: If you're a deviant, what's the best bike for you?
Mind you, going into this Shootout, each MO staff member had his own favorite. First impressions are important, but you never really get to know a bike until you spend time with one. The results of our Shootout surprised us. It may surprise you as well.
1997 Ducati M900 Monster
MO racer Shawn Higbee liked the Monster's snap out of corners. Ducati's Monster comes into this test as the reigning champion of last year's Muscle Bike Shootout. After this little bike's impressive showing against the brawn of last year, you'd think it would manage better than bottom rung against this year's bikini models, but this was not to be.
We started the Duc off with some commuting and around-town terrorism. The Monster's soft suspension soaked up all the bumps and patchwork irregularities of L.A.'s urban sprawl, and even helped the Monster land reasonably well when a particularly large ripple helped get the bike airborne. Its light weight and generous torque made the M900 ideal for tossing around through city scenes, but we disagreed as to which bike was better at dealing with traffic congestion and horrid pavement; some sided with the Buell due to its higher-quality suspension that's more firmly sprung, while others stuck with the Ducati. Either way, both are better in an urban environment than the bulkier Triumph.
1997 Triumph T509 Speed Triple
When it comes to Triumph, good things come in threes. Three cylinders, that is. Speed Triple. And what a sound those three inline cylinders emit: A raspy, throaty yowl with musical qualities that are unmistakably British, and characteristically Triumph.
Speed Triple's appearance is striking, to say the least. Triumph's 1997 version of its Speed Triple, the T509, has been vastly improved over the previous model -- a bike that flunked miserably in last summer's Muscle Bike shootout. Gone are the imperfect qualities that relegated it to also-ran in that comparison -- poor suspension setup, weak, tubular spine-type steel frame, weird riding position and antiquated Michelin Hi-Sport tires.
Changes to the '97 Speed Triple echo improvements found on Triumph's excellent T595 Daytona, including the all-new oval-section aluminum frame and a lighter, more compact version of the 885cc three-cylinder motor.
"T509's single-sided swingarm is one of its most appealing features."
The Speed Triple's engine also received a new Lotus-designed top end with bigger valves and new cams, as well as a Sagem Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) system that is capable of three million instructions per second. The EFI's black box can also be remapped to match aftermarket performance upgrades an owner may add down the road, such as an exhaust system.
Brakes on the T509 were linear and strong, and were voted best among the lot.The quality of the new engine's power delivery is every bit as important as its quantity. Problem is, it takes lots of revs to find it. Below 4500 rpm, there simply isn't any, a problem exasperated by what we figured was a faulty EFI map that periodically stalls the bike and feels much too lean off the line. Anyway, the triple begins its climb into its power zone around 5000 rpm, then pulls smoothly and briskly to its peak of 88.2 horsepower at 8750 rpm (only .30 hp shy of the White Lightning), with an extremely flat torque curve.
The T509's lack of low-rev punch hurt it in top-gear roll-on testing, where both twins spanked the Triumph. In dragstrip testing the Triumph suffered from the worst launches -- a combination of vague clutch and poor EFI map -- but squeaked by the Ducati with its 18 additional top-end ponies. Out on the open road, the Speed Triple wasn't quite as fast as the Buell in top-speed testing, but its funky little quarter fairing/thong offers much better wind protection -- anything over 125 mph on the Buell, and you'd better hang on and stay glued down on the tank.
Not so on the Triumph, which has a nice, still pocket of air behind its bikini fairing. While not as large or as aesthetically pleasing as the Ducati's bikini, the T509's wind-tunnel-tested flyscreen acts as a "triumph" of function over form. All told, in the mischievous environment of stoplight-to-stoplight boulevard bruising, bragging rights clearly fall with the Buell. Hop aboard the T509 after jumping off one of the twins, and you're instantly impressed with the comfort of its seating position, by far the best of this bunch for distance riding. Its higher seat height gives tall riders a lot of leg room, and the reach to its flat, tubular handlebars is also suited for longer arms.
This Speed Triple loved to be ridden hard, and in twisty background bashing its fully adjustable Showa suspension, grippy Bridgestone BT56 rubber, light, neutral steering and perfect seating position made it the most sport worthy of this bunch for most riders, though our racers on staff preferred the Buell's quick steering and torquey off-corner acceleration.
Need to stop? Quickly? The general consensus of our staff was the Triumph came equipped with the friendliest brakes, though we encountered a problem here, too. Its front 320mm floating discs and four-piston Nissin calipers rapidly haul it down from speed with great lever feel and control, although the brakes did become grabby after repeated hard use on a hot summer day.
Did you say something about the T509's looks? Triumph's distinctive bug-eyed dual headlights inspired both praise and groans. Luckily a more traditional single headlamp option is available in the U.S.
Our main concern with Triumph's new Speed Triple lies with its reliability. In some ways, it doesn't have a well-sorted feel. We encountered troubles with the fuel injection system (sputter) and engine driveline (clunk) while testing the 509, and our test unit completely expired while street riding, leaving us with a bittersweet taste after recalcitrant fuel injection, touchy brakes and a blown motor ruined our test schedule.
Subsequently, the local fleet center/dealer (most manufacturers have dedicated fleet centers, Triumph and Ducati give incentives to dealers who perform this duty -- Ed.) was less than helpful and appeared to be less than truthful about what really blew up. Was it truly ready for production? Hard to say, but unlike Triumphs of the past, the T509 and T595 are pushing performance and technology envelopes in a way the British firm has never done before. Although not perfect, the 1997 Speed Triple was sure fun to ride, and our overall impression of the company is that, while they seemingly don't have their act together in the USA (repeated calls to Triumph's importer went unanswered), the corporate philosophy is decidedly customer-driven and reliability oriented; we hope we just got a bad apple.
Manufacturer: Triumph Model: 1997 T509 Speed Triple Price: $9995.00 Engine: Liquid cooled, DOHC in-line three cylinder Bore and Stroke: 76 x 65 mm Displacement: 885 cc Carburetion: Sagem EFI, 41 mm throttle body Transmission: 6-speed Wheelbase: 56.6 in (1437 mm) Seat Height: 31.5 in (800 mm) Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal (17.0 L) Claimed Dry Weight: 432 lbs (196 kg) Measured Wet Weight, Tank Full: 486 lbs Measured Horsepower: At The Rear Wheel: 88.2 @ 8750 Measured Torque, At The Rear Wheel: 56.5 @ 7750