2008 Triumph Urban Sports Review

Triple Threat


When Triumph was reborn in the early 1990s, it was going to be an uphill road despite the cachet of a legendary nameplate. Laverda, Norton, Indian and Excelsior-Henderson were just a few of the historic marques that failed after resurrection attempts. But Triumph has continued to build on its successes, now boasting enviable increases in sales and even loftier sales goals.

The historic British company recently invited Motorcycle.com to sample what it calls its Urban Sports lineup, a group that includes a revamped version of the iconic Speed Triple, the versatile Tiger and the sport-touring Sprint ST. (The Daytona 675 also fits in this range, according to Triumph, but we will be fully evaluating that middleweight contender in a few weeks, so we didn’t spend any time on it at the intro.)

Key to re-launched brand’s success has been a series of distinguishing and torquey three-cylinder engines that deliver a distinct flavor apart from the hordes of Twins and Fours. Each of the three bikes we rode in the Great Smokey Mountains is powered by a version of Triumph’s lusty 1050cc Triples, one of the great motors in the two-wheel world because of its broad powerband and soulful exhaust note.

A re-tooled Speed Triple is the biggest news from Triumph for 2008.
“Blazing Orange” is a new colour for the 2008 Speed Triple.
New stuff seen in this shot are the brakes, black-anodized fork, updated radiator shrouds and reshaped headlight buckets.

Speed Triple

First seen way back in 1994 with a single round headlamp, the Speed Triple eventually became an icon once the twin bug-eye headlights were bolted on in 1996, transitioning from modern café racer to the current bike’s streetfighter category. Film roles in The Matrix and Mission Impossible:2 cemented its hero status, and the Speed Trip has become Triumph’s number-one seller across the globe.

“Probably the most important model in our range, the Speed Triple is a cornerstone of our commercial success and represents the signature style of our brand,” said Jim Callahan, Triumph’s North American Marketing Manager, at the bike’s launch in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “The Speed Triple defines Triumph. Unique, distinctive, stylish, performance-oriented and 100% full of character.”

The Speed Triple was redesigned by Italy’s design house Marabese in 2005, becoming stubbier and more powerful and re-establishing it as Triumph’s best seller, retailing about 6600 units that accounted for more than 20% of the British factory’s total sales. It proved to be especially popular in style-conscious Italy where more than 1700 were sold. In 2006, the Italians asked for and got a Fusion White version, and it became the first colour to outsell a black version.

With all this success, Triumph didn’t want to reinvent the streetfighter wheel, so the 2008 Speed Triple gets only a mild revamp. Trainspotter types will notice subtle cosmetic revisions. A new, longer subframe is wrapped by reshaped bodywork, and a flatter seat (still at 32.1 inches) gives more room to move around. Any potential pillion will be appreciative of 20mm, as that’s the amount of extra fore/aft seat area and the distance the footpegs are lower. A perkier caboose (the bike, not your pillion) is the result of a redone license-plate bracket and a clear-lens taillight.

Trademark dual bug-eye headlights were too iconic not to repeat, but here they feature more sharply tapered chrome bowl housings. New radiator cowls conceal a bunch of otherwise-natty cables and hoses. Borrowed from the smaller Street Triple are pointy clear-lens turnsignals and the restyled instruments pod. Also new is an aluminum handlebar from Magura. It’s shot-peened, silver-anodized and tapered with new risers that are burnished and clear anodised. That’s a lot of adjectives for a riding position unchanged from before.

If the old Speed Triple had a deficiency, it was its mediocre front brakes. That’s no longer an issue, as Triumph has spec’d a set of 4-piston, 4-pad radial-mount Brembo callipers to clamp on 320mm rotors with a revised hole pattern to aid heat dissipation. Just as important to the much improved initial bite is the new Nissin radial master cylinder like the one on the Daytona 675.

Firing up the Triumph with a second-gen Keihin fuel-injection system (a big improvement during start-up and partial-throttle running fitted to post-2006 bikes) brings to life the engine’s traditional whirring whine accompanied by a muted exhaust note at idle. The mufflers look different but there are no changes to their internals. My test bike was equipped with factory-option Arrow canisters that, despite their racy look, meet EPA noise regs. Their titanium skin is claimed to reduce weight by 50%, helping justify their $999.99 price tag. Triumph also sells an Arrow 3-into-1 low-boy system ($1299.99) that looks nasty in a cool way.

“It’s the bike’s fault,” claims Duke.

With a huge amount of grunty torque available shortly after idle speed, it doesn’t take long to fall in love with the 1050cc three-cylinder motor. And if its always-available thrust isn’t enough to clinch the deal, the sonorous exhaust howl will. It’s not a stretch to compare the inline three-cylinder’s wail to that of a Porsche flat-Six. Triumph claims 131 crankshaft horses at 9250 rpm, which translates to about 110 or so at the rear wheel. But the specs that make a rider’s butt most happy is that it’s producing more torque at just 3500 rpm than a Tuono or Monster S4R does at their peaks. Wheelies anyone?

'Its design very nearly defines the streetfighter theme...'

Attractive new wheels roll through puddles, while slip-on Arrow exhaust canisters add a dash of flash.
With its distinctive twin round headlamps, the Speed Triple retains its iconic streetfighter persona.

The S3’s frame remains the same snaky aluminum component as before, possessing a 23.5-degree rake, a scant 84mm of trail and a 56.1-inch wheelbase. Up front, the 43mm multi-adjustable Showa fork is unchanged internally but is now anodized black. At the rear, an aluminum single-sided swingarm exposes a gorgeous new rear wheel. The front wheel is also a new design, and Triumph claims a 5% reduction in the front wheel assembly’s inertia. Reduced rotational inertia makes s a bike easier to turn, but with such pointy steering geometry and a leverage-inducing high handlebar, Mr. Speed never lacked in agility.

If you’re a fan of magnetic tank bags, you’ll be happy to know the Speed Triple’s rotationally molded nylon tank has been replaced by one made of steel. The previous nylon tank needed to be constructed extra thick to meet safety standards, ranging in thickness from 5mm to 10mm. The new tank (already fitted to late-2007 models) is made from 0.9mm steel sheet and weighs about 2 lbs less than the old nylon one. Triumph claims an extra liter of capacity because of this, now up to 4.0 gallons. Claimed dry weight of the bike is 416 lbs.

It was no happenstance that I was on a Speed Triple during our ride’s journey up the infamous Tail of the Dragon – Tennessee’s Route 129, a torturously twisted stretch of road worthy of a Six Flags admission fee. Although grip was lacking in many sections due to wet pavement, the Speed Trip’s broadband torque and quick steering response handily unwound the sinuous pavement. That’s not news to any Speed Triple owners, but fresh to the experience are the upgraded brakes that are now above any criticism. Sharper, more direct, and with much improved initial bite, they now live up to the lofty performance standards of the rest of the bike.

At $10,299, the Speed Triple offers a lot of Euro cool at (nearly) a Japanese price point. Its design very nearly defines the streetfighter theme, and its seat/subframe revisions make it more accommodating for both pilot and co-pilot. But most of all is its wonderful three-cylinder motor that delights a rider’s senses of acceleration and hearing: it out-torques V-Twins and produces mechanical music worthy of a symphony alongside Ferraris and Porsches.

If you’re looking for one of the best hooligan bikes ever made, you can order your Speed Triple in badass Jet Black, classy Fusion White or a new-for-’08 Blazing Orange. And in May you’ll have the option of ordering one up with a Matte Black paint job.

The Perfect Bike For...
The experienced yet boy-like rider who doesn’t measure performance in lap times, instead relying on power wheelies and a desire to be the neighborhood badass.
 Highs:     Sighs:
  • A wonderful motor, both experientially and aurally
  • Inimitable streetfighter design
  • Brakes as good as the rest of the package
  • Price increase
  • Get Out of Jail Free cards not included
  • Uh, give us another minute...

Duke shows off the Hawk jacket from Triumph’s clothing line. Shift pants, Icon boots and an Akuma helmet complete the outfit.

Hawk Jacket

A strong brand name not only makes a motorcycle appealing, it also makes it possible to sell the brand on a line of quality clothing. Ducati sells truckloads of stylish riding apparel, and Harley-Davidson makes more money from its P&A catalog than many OEMs do in bike sales. So it’s no surprise to see Triumph make the most of its legendary brand status with a lineup of attractive riding gear.

One of my faves from Triumph’s clothing catalog is the Hawk Jacket I wore during this press intro. This sporty black-and-white jacket has the historic Triumph script proudly emblazoned across the chest and on the lower arms. Protection comes in the forms of removable CE95-approved armor in the shoulder and elbow areas, plus an integral dual-density back protector. Double-stitched seams in impact areas hold things together.

The 1.2mm leather is fairly supple, but it’s thick enough that it feels substantial. Triumph  reps boasted of the leather’s corrected grains which help make it look better finished. An internal breast pocket and a pair of zippered hand pockets suffice for storage, while 3M reflective piping front and rear add to night-riding conspicuity. The mandarin collar does little to keep a neck cozy, so you might want to add the optional fleece neck warmer. A waist connection zipper is included.

Triumph makes the Hawk in sizes 38-52; the size 40 jacket I wore seemed a bit long in front, causing it to bunch up a bit, but it was otherwise very comfortable during our day-long adventure in the Great Smokies. Accordion stretch panels behind the shoulders and down the sides eliminated a binding fit. For what appears to be a high-quality and stylish item, the Hawk’s $409.99 retail price seems reasonable, and if you’re a Triumph fan, you’ll probably want one.

Revised headlights and a new Graphite color option are some of the few things changed for the ’08 Sprint ST. Hard luggage (not shown) is standard equipment.
A menacing-looking triple-outlet exhaust system and a sexy rear wheel draw in the eyes of most beholders.
The Sprint ST’s instruments are comprehensive, even if the speedometer numbers are hard to read at a glance.

Sprint ST

Triumph’s sport-touring entry once went into battle against rivals from Ducati and Aprilia, but both Italian brands have now abandoned the category. It might not be accurate to say that the Sprint forced its competitors from the class, but it’s worth noting that there is nothing else on the market with standard hard luggage that is as sport-oriented. The only bikes with bags that could outrun the Sprint are the 1200-1400cc “Supersport-tourers” from BMW, Kawasaki and Yamaha, but they’d all be left trailing the agile Triumph on a serpentine road.

In fact, the Sprint ST was once judged to be a bit too sporty, so in 2007 Triumph fitted higher bars and a different seat that produced a less aggressive riding position. For 2008, the Sprint receives only mild revisions. Improved headlight performance is promised via new lenses for the projector-beam lamps, and the footpegs receive longer-wearing rubber inserts. Like the Speed Triple, the Sprint also gets a mag-bag-friendly steel fuel tank. Also new are a couple of colors: Graphite and Pacific Blue.

'It pulls smoothly and rapidly at low revs, but then it responds like a hooligan when wrung out.'

True to its hyphenated market category, the Sprint has dual personalities. A riding position rotated forward slightly and rear-set footpegs say “sport.” Saddlebags, a trip computer and decent wind protection (with the accessory tinted windshield fitted) say “tour.” The 1050cc motor (just 6 ponies down from the Speed Triple) is similarly conflicted. It pulls smoothly and rapidly at low revs, but then it responds like a hooligan when wrung out.

I was very impressed with how quickly the Sprint ST responds to steering inputs, and taking this Trumpet to a trackday wouldn’t be out of the question. Its shortcoming in that environment would likely be its mid-rate suspension. While it offers a mostly plush ride on the street, its 43mm conventional cartridge fork (adjustable only for spring preload) and rear shock (adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping) get overwhelmed when pushed hard.

As capable and enjoyable as the Sprint is, it’s not above criticism. The 180-mph speedo has its small numbers scrunched closely together, and its hard-shell saddlebags that became standard equipment in ’07 look good but aren’t especially capacious (An accessory top case greatly expands touring options). Wide riders will curse the narrow and squishy seat after an hour or three in it, and tall riders won’t find a lot of legroom (this bike would be a perfect application for adjustable footpegs).

Overall, the Sprint ST delivers a blend of performance and touring capability that stands on its own. The Supersport Tourers are more ungainly in the tight stuff, and Honda’s VFR800 Interceptor can’t match the Triumph’s robust powerplant. For $10,999 including lockable luggage ($11,799 with ABS), the ST offers a unique option for riders who like to tilt horizons while they chase them.

Optional hard luggage and tall accessory windscreen helps turn the versatile Tiger into a legitimate sport-touring machine.

Tiger

The Tiger is one of those bikes that has attributes that appeal to a lot of Motorcycle.com readers, but, sadly, we hadn’t yet had the chance to ride one of these versatile machines. “It’s a motorcyclist’s motorcycle,” notes Triumph’s Callahan, an erstwhile roadracer who says that it’s his favorite bike in Triumph’s lineup.

In some ways, the Tiger makes a better tourer than the Sprint ST. It has a wider, more supportive saddle, its riding position is more upright, and has considerable more legroom. It lacks only protection from the elements for the lower extremities. And in most street situations, its compliant long-travel suspension (with a fully adjustable inverted fork and remotely preload-adjustable shock with rebound damping) generates a smoother ride. Excessive front-end dive during braking is the fork’s minor shortcoming.

Our test bike was fitted with an optional taller windscreen which deflected a considerable amount of air, and behind it resides the instrument cluster from the Daytona which has an easy-to-read digital speedometer. Our bike was also equipped with optional heaters for the barrel-shaped grips which were a pleasant addition during our chilly morning ride. A tall and wide rubber-mounted handlebar offers plenty of leverage to quickly bank over the Tiger in the many corners we encountered.

Penned by the same Marabese design house from Italy as the Speed Triple, the Tiger 1050 cuts a unique profile. And with a torquier version of the Sprint’s 1050cc Triple, the Tiger puts its competitors (Buell Ulysses, Ducati Multistrada, Suzuki V-Strom) on the trailer in terms of acceleration and power. A 32.9-inch seat height might be tall for shorties, but it’s not abnormal for this class. A 5.2-gallon fuel tank provides a fairly generous touring range for the 436-lb (claimed, dry) bike.

The Tiger shares its price structure with the Sprint, retailing for $10,999 or $11,799 with ABS. Blazing Orange is a new color that joins Caspian Blue, Fusion White and Jet Black. We’ll look forward to giving the Tiger a full test in the coming months.

Daytona 675

Mechanically unchanged, the 2008 Daytona sports a new decal design, a gold-anodized steering-stem nut and a new Neon Blue color option. Its MSRP is still just $8999, the same price as in ’06!

A Special Edition version debuts this year. It can be spotted by its “Metallic Phantom Black” bodywork, black engine covers and gold wheels and decals. It’s available in limited quantities for a list price of $9399.

The Daytona 675 remains a highly desirable middleweight, augmented by a new black-and-gold Special Edition.

Related Reading
2005 Triumph Speed Triple Review
2002 Triumph Speed Triple Review
2002 Naked Bike Shootout
2006 Sport-tourer Shootout
1997 Open Bikini Shootout
2005 Adventure Touring Comparo
2006 Middleweight Supersport Shootout
Choose Your Weapon: Best of the Best, 2006

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