2011 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout
Honda CB1000R vs. Kawasaki Z1000 vs. Triumph Speed Triple
Triumph Speed Triple $11,799/$12,599 with ABS
“What’s not to love about this bike?”
Troy took the words right out of my mouth when he asked that somewhat rhetorical question after ending a day with these troublemakers. I have to admit, though, I was sort of biased coming into this comparison.
While I knew the Z was a likable bike out of the gate, and I was eager to sample the new Honda, the Speed has held a special place in my heart for a long time. This new Triple is an improvement over the previous model, but the Speed’s core qualities and character have remained.
And in the spirit of streetfighter hooliganism, the Speed does something particularly well: Effortless, sustainable wheelies with little more than a hot breath on the throttle.
Early on we covered how the Trumpet’s 1050cc inline-Triple won the power grab. But dyno results don’t always convey engine character. It’s not so much the Speed’s dominant power and torque that are key assets, but rather the ultra-manageable manner in which the Triple allows the rider to access that power that makes the Triple the most appealing of the three engines.
Although the Triumph’s dyno graph lines have some minor wiggles and aren’t as smooth as, say, the Kawasaki’s, it’s the Speed’s excellent fueling and locomotive-like pull that create the sensation the bike is motivated by a powerful electric motor. Mix in the burble burble Pop! Pop! Pop! exhaust music during engine overrun, and we’ve got the makings of a very seductive motorcycle engine. Yes, the aftermarket Arrow cans certainly amplify the saucy sounds, but even in standard trim the Triple’s song is alluring.
With the raciest dimensions of the group, and ostensibly lightest curb weight, the Speed oddly lacked the utter “flickability” of the Honda. Nevertheless, the Tri is by no means slow steering. Despite its 190 rear tire, the Trumpet required minimal input to initiate a turn, aided in part by good leverage from the one-piece tapered aluminum handlebar.
“The Speed 3 proved less nimble than I expected,” opined Kevin, “but its improved front-end feel is readily apparent.”
As delivered, the S3’s fully adjustable front and rear suspension was spot on. The ideal combination of good damping during freeway stints and excellent stability in the curvy bits, topped off by high levels of feel imparted by the Metzeler Racetec tires, made the Speed Triple’s chassis a favorite with the majority of our testers.
Reeling in the speedy Speed is the work of dual radial-mount Brembo calipers actuated by a radial-pump Brembo master cylinder pushing fluid through stainless steel lines – the only set here.
Troy and I ranked the Triumph’s brakes as the best of the group, crediting them with allowing us to brake later into turns, thereby letting the Speed stay with the quicker-steering Honda in the tight stuff. Put plainly, these binders have it all: good but not overly strong initial bite, power, feel and ease-of-modulation. The Brembo name is once again proudly represented.
We’d like to comment on the optional ABS, but an S3 so equipped wasn’t available at test time.
I scored the Triumph as having the best saddle: it’s broad and roomy with supportive but comfortable foam density. However, the Triumph otherwise has the most aggressive rider ergos. With the most forward lean to the bar, highest footpegs and what clearly was the highest seat height (32.5 inches, claimed), the Triumph is ready for aggressive, attack-mode riding.
While the CB1000R is motard-y, the Speed, too, begs you to wheelie off the line, slam through the gears, then slide the back end around whether by mashing the brake pedal or drifting it like a real supermoto racer (which none of us could do, btw, but the Speed has the potential!).