A shootout comprised of four motorcycles of inline three-cylinder arrangement displacing four dissimilar engine capacities from three manufacturers? An unthinkable prospect when Triumph brought the venerable Speed Triple stateside in 1995. Yet here we are today embroiled in this exact scenario, nearly crapping our britches in childlike excitement at the wonderful diversity of three-cylinder motorcycle models from which to choose.
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Triumph has long been the sole manufacturer of inline-Three motorcycle engine arrangements, but MV Agusta is now fleshing out the segment with five three-cylinder models: Brutale 675/800; F3 675/800; Rivale 800, with the forthcoming sport-touring Turismo Veloce 800 announced for 2014 making it six. Yamaha’s FZ-09 is the first Japanese Triple in three decades, but how long will the trio of other Japanese OEMs ignore the growing deuce-ace trend?
Displacing 847cc and boasting an MSRP of $7,990 the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 smacks like a shovel to the face of other OEMs. Comparably priced 2014 models from Kawasaki and Suzuki, the Versys ($7,999) and SFV650 ($8149), are powered by significantly smaller 650cc Twin engines. When last tested, dyno numbers for these two bikes were 56.5 hp at 8250 rpm and 39.5 ft-lb of torque at 7250 for the Versys, and 65.8 hp at 8500 rpm and 42.7 ft-lb of torque at 7800 rpm for the SFV. The FZ-09 wallops those figures laying down 104.8 hp at 10,800 rpm and 59.5 ft-lb of torque at 8,300 rpm.
Against the bikes in this shootout, the 847cc FZ easily bests the 675cc Street Triple R but surprisingly is only 1.9 hp down from the 798cc Brutale and is up 9.1 ft-lb in terms of torque. Compared to the substantially larger 1050cc Speed Triple R, the FZ is down only 11.4 horsepower and 10.5 ft-lb of torque.
Factoring weight into the equation, the lithe FZ, at 414 claimed wet pounds, bests the 466-pound claimed wet weight of the Speed Triple R by 52 pounds. The Street Triple R is lightest of the group with a 403-pound claimed curb weight, with the Brutale’s curb weight second at 413 pounds.
“The Speed Triple R is the outlier of this quartet due to its noticeable bulkiness,” says Chief Hooligan, Kevin Duke. “An engine with one of the flattest sportbike torque curves ever is always ready with a considerable shove, but its outright force is blunted by its considerable weight penalty.”
At least the Speed Triple R and its smaller sibling, the Street Triple R, can boast the best fuel mapping of the group. The only two bikes here with cable-actuated throttles (not ride-by-wire), the Triumphs lack electronic ride modes, but their smooth power delivery makes them unnecessary – the STRs’ power inputs are easily modulated with nary a hiccup from their EFIs. Both the MV (exhaustively reported) and the new FZ, however, suffer from maligned fuel delivery.
“The Italian boutique brand has regularly disappointed us with ride-by-wire throttles that seem disassociated with what your throttle hand requests, and the Brutale 800 continues that unwelcome tradition,” says Duke. “Our feelings about the Brutale would improve markedly if it had the same reliable throttle response as the Triumphs’.”
The FZ-09 is fitted with the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) ride-by-wire system, a technology incorporated on several of its previous models, making it even more remarkable how the company could fail when it comes to two out of the three ride modes available.
“A and Standard ride modes are practically useless in the canyons,” says Editor, Troy Siahaan. “B is definitely my favorite, too bad it chops off 10 hp. Standard is acceptable on the street, but I couldn’t find any situation where I wanted A mode.”
But that’s not to say the FZ’s motor wasn’t appreciated.
“If Yamaha could tune out the harshness of throttle application, this Triple would be one of my favorite engines of all time,” Duke observes. “I love how its front wheel comes up accelerating in first gear then, after a short shift to second, it’ll wheelie again as it crosses its torque peak!”
While Yamaha and MV are busy writing updated algorithms for their fuel mappings, no one complained about Triumph’s only tech, ABS, on both its Triples. In fact, tester demerits for the Street Triple R, our 2009 Bike of the Year and winner of numerous shootouts, were few and minor.
“It’s hard to fault the Street R, but compared to, say, the Yamaha, the Street R has narrower handlebars which takes a little more effort to throw it into a turn,” says Siahaan.
“There’s an obnoxious engine whine/whistle that masks some of the nice engine sounds,” gripes FNG Editor, Evans Brasfield. “And initial brake application is a little abrupt,” he adds.
Quite possibly our strangest gripe comes from the shootout pitting the Street Triple R against its arch rival, the Brutale 675 where we reported:
“In a strange twist of hooligan etiquette, the STR may be too genteel, as if Triumph manufactured the hooliganism out of its hooligan bike. Much of this is attributed to the bike’s new, taller first gear that stretches to 77 mph before hitting the rev limiter.”
The Brutale 800 handily won both the Appearance/Fit/Finish and Cool Factor categories on our ScoreCard, and at $12,498, placed third in the pricing department. When all the scores were tallied, though, Brasfield, Duke and Siahaan all ranked the Brutale last, albeit a skin-of-the-teeth victory by third-place finisher, the Speed Triple R: 82.87% vs 83.01%, respectively.
It was only yours truly who felt that by saving the $3.5k in MSRP between the Brutale and Speed R could I better resolve the Brutale’s poor fuel mapping and swap sprockets to stretch the crazy-short gear ratios, creating a better-performing Brutale. Try decreasing the width of the Speed Triple R between your legs or removing the nearly 60 pounds it has over the Brutale without spending any money. Making the same argument for the $12,799 standard Speed Triple, however, wouldn’t be as easy (see sidebar).
Triumph Speed Triple – The Bike We Really Wanted
By Troy Siahaan
This is the bike we wanted to include in this test. At $12,799, the standard Triumph Speed Triple is a whopping $3200 less expensive than its R-badged sibling. Of course, for that price you give up the Ohlins suspension, forged aluminum wheels, Brembo monobloc calipers and some carbon trim here and there, but the heart of the Speed Triple – the 1050cc three-cylinder engine – is still there and unchanged.
But Triumph could only accommodate the R model in time for this test. We thought the upgraded suspension, wheel and brake advantages might make the big Triumph the clear winner in this test, but it didn’t turn out that way. Our biggest complaint with the Speed Triple R is its heft and forcing it through the tight stuff. Taking this into consideration, we can confidently assume the most noticeable difference would be the slower steering resulting from the non-R’s heavier cast wheels.
While not Ohlins pieces, the standard Showa suspension is plenty capable, and the standard two-piece Brembo front calipers aren’t too far behind the R’s monoblocs. The third-place-finishing Speed Triple R and runner up Yamaha FZ-09 came very close in our final standings; 83.01% vs 84.86%, respectively. If we had been able to test the standard Speed Triple, which would suffer less of a price penalty, the two bikes would have swapped places in our overall rankings.
Although the Street Triple R transitions somewhat lethargically compared to the frenetic Brutale, it’s our choice for best handling bike in this group. Its combination of a stable chassis and balanced suspension make it easiest to ride fastest. “The Street R’s well-tuned suspension is an excellent compromise of compliance and tautness,” says Duke.
|Yamaha FZ-09||37.8 mpg|
|MV Agusta Brutale 800||33.6 mpg|
|Triumph Speed Triple R||33.4 mpg|
|Triumph Street Triple R||32.5 mpg|
Next up, in the handling department is the FZ-09. Considering its relatively soft suspension, the FZ was a surprise to all editors when the going got twisty. Stiffer springs, heavier fork oil and a flatter handlebar will inexpensively upgrade the FZ’s performance while maintaining the bike’s civility. As is, the FZ will, after leaning farther than you’d expect with so much legroom, drag a footpeg through a tight arching corner then lift the front wheel on the exit – even while in its 10-hp-less B mode.
“It has soft suspension, soft brakes, soft seat, and tall bars, and yet the FZ-09 is my second favorite bike here,” says Siahaan.
Bloated with technologies such as traction control (TC), electronic assist shifting (EAS), four ride modes including a customizable one to tweak throttle sensitivity, engine braking, etc., the Brutale is a flagship of advanced electronics. Pile on its counter-rotating crankshaft, and the combined technologies of the other three bikes here don’t come close to matching the Brutale’s technological bounty.
When the bike swapping stopped, the riding fun ended and the ScoreCard filled out, there emerged an undeniable winner unanimously agreed upon by all four editors: the Street Triple R.
“We went out on a short limb when we awarded the Street Triple R our Motorcycle of the Year in 2009, but this shootout has solidified the prescience of this selection,” says Duke. “Even among its newly created and larger-displacement competition, the Street R remains exceedingly capable, fun and charismatic.”
From here, however, not all editors were of the same opinion. Brasfield, Duke and Siahaan all subjectively chose the Speed Triple R as their second place bike, while I preferred the FZ-09. It wasn’t until the objective scores of price and weight were factored in that the FZ surpasses the Speed R for an overall ranking of second place.
The voting discrepancy continued with third- and fourth-place standings where the majority ranked the Brutale last. I ranked it third above my last place choice, the Speed 3R. In this case, however, objective scores couldn’t save the Brutale from finishing fourth in this shootout. But it was close.
Triumph Street Triple R
If money’s tight buy the FZ-09, it’s the best bang for the buck in this shootout and already a front runner for our 2014 Best Value award. However, if you’ve got the coin, drop it on the Street Triple R. If all bikes were this good, we’d be in motorcycle nirvana, and the R’s insubstantial $600 MSRP increase over the standard Street Triple relegates the standard to unconsidered status when cross-shopping the two.
“Compared to the other bikes in this test – and nearly any other motorcycle you can name – the Street Triple R is amazingly cooperative and trustworthy when sniping a twisty road. You’ll go around corners quicker on the Triumph,” Duke articulates.
For the majority of people purchasing this bike, the suspension shortcomings are less of an issue, as it’s only when hammering a canyon road when it behaves poorly. Also, upgrading the suspension can be done at a reasonable cost. The FZ’s poor fuel-mapping is another issue. Yamaha will certainly have a fix for the abrupt throttle response in A and Standard modes, but until then those two ride modes are almost unusable on this otherwise wonderful motorcycle.
“Factor in the cost and it’s fighting for top billing,” says Siahaan. “I’d love to spend the money saved on the FZ-09 and throw a good suspension package at it. That plus a pipe and EFI tuning (and maybe better brakes) and the FZ-09 would be hard to beat.”
Triumph Speed Triple R
Despite its bulky impression next to the rapiers in this comparison, the Speed Triple is a delightful roadster with broad capabilities.
“If you’re looking to do 500-mile days on your three-cylinder roadster, you’d do well to purchase the Speed Triple,” Duke observes. “Its wide seat offers plenty of support, and its chassis and high-quality suspension are fully up to the task of burning comfortable miles on your way to remote twisty roads. And, as we proved in our Literbike Streetfighter Shootout, the big Triple performs admirably on a racetrack.”
“But the torque!” raves Brasfield. “Did I say that I loved the torque? And, well, then there’s the torque!”
MV Agusta Brutale 800
The Brutale simultaneously thrills and annoys us. It enjoys being ridden aggressively, but its tricky throttle response and firm suspension exhausts its rider quickly.
“If you’re looking for comfort, look elsewhere,” says Duke. “The Brutale serves up the sportiest (read: most cramped) riding position and the most unyielding seat. But in terms of excitement, the Brutale is professional-grade fun. It feels feral and rambunctious, but it’s not for the timid.”
“I. Don’t. Like. This. Bike,” says Siahaan. “I really want to like the bike because it’s by far the best looking bike here, but it begs to be ridden at 9/10s or higher all the time. Any less and it feels like a lot of bike to manage for a simple cruise.”