It’s pretty simple. If I find a vintage Speed Triple story, I’m going to republish it. Now, 20 years later – 20 years! – we bring back to you MO’s First Ride aboard the 2002 Triumph Speed Triple. So many people have memories with this bike. A lot of them are good, but these early years of the Speed Triple also brought with it a few reliability problems. Let’s not focus too much on that for now and instead appreciate Triumph’s beloved three-cylinder naked bike that basically ushered in the category of naked sportbike.
All the sport without the plastic
Mar. 20, 2003
Torrance, California, March 4, 2003 — The last time we rode a Speed Triple was for our 1997 Open Bikini Shootout where we compared it (then known as the T509) to the likes of the Ducati Monster 900 and the Buell S1 White Lightning. Unfortunately for Triumph, their triple finished third. (Nothing could better back up my theory that the internet used to be manned by yahoos–Ed.)
Thankfully for Triumph, a lot has changed since then. Buell’s S1 is no longer in production and both the Monster and the Speed Triple have grown up since that last test. But we’re not here to discuss the Ducati and the Buell. Oh no, we’re here to talk about the bike that was seen gracing last year’s action flick, Mission Impossible II.
Only it really wasn’t a Speed Triple. Well, it was. Then it had knobby tires. Then they used a Speed Triple, er, Speed Single that used a 2-stroke motocross engine with a look-a-like engine made of plastic. Anyway, would the real Speed Triple please stand up?
There it is. But looking at it and riding it are two different things, for the 2002 iteration of the bike is further refined into an even more aggressive machine.
“For starters, the engine is a redesigned unit shared between the 955i Daytona and the other triples in the Triumph lineup.
Noteworthy changes include a repositioned alternator and starter, revised oiling and cooling passageways, as well as lightened internal bits and raised compression. Showcasing the motor is the same oval-tube aluminum perimeter frame from the previous iteration of the Speed Triple, but with changes including a wheelbase that’s been shortened to 1423 mm,steeper rake–23.5 degrees–and a slightly raised rear end, all of which adds up to quicker steering. Figuring in the bike’s claimed dry weight of 416 pounds (well above 450 in running trim) (Somebdoy make note to get a dang scale in here–Ed.), and you begin to realize that those wide bars are there for a reason. The look remains distinctively aggressive though the plastic, what little there is of it, has been subtly redesigned, and firing up the rasty triple in the shop completes the rider transmogrification from innocent motojournalist/web genius to lane-splitting traffic slayer. Something about this bike inisists its pilot adopt an aggressive riding style, though maybe not aboard the pink version (Nuclear Red, Triumph calls it)– and where’s my Beretta?
Dual four-piston front calipers deliver what you want how you want it. Trail braking the front tire into corners is easy and, thanks to a responsive and communicative front end sporting 45mm right-side-up Showa legs, you can use all the brakes in the bank without bouncing any checks or body parts. After the third pass of a 13-mile stretch of road, a little fade in some hard-braking downhill zones began to filer in. No worries,the rear brake and engine braking slowed things down nicely and you get to listen to the triple howl on the overrun. (Hackfu, king of the late-braking street squids… what have I gotten myself into?–Ed.)
On swervy roads, the Speed Triple makes you feel invincible, like you’re in charge of a big dirt bike with really good traction.
Strongish brakes are good things to have on this bike, as the new 955cc triple produces a bunch more power than last year’s bike: 68.5 foot-pounds of torque at 7600 rpm, and 114.3 horsepower at 9500 rpm moves the whole kit along quite nicely, and gives the Speed Triple a superior power-to-weight ratio compared to the other bikes in its class (if you think of the ZRX1200 Kawasaki, Yamaha FZ1, and Ducati Monster S4 as being in its class, that is).
For those who’ve never experienced one of Triumph’s menage a trois triples, it’s sort of like the power below three-thousand revs is inline-fourish, the mid-range is undeniably twinlike.
Then, where a twin might start gasping for breath, the triple goes ahead pulling all the way to redline (long as you pay no mind to the fact that modern twins pull past 9500–Ed.).
We found the motor to be most enjoyable anywhere from five-thousand revs on up to redline. In first or second gear, wheelies are but a clutch slip or manly twist of the throttle away.
The new engine doesn’t seem to have quite as much poke off-idle and up to 2500 rpm as other ’02 Speed Triples we’ve ridden, which you either learn to ignore by slipping the clutch a little, or eventually fix by, like many other Triumphs, taking it back to the dealer until the right FI program appears from the factory. Either way, it’s no big.
That steeper geometry does result in a bike that steers light, quick, and accurately, and in fact with that wide handlebar we don’t recall ever whining about needing a quicker-steering Speed Triple, but no complaints with this one either. On swervy roads, that handlebar makes you feel invincible like you’re in charge of a big dirt bike with really good traction. There’s enough adjustability in the suspension to overdo it with rebound in the rear (like Hackfu–Ed.) and cause all sorts of wonky chassis behavior.
Luckily, the wonderful new Editor, Mr. Burns, we love him, was able to straighten things out and now we like the chassis very much. Firm, mostly compliant, and well-damped.
As much fun as the Speed Triple is in the mountains, commuting with the Triple leaves a little to be desired. While some may say the lack of wind protection is one of its character traits, if you plan on using this as a daily rider, we recommend something to keep all the nasty things from scratching and pitting your shiny new helmet and expensive, tinted visor. Triumph’s accessory flyscreen, for a mere $120 or so last time we checked, deflects a lot more air than you’d suspect from looking at it, and completes the big mean bug look nicely.
Aside from the lack of wind protection, bikes like the Speed Triple make excellent urban assault vehicles. The same new seat that rubs thighs the wrong way because of its slight square-edgedness on the Daytona, feels perfectly fine on the sit-up-straight Triple. And though the suspension’s on the firm side–as it should be on a bike this powerful–the ride is generally very nice 99 percent of the time. Sharp freeway slabs will give your butt the occasional smack, but you can take it ’cause on the Triumph, you’re kind of a tough guy, see? Sit-up ergonomics also make passengers happy, and when passengers are happy, you have a shot at being happy too, maybe. It’s British, so’s James Bond, some savoir-faire could rub off on the rider. Very sweet if slightly pricey.
Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder
Bore/Stroke: 79 x 65mm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Fuel System: Multipoint sequential EFI
Ignition Digital: inductive type – electronic engine management system
Primary Drive: Gear
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Frame: Tubular, aluminum alloy perimeter
Swingarm: Single-sided, aluminum alloy w/ eccentric chain adjuster
Front Wheel: Alloy 3 spoke, 17 x 3.5in
Rear Wheel: Alloy 3 spoke, 17 x 6.0in
Front Tire: 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire: 190/50 ZR 17
Front Susp: 45mm forks w/dual-rate springs, adjust pre-load,
comp. and rebound damping
Rear Susp: Monoshock w/ adjust preload, comp. and rebound damping
Front Brakes: Twin 320mm floating discs, 4 piston calipers
Rear Brakes: Single 220mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Length: 2115mm (83.3in)
Width: 780mm (30.7in)
Height: 1250mm (49.2in)
Seat Height: 815mm (32.1in)
Wheelbase: 1429mm (56.2in)
Rake/Trail: 23.5º / 84mm
Weight (Dry): 189kg (416lb)
Fuel Capacity: 21 liters (5.5 gal US)