A far better ride than we would have imagined.
- Cardiff - London, United Kingdom
Before recently throwing a leg over the 2016 Triumph Street Triple I had never before harboured a desire to do so, despite the accolades it’s received over the years. The bike is revered in its native Britain. First introduced in 2007 as a little-brother version to the streetfighter-styled Speed Triple, it has spent the past almost-decade being a big seller in Blighty and has earned a fair few fans elsewhere.
The unabashedly 1990s styling of both the Street Triple and Speed Triple is polarizing, though, and I’m one of those folks who falls on the side of thinking it is ugly as sin. But a motorcycle is a motorcycle and all motorcycles are good. So, when an opportunity came up to spend some time with the 675 cc inline triple I definitely wasn’t going to turn it down.
Fortnight With a Triumph
I ended up getting to spend two weeks with the Street Triple, racking up a little more than 1,200 kilometres on the clock thanks to the need to make a run to London to attend the launch of – appropriately – another Triumph: the new and ultra-gorgeous Bobber. (For those of you unfamiliar, I am based in Cardiff, Wales). I also had a chance to put the bike to the test in a number of scenarios and, as a result, was reminded once again that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The Street Triple is a far better ride than I would have imagined.
In The City
When people talk about the Street Triple they tend to do so in terms of its performance on twisty roads. Certainly I agree that it is fun in those conditions but where the bike really excels is an urban setting. This thing is a surgical tool with which one can dissect traffic.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a place where lane splitting is allowed or tolerated, the Street Triple’s relatively narrow bars, upright riding position, and responsive but smooth throttle will ensure you almost never have to sit still. A tall first gear overlaps into second nicely and a combination of the two will allow you to get north of 45 kilometres per hour comfortably – i.e., no jerkiness when letting off the throttle. Urban maneuvers are so fluid as to be almost confidence-building.
The bike carries its 187 kilograms of wet weight well, but I wouldn’t complain if steering lock were more generous – to allow it to snake more easily through traffic gaps. One major complaint is that the bike seems to lack presence. Maybe it was just bad luck but in my time with it cars were pulling out in front of me, meandering into my lane, and otherwise being oblivious to my presence far more than when I’m on other bikes. Additionally, the mirrors are abysmal. They don’t show what’s behind you so much as they just remind you that there might be something behind you. Maybe. You’ll have to check for yourself.
On The Highway
Some of my criticism of the Street Triple’s mirrors may stem from the fact that, at 6 feet 1 inch tall, I am clearly not the target audience for this bike. Its ergonomics are pretty cramped for a guy who generally favours adventure bikes and cruisers – especially when riding at speed, leaning into the windblast. In that position I found the mirrors were almost parallel with my line of sight. I had to pull back and contort when attempting to view things behind me.
Speaking of windblast, the Street Triple is a warm-weather-only machine. That little cowl above the twin headlights offers no discernable protection against the elements. Rain, cold, bugs – you’ll get the full brunt of them when astride this bike. Which, in conjunction with the seating position, makes it ill-suited for long hauls. It’s not sportbike uncomfortable (handlebars are upright after all), but my knees, shoulders, back, and neck started to ache after an hour or so in the saddle.
Add to that the fact the passenger seat is more of an idea than a reality, and there are no bungee pegs for luggage. It’s something of an apples to oranges comparison to say this, but when it comes to sporty all-rounders, I found the Honda CBR650F I rode earlier this year to be far more comfortable over distance.
However, the Street Triple’s magnificent engine makes a person kind of not care about those complaints. Triumph claims 106 horsepower for this “little” bike, whereas other sources suggest a number closer to 98 hp. Either way, it’s more than enough. Smooth, bungee-like acceleration brings you up to and beyond legal highway speeds with no effort. And the bike holds those speeds comfortably with little to no vibration coming through the bars or pegs.
The chassis is unflappable at high speed, holding rock-steady on long boring straights and flicking with ease from lane to lane when asked. The Triumph is so good in this sense that I wish there were some sort of sport-touring Daytona (the Street Triple is, after all, effectively a naked and detuned version of the Daytona 675 sportbike). Triumph will never create such a thing, because they’d only sell about eight of them, but a lad can dream.
Back Road Riding
Where the Street Triple shines most, of course, is on back roads. It’s the sort of machine that makes every corner fun – even when keeping at or close to legal speeds. Everything works so fluidly, so very much as you wish a bike would. I’m not a track bro, and I suspect the standard Street Triple would come up short in that environment (perhaps the Street Triple R would be more to sir’s liking?), but on public roads the bike’s suspension is more than sufficient.
ABS-equipped brakes perform well, though they may not offer quite as much bite as some folks would prefer. I thought they were fine. The soundtrack of the bike’s exhaust is a reason in and of itself to hustle down country lanes. At higher revs you are rewarded with the iconic bark of an inline Triple, ease off and you hear an anticipative burble. Involuntary revving will occur any time you pass through a tunnel, followed by goofy laughing on your part and an overwhelming desire to do wheelies.
One of these days I’ll learn how to do those...
Whether the Street Triple is practical depends on your intended use. As a long-distance machine, no. Along with compact ergonomics, bad mirrors, no luggage points, and a complete lack of weather protection, the bike’s fuel economy leaves something to be desired when run for long stretches at interstate/motorway speeds. London is just 241 kilometress from Cardiff but I wasn’t able to make it all the way without a fuel stop.
Within the city, at lower speeds, fuel economy improves and – as I say – it is a magical commuting machine. In a heavy-traffic area like London, Los Angeles, or Houston (I’ve seen plenty of dudes lane-splitting there despite its questionable legality) this would be the ideal motorcycle to own. There is something life-enriching about hearing the sound of that burbling, barking engine bouncing off the doors of cars as you pass by.
Obviously, the Street Triple is far more powerful than necessary for just city duty, but that means you don’t need to switch bikes when travelling to those less hectic roads where no one really worries about practical matters.
What Everyone Else Says
It’s a running joke that any time Triumph releases a motorcycle the British press automatically place it on their Best of the Year lists. So, it comes as no surprise that Motorcycle News was gushing in its praise back when the Street Triple was first released – five stars across the board.
“It’s impossible to think of a better engine to power the Triumph Street Triple,” MCN reported. “The 675 cc motor lifted from the Daytona 675 offers absolutely everything you need.”
I agree. The engine is absolutely the star of the show, outshining the moto’s horrendous looks and cramped riding position to the point of making you feel a little silly for complaining too much about them.
Meanwhile, Blake Conner, writing in Cycle World, said: ”The Street Triple completely redefines what the middleweight naked class is all about.“
He wrote that in 2007, before anyone had even thought about the Yamaha FZ-09, but I’d argue the Street Triple still holds its own in the class. It lacks traction control and spiffy riding modes but remains engaging, loads of fun, and easy to ride (though, I’d disagree with anyone suggesting it as a bike for newer riders).
The Little Things
I mentioned that the bike doesn’t seem to have much presence, somehow disappearing from other road users’ view. Exacerbating this is the nature of the bike’s turn signal lights. Rather than the traditional set-up of having a bulb behind a coloured cover window (i.e. yellow on the front, red on the rear) the signals use coloured bulbs inside a mirrored housing. That’s swell in low-light conditions, but creates a unique problem in bright sunlight.
Which I learned about when a Domino’s delivery driver almost ran me over. I caught up with him and offered to insert my boot into his bodily orifices, but he claimed I’d been signalling a right turn. I informed him he was wrong, expressed my displeasure with his actions, and ultimately the two of us parted on unhappy terms. About 20 minutes later, I was walking out of a shop and, in looking at the bike, thought: “Why is my blinker on?”
It wasn’t. It was sunlight reflecting in the mirrored housing. I had unfairly expended a whole lot of negative energy toward that delivery driver, and I felt like a jerk. I also felt nervous riding in sunshine; perhaps Triumph intended this bike for vampire use? (Canadian spec Street Triples use different turn signal indicator lights, which weren't present on this U.K. spec bike when testing. -ed.)
The Best Things
The Street Triple doesn’t look too bad from the rear, and I really dig the underbelly exhaust that – as I say – makes a beautiful sound. Here in Her Majesty the Queen’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland there is a special feeling one gets when riding a Triumph, regardless of how ugly it may be. Even little old ladies give you a warm smile when they see the name on the tank. Police officers give a nod of approval when you park on the sidewalk.
You’re unlikely to receive such special treatment beyond the shores of this sceptered isle, but there’s still something unique about riding a bike with such an iconic name. Most importantly, though, there’s that engine. It will make you happy every time.
Would I Buy It?
I can say a lot of good things about the Street Triple, and I’d argue that the bike’s $10,000 starting price is mostly fair. Despite the fact it’s $250 more than a FZ-09. But I can’t imagine ever being willing to part with my own hard-earned cash for a bike this ugly.
I mean, Lord, is it ugly.
That’s a rich statement coming from a guy who likes adventure bikes (every manufacturer makes one, none of them look good), but in those cases the bikes offer more all-round usefulness. Which compensates for the fact they aren’t as fun.
Within the Street Triple’s own genre, however – and assuming that I wasn’t living in the UK, where the Triumph name delivers a lot of intangibles – I suppose I’d spend my moola on… uh… well… that’s a tough one. There are bikes that are cheaper, that look better, that have more techno whizzbangery, but few put everything together as well as the Triumph.
So, I guess I’d just learn to live with it, taking solace in the fact I can’t really see the bike when I’m on it. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some people love the Street Triple. I can’t blame them for doing so.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Physical build: Thin, lanky
Riding experience: 40,000+ kilometres a year
Helmet: BMW System 6 Evo
Jacket: Resurgence Gear Rocker
Gloves: Weise Remulus
Jeans: Resurgence Gear Voyager
Boots: MotoBailey ElBulli