Words: Phil Suriano
Photos: Phil Suriano and Triumph Motorcycles
Remember that scene in Predator when Mac cuts loose with the minigun after Blaine’s death? I can’t personally attest to what firing a mad weapon like that would feel like, but I firmly believe it would deliver the same kind of rush I got with Triumph’s new Speed Triple 1200 RS.
Let me say right off the bat that this is my first experience with a modern Triumph, so I’m coming to the Speed Triple 1200 RS with fresh eyes. I’m also coming a little late, to be honest, as the all-new, 2021 version of Triumph’s high-performance naked bike – that’s now legitimately a supernaked - was announced back in January and arrived in Australia in March, but I only got to throw a leg over one in December.
I had been alternating my time on the Speed Triple with a BMW S 1000 R and it’s worth noting how similar these bikes are in some areas and how totally different they are in others.
The seat height is the same, weight is almost identical, as is the wheelbase and external dimensions. They also run the same front and rear wheel sizes and the same brake disc sizes. The difference in engine capacity – 1160cc for the Triumph versus 999cc for the BMW – shouldn’t make that much difference, but it does. The pair are VERY different bikes to ride and offer a VERY different experience.
The New Boss
The Speed Triple has a lineage stretching back to 1994 and has gone through five distinct generational changes since; the most recent of which was powered by a 1050cc triple producing 110kW and 117Nm.
That version has been replaced by the Speed Triple 1200 RS for 2021. While the 'Speed Triple' name and some premium componentry, including Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes, carries over, the 1200 is essentially an all-new bike.
Increasing engine capacity to 1160cc has resulted in a power increase to 132.4kW and 125Nm, but the Speed Triple 1200 RS is also 10kg lighter than the outgoing model, which means the power-to-weight ratio has increased by 26 per cent. It’s also double the power-to-weight ratio of the 1994 original.
How Triumph managed to remove 10kg from an already slim naked – including stripping 7kg from the engine while also increasing its capacity - is beyond me, but they’ve done it and the bike is a sharper, more precise weapon because of it.
While both the BMW and Triumph can function perfectly well as a commuter or fun weekend machine, the Speed Triple is just screaming to be let loose on a track. I couldn’t manage that on my test, but I’m certain it would excel in that environment, as even when I was pushing the bike on speed restricted roads, the Speed Triple felt like it had plenty more to give.
Fresh, but Familiar Look
While it’s new in so many areas, the Speed Triple 1200 RS retains a familiar look, starting with the exposed ‘bug eye’ headlights that have been a signature styling feature since 2011. These have been tweaked and now include LED DRLs as part of a full LED lighting package.
The exposed multi-tube frame also looks much like the chassis of the Speed Triple 1050 RS but is all-new and redesigned from the ground up. This cast aluminium frame is a claimed 17 per cent lighter, while repackaging the gearbox under the engine has allowed for a longer swingarm without lengthening the wheelbase. The result is that mass has been moved forward and sits lower in the overall package.
Also playing a part in this new weight balance is the reconfigured exhaust system. The twin pipes that previously exited under the tail have been replaced with a 3-into-1 system with a single silencer on the offside. This change means you lose some of the visual impact of the twin-pipe look, and the same goes for the single-sided swingarm, as the silencer now covers most of the “open” side, but it’s not a major issue aesthetically. The reconfigured exhaust also makes the tail look smaller than the outgoing model, but it’s essentially the same size.
It’s worth noting that, as well as being lighter, the new frame is also narrower, meaning a more manageable cross section for shorter riders while also allowing the footpegs to be moved inward. Handlebars are now 13mm wider but bar-end mirrors still feature. Although I’m not a fan of these generally, the mirrors on the Triumph look good.
There’s a new wheel design, reshaped fuel tank and modified tail with a distinctive new tail light design that looks fantastic both day and night - photos don't do it justice.
The radiator is nicely concealed with some alloy side trim, but there’s no stone guard and the horn placement looks like an afterthought.
I noticed that the catalytic convertor for the exhaust system is well covered with a fairing, which has also been redesigned.
The seat is nicely finished with white contrast stitching, and while I had no previous reference to compare it to, Triumph say that substantial improvements have been made to the seat profile and construction to improve rider comfort.
Two colours are offered on the 2021 Speed Triple 1200 RS; Sapphire Black, with red and silver graphics; and Matt Silver Ice, with black, silver and yellow graphics. I had the former, which I believe is the better of the two, but I’d like to see a bold red or bright blue – maybe that’s coming.
On the Road
Like many new bikes these days, the Speed Triple 1200 RS has gone keyless, but Triumph have taken it up a notch with keyless starting, steering lock and fuel filler cap. This is new for the Speed Triple and a first for Triumph.
At 5’10” (178cm), I could manage the 830mm seat height easily and the narrow cross section is immediately apparent. Riding position is close to neutral, with a comfortable reach to the bars that have very well laid-out switchgear. Despite this being my first Triumph, the switches and their functions were easy to work out, although I did find myself hitting the indicators a few times when reaching for the selector control to go through menu options for the 5-inch TFT screen.
This screen is another all-new item on the Speed Triple and the layout of information is great. Normally, it shows a large speed display and gear position indicator within a circular revcounter, but open the menu to change riding modes or other settings and this 3D-look display tilts to one side while still remaining highly visible.
The layout offers two different display themes, while the new, optically bonded screen is said to guarantee less reflection. I found the screen to be clear and easy to read in all conditions.
Upon thumbing the starter, I was greeted with a nice rumble from the exhaust – a taste of what was to come when I gave it some throttle. Again, I can’t compare this to past Speed Triples, but it sounded great to me.
Clutch action is smooth, but slightly heavier than what I’m used to, and gear selection through all six speeds in the new transmission is easy. After dropping the bike into first, I was off – almost literally - as the power was unexpected and came on in a bit of a rush.
Like the exhaust note, the induction noise is impressive, but it’s the power from the 1160cc triple that makes the biggest impression – you feel like you have so much available, just at the flick of a wrist.
An up-and-down quickshifter is standard, meaning you can give your left hand a rest and hold on to the grips a bit tighter as you wind on more power!
It feels like there’s an abundance of performance available in every gear, but I will say that the Speed Triple 1200 RS feels at its happiest when the revs are high.
As the Speed Triple 1200 RS wants to get up and go in all gears, the standard cruise control is a 'licence-saver' in speed-monitored urban areas.
In the Bends and on the Brakes
All the suspension componentry from the Speed Triple 1050 carries over to the 1200 unchanged, so there’s an Öhlins NIX40 43mm USD fork up front and an Öhlins TTX36 monoshock at the rear. The longer swingarm means rear travel has been decreased to 120mm, but front travel is unchanged at 120mm and there’s full adjustability at each end.
While the base suspension components are the same, the way they perform in the new frame and new weight distribution is said to have been improved. I’ve been checking other reviews to get a reference point in regards to this and most have said the suspension is a little too hard for the road and needs the preload and rebound wound out to make it more supple. I tend to agree.
That being said, even though it’s on the firm side, the suspension package soaked up minor road imperfections and gave me plenty of confidence when cornering.
That extra forward weight makes the front wheel feel very planted through a corner, so taking on some twisties can be a delight, but as with the power, you need to be switched on, as this bike isn’t forgiving of poor gear selection or changes of speed when cornering. The bike responds well to steering input and those inboard footpegs allow that extra bit of lean angle when cornering.
Instances like this made it clear to me that the Speed Triple 1200 RS is very much a bike for riders. If you’re experienced and confident in your riding ability, you’ll get the most out of it, but if you’ve just come off a LAMS bike, maybe look for something milder before stepping up to a weapon like this.
The assuredness of the handling is matched by the brakes. This package has been upgraded for the 1200 RS, with Brembo calipers now at each end. Previously, the rear disc had a Nissin caliper. Discs are dual 320mm floaters up front and a 220mm at the rear, with Optimised Cornering ABS standard as part of a comprehensive electronics package.
What also can’t be overlooked in the Speed Triple 1200 RS’s handling is the standard Metzeler Racetec RR tyres that offered great grip, even in the wet.
Other riders with more Triumph experience than me have compared the new Speed Triple 1200 RS to the Street Triple in terms of its light weight and manoeuvrability, which is a good thing when reduced weight is combined with increased performance.
All that Tech
Along with Optimised Cornering ABS, there’s also Optimised Cornering Traction Control that’s switchable, front-wheel lift control, five riding modes, cruise control, Triumph Shift Assist, the MyTriumph Connectivity system and the aforementioned keyless system fitted as standard.
Most of these features are new, including the Optimised Cornering ABS and Traction Control that work off a integral 6-axis IMU that offers more refined braking control and ensures the optimum slip rate and torque control.
The Triumph Shift Assist quickshifter is new and allows clutchless up-and-down shifting. On most bikes, a feature like this can be handy but not essential. On the Triumph, it allows you push that little bit harder, and I certainly exploited that on my test, finding it to be easy to use and offering minimal interruption to acceleration and deceleration.
The Optimised Cornering ABS and Optimised Cornering Traction Control are similarly subtle in terms of their impact on the riding experience. Each have been refined for the Speed Triple 1200 RS and designed to enhance fast riding on a track.
Riding modes are Rain, Road, Sport, Track and Rider, each of which adjust throttle response and the level of ABS and Traction Control intervention. When Triumph says the Track mode has been enhanced for the Speed Triple 1200 RS, I’m not surprised, as I’m sure that’s where this bike does most of its best work – the track. While not disabled entirely, Track makes the ABS and Traction Control “as unintrusive as possible”.
As mentioned, the new Speed Triple's cruise control is a licence saver. Like the Shift Assist, it adds to the versatility and enjoyment of the bike, as well as making it usable in multiple applications.
Some riders may baulk at this level of tech, but in the Speed Triple 1200 RS, it enhances the riding experience and allows you to push the bike to its limits, knowing that the electronics have got your back.
With the MyTriumph Conectivity system, you can access turn-by-turn navigation via the free My Triumph app, as well as phone control, music operation and even GoPro control. All these functions can be operated from the switchgear and displayed on the TFT screen.
The Speed Triple 1200 RS is in its element when the revs are high. For a weekend blast on favourite riding roads with some of your mates, this is 100 per cent the bike you want, as it's a hoot to ride and makes you feel alive.
It’s fine to use every day, too, but it is a bike that offers much more than the drudgery of being a city commuter.
Having no real knowledge of a Speed Triple before this test, my whole experience with the 1200 RS was a rush. It also attracts a lot of attention – more than any other bike I’ve had in recent memory.
After being a step or two behind top-end supernaked rivals, like the Ducati Streetfighter V4S, MV Agusta Brutale 1000, Aprilia Tuono V4 and Kawasaki Z H2, the Speed Triple 1200 RS is now level and possibly even ahead of the pack.
While some bikes can be blunt instruments, the Speed Triple 1200 RS is a sharp-edged weapon and it makes me want to sharpen my own riding skills so I can unleash and enjoy everything that it has to offer.
If your riding skills are already at that advanced level, I’m sure you’ll find the Speed Triple 1200 RS to be a delight.
SPECIFICATIONS - 2021 Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS
TYPE: DOHC 12-valve inline three-cylinder 4-stroke
BORE x STROKE: 90 x 60.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 13.2:1
ENGINE START: Electric
INDUCTION: Multipoint sequential EFi
MAX POWER: 132.4kW at 10,750rpm
MAX TORQUE: 125.0Nm at 9,000rpm
MAX SPEED: 249km/h
CLUTCH: Wet, multi-plate w/slip and assist
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
FRAME: Aluminium twin spar w/aluminium subframe
FRONT SUSPENSION: 45mm Öhlins USD telescopic fork, fully adjustable w/120mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable w/120mm travel
FRONT WHEEL: 17-inch cast aluminium
REAR WHEEL: 17-inch cast aluminium
FRONT TYRE: Metzeler Racetec RR K3 120/70 ZR17
REAR TYRE: Metzeler Racetec RR K3 190/55 ZR17
FRONT BRAKE: Dual 320mm discs w/four-piston calipers and ABS
REAR BRAKE: 220mm disc w/two-piston floating caliper and ABS
LxWxH: 2090mm x 792mm x 1089mm
RAKE: 23.9 degrees
GROUND CLEARANCE: N/A
SEAT HEIGHT: 830mm
WET WEIGHT: 198kg
FUEL CAPACITY: 15.5lt
Sapphire Black, Matte Silver Ice
LAMS APPROVED: No
PRICE: $28,490 Ride Away
WARRANTY: 24 months, Unlimited Km