Test Ride: Triumph Speed Four

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Words: Rob Harris/Larry Tate   Photos: Richard Seck/Rob Harris

If I had to say which of the current Triumph line-up is my favourite model, it would be the Speed Triple. Granted, it’s not the most practical machine, but a combination of that wild three-cylinder motor, great chassis with bug-eyed lights and an upright riding position—arms splayed to grasp those wide tubular bars. It oozes hooliganism and never fails to put a grin on your face. So last year when Triumph decided to add a baby-brother to the ‘speed’ family, by striping down their TT600, I was all ears.

But as fate would have it, shortly after its 2002 launch, the Hinckley factory had a massive fire. This set back production and the Speed Four didn’t make it onto Canadian shores till earlier this year. With a recent visit to England, while eastern Canada still lay under an inch of snow, I seized the opportunity to get a ride on the Speed Four in it’s motherland—doubling up as a handy form of transportation with which to get around the country and see some of my old pals.

A NAKED TT?

Mr. Frog, meet Mr. Gargoyle. (RH)

Scanning over the spec sheets reveals that the Speed Four is identical to the TT600 except for an ominous lack of top-end power. Maxing out at 97 hp, the Speed Four is down 11 hp on the TT, but makes it a full 1000rpm lower down the scale (at 11,750rpm). Max torque remains unchanged at 50ft.lb, although that comes in 500rpm lower (at 10,500rpm), implying the Speed Four gets the typical “retuned for more midrange” naked conversion shtick.

Looks wise, Triumph have added an element of aggression by painting the frame, wheels and motor black. Up front there’s the Speed signature bug-eyed lights, topped with a small instrument fairing, with two protruding air scoops bolted onto the wide aluminum beam frame. On the TT, these stick out from the fairing as two rather ugly round snorkels. Thankfully they’re not as noticeable on the Speed Four, but still seem a bit overly long—although that might be a requirement in order to get at the cleaner airflow required for effective ram-air.

GREEN AND PLEASANT LANDS

Editor ‘arris and the S4 get on well during a tour of the Dales. (Photo – Sarah Harris)

The model I picked up in England came in Triumph’s rather loud Roulette Green, garnering either a love or loathe response from passer-bys (okay, 9 to 1 were in the loathe camp). The green, in my humble opinion, certainly gets you noticed—which is not at all a bad thing—but does somewhat bounce off the black base of the bike, exaggerating the air intakes and overall brightness of the green. Combined with the two big lights up front and you have a frogish like feel to the beast. Cute, but not quite hooligan territory.

Getting on the bike and the TT base becomes (painfully) obvious. It’s small you see, and I’m not. This unto itself is not a big problem, but by retaining the TT’s riding position, I found my legs folded backwards to the rear set pegs and upper body slumped over the tank, thanks to the lowly TT clip-on bars. This was an immediate disappointment. Where were the high and wide tubular bars, and that bolt-upright, I’m-the-boss riding position? After the thought that went into making the Speed Triple a successful Daytona spin-off, this was feeling a bit like a cheap makeover job.

Inline four motor is surprisingly usable. (RS)

What saves all this from the unworthy-bin is the fact that the TT600 is really quite a good bike. It was unfortunately hit by a poorly calibrated fuel injection system on launch—from which it never quite recovered—but with the release of the 600 Daytona its future has to be limited. So maybe a naked spin-off with ‘fixed’ fuel injection is not a bad way to allow for some recovery.

The motor’s reminiscent of the earlier Japanese 600s—back when they were more concerned with usability over peak-power figures—with a good spread of power that comes on linearly and is surprisingly tractable to boot, even two-up! Still, it’s a 600/4 and passing usually requires a gear or two drop to get into the higher power for a quick, safe swoop. But why stop there? With a redline of 14,000 rpm, and an addictively free-revving motor, the S4 begs to be thrashed like an accountant in a common bawdy house. Oh, and it screams like one too … which is a good thing. I think.

But there’s a ghost in them thar injectors, characterized by a chugging behavior at any speed below 2,000 rpm. Although the lovable Mr. Tate questions why a sporty 600 ever sees <2,000 rpm in the first place, I beg to differ as this glitch becomes an annoyance whenever using engine braking down hill—resulting in back and forth shuddering—and a downright pain in the arse in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic.

Not your everyday view. (RS)

It also wasn’t helped by a rather heavy clutch with a long reach lever (non-adjustable), which would chatter alarmingly into engagement, making getting stuck in traffic a painful process. In the S4’s defence this must have been one of those ‘wearing-in’ type faults, as it was woefully low on odometer miles and the chattering had noticeably declined by the end of the ride.

Thankfully, the gearbox is quite precise, although a tad notchy—requiring a firm foot and full clutch disengagement for a smooth change.

FOUR-PLAY

Triumph Canada’s Chris Ellis illustrates the S4’s stability while pondering important sizes. (RS)

In the handling department the S4 is quite sweet. However, since I was a little too large for the bike, I never felt like I became one with it, but it still proved very flickable and consistent. If it hadn’t been for the masses of speed cameras adorning England’s highways, I’m sure that the handling would have enabled a good turn of speed without worry.

The suspension seems to be an ideal compromise—not too hard that it’s jarring, yet stiff enough to feel taught and supply good feedback to the rider. Although both the front and rear are adjustable for preload, compression and rebound I never felt the need to change them from the stock settings.

Comfort wise the main problem for me was the small overall size. This wasn’t helped by the high location of the pegs that resulted in a tight angle at the knee. Although they were better than expected (a day’s ride is possible with plenty of breaks) a BMW style adjustable seat height would have been most welcome. Having said that, two hours on the motorway was about all I could take, especially since the rear pegs were too high as an optional secondary position. Oh well, the seat was comfortable at least!

Lovely brakes … (RS)

Oh and one last thing. The bar height and angle didn’t help, inducing wrist ache quite quickly. Again, where’s the street-fighter tubular set-up when you need it? And what’s with the tight steering lock? It took a very wide arc to turn the bike around, which also took out some of the urban maneuverability that a bike like this should do well at. 

On the brighter side, the S4 brakes are excellent. Twin discs with four piston calipers up front give a very progressive feel and make stoppies a breeze. The rear proved to be a good compromise of not too much that it’ll lock, yet enough to be of use.

Instruments are the standard Triumph package of digital speedo and analogue tach, housed behind that small fairing, which helps to push the air up enabling cruising speeds of up to 120 km/h. The front lights do a good job of illuminating the road ahead, using one light for low and both for high—giving a slightly bog-eyed look in the low beam mode. The mirrors are bar mounted and sustained a clear, vibration free view, albeit half being of my elbows.

… and comfy rear. (RS)

I did have the opportunity to take a passenger on the back for a day riding in the Yorkshire Dales. Sister Sarah (as in family, not religion) did the honours and came back with two thumbs up (in an approving way, as opposed to a sad demented way). This was quite the surprise, as I’d expected the small nature and TT heritage of the bike to translate into one unhappy pillion. But no, Sis reckons the seat was well padded and roomy. She also felt quite secure on there, despite my best efforts to illustrate its screaming power band. Even the footpeg positioning was roomy enough for her.

I also took the opportunity to get a friend and Honda Hornet 600 owner to take the S4 around the block. At a midget like 5’ 7” he fit the S4 much better, finding no problem with the bars or riding posture (although he did agree that it was a tad on the sporty side). Oh and he too conferred that the power comes in much lower down, is pleasantly progressive, without the fierce take-off at midrange that the Hornet produces, which I think is a good thing. Thanks Jim.

Oh, and Mr. Tate has no problem with the S4’s positioning and thinks I’m a wanker, but what’s new about that?

FOUR-GONE CONCLUSION

When this BMW owner realized that he could have saved a bundle by buying a Saturn, the result was inevitable. (RH)

Maybe it’s because Triumph did such a good job with the Speed Triple that I’m being hard on the Speed Four, but them’s big shoes to fit into. Granted, it’s a capable bike, and once I got it into the twisty roads of the Yorkshire Dales I started to have some real fun, but for me there’s just a few too many issues to justify it.

I think where Triumph have gone wrong is in trying to take a short cut on the street-fighter concept. I know the Speed Four is just a naked TT, but taking off the plastic is only one of the steps to making a good street-fighter (strangely adding $100 to the price in the process). The obvious oversights being the omission of wide tubular bars (the S3’s bars are a whole 90mm wider than the S4) and a more neutral peg positioning— currently they’re too far back and too high up in my opinion. Of course, the S3 also has 50% more torque, which comes in at half the rpm of the S4’s, but that’s something that can only be obtained with cubic capacity.

Littondale. (RH)

If, as expected, the TT600 becomes destined for the annals of history, then it would be nice to see it live on in Speed Four form. Of course, the niggly injection and clutch faults need fixing immediately and I believe that if the aforementioned street-fighter mods are taken care of it’ll be a more attractive package. After all, at C$11,499, the Speed Four is not the cheapest bike on the market. Suzuki’s SV650 and Bandit 600 can both be had for almost $3,000 less. $900 less gets you the Bandit 1200, $500 less gets you either a Honda 919F or Kawasaki Z1000 and for an additional few hundred you’re looking at an SV1000.

Don’t agree with me? Mr. Tate had a word or two to add to my thoughts. In typical style he didn’t hold back (which I quite like), so I thought it might be a good idea to slap his thoughts here. Take it away Larry:

Mr. Ellis was never one to conform. (RS)

Well, I have no argument about the tubular bar thing, for sure. Nor do I disagree that your legs are long for the seating position, but I think you overstate that quite a bit. Your friend who’s about my height found it okay, after all, and I like the peg position a lot.

Where I have a real problem is your choice of comparisons. The thing isn’t comparable to an SV650 or a Bandit 600 in any way, in my mind, except for displacement. It’s a supersport 600 without a fairing—not the same thing at all, and as such is priced right the same as all the others (why it isn’t a bit cheaper because of the lack of bodywork I don’t get, for sure …).

I don’t think it’s fair to take a bike with the spec of chassis and engine and suspension and compare it to something that’s deliberately built to a cheaper spec and I think to a different market, too—as to exactly what the S4 market is supposed to be, I’m not sure—like you, I’d much prefer S3 type bars.


Fuel Consumption

Over the 1000 km that I rode the Speed Four I saw an average fuel consumption of 16 km/l or 6.25 l/100km. With a capacity of 18 litres, that gives a theoretical range of about 290 Km. The fuel warning light comes on around the 13.7 litre mark (about 220km) suggesting a reserve range of 4.3 litres, or about 70 km.

 

Bike

Triumph Speed Four

MSL

$11,499.00

Displacement

599 cc

Engine type

Inline dohc four, liquid cooled

Carburetion

Fuel injection

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 310 mm discs with four piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

810 mm (31.9″)

Wheelbase

1395 mm (54.9″)

Dry weight

170 Kg (374 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Black, Green, Orange

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