Dancing With A Speed Triple
I own a 2005 Triumph Speed Triple. It is the finest motorcycle I’ve ever owned or ridden, and that now includes about 450 motorcycles. I have owned about ten and ridden the other plus-400 in the past 11 years of my motorsports career. The Speed Triple is probably the most perfect bike ever made – for me.
“Perfect” applies differently to every rider, of course, and encompasses ergonomics, engine performance and sound, suspension, brakes, and that mass of indefinables that denote “character.” For the way I ride, the sound I like (triples are in a special class, and the sound is unique and never fails to thrill), and for how I fit on the bike it is perfect, and has been for over 30,000 miles. It has been modified with Triumph off-road pipes that are not too quiet and not too loud, but like the 3rd bowl of porridge – just right. A tank bag holds enough stuff for any one day jaunt, and I have a large Ventura bag and rack I can put on for multi-day trips of up to a week. The scorched yellow paint gleams, and the dark graphite wheels glow with subtle menace. An added center stand allows it to sit appropriate upright when not in use. The Triumph accessory “fly screen” adds the finishing touch to the signature double bug-eye headlights, now grown to cartoonish excess on the current edition, to my eye. Motorcycle appreciation is an extremely subjective topic, and I would not try to convince anyone of the bike as perfection on two wheels. To me, it is.
To be sure, I have been techno-spoiled by most of the BMWs I have ridden of late, and if the Speed Triple had shaft drive, ABS brakes, heated grips, real time tire pressure monitors, 9 way electronically adjustable suspension, and the incredible array of information available from the instrument displays, as do most of the BMWs. I would probably just sit and stare and giggle at the Triumph. However, not even mighty BMW had all of these in 2005, so that is not entirely fair.
But there is an oddity. For the past two years it has been ridden seldom, as the largesse of my current job provides me with a new BMW of some model for “work.” Thus the triple sits in glowing scorched yellow majesty in the garage for a greater percentage of the time than is ideal. I usually get to ride it at monthly intervals, and the same thing happens every time I take it out after weeks of riding miscellaneous other fine machines.
I am awkward. Clumsy. Inept. The throttle is jerky, the brake application sloppy, and my cornering lines are all over the map. Each time I wonder how I could have loved this bike so completely for the first 5 years and fallen so far adrift of the skills required to ride it with aplomb. I can never be sure what gear I am in, or what gear I should be in. Downshifts are a hit and miss affair, and the exhaust barks in protest, or moans in dismay when I am too low in the rev band. Braking is too harsh or too casual, and at times I feel I am going to tip it over.
It feels like I am dancing with a beautiful woman who is a highly skilled dancer, and I am a klutz and a source of irritation, embarrassment, and shame. I step on her toes often, and occasionally receive a slap on the face for my ineptitude.
That is the first day, and I retreat from the ride home is a state of confusion and despair.
By the second day, things begin to come together. I feel more balanced, my body settles into the half crouch a naked bike prefers, and the hard saddle begins to become one with me again. I grow more positive about gear selection, and the brake application becomes firm yet smooth. And soon we arrive back at the perfect coordination we have enjoyed for years. I feel so meshed with the mechanical heart of the beast that I often feel I could do anything – leap over tall buildings, go 130 mph in perfect ease, and stop on any random dime left in my path. We are dancing together again, that wonderful feeling of ergonomic symmetry where the synapses of your body blend with the mechanical exotica beneath you, and you lose track of the interface between man and machine and become one, a performer of moto-ballet that is a special recital staged for your own enjoyment.
Oddly, it does not seem to work the other way. I can get off the Triumph and get on any BMW, Harley, Aprilia, Honda, or any other brand or model you can name and ride it with competence immediately.
My ham-brained guess is that all of this is due to the immediacy of the controls of the Speed Triple. If you twist the throttle, it accelerates – hard – and right now. If you squeeze the brakes it assumes you want to stop with alacrity. It leans into turns with only a modicum of thought. It is a scalpel of the road, and deserves to be ridden with the steadiness of hand and intensity of purpose it was designed for. All of this, and yet when ridden as I normally do, it is never harsh or abrupt or lacking in finesse, as was the Muzzy Raptor I once owned.
All other motorcycles seem to have control inputs that are less intense and less demanding, and that is probably for the best. I may not understand all of this, but I know I will enjoy riding the Triple today even more. Another day, the sun is out, and the dance floor beckons.
Copyright David Preston 2011