Race bikes usually come in pretty predictable form. Big litre superbikes. 600cc fours. Single-cylinder 250cc MX bikes. Production-based racing generally uses the top level of sporting road bikes as the base upon which the sharper, harder, faster competition machinery is built.
But sometimes they come from the weirdest places. When the Suzuki SV650 first appeared in 1999, the chances of it becoming the base for an exciting TT racebike would not have seemed high to most folk. This pleasant little commuting V-twin? Lapping the Island at 120mph? Come on now. Ditto Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 and ER-6, or KTM’s RC 390 – sporty little numbers, but hardly white-hot racers.
On the face of it, Triumph’s new Street Triple 765 also seems like an unlikely base for a competition machine. A naked middleweight sporty-commuter with a weird engine capacity? Duh? What on earth could that ever have to do with any sort of serious racing activity?
But as we reported earlier this year, the 765 engine is set to star in one of the highest-profile race series around: powering the Moto2 support class after next year, when Honda’s CBR600RR engine supply deal comes to an end. The three-cylinder motor will be at the heart of the machines ridden by the next generation of MotoGP aliens, at the finest racetracks the world has to offer.
So – it better be good then, eh? And we’re in Barcelona to find out. Appropriately enough, we’re heading for the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, one of the finest racetracks the world has to offer, for a day out riding the new Triumph Street Triple. Well, half a day actually, we’re spending the morning on the bikes, riding from our hotel up in the Catalan mountains down to the Montmelo circuit. We’re racing the weather too – the forecast says rain by 4pm. Best get on.
Triumph has put us on the RS version of the Striple for today. That’s the top end version of three (five if you include the low seat ‘R’ version and the 660cc A2 licence one). At the bottom is the Street Triple S, with 111bhp, twin-piston brakes and cooking suspension. Next is the ‘R’, with five more gee-gees, middle-class Brembos and higher-spec Showa forks and shock. Then the RS – a raucously torquey 121bhp motor, M50 superbike Brembos, and Showa’s poshest forks this side of them gas-charged buggers.
I’ll be upfront – I loved the old Street Triple, and also have a lot of time for the Speed Triple. I’ve ridden them a lot over the years, and there’s something about the naked three-cylinder Triumph experience that really works. Looking this one over, there’s a lot that’s clearly still very much ‘Street Triple-y’ about it. The engine and frame are broadly the same sort of thing and the styling is very familiar. But it’s all been turned up a notch, and given a 2017 makeover. Things like the clocks and switchgear are pleasingly premium and high-functioning, and Triumph’s claims of ‘highest build quality ever’ seem plausible (although there was a bit of rust staining on the rear axle of my 500km-old test bike already…)
There are a lot of new electronics too of course, and we get a rundown from the Triumph test rider before setting off. The ABS and traction can be turned off, power can be modulated, preset riding modes can be chosen, or customised on the RS. It’s reasonably clear, but like most of these setups, it takes a wee while to get totally into the way of it.
No time now though – we’re off. And the first few miles are a bit of a trial actually. It’s cold - there’s just eight degrees showing on the pretty colour dash – and the roads round here are pretty damp. There’s a few muddy trails left by local farm vehicles, and I feel like I’m on riding on tiptoes as we trickle down the steep hillside roads. The main problem is the tyres of course – the RS comes with Pirelli Supercorsa SP rubber as stock, which is a great idea for hot sunny days out on grippy backroads or a cheeky trackday. They’re not so good at the moment though: cold, hard and incommunicative, they’re like a girlfriend that’s about to dump you…
What is good, though, is the engine. It’s a grunty, lusty package, and cunning airbox design gives you a fantastic soundtrack to proceedings, despite the ratcheting up of Euro emissions regs. Of course, it’s designed to be quiet from the noise tester’s point of view, but within the little bubble around your head, the intake roar is addictive – hard-edged, rorty. And with the decent-if-basic, up-only quickshifter, you can play racers till your heart’s content, buzzing your brain with revs, roar and rush up through the gearbox.
It feels far stronger than a supersport-class engine should too. Hit the ride-by-wire throttle hard in second gear around 70mph, and the front wheel comes up fast, without needing a rise or a hump to launch off. And following the Triumph test rider on a 1200 Explorer, the 765 easily had the legs to keep pace with the bigger bike, at any speed. The fuelling is crisp and accurate, although in the more aggressive power modes, it is a little on the abrupt side when you’re pootling through quiet village streets, bumping up onto sleeping policemen and accelerating off them.
We stop for coffee, and when we pull away again, the temperature gauge has crept up the right side of 10°C. The Pirellis are defrosting a little – but still outside their comfort zone. I’m getting properly into mine now though. The road becomes clearer, dryer, and twistier, and I’m having a ball chasing our lead rider, ‘Pesky’ Pete Ward, racer and Triumph test rider. The new Brembos are sharp, sharp, sharp, but with the safety net of ABS, you don’t worry about using them hard.
I’ve turned the traction control off, so she wheelies like a good ‘un now, but I still feel really confident about putting down the power early out of bends. The chassis feels agile and composed, and it’s no effort at all to flick and flack your way through the mountain road bends. When you get it spot on – straightlining through a complex of bends, hammering round a fast hairpin, then lifting the front as you open up onto a straight, the little Triumph feels just incredible – a buzzy, life-affirming experience in metal.
We’re at the track now, and although it’s dry at the moment, the clouds are looming with intent. Like a group of sullen bouncers milling about at the door of a nightclub, the dark, black masses jostle their way about the sky, and the mountains dip in and out of sight behind the fog. Gah!
Of course, Catalunya is A Proper Track – a top-level Formula One and MotoGP establishment, with super-long straight, incredible fast bends and an assortment of altitudes on offer too. I’ve been here a few times – but not in the last decade, so I’m looking forward to a gentle sighting lap or two to refresh the memory. However, we’re led out by TT racer Gary ‘Driver’ Johnson, whose idea of a sighting lap wouldn’t earn him many plaudits from the medium group at your average trackday… I’m blasting about, trying to keep him within respectable distance, and working hard straight off. I’m grateful that Triumph packed the tyre warmers…
I’m also grateful that they’ve made the Street Triple such a good bike on track. That immense engine is not at all fazed by Catalunya’s scale. Where something like a Honda Hornet 600 would be a little swamped by the enormity of this track, the 765 is right at home. Those Brembos do a sterling job of hauling you down from the right side of 150mph at the end of the main straight, and the chassis is stable through the fast, fast sweeping turns, yet offers all the precision you could ask for. You can put the bike pretty much where you want it, no drama at all. At the tech briefing, Triumph’s chassis engineer David Lopez reckoned a 4mm higher swingarm pivot position, together with slightly relaxed steering geometry had made a big difference to the way the bike puts down its power, and I definitely felt that on track.
The Supercorsa SPs are also spot-on, gripping hard all over the place – the relationship is definitely now back on. The quickshifter snicks away up through the gears, and the only downside is having to hold onto this naked missile down the straights. There’s nowhere to hide from the windblast – even a basic little flyscreen would be a massive boon here. While I’m having a moan, it’s a shame there’s no auto-blipping quickshifter for downchanges either. That tech is becoming more widespread, and it’s a real advantage (and a proper laugh) when you’re pushing harder.
The first session is done, and so am I. The combination of a naked bike with no wind protection, a properly strong motor and mega-quick track has piled on the physical exertion, and I’m gasping for water. A quick bottle of salty Catalan Vichy fizz sorts me out – but it’s water in a different form that’s worrying us now. The clouds have stopped toying with us, and as we head out for a second track session, big, fat raindrops start to splat down on my Arai visor, two hours earlier than predicted. Arse!
Now, it’s often good fun to stick with it on a rainy track launch. If you can get some race wets fitted, or even a decent sport-touring tyre, at a well-drained, well-surfaced track, you can have a great time – and also learn a bit about the bike’s character. But this was not what we had. The fast-cooling Super Corsa SPs, low temperatures, heavy rain and slick, polished, rubber-coated asphalt was a killer combination. My bike was in ‘Track’ mode, so the rear ABS was switched off. But even just changing down a couple of gears was locking the back end, despite the new slipper clutch. Going into turn four, I’ve got both ends sliding, the ABS frantically trying to keep the front in some sort of operation, as I frantically feather the clutch to re-connect the back. It’s evil, there’s zero grip, and as I watch another rider go straight on at the end of the main straight, it’s time to call it a day.
We pull into the pit garages, and wait an hour to see if things improve. But it’s getting worse, if anything, so we throw on waterproofs, and ride the 20-odd miles back to the hotel in the horrid, savage, driving rain. Bikes parked, then it’s time for a beer…
So – the new 765 is a very worthy machine. Triumph has kept the fun character of the Street Triple, added on almost exactly the right amount of bells and whistles for 2017 (I would *love* an auto-blipper though), and given the chassis a very welcome upgrade. There are versions to suit a wide range of needs and budgets – and the pricing is pretty attractive too. This top-spec RS version is under £10k on the road – a very impressive sum when you look at the standard spec list and performance. Add in the undoubted kudos of a Moto2 engine supply contract, and you have a very strong offering indeed. It’s still a weird place for a racebike to come from of course – but then sometimes weird works.
Price: £9,900 (RS), £8,900 (R), £8,000 (S)
Engine: 12v inline-triple, DOHC, liquid cooled, 765cc
Bore x stroke: 78x53.4mm
Compression ratio: 12.65:1
Max power (claimed) 121bhp@11,700rpm (RS) 116bhp@12,000rpm (R) 111bhp@11,250rpm (S)
Max Torque (claimed) 57ft lb@10,800rpm (RS), 57ft lb@9,400rpm (R), 54ft lb@9,100rpm
Transmission: six speed, slipper clutch, chain
Frame: aluminium twin spar
Front suspension: 41mm fully-adjustable Showa USD forks (S has SFF forks, R has SF-BPF, RS has BPF
Rear suspension: Showa shock (S and R), Ohlins STX40 shock (RS)
Brakes: Nissin twin-piston sliding calipers (S), Brembo M4.32 four-piston radial calipers (R), Brembo M50 four-piston radial calipers (RS) 310mm discs (front) 220mm disc, single-piston Brembo caliper (rear)
Wheels/tyres: cast alloy/Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa/Supercorsa (RS), 120/70 17 front, 180/55 17 rear
Rake/trail: 24.8°(S) 23.9° (R&RS)/104.3mm (S) 100mm (R&RS)
Dry weight (claimed): 166kg
Fuel capacity: 17.4 litres