Triumph T 509 Speed Triple
Triumph T509 Speed Triple:
A Sportbike Behind Bars
Piles of power, tons of torque, bags of brakes, gallons of ground clearance…the Triumph T 509 Speed Triple has it all. But that isn’t good enough. The word is, these things haven’t been selling very well in the States. And not only does the T 509 have what it takes to be a serious contender in the upper level of the sportbike class but most motorcycle magazines have lauded those abilities, too. Its abilities are not a secret. You all know it’s a good bike. So, why doesn’t anybody care? What’s up? It’s that annoying Charles guy, isn’t it?!
The difference between Triumph’s Speed Triple and the Daytona are simply the bars, the fairing/headlight, and the size of the engine. They share the same frame, suspension, brakes, pipes, gauges, and so forth, giving the Speed Triple as much ground clearance as the Daytona and the same awesome braking. The only complaint with these few differences is with the smaller size of the Speedy’s engine. Why Triumph ever decided to make it smaller than the Daytona’s power plant we may never know. But rather than make excuses, Triumph did it right in ’99 and the new Speed Triple will have the bigger engine.
But the fact remains, if it wasn’t for us all knowing that the bigger engine existed, no one would have ever complained. The Speed Triple is quite pleasant and capable with the power unit it originally came with and which I tested again here. We’ll get a ’99 as soon as we can but we thought we should address the original Speed Triple first. And, besides that, the new bike wasn’t available in August when I rode this one.
For those of you who didn’t bother looking at this bike in the first go-round, the Speed Triple is powered by a 3-cylinder (duh) liquid-cooled, inline, DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder, 885cc engine. With fuel injection. And oh, what a nice injection system it is.
The efi on the T500 Triumphs is the smartest system available on any production bikes built today. It knows almost everything that the bike is doing, which allows the system to compensate for a myriad of changing conditions. The efi has sensors for wheel speed, ambient pressure, camshaft speed, throttle position, air temperature, and coolant temperature. By using this knowledge, the system even looks to predict fuel needs by anticipating whether or not the rider is about to accelerate or decelerate. And even better than that, the system can be reprogrammed for aftermarket pipes or other modifications. The Speed Triple’s efi provides for performance unattainable with carburetors while also making for a clean burning and efficient engine.
The triple cylinder engine of the Speed Triple turns out to be a great compromise between the screaming peakiness of a four cylinder and the low-end torque of a twin. It is a compromise that adequately captures the best of each of those other engine configurations rather than flattening those qualities out into the torque of an inline four and the peak power of a twin.
The chassis of the Speed Triple is a work of beauty and function. Its design is uniquely Triumph yet also high tech. There is no excuse for anyone to accuse Triumph of copying the Japanese or the Italians or even the Dutch on the design or look of the thing. From the steeringhead to the swing arm, the pieces of the frame are a mix of aluminum parts that are cast, extruded, or forged. The pieces are all welded together and finished with a silver coating, but the word is the coating can be stripped off and the frame will polish up to a consistent finish.
The swingarm is a cast aluminum unit that unfortunately doesn’t uphold the functional beauty of the rest of the machine. It looks plainly industrial and out of place even considering the brute machine aesthetics of the overall package. But it does do its job well.
The forks are of the conventional design, but since more and more modern sportbikes have been appearing with conventional forks, it is becoming less and less perceived as low tech and finally appreciated as practical and functional. Upside-down forks might turn out to be just workable alternatives or a passing fad, not necessarily any better or worse.
The Speed Triple’s brakes are some of the best available OEM stoppers. With just two four-piston calipers and dual 320mm rotors, the feel and stopping power of the Speed Triple is excellent. No matter how hard the bike was pushed the brakes just wouldn’t fade or lose feel.
Those headlights. I guess you either love them or hate them. I love them. But if they’re what’s been scaring away you guys who part your hair on the side, the good news is that you can buy an aftermarket single headlight now.
The first time I tested a Speed Triple was only on the streets because. . . well, just because. This time I was left to make big decisions by myself so I did the right thing and took the bike onto a race circuit. Portland International Raceway to be exact. Since the Speed Triple shares all of the performance parts of the Daytona it shows itself as quite capable on the racetrack, thank you. Although the bars are higher than the clip-ons of the Daytona, the Triple’s pegs are in the same position and so there is no loss of ground clearance. And too, the Speed Triple has a fully adjustable suspension that can be dialed in just fine for a day of hard riding. Those who have raced this chassis have noted that a revised rear link ratio is in order but other than that the bike has what it takes.
The Speed Triple is best on unfamiliar twisty roads because its sit-up riding position gives the rider a better view of unexpected and impending horrors. Being tucked in is great if you know where you’re going but sitting up can make you less of a fool as you rush into the unknown.
The simple truth is the Speed Triple is an awesome performer and one of the coolest looking bikes on the planet. The new wild green color made me fall even more in love with this bike but I’m betting it’s the same as those two googly eyes — love it or. . . Don’t judge the green of this machine by the pigment on your computer screen because it doesn’t photograph well and it digitizes even worse. In real life it’s flat out the grooviest color of any bike available today. But it might not be a proper fit for the RUBs. If one doesn’t have a personality before buying a bike then this color will cause a fright.
For ’99 the Speed Triple will have the big 955 engine but it is tuned for more low end than the version in the Daytona. As far as I’m concerned, the bike is already a sportbike with handle bars so the increased power should just make it all that much better. We’ll see. In the mean time, if you find a deal on of these 855cc naked triples, don’t hesitate.
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