Friday, 12 February 2016

Triumph Speed Four

Bright yellow she was, weirdly elongated with funky side-pods at the front but nothing that disturbed when bent over the clip-ons. Four cylinders shuffled into life with a slight clunking from the starter on the 1800 mile old watercooled mill. Just about run in, if new bikes actually need running in. Being on the tall and thin side, the Triumph fitted me quite well, with more comfort from the seat than expected but a bit too much mass on my wrists for proper rest and relaxation in town. The engine surged a bit just off throttle when trolled along in top gear but otherwise gave every impression of being as civilized as the Japanese offerings

Triumph's twist on the naked bike game, to keep the minimal mass and most of the excessive grunt of their Daytona 600 four, none of the detuning for sensible folk found on other naked offerings. Not being a fan of plastic replicas this ethos was much to my taste and there seemed plenty of recent bikes for sale at 20-35 percent off the new price in private deals. Mere months old and low miles, I expected these bikes to be perfect but a couple were rather rattly and a touch rough looking that brought to mind race-track misuse. Anyway, on the fourth attempt found a perfect bike with a fifty-ish owner who had not been impressed with the antics of cagers whilst trying to ride his pride and joy. The bike came with new Avons and looked like it had never seen wet weather.

That lasted about forty minutes – typical, just my luck to be riding into fast darkening clouds on my first outing. Now, you either like the revvy, silky nature of across the frame fours or you don't. I personally think that Japanese fours are absolutely marvellous pieces of engineering and have absolute faith in their abilities; ditto for the Triumph which is much more Japanese than Euro in its power delivery and composure. It has to be said, though, that many 100 horsepower fours are a pain to ride in wet weather, some I could name from the previous couple of decades downright dangerous.

So it was with a touch of trepidation that I fed the Triumph along slippery country roads whilst cursing the lack of a fairing, notwithstanding my previous declaration that I hated plastic replicas! As far as I know – but you can never really tell these days of nefarious multinational companies – Avons are still made in Britain, designed for and ridden on our roads. As is the Speed 4, of course. I was not that surprised but nevertheless pleasantly encouraged by the nice amount of feedback from the road and good stability of what could easily, given its sub-400lbs mass, have been a very flighty steed... of course, as with any lightweight and powerful motorcycle it would be just a matter of serious throttle abuse to highside the beast into the nearest hedge.

Upright, on a decent bit of road, I hammered the throttle up from 90mph in top gear – the Speed 4 shot forwards at an arm-jerking, eyeball popping rate without any intransigence from the rear rubber. I didn't have time to clock if we'd broken the 150mph barrier as a fast approaching bend required a dead throttle and some brake. Those front twin discs are hot stuff but I somehow managed to avoid skidding the front tyre off the wet road whilst the bike maintained its composure as we scampered through a series of 60mph bends at, er, 80mph! I can happily report that the Triumph will hold its stance on the edge of its rubber on slippery country roads.

It's moments like this that a particular machine gets into the soul. It was only when back at base, an hour later, that I returned to earth sufficiently to realise that my leather jacket had started letting water in – I was soaked through but had been so into the ride that I hadn't even noticed. One thing that should be noted, the front mudguard is bloody useless and the whole bike ends up immersed in a layer of grit and mud! Can't believe the factory testers let that one get past them – they did test the bike in the UK, not the South of France, right?

A couple of weeks went by with plenty of joy, all the more so as rider and machine became used to each other's ways. I don't like to throw myself all over a machine when cornering and the Triumph seemed fine with this tucked-in riding styling, very secure feeling with the only problems coming from my repeated entries into corners with too much speed on the dial – ultimately, it did not like late, hard braking when hurtled over, but then few machines do!

All was well with the world when the third to second gearchange started getting a bit elusive and the box was a touch clunky when engaged at idle. All sorts of mechanical mayhem ran through my somewhat paranoid mind – the bike was still under guarantee so I rode to the nearest Triumph dealer who reckoned it just needed an oil change, probably not used hard enough by the past owner. Some improbable sum was quoted for doing the deed so I ambled off to the nearest Halfords and did the oil change myself – it would come to something if the powers that be prohibited minor chores like that. Murky oil fell out of the engine all over my garage... serves me right for being a skinflint!

A gentle bit of warming up and a quick trash around the block had me revelling in a silky smooth gearchange. Winter weather combined with mild use by the past owner had evidently cooked the lubricant. Felt high for the rest of the day at solving a potentially serious problem – false neutrals on fast moving motorcycles are simply not acceptable as the sudden lack of power on the back tyre can have you all over the shop on wet roads.

Fuel consumption wasn't improved by the cleaner lube, somewhere in the 35mpg region. The few times I was forced to ride in a mature and conservative manner – like when a police car followed me for thirty miles on the M1 – fuel still came in at the same rate. Not the end of the world but if you revel in riding bikes like the Speed 4 then it can add up to serious expense! The other heavy consumable, the tyres.

Top speed an indicated 145mph, fortunately not confirmed by any nice men with radar guns. The ability to break the speed limit without even thinking about it – the bike is purring along like a restrained panther at 90mph – makes the Triumph quite difficult to ride, I always seem to be hurtling along at a good 20mph faster than I thought – although it's a naked beast I found myself nicely angled into the resulting windstream and could hold ton plus speeds without much effort!

Comfort, for me at least, was good for about ninety miles before my wrists and lower spine began to complain, which I took as a signal to top up the fuel and have a stagger around the forecourt. There was often some old chap in a cage who spying the Triumph logo insisted that he had one just like it in his youth – I am not a fan of old Bonnies, and the like, and was often tempted to ruin their day by saying that if they were this good then the company would never have gone bust!

I did a few 400-500 mile trips on the bike and was still able to walk afterwards, although my throttle hand was a bit wrecked for some reason. Not exactly filled with midrange grunt, the bike could nevertheless be ridden along in top at 70mph upwards without any need to play silly buggers on the gearbox – important on long trips when it is necessary to get a bit of Zen and relaxation into things.

The only reason I let the Speed 4 out of my life is that one Triumph dealer gave me a crazy trade-in deal on a new Speed 3, which is an entirely different tale... later!

Mike Williams

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