Able on the Track, Happy on the Road
Heavily based on the 1200 RS, this is Triumph’s take on a modern café racer and they promise it to be ‘the most exhilarating Speed Triple ever’
Story: Adam Child ‘Chad’
Photography: Gareth Hartford and Chippy Wood
Triumph have constructed the distinctive new 1200 RR on their 180-hp RS which was launched at the beginning of 2021. The British brand has made some bold claims and definitely predicted that this will be ‘the most exhilarating Speed Triple ever’ and ‘the ultimate sports bike for the road’. These are daring statements, but on looks alone it appears the RR has hit the mark.
Beneath its gorgeous café racer cockpit fairing and dashes of carbon-fibre, there is new suspension, now Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 electronically adjustable semi-active units, and new Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP V3 rubber. The rider is moved forwards in the chassis, behind that enigmatic single round headlight, with a slightly longer reach to the bars.
The RR applies the same 180-hp three-cylinder engine as the RS, of course. It also retains the naked bike’s Brembo Stylema brake calipers with MCS levers, full-colour five-inch TFT dash, up and down Shift Assist, five riding modes, a full keyless system, and lean-sensitive rider aids.
Triumph assured us that this is not just a Speed Triple with clip-on bars, but a modern café racer and, to help prove their point, treated us to a (very cold) day of riding in southern Spain on the breathtaking roads around Ronda, followed by an afternoon around the 5.5-kilometre-long Ascari racetrack.
Looks are highly subjective; you only need look up social media to see how a new bike’s styling divides opinion, but it seems to be a huge thumbs up for the Triumph’s distinctive 1200 RR. In the early morning Spanish sunlight, the RR looks as attractive as it did in earlier released PR pictures. It is the first time I have had the chance to get close to the café racer and I am not disheartened. The single headlight strikes just the right note and the lines of the RR flow towards the rear end as if it were always designed to be a café racer rather than a naked with a top fairing bolted on. The dashes of carbon-fibre are a nice touch and help reduce weight (despite the added bodywork, Triumph claim the RR weighs the same as the naked 1200RS). The deep red paint has a high level of finish but will set you back by an extra £250 (Rs 25,000).
The charismatic triple remains untouched, with no tweaks to the exhaust, its routing or the airbox, which means it sounds like the 1200 RS. Gorgeous, essentially. Blipping the fly-by-wire throttle gets the digital rev-counter dancing and the triple’s music echoes around the Spanish paddock, making me question how the Hinckley factory manage to attain Euro 5 certification when other manufacturers continue to roll out subdued road bikes.
As the temperature rose just above freezing, it was time to get a flavour of the new Triumph. Thankfully, Triumph had been kind enough to add the optional heated grip. I mention the early morning freeze because the temperature was too low for the Pirelli Supercorsa SP V3 rubber to sparkle and, combined with the suspension set to “Comfort”, the 1200 RR initially felt slow to steer. However, as the temperature rose and the road began to flow, I soon understood that Comfort mode on the suspension means just that: soft and comfortable, not sporty at all. In Road and Rain modes, the suspension automatically reverts to a comfort mode setting, which, yes, diminishes the steering slightly, but does produce a lovely, plush ride.
Tap into Sport mode and the 1200 RR changes its character. The suspension stiffens, the chassis has more hold, and the steering is sharper and more accurate, which, in turn, adds confidence and allows you to hit the road a little harder. There is a significant difference between the riding modes, especially the reaction and movement of the semi-active suspension, and even riders less experienced in the nuances of modern electronics will appreciate the significant step in suspension feedback and feel.
With temperature in the track-ready Pirellis and the RR is in its element, gracefully flowing up and down the mountain passes. The new riding position feels more organic than the 1200RS’s; you are more over the fuel-tank and dialled into the chassis and feel encouraged to move your body position, lean into corners — knee slider searching for Spanish tarmac.
Now I am in agreement with Triumph: they have made an excellent road bike. The chassis is not too radical, ergonomics are sporty but not extreme, and the handling is predictable and stable. And accompanying me on the ride is that stunning British triple, which sounds fantastic.
Its torque output puts most 200-hp-plus sports bike to shame and even out-grunts the new Ducati Panigale V4. For most of the time, you can just play with fourth and fifth gears, you do not need to dance up and down the standard Shift Assist quick-shifter. From time to time, it is rewarding to have a blast without the clutch, kick back a few gears, and get the wheelie control working overtime, but for most of the road ride it is all about the torque. It really is the ace card of the RR and makes it pleasingly simple to ride, even at a brisk pace.
The fuelling is a little sharp at low speed in the Sports mode, but that can be resolved by flicking into Road or Rain. Again, as with the semi-active suspension, there is a noticeable change between the modes. My sole complaint is that the lovely looking five-inch full-colour clocks (similar to the RS’s, but now with the suspension settings displayed) are not initially intuitive and take a little getting used to. A couple of times I wanted to quickly flick among modes, an action that should only require me to take my eyes off the road for a second or so, but it always took me a few, repeated glances. That said, I get confused by my telly remote.
The famous Spanish Ronda road was flooded with motorcyclists tearing up and down its stunning twisties, yet I never wanted any more power or handing, nor did I wish to be on anything sportier — especially when we stopped for coffee and admirers flocked to the café racer like seagulls to dropped food.
You can ride in a protective jacket and jeans suit it just fine. Alternatively, you can get into full leathers, flick into Sport mode, and enjoy some vigorous knee-down riding with confidence. The lean-sensitive rider aids are there in the background and will come in useful in wet conditions. But for 90 per cent of the ride, I completely forgot about the electronics altogether and simply enjoyed a brisk and refreshing morning blast. The RR exerts no pressure on you to ride it like a TT racer.
On the final stretch of the road segment of the test, I relaxed completely as the RR piloted me back to the circuit on (standard) cruise control. As a road bike I was struggling to find faults. Even after a few hours in the saddle I had not even a hint of the back, bum, and wrist ache some stretched-out café racers can inflict, Triumph’s own Thruxton and MV’s Superveloce included. I would certainly take on some touring on the 1200 RR.
I know the Ascari circuit quite well and left the pit-lane as if it were a qualifying session. I rode the 1200 RR on the front end, pushing for a fast lap, like a race bike… and felt a fraction dissatisfied.
In Triumph’s defence, the new Speed Triple was not designed to be a pure track animal. Within a few laps I realised that the way to get the best out of the RR is to stop thinking about lap-times and let it flow. That way you cannot help but appreciate the ride, which is arguably more satisfying than a full-on superbike as it is so easy to pedal and more forgiving, too. In fact, I imagine many track-day riders will have more fun on this than on an edgy 200-hp track weapon.
It also feels more gratifying as you start to push towards its limits. You do not have to be a former Superbike star to get a toe slider touching, while the rider aids have not been designed to dig out fast laps-times. As an alternative, they are positioned in the background, working overtime to give you a sense of security. You can feel them intervening but they are not obtrusive — it is a neat balance.
In session two, I decided to use a higher gear than normal, used all that wonderful torque, and enjoyed its stable and predictable handing. It is not a superbike deigned to win races, but it can certainly still cut in on track. The only drawback was the Brembo Stylema stoppers, which are more than sufficient, but not a 10 out of 10 as the specification suggests. They lacked feel and, on track, the ABS; again this was only pushing for lap-times.
If you want a super-sharp track bike, then look somewhere else. The Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RR is an enormously competent sports bike which is accomplished on track but confidently focused on the road. Make no error, with more torque than most road-legal superbikes and 180 hp, the RR should not be underestimated, but it is not a race bike — thankfully, it is more than that. It is a lovely looking, attractive, charismatic motorcycle; a well-judged update on the café racer.