The Bike of the Year judges couldn’t split the new Honda CB1000R+ from Triumph’s updated Speed Triple RS. Naked bike evangelist Gary Inman clears up the conundrum…
This month: tests further contenders for the Bike Of The Year title: to wit, the Triumph Speed Triple and Honda CB1000R. He loves a naked, and relishes the relative charms of these two brutes.
BIKE HAVE HAD the best part of a year to split this pair of highway thugs and the normally decisive, incisive staff couldn’t pick a winner. I have 12 hours in the saddle to come to my personal verdict. I was asked to make the casting vote on this matter because big nakeds are my thing. I love big nakeds, but I’m here to discuss motorcycles, and that’s ok, because I love them too. Especially ones like these two, all exposed inline engines that overpower their streetfighter ergonomics. I’ve owned all manner of these kinds of bikes, including older Speed Triples, and ridden some of them on improbable journeys. They’re my default. When it’s time for a new road bike I sniff around adventure bikes and even luxury tourers, but always go naked. I arrived at Bike to collect the black Honda CB1000R+ on my own Kawasaki ZRX1100, a heavyweight roadster of a different breed and era. The Honda’s roots are easily traced back to the CB750 of 1969, a machine that defined the company and epoch. Despite nearly half a century between them, the design brief appears to have been remarkably similar: compact, DOHC inline four with a handsome metal tank, offering contemporary high performance without limiting everyday practicality. It ticks all my boxes. The model tested is the ‘+’, with quickshifter, heated grips, a pack of aluminium bolt-ons and a £1000 premium, taking the asking price up to £12,229. It has the look of an EICMA concept bike and a moniker to match – the full Kennel Club name for this machine is the CB1000R+ Neo Sports Café. It sounds like the kind of club an East London brand consultant would be quick to join, for £139 a month, and attend only twice. But the CB deserves repeated visits… In terms of power delivery and braking it is light years ahead of the 17-year-old Kawasaki I left at Bike’s HQ, but the amount of steering input and ideal corner turn-in points are remarkably similar. This is worth mentioning, because I’m riding to meet my mate Carl, a Mablethorpe sand racing champ with a similar taste in bikes to me and a long history of owning performance nakeds. He has taken delivery of a Speed Triple RS test bike and the Triumph does not steer like an Eddie Lawson-inspired retro. In fact, it does very little like my old ZRX. We head towards Norfolk for a full day of A- and B-road riding, the kind of day bikes were made for. No particular place to be, in a
quiet corner of the country, on a cloudless day. At the first tea stop, 130 sweltering miles in, after swapping between the bikes, Carl decides, ‘If you were coming from a bike like a Bandit 1200 or XJR1300 you’d want the Honda, but if you were trading in a sportsbike you’d choose the Triumph.’ At this stage of the day he’s hedging his bets over which he prefers, ‘I want the Speed Triple with the Honda engine.’ At 6ft 2in the British bike fits him better, but he prefers the delivery of the four. Still, he makes the 1050cc Triumph look like a 300. If I had to pick a de facto Hinckley flagship the RS would be it. The Speed Triple defines Triumph for me, and with its Öhlins suspension, one-piece Brembos, carbon and quickshifter, the RS is the most special. Throughout the reborn company’s history the Speed Triple has led trends rather than followed, in a way the Tigers or some other models have not. And the Speed Triples have always been more original and vital than the undeniably popular ‘Modern Classics’. Now that Triumph have abandoned the sportsbike sector the Speed Triples are their apex predators and comfortably live up to the role. It’s hard to determine what more could have been reasonably fitted to a production bike – except the Honda’s heated grips – that could make the RS more special without detracting from its core appeal. Specification and build quality is sky high. Initially, we were on the A17 trunk road, due east out of Lincolnshire, into north Norfolk and I preferred the Honda’s compliant suspension. It shrugged off bumps I’d normally swerve to avoid. The Speed Triple RS’S Öhlins kit seemed slightly on the firm side, but it is fully adjustable, for tweakers. These first impressions change when we aim the pair down a very quiet, rural A-road and hold on tight. The Speed Triple leads, feeling composed, only sanity and self-preservation limits its velocity. The Honda becomes flustered, the rear shock hitting the bottom of its stroke and, while not wallowing, it is passing on feelings of being out of its comfort zone as the Triumph gaps it. Later in the day we ride the same stretch again, after swapping bikes and decide that the mass of the rider doesn’t have an impact, we agree with each other’s impressions. The Triumph handles fast and bumpy better. Both of these range-toppers come with quickshifters that encourage a kind of A17 roundabout strategy that could be described as ‘hard exit’. It’s addictive. Forget freedom and belonging and those threadbare clichés some folks squawk when pushed to describe their love of riding. Strip everything away and I simply crave bursts of brutal acceleration (with added lean), toxic levels of thrust and the ability to split lanes of stationary traffic at will. Both bikes deliver on my desires without breaking sweat. And now I want every vehicle I own to be fitted with a quickshifter.
For years I heard, and read, road testers complain about manufacturers fitting nakeds with sportsbike engines that had been retuned for mid-range power. The testers, so used to cutting edge tech, wanted full top-end power and high bars in the same package. I never shared their beef. I inhabit the mid-range, belly boarding on the torque curve, barely tickling the top end on the road. Corpulent mid-range spreads always make sense to me. But things have moved on, sectors have been spliced into narrower segments, until we arrive at the present day’s increasingly narrow sub-classes. Both these bikes deliver a claimed 140+ horsepower and yet they aren’t even the most powerful machines in the performance naked game. The world’s gone nuts. I’ve never had a problem riding long distances and prolonged motorway schleps on naked bikes, but I need a 160mph naked like I need another three points on my licence. While I don’t desire all the power and top speed that these two serve up, I do like everything else that’s on offer. The dashboard’s fascinate me: the Triumph’s cruise control function is a dream come true; the sportsbike brakes and wheels tickle my fancy; single-sided swingarms still flick my switch. Both bikes are superbike-fast in everyday conditions, but can bimble through coastal holiday traffic without complaint from engine or rider. Next we stop at a village pub and sit at a table next to the bikes. A few people pass comment on their way into and out of the vine-covered boozer. The Honda may as well be invisible for the amount of interest it attracts, but of
the two, I prefer its looks. Carl describes the Speed Triple as ‘bitty’ and I have to agree. Styling is contentious but few could argue the Triumph has too many elements fighting each other, where the Honda is more holistic, as long as you ignore the Eu-mandated number plate hanger and the frankly baffling misstep that is the + model’s radiator cover. That bolt-on couldn’t look more like a piece of no name, Chinese-made, ebay tat if it tried. The Speed Triple demands attention, while the black Honda – as a + model it’s only available in black – repels it. It is, both Carl and the Bike staff agree, unmistakably a product of Soichiro’s world. ‘It’s a Honda, innit?’ States Carl. ‘It’s an appliance.’ I prefer ‘tool’ to ‘appliance’. Nothing this invigorating ever came out of Currys. Tool in the way that using the right tool for the job is a pleasure, but does what is expected of it with a minimum fuss or surprise. It feels harsh writing this the day after a brilliant 12 hours fluttering its throttle butterflies while it made my ventricles do the fandango, but that’s modern bike life. To prioritise two or more brilliant machines a tester must drill deep and, sometimes, criss-cross hedgerow-lined north Norfolk doing it. Or one could, like Bike did last month, enlist the bill-paying skills of Gary Johnson and have him split the atom. If you weren’t concentrating, he took a pair of 2018 Speed Triples and a pair of 2018 Street Triples to Mallory Park and crowned the Speed Triple RS king. I have little in common with the TT winner, other than a soon to be extinct first name, but I reckon he’d have come to the same decision if the CB1000R+ had been chucked into the fight. After another three-quarters of a tank of fuel, we roll into Hunstanton for fish and chips and spend another half-hour looking at the bikes before making a judgement. It feels like the decision comes down to price, but not entirely. The Speed Triple RS feels every one of its £13,250. From the wheels to the fasteners on the swingarm pivot, it is a special machine that will retain its gloss and air of glamour for years to come. The styling isn’t to my taste, but it’s impossible to fault the class of the machine. Carl has also got off the fence and decided he now would choose the Triumph engine in the Triumph chassis, too. ‘Can you think of a quicker way of losing money than buying a brand new CB1000R+?’ he wonders, seconds before a man wearing nylon shorts rides past on an Aprilia Dorsoduro and my cocked eyebrow answers the question, but Carl has made his point. If the Honda was £10,500 it would have won this third place play-off, but we agreed it didn’t feel like £12,250. It’s the dull finishes on the wheels, quality of the rear shock, rubber brake lines and a clutch lever that looks like it’s off a CG125. The Neo Sports Café is not quite in the league to the Speed Triple RS. And, if your guts told your brain muscle that the second you looked at these photos, it proves whoever is pricing Triumphs is doing a very good job.
The Speed Triple demands attention, while the Honda repels it. It is, “an appliance”’
On the hunt for roundabouts and that ‘hard exit’ strategy
Functional: so that’s the Honda again
Special: so that’s the Triumph again
Hunstanton: haddock and chips twice