Gary In­man

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…

BIKE (UK) - - STORIES BY... - Pho­tog­ra­phy Matt How­ell

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

Honda: func­tional

Spe­cial: so that’s the Tri­umph again

Tri­umph: spe­cial

Hun­stan­ton: haddock and chips twice

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