Bye bye Blackbird, the Gentleman's Express!
A while back, I made some posts on the reasons for changing from my much-loved Honda CBR 1100XX Blackbird after 8 years of ownership to a Street Triple and the initial comparison after 2500 km from new or thereabouts. Those initial impressions are here but having now covered over 8000 km over a wide range of riding conditions, I thought it might be interesting to quickly review some of them and add a few further thoughts. Having over 40 years of riding experience and dropping in capacity might give me a slightly different viewpoint to that of a relatively recent rider going the other way . We'll see.....
The "fitness for purpose" of any bike completely depends on what individual owners are looking for at the time. The criteria for replacing the Blackbird were not straightforward. I turned 62 in October 2009 and at only 5' 8" tall, the Blackbird with its raised rear ride height, 250 kg wet weight and high C of G was becoming more noticeable (and risky) at low speeds and parking. This was exacerbated by moving permanently to our beach property which is on the side of a hill and has lots of off-cambers and slopes - had some close calls with the 'bird! Therefore, any replacement had to be lower and lighter and it came as a surprise just how many bikes ruled themselves out due to these aspects alone. I didn't want another faired sports bike as there wasn't sufficient differentiation compared with the 'bird but it still had to have plenty of performance as my riding partners (who are all younger than me) like to "press on a bit" on occasions and come to that, so do I! However, I wasn't overly concerned with an insane top speed as much of my riding is now on twisty coastal roads; so torque and handling is more of a consideration. Two-up riding for any distance wasn't a factor any more as Jennie prefers the comfort of her tricked-up MX-5 nowadays.
Anyway, here's some more thoughts about owning a Triple nearly a year on, not in any particular order of importance.
Ergonomics. Within 5 minutes of getting on a Triple for the first time, it became clear that it was the most comfortable bike I'd ever ridden, excepting speeds well above the open road legal limit. Hands and feet instinctively went to where the controls were positioned and that gave instant confidence. That doesn't mean it's going to be perfect for everyone but suggests that unless you're at the extreme ends of the human dimension bell-curve; you're going to be pretty pleased. The positioning of the bars means that the wrists are lightly loaded, perfect for a long haul. The reasonably upright stance gives great all-round visibility which considerably aids situational awareness - a worthwhile safety bonus. I tried a Ducati Monster as part of the selection process and whilst I didn't bother with specific measurements, looking at the instrument cluster on the Monster seemed to require a deliberate downward movement of the head from the normal riding position as opposed to the quick flick of eyes on the Triple. Instrumentation is easy to see and excellent at night although changing the display on the run takes a lot of care. Resetting the trips can only be done whilst parked up, which is when you'd normally want to do them anyway. Oh, and a small black mark on the report card. A corner of of the instrument cluster mists up very slightly after having been on the road for half an hour or so. It's not intrusive so I haven't complained but this issue has also been reported on Triple forums.
The stock seat is actually more comfortable than the standard Blackbird seat and that curve seems to allow you to move about sufficiently to vary any pressure points. 700 km days have been achieved with no discomfort so far but for our October 1600 km in 24 hours endurance ride, some prior experimentation using large cell bubble wrap to temporarily change the profile is likely to be on the cards. Seat (dis)comfort is often discussed on Triple forums but an individual's weight, shape and personal padding is likely to have just as much influence as the seat design itself. Update: The Airhawk pneumatic pad is the best comfort aid ever. See HERE for more info and the report on the 1000 mile/1600 km in 24 hours endurance ride is here: The Grand Challenge 2010
On the periphery of ergonomics, the light weight of the bike lessens fatigue on twistier roads and the relatively low seat height provides a bit more security for people with short legs like me when manoeuvring at low speeds, especially on roadside steep cambers.
The lack of a screen, or having a minimalist one can mean increased fatigue at speed on a long haul compared with a faired bike but the excellent riding position doesn't make it as bad as you might first think. The wind blast on the body is nowhere near as fatiguing as the load on my wrists and forearms was when riding the Blackbird over seriously long distances. In fact, the wind blast is almost a positive thing in lessening load on the wrists and arms.
Two up? Well, the height of the rear pegs are hardly designed for pillion comfort over long distances but that wasn't a criterion for me anyway. However, a pillion passenger is unlikely to thank you without regular stops. Being two-up is getting away from the fundamental purpose of the Triple though.
The perfect day for a run...
Performance. Wossit do mister? This is the question that all kids seem to ask motorcyclists and to be fair, quoted top speed is something which more than a few mainly male riders use as an important selection factor too. I know - I've been there! Jennie rolls her eyes and accuses me of having a small willy when bike top speeds get discussed. However, top speed is only a small part of overall performance. I have a confession. In the 8 years of owning the Blackbird, it's never been flat out. It's been in the indicated 280's (km/hr) just a handful of times and for a few seconds per occasion but that's it. I adored the deceptively brutal acceleration of the 'bird which is akin to going into warp drive but again, the number of times that the throttle has been pinned against the stop for long through the gears was pretty infrequent because of the roads I mainly travel on. I think that it was the great Kenny Roberts who said that he preferred the GSX-R 750 on the road to the GSX-R 1000 because he could use more of its capability. If he said that, then big bikes are pretty much overkill for the the rest of us mere mortals.
That previous paragraph is a fitting prelude to some of my thoughts about selling the 1135cc Blackbird and getting the 675cc Street Triple. As already mentioned, the Triple actually sold itself to me but at the back of the mind, there was a nagging worry that dropping capacity was somehow unmanly. Ridiculous, but at least I'm being honest! Guess that my regular riding partners all having litre + bikes may have also influenced this thought.
Reality is that I haven't missed the insane top end of the Blackbird because equal, if not more satisfaction has been gained from carrying higher speeds in the tight stuff and the generally better agility of the Triple. It's also good fun to occasionally hunt down bigger, heavier bikes in the twisties (errr...spoken like a 20 year old rather than someone over 60)! In the original comparison with the Blackbird, I tabled a comparison of power to weight ratios which were amazingly close. The comment was that until aerodynamics at higher speeds made their presence felt, any performance difference between them could be largely measured in tiny percentages; which is negligible under normal road conditions. Top speed is still more than sufficient for instant license loss in most countries anyway!
When first owning the Triple, the revs at a given road speed were higher than the Blackbird and this was slightly disconcerting - kept trying to hook a higher gear. However, within a few weeks of ownership it seemed perfectly natural and no big deal. If I was riding long distances mainly on open highways, then a Blackbird may still be first choice but the Triple fits my current needs perfectly.
Flexibility. Unlike "race replica" 600's which by comparison only deliver strong power higher in the rev range, the Triple starts delivering big lumps of torque not far off idle (around 85% of max torque at 3000 rpm if I remember correctly). For road riding in particular, this gives a huge advantage. Firstly, it means that you're unlikely to get caught out in the wrong gear when wanting to make a rapid overtake. Secondly, the low-down torque means that it is very comfortable pootling along in traffic at low revs, but will respond instantly if need be. The flexibility of the motor makes it the perfect bike for experienced riders and less-experienced ones alike. The only negative aspect from my perspective was a pronounced snatch when opening up from a trailing throttle during early ownership. Interestingly, this has significantly reduced over time. Part of it may be due to the motor bedding in, part of it may be due to a more sensitive right wrist but in any event; it's no longer particularly intrusive.
Handling. In a word, exceptional! The light weight, fairly aggressive steering geometry, short wheelbase and fantastic riding position adds up to a bike which can change line almost by thought alone and if you make a balls-up of a corner entry, it's sufficiently forgiving to give you leeway to put it right. The Blackbird with its greater mass was far less forgiving of rapid corrections in the tight stuff with entry and exit requiring greater precision and planning. Corner speed in the tight stuff on the local roads I know intimately is noticeably higher than on the Blackbird. On rougher surfaces when cornering, the Blackbird was definitely more planted due to a more conservative geometry but in particular, top of the line aftermarket suspension. The Triple tends to jump around a bit more, but not in a really disconcerting way. Clearly, the stock suspension is built to a price and damping is pretty average but there is no intention to replace it with a more upmarket option until performance noticeably declines. When that time comes, it will be with a Penske unit as the outstanding damping transformed my Blackbird. Under really heavy braking, the rear tyre has a tendency to unload when riding solo but as most of the braking effort is through the front wheel, it's not a big deal although it can be slightly disconcerting the first time the rear tyre leaves the ground! A little more care is also required with heavy braking in wet conditions as it's comparatively easy to lock up the rear, not that this causes any real problems. If you do get into trouble as I did when unexpectedly encountering a road surface that had been dug up, you're more likely to get away with it on a light, responsive bike like the Triple than with the mass of something like the Blackbird swinging about. I've had 2 serious tank-slappers on the 'bird under adverse road conditions and they're not something I prefer to experience again!
Penske rear shock for the Blackbird - a work of art
Tyres are part of the overall handling equation and it would probably be fair to say that among the top brands at least, there isn't a tyre currently made which doesn't exceed the needs of the average road rider despite all the hot air and bulls*it generated on bike forums throughout the world! They're increasingly improving too. However, the character of each tyre will vary according to where its strength characteristics lie in both wet and dry conditions, wear characteristics and that elusive but oh-so-important "feel". The type of riding that an individual does will also have a big impact. Without going into detail again, tyre performance is discussed in this post: Tyres .
Front Dunlop Qualifier after 6000 km
Range. Fuel consumption.... ummm... how long is a bit of string? All I can say that on longer runs where I can maintain more constant throttle openings but still get along quickly , the trip recorder usually shows around 5.3 litres/100km.This translates to close to 300 km per tankful on a run and not be hanging about. Having this sort of range is important to me because of the longer runs I do and a dislike of constant stopping to refuel.
Lighting. The standard headlights are the only really disappointing aspect of owning a Street Triple. If your night riding is restricted to riding around town or maybe on well-lit major roads, it might just be adequate. For unlit, twisty open road riding, it most certainly isn't. For starters, the lights are set way too low but properly adjusting them only takes a few moments. The spread of light is fine for covering the roadside verges as well but the actual level of illumination is poor.
There are a few options such as changing the headlights (including HID which is not a perfect solution either) or upgrading bulbs. I went for 100W bulb replacements on the Blackbird but thought that with the lower headlight volume on the Triple, a big wattage increase might cause overheating damage. Because the quality of identical wattage bulbs vary enormously, I retained the standard wattage but fitted Osram Nightbreaker bulbs instead and what a difference! It's a pity (and penny-pinching) that Triumph don't fit these as standard. The following daylight photo shows the difference between the yellow-ish standard bulb on the left and the whiter, more intense Nightbreaker on the right. In the dark, the difference is even more pronounced. The upgrade has made night riding on twisty, unlit roads acceptable. Not outstanding, but acceptable. Oh, and it pays to give the inside of the headlamp shell where the mounting brackets are affixed a squirt with chain wax. The design is a rust-trap if ever I've seen one!
Standard bulb on left, Nightbreaker on right
Addendum: There has been a further upgrade to the lighting. See the more recent post HERE
Farkles (extras). Since taking ownership, I haven't added a huge number of extras, preferring instead to get to know the bike properly first. From the dealer, the only extras supplied as part of the purchase were:
A 3M clearfilm kit to protect various areas of paintwork from scuffing and stone chips. This is virtually invisible and really does the job. The other extra was a Ventura rack to take the soft luggage transferred from the Blackbird. Since then, my Escort 8500 radar detector and screamer have also been transferred and a quickly detachable headstock mount manufactured for the Garmin GPS.
In terms of extras after purchase, a Triumph hugger has been added which does a reasonable job of keeping crap off the suspension. The radiator core was showing a few small dings after a comparatively short distance and not wishing to hole it miles from anywhere, a guard was purchased from Cox Racing Products. Beautifully manufactured, only took a few minutes to fit and the communications and service from Andrew Cox in Portland OR, to New Zealand was outstanding.
Cox Racing Products guard
The final addition is a Barracuda Italian screen. It does offer more protection from wind blast than the completely naked Triple but not hugely so unless leaning well forward. However, it was purchased on grounds of looks alone. Good protection would have required a pig-ugly big screen and that's getting away from the principle of a naked bike. As an aside, the purchase price of the screen at 99 Euros wasn't too bad in the scheme of things, but the manufacturers showed that Italian extortion isn't restricted to the Mafia by wanting an almost identical amount for shipping it to NZ. Fortunately, the world-renowned purveyor of Blackbird parts and accessories, John Smith (Jaws Motorcycles) from the UK; was able to lay his hands on one for me and the postage was only 22 Euros, bless his heart. Every other automotive/motorcycle parts dealer in the universe should learn from John's consistently flawless service.
Barracuda Aerosport screen
Servicing. Being a naked bike, routine servicing is easy and pretty fast. As the bike is still under warranty, I've let the dealer do the servicing so far and although the cost will depend on the prevailing labour rates of individual countries, I've been pleasantly surprised. It's certainly cheaper than the Blackbird, principally because of ease of access.
The grin factor. The Triumph Street Triple has won numerous international Bike of the Year awards since its launch and continues to do so. Owners and journalists everywhere talk about it being a larrikin of a bike with a fu*k you attitude. Even at over 60 years of age, I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments but what do those phrases really mean in more definable terms? After thinking long and hard, it might be a combination of several things. The engine delivers instant power across the rev range and combined with the bike's light weight, this means that it's a seriously potent weapon. Add the sublime handling to the mix and you've got something which is utterly confidence-inspiring and can keep you out of trouble where some other bikes will bite back. This means that the rider might go just that bit harder! I guess it's these features more than anything which allows the rider to have a lot of fun with a fair degree of safety.
Then there's the growl from the airbox when the throttle is tweaked. The sound is not obvious to bystanders but guaranteed to get the rider's hormones sloshing around, even for an old fart like me. If it could be bottled, Viagra would lose all sales to it overnight!
Let's not forget the less-experienced rider though. Those very same features and flexibility of the motor give you a comfortable and safe ride even if using a sizeable percentage of its performance is not currently your thing.
Pillion-carrying limitations and below-par lighting aside, it must be close to the ideal bike for an awful lot of riders! Doubt that I'll be selling it anytime soon. It wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that the Street Triple has revitalised my riding enjoyment!
Hope that this personal viewpoint has been of interest but use the blog search facility for more Street Triple or tyre info as there are many more posts about this excellent machine!
Addendum: Since this post was written, there have been many more posts written about the Street Triple - laser wheel alignment, other farkles, experiences with different tyres and so on. To find these, simply type Street Triple into the search bar immediately below the main blog header photo, or something more specific such as tyres.
Great bike, calm seas... life is good!