Every now and again I toy with the idea of riding something other than my K1300GT which has now just passed the 90,000km milestone. I bought it intending to run it long term and i’ve already had it 7 years so far, but that shouldn’t preclude me from trying other bikes, should it?
Sometimes I think the GT is a little large for the smaller roads I’m riding these days, and as I’m not doing long distance touring the thought of something smaller and lighter has some appeal, but would this new machine be a GT replacement, or a third bike to accompany the R1 trackbike? Hmm.
Recently someone locally was advertising a Triumph Speedmaster, and I wondered if a feet forward slower machine might suit my needs, so what else was there to do other than to go and try it?
TBH, I’ve not been too impressed with the Triumphs I’ve ridden to date. The first, a 1050 Sprint was, I thought, a very poor VFR800 copy, with soggy suspension and less than impressive engine performance for its capacity. The next model I tried was a friends 675, which initially I was unsure about, but once the suspension had been tuned to suit my weight it was transformed and I became a massive fan. It was, and probably remains, the best handling bike I’ve ever ridden. Number 3 was a Daytona 955 which I hated everything about. The steering was heavy, I found it hard to turn, the engine didn’t win me over with its supposedly charismatic sound and nature, and to add insult to injury, the chain came off, and all this within a mile of the bike shop I was testing it from. So with a chequered history, how would the Speedmaster fare? Read on.
This particular bike was the early 2004 790cc model rather than the 865cc cpacity which came on the following years model. With only 53.1bhp from its carburetted engine and a top speed of 103mph, clearly there was going to be quite a performance deficit compared to the GT, but hey, nothing to say it wouldn’t be a blast.
Initial checks brought a smile as I surveyed the petrol stopcock, steering lock, and cable operated clutch. The petrol cap was non locking, and the ignition key was located below the seat behind your left leg. These “old world” details brought back some fond memories of my early bike ownership from the 70’s.
Sue was horrified to see the perch she was going to be asked to sit on, and without the safety of a top box to lean against, she had to hold on tight as we set off on this new “old” riding experience. The clutch engaged first gear smoothly and quietly compared to the usual clunk of the GT, and it never ceases to amaze me how nicely chain driven bikes change gear vs the shaft on my BMW. The first thing that immediately required attention and rapid adaptation to was the seating position. The Speedmaster is a cruiser style bike with its footpegs placed forward towards the front wheel. Whilst this is a surprisingly comfortable and natural feeling position once moving, it leads to some panic searching for the pegs when pulling away from junctions, as feet instinctively drop to the position you’re used to finding them in, only to realise they’re not there!
The engine accelerates quite smoothly but not with any massive urge, as you’d expect though given the relatively low power output. Gears continued to mesh smoothly but I found myself hitting the rev limiter a few times before realising I’d not been using all of the 5 gears, which just goes to show how reliant I’ve become on the gear shift indicator on my bike, and how much concentration I was using on other things. I have to say that although the speedo is very clear and shows both mph and kph (UK import), I found myself searching for the neutral light, as it’s location isn’t in the speedo in your immediate line of vision, but instead is located on the petrol tank. I missed not having a tacho, and am ashamed to say I only realised there was one when I uploaded this picture of the tank mounted instruments and saw the rather large one dominating the head of the tank. How could you not see it you’re doubtless asking??? If I had then I’d have avoided hitting the rev limiter, oops!
The handling seemed to be adversely affected by having a pillion, as it seemed very wallowy at the rear. Doubtless this was because we hadn’t firmed up the twin rear shocks, and in combination with a rear tyre that felt underinflated, was giving a feeling from the steering that it was quite light. You’re not massively concious of the fact the wheel seems to be raked quite some way away from you, and to be fair it turned into bends well enough for the pretty low speeds I was riding at, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable riding too much faster without some changes being made to both tyre and shocks.
On the subject of comfort, we both got back after the ride complaining of back ache. The ultra low seat height forces a slightly hunched position for the rider, and Sue was really unhappy clinging on and being bounced around on the soft rear suspension.
The nearest thing to this style of bike I’ve ridden before was a Yamaha Virago back in the 90’s, so it was interesting to try something new and different after so many years. Getting back on the GT afterwards highlighted the differences between the two styles of bike with even greater clarity, the GT feeling positively scalpel like in comparison, not something you’d ever expect to say about a 285kg behemoth, but sittting on rather than in the seat, as you do on the Triumph, really does massively affect the whole feel of the bike.
You’ll have gathered by now I didn’t buy it, but it was an interesting experience, and if you don’t try you’ll never know eh? Maybe there’s something out there to tempt me but at the moment there are only two bikes that might interest me, the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer and the Kawasaki Z1000SX, but the Kwak allegedly has slightly strange handling and I imagine will feel a bit manic in its power delivery, and be similar to the BMW S1000XR I test rode a few months ago. Still, no rush, after 7 years waiting a few more days, or months won’t hurt!