Monday, April 23, 2007

10,000 Miles on British Steel

This weekend the odometer on the Speed Four ticked over 10,000 miles. I didn't witness this momentous occasion because I keep the digital readout set to display my trip odometer, since I need to stop for gas much more often than I need to get a tune-up.

Considering the colorful engineering history of British motorcycles (and other motor vehicles), that's pretty impressive.

Overall, I have to say it's a damn shame Triumph stopped manufacturing the Speed Four last year. The S4 is no end of fun - nimble handling, plenty of horsepower, and character to spare. Indeed, I think some of the character of my Speed Four is rubbing off on the Vespa and the VX800 it shares garage space with. I've noticed the Vespa has had a distinct increase in bad attitude since it left the showroom.

The Speed Four has some quirks, but they're tolerable. At slower speeds (3000 RPM and below, or, under 12 mph) it surges a bit. Of course, most of us rarely ride that slow, so it's not a big problem. The bike also has the famous "progressive feel brakes" which seem to be a case of making a bug into a feature. Basically, the brake lever travel increases significantly as the miles increase. Some riders get their brakes bled on a regular basis to counteract this problem - it works for some, for others it doesn't. Since the brakes aren't any less effective, I guess it isn't a huge problem, but it's a bit annoying.

Another quirk I've discovered: the oil drain plug is the lowest point on the bike (apart from the tires, smart ass). So when your local ton-up boy hits a speed bump too fast, guess what bottoms out! That's right, the oil drain plug. This can lead to amusing panic-attacks caused by the speedy oil-leak when the plug comes a bit loose.

On the other hand, this bike is surprisingly comfy for long rides. Since the range for a tank of gas is about 120 miles, there are plenty of opportunities for stretch-breaks. The seat isn't terrible, but one will have a sore butt after a four hundred mile day. It's ok, though, because everyone wants buns of steel anyway.

The powerband on this bike delivers no end of fun. Around 9000 RPM it really starts to pick up, and by 12,000 RPM you'll notice your new, involuntary perma-grin. Below 6000 RPM is kind of dull, but what are you doing riding that slow anyway?

By the way, this bike starts to sound really vicious right around 7,000 RPM. By 10,000 RPM it screams like a banshee come to collect you. Appropriate. Compared to many bikes, there's a lot of noise from the motor. Things click, rattle and buzz under the rider, as they should.

Now, let's talk about British metal for a moment. There are four basic schools: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motörhead. If the Speed Four were a metal band, it would be somewhere between Judas Priest and Motörhead - It delivers the business with just barely enough polish to be socially acceptable. In other words, it won't kill your neighbor's lawn the second it arrives, but only out of a grudging respect for the well-trimmed hedge.

If you can dig it.

Anyway, I really can't say enough good things about my Triumph. My next bike will certainly be a Triumph. I would encourage anyone teetering between a Triumph and some other marque to go British, and I would advise anyone looking at a Speed Four to buy it before someone else gets it first.


xtian said...

the speed 4 may be discotinued, but only to leave the baby triple some space:

naked 675 for this summer.
cheap, powerfull sexy, xhat else do you need? !

Combatscoot said...

I found myself lusting after an orange one when I worked at a Triumph dealer, but, alas, it sold too quickly.

Grumpyunk said...

I have a stiffy for the Triumph ST. I'm only about 6-7 thousand bucks short right now.