Friday, August 07, 2009

2009 Triumph Street Triple: A Transformation

I'm not adventurous and my habit of pre-judging tends to torpedo new experiences. During the past 35 years at Penn State I can probably count on two hands the number of times I have not ordered chocolate ice cream at the world famous Berkey Creamery. I find something I like and I stick to it. And I draw a lot of conclusions from limited information and experience. It explains why my heart sunk last week when Craig Kissell suggested I try the Triumph Street Triple. I don't ride motorcycles like that. I hate that feet back riding position and I'm not interested in a machine that's described as a streetfighter or referenced along with smoking rear tires and sirens. In my head I knew exactly what this bike was and had no interest in riding one. I know what I like and this wasn't it. While my brain scanned Kissell Motorsports for alternative suggestions what came out of my mouth was, "Sure, I'll take it for a ride.".

Despite being narrow minded about choices I am quick to admit when I'm wrong. Not even a mile down the road I was smiling and telling myself that the Triumph Street Triple was fun. The riding position was different and my big clunky Wolverine boots weren't ideal for the shift level but those were merely minor adjustments waiting to be made. Even though it was fun to ride I was uncertain how it would hold up for a longer ride. By the time the motorcycle was parked in the driveway I was making plans for the next morning.

My body isn't as limber as it once was so before departing the next morning I spent 15 minutes stretching my legs and hips to help me adapt to the riding position which is decidedly more restricted than my Vespa. I was skeptical about how far I could ride comfortably. Since the Street Triple placed me in new, transformational territory, I figured I would add another element to the trip --- I would keep photography to a minimum. No frequents stops to look around and explore. This time I would just ride, chew up miles and have fun solely with the motorcycle. And I managed to spend a minimal amount of time on pictures, usually just making a quick shot when I had to stop to stretch or get gas. The ride was a no frills adventure.

Departure time put me on the road just after sunrise on a clear, mild morning. The first stop was just outside of Centre Hall, Pennsylvania to tie my shoe. And make a quick photo. At this point I was intrigued by the engine and transmission performance. The power was smooth, positive and relentless in any of the six gears available. I was able to manage at slow speeds when necessary and a twist of throttle transformed the Triumph into nothing short of a monster on the road. It's clear this motorcycle is made to move fast and hard down the road. The tires seemed to stick to the road and I could see why some riders may succumb to temptation and enter the riding realm of interest to the State Police.

On PA Route 192 east of Livonia I decide to stop and stretch my legs. I've only gone 32 miles but I'm still concerned that I'm suddenly going to cramp up in the still odd to me riding position. While stopped making the picture a young man in a pickup truck slows to inquire if I require assistance. I'm reminded of how often people have stopped to offer help over the years when I am out in the middle of nowhere making pictures. I guess motorcycles and scooters should be moving, especially so far from town. I give him the thumbs up and he returns the gesture and motors on as I continue on my way east towards the Susquehanna River.

My just ride and not take a lot of pictures plan wasn't perfect. I did putt around (if you call moving slow on the Street Triple putting) R.B. Winter State Park a bit and just had to make a photo as we entered the forest with the morning light streaming in. I'm a sucker for these pictures. Besides, it gave me another chance to see the instrument cluster on the Triumph come to life when I turn on the power--- the fuel system pressurizing and a futuristic sweep of blue lights around the tachometer make me smile as the bike says, "lets go.".

I planned to have breakfast at some yet undiscovered diner along the way. I passed several options in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania preferring to keep riding. I finally pulled off the road at a Pennsylvania Fish Commission launch area on the east side of the Susquehanna River. I needed to sit for a few minutes to to sort out some competing noise in my head. Breakfast was loud, fuel was quiet but persistent, and where I was going was just annoying. Undecided I sat on the Triumph looking for a sign of which way to go as two Harley-Davidson Road Kings roared by. While normally oblivious to other motorcycles on the highway save for offering a friendly wave in passing a light flickered in my head and I pulled onto the road in the direction of the Harleys. Working fast through the gears I closed the distance between us quickly and rode behind them until we reached an intersection where I paused to allow them to regain their independence and privacy. It was an unusual action on my part to chase someone down and I can only attribute it to the power available on this machine. As I sat at the intersection I reevaluated my behavior and made a note that I don't have to act on impulses -- especially on the road.

After adding several gallons of premium fuel to the tank I made a decision to follow the river south towards Harrisburg, a route I've not ridden before, and take the ferry across the river at Millersburg. I acted on impulse again, this time to make an unnecessary photograph of the Triumph outside an abandoned factory in Sunbury. It's how I imagine a Triumph, born in the industrial areas of England where red brick is king. A homage to my idea of a streetfighter.

Another picture, another required stop. This time to replace my gloves for a lighter, cooler, mesh pair of Triumph gloves. With absolutely no luggage space on the Street Triple I carry everything in my pockets -- camera, notebook, pen, extra gloves, cell phone, wallet, and extra ear plugs. Looking down the road at the absence of traffic I am again struck by thoughts of increasing speed. I've reached the breakin mileage point where I can add another 1000 rpms. Then I remember all the deer crossing signs I've passed and the knowledge that Pennsylvania holds the North American record for vehicle deer strikes. As pretty as Bambi is I don't want to run into her. Or him. Managing risk I continue on my way at legal speeds. And still smiling. Any objections I had about this motorcycle have evaporated and I am just enjoying the ride.

No excuses. I just wanted to make a picture. At this point I had ridden almost 90 miles and no longer had any concerns about riding position or seat comfort. Check and check. And I was losing a bit of my will to not make pictures. The photographer in me remains stronger than the rider. So I needed to look at the old Conrail car that someone had gone to the trouble of placing on their property. Couldn't figure out why they would go to such lengths to get it there and then let it decay. Photographically though it was a fine subject.

It was only 8 more miles to Millersburg and the Millersburg Ferry, the only remaining paddle wheel ferry crossing the river. The last time I made use of it was in the 1980s while working on a documentary film about water. On this day the ride across would be purely for pleasure.

The ferry sits along the shore at the bottom of a step dirt drive. I was hoping that the boat would be on my side of the river so I wouldn't have to wait too long to cross. All hope was dashed for a quick crossing when I pulled up and saw a hand written note "Not Working Today". I suppose I should be grateful. The deck looked a little more rickety than I remember and certainly was uneven to park a motorcycle. That sign saved me the unpleasant phone call to Craig Kissell, "You'll never guess where your brand new Triumph is. In the Susquehanna River. Yeah, that's right, the Susquehanna. Can I still have the Scrambler???".

Looking down river towards Harrisburg and the closest bridge at Clarks Ferry I had to make a decision of whether to head south or turn back and go the way I came. Without a map handy I chose to continue south to what had to be a closer crossing. The ferry would have to wait for another day.

Traffic increased as I traveled south and my stomach was making more frequent reminders about breakfast. Without the ferry crossing my time table was a wreck and I wanted to be home before 1pm. The next day was my daughter's wedding and I had some things to think about. So I abandoned plans for a sit down hearty breakfast and opted for the continental cuisine of a Sheetz cheese dog and a bottle of water. Enough fuel for me to get home.

If I had more time I would have chosen a leisurely route home to site see and make more pictures. With the press of time and schedule I chose to follow US Route 322 and see how the Street Triple performed on the 70 mile trip home. The route would provide a limited access busy highway for all but about 7 miles of the trip. While the bike had no problems flowing along with traffic it certainly wasn't at its best being buffeted about with neither fairing or windshield to help diffuse the air disruptions of a steady stream of eighteen wheelers on the road. The bike held it's own but the combination of wind and turbulence demanded a lot of attention at times. It was nice to know that a twist of the throttle would leap the bike forward and beyond things if required.

When I got home I had put just under 200 miles on the Triumph Street Triple, a machine that 24 hours earlier I had no interest in at all. It was a minor transformation and another lesson learned on the road, this one about judging books by their covers. The Street Triple obviously has the power and design to live up to its streetfighter reputation. But I found that it is just as accommodating to a non-streetfighting rider. And it is fun, really fun to ride. It may not be the all-around bike for my daily riding requirements but it may be for someone else who has no interest in farm lanes and forest roads. On the street, it's in its element.


682202 said...

It sounds like you have meet a temptress. Be aware of the demon that lurks beneath, It won't be long before you doing wheelies and stoppies not to mention the smokey burnouts. Enjoy...


Steve Williams said...

GAW: The Street Triple certainly has the power to be a speed demon. I was careful to keep the front wheel on the ground. It was obvious how little of the available power I was using to fly down the road.

I've seen enough stoppies gone bad on youTube to know that I'll experience those from the comfort of my keyboard.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

Not all demons are bad... The good ones are those who encourage you to do stuff you can get away with. I kept reading this piece, waiting to get to the part where you said, "Screw it. I'm going to let this beast run."

In truth, the air is cleaner and all deeds are deemed worthy -- when you're pushing triple digits on the speedo.

Nice post... But very unscooter like.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

David said...

It's good to step outside your comfort zone once in a while. You don't have to live there, but it is a good idea to see what life looks like from the other side of the street. And I can't imagine two more different rides than a Street Triple and a Vespa scooter. LOL
I suppose it's just a matter of time before you start reviewing Pizza places now. ;)

Dave T.

Bryce said...

"My body isn't as limber as it once was so before departing the next morning I spent 15 minutes stretching my legs and hips to help me adapt to the riding position which is decidedly more restricted than my Vespa. I was skeptical about how far I could ride comfortably."

Steve, you just explained to us how old your are. Silly me always thinking you were much younger. Dammit in my mind you are and that's all that matters!

As to the machinery itself, there are all of 16 Triumph motorcycle dealers in Canada dealers, and Canada is to Triumph a backwater which perhaps is best ignored.

No support here, at all, and I have a number of friends who Triumph's and decided to sell them after all too many problems regarding parts and service.

The demonstration ride though took me through many times past familiar territory. Especially a certain paddle-wheel ferry.

Damn I must be getting old!

LukeMiller said...

I've really enjoyed this blog series... and I'm super jealous. I currently get around my city on a Honda Ruckus, and I'm thinking of jumping up to a bike. Your reviews are extremely helpful, particularly since the two bikes I'm most interested in are a Bonneville and a Dual Sport. Keep this up!

Michael Poster said...


I have been reading your blog for some time, but thought it was time I wrote. I’m not intending this as a comment on today’s post, but I see no other way to get in touch.

I live in Montrose, PA up in Susquehanna County. I’m 58 now, but when I was _much_ younger I was a mechanic then for a short time service manager at a triumph shop in Philadelphia. I met my wife there; she was parts manager. Much of the down payment on our property in Montrose came from the sale of my ’67 650 single carb, a beautiful bike I rebuilt from ground up including custom exhaust and a pinstriping job by a hanger-on at the shop, “Bill the Brush”. Bill drank to excess and at that point in his life the alcohol made him tremble uncontrollably. That is, all but his brush-hand; it was rock-steady as he painted.

So after the sale of the Triumph and a then the subsequent sale of a couple of little Bultacos I gave up riding altogether.

Fast forward. I started an internet business back in 1994 and that provides an income and a bit of spare time. I resurrected an old photography habit that now dominates much of my time and coincidentally started a photography gallery in Scranton, PA with two co-conspirators called Camerawork.

Nearing 60 I’m finding myself thinking about bikes again. They’ve gotten much more powerful (and heavier it seems) than when I last rode. The big ones were always a challenge for me. I’m 5’5” on a tall day and it was my job to test ride problem machines including triples like the BSA Rocket. For those I would pull up at a light and look for a waiting car to lean on til the light changed.

So, I’ve been enjoying reading your new blog, especially when you’re riding Triumph. I have a probably mis-guided idea that I’ll find an old 650cc (or maybe I’ll really get wild and find an old Ducati ;o) and limber up the shifting foot again.

While I’m waiting I also wanted you to consider exhibiting at Camerawork. Our curating is always a committee affair so I can’t act unilaterally, but if there is work you’re eager to show I’d like to see it.

Keep writing about motorcycles.

Best Michael Poster

STall 'n Big said...

Just a thought Steve..

How was your daughter's wedding?

Did you give her away???

bobskoot said...


I know what you mean about Triumph service. I was really liking the triple engine, but in the end I didn't think I would get enough dealer support in order to purchase one. Performance is one thing, but dealer support is everything.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Stacy said...

Steve, I could have told ya not to judge a naked bike by its cover. ;)

The Street Triple, like the SV650, is about as good an "all around" bike as you can get these days. Both have upright seating positions, with footpegs straight down below the seat. There's no "boy racer hugging the tank" to be had here.

In terms of longer distance riding, however, you'll need some kind of wind protection. The Street Triple is better suited for distance touring out of the box due to its incredibly smooth engine. The SV is a little more "vibey".

The other Stacey loves her Street Triple -- it never fails to bring a big smile to her face.

Me? I still love my SV!

So, when's the Daytona 675 test?

RickRussellTX said...

Good grief, you should work in advertising. That was just about the best unintentional advertisement for a motorcycle I've ever seen.


Sojourner rides said...

Your pics make the TST look really grand! I enjoyed tagging along on this ride and observing your shift in pre-judgement. It gets me a lot of times too. I know what I want and what I don't and then comes along a new reality making me realize that I mostly know only what I'm used to--and at times, I don't even know that well.

Steve Williams said...

Mr Riepe: When I looked up "bad influence" in my picture dictionary imagine my surprise when I saw your picture there. And the entry said "See also: demon, speed demon, trouble".

I don't think Triumph was referring to triple digit speed when naming the bike were they??

I didn't let the beast run wild because, well, let's see what was going on in my head--- deer strikes. I had been reading about them the night before and it was in my head as I traveled down tree lined roads.

And the big label on the fuel tank of the Triumph stressed the rev limits during the break in period. So I didn't experiment with high speeds. I did with high acceleration though. I don't have to worry about bringing the front wheel of the Vespa off the ground.

I do appreciate your comments though and enjoyed the unscooterlike trip.

Steve Williams said...

David T: You're right, the Vespa and Street Triple are as different as I have ridden to date. The Vespa still had some things in common with the Bonneville and a lot in common with the KLR. But the Street Triple was just a different animal.

The experience has not got me thinking of pizza reviews though. I'm really boring in the pizza arena.

Bryce: I'm not old. I'm just used. Trying to ride the Street Triple though has given me some interest in more formal physical training. I want to keep riding for as long as I can.

Dealer support is an essential ingredient to a purchasing decision I think. I'm fortunate in that department. I'm going to be interviewing the mechanics and service manager at some point to ask about some of these kinds of things. It's a big concern for a lot of people regardless of what they buy. And we tend to expect the same service with motorcycles that we see with automobiles but I think it's a different animal. The numbers are different and so is the system.

I think. That's why I want to write about it. I want to know what I should and should not expect.

That old paddle wheel boat is still going. If you don't get to tour around on a bike you could still ride across in an SUV!

Steve Williams said...

LukeMiller: My wife wants a Ruckus as her first scooter. I'm just keeping my eyes peeled for a used one to appear.

The Bonneville and KLR are nice. If things were perfect in the world I would have both in my garage.

dave said...

I understand the preconceived notions idea. After being away from riding for twenty five years I thought I wanted a VTX. I had been telling my dad (in his seventies) that I wasn't old enough to ride a Goldwing. Well after three years of sharing his 2006 'Wing I have found that, except for an occasional parking lot move, the 'Wing has power, handling and luxury. Being open can enlighten us in more than just motorcycles/scooters!!

Steve Williams said...

Michael Poster: It sounds as if your motorcycling past is trying to tell you something. A friend at work has a Triumph of similar vintage to the one you had and though he loves his bike he wants one of the new Triumphs or retro Ducati bikes. A couple test rides convinced him of the superior experience (read that not have to worry about much) of the modern bikes.

As far as an exhibition goes I have thought once or twice about seeking a venue to show work from my 3 Prints Project along with my friend Gordon. But reading your post it occurred to me that maybe I should think about the Scooter in the Sticks work too.

I've found your Web site and I will look into your application process.

Glad you commented. I imagine there will be some more Triumph material down the road.

Steve Williams said...

STall 'N Big: You are messing with my head changing your posting identity you know.

Hannah did get married. I just put up a new post. Didn't give her away though. She didn't like the idea that she was chattel property to distribute.

Where did I go wrong???

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: I assume you are referring to Bryce's comments about Triumph service in Canada. With a local dealer service here isn't an issue.

I am curious about supply chain issues for motorcycle parts in general. Can't be the same as for automobiles and I bet I need to recalibrate my expectations. I plan to write about that someday.

Stacy: The Street Triple and the SV650 have some things in common. You are more of an expert on this kind of bike than I am. You are right about the Triple's engine being smooth. I was amazed.

Not sure about the Daytona. That is probably beyond my riding range. I'm an old guy who knows his limits!

Steve Williams said...

RickRussellTX: Thanks! What a nice thing to say. If someone at Triumph wants to add me to their staff I would entertain an offer!

Sojurner rides: My brain just gets me in trouble, or at least limits me. Need to figure out how to get past it!

Steve Williams said...

dave: Someday I'll try a Goldwing. Without fail the owners I talk to love their Wings. There must be something to it!

Michael Poster said...

>Glad you commented. I imagine there will be some more Triumph material down the road.

Actually, I am looking forward to your Ducati adventures. I only know enough about them to be dangerous, but I think I’ve zeroed in on the Ducati 696 Monster as the one for my wishlist.

Back in the long-ago my soon-to-be wife had a tiny Ducati that was later replaced by a couple of Bultacos (hers and mine) for the dirt. Those bikes were equal-opportunity machines: for every hour spent riding there was an hour of fixing.

But I understand the Ducati's are more reliable now. ;o)


Charlie6 said...


an outstanding report, you sure you weren't a producer of what my wife calls "shiny paper"? You know, the slick marketing ads at dealerships that try and convince you to buy their bikes.....

like you, I would have bypassed the street triple solely on the riding position....I can see I must "broaden my mind".

thanks for the report.....

Steve Williams said...

Michael Poster: I wish I were more technically experienced than I am. I know enough mechanical things about the Vespa to have destroyed the engine with a bit of do-it-yourself maintenance. Someday I hope to learn a bit more.

Keep that in mind when I talk about motorcycles. I know what they look like, sound like, if they start when I press the starter button, and how they ride. I'm not oblivious to mechanical issues merely indifferent or disinterested. Maybe when I retire that will change. But it's much the same with cameras and photographic tools. I want to use them and I want them to work.

Anyways, I'm rambling. The Ducati's look like engineering marvels. When I hear one start it sounds like perfection and makes a mechanical noise like nothing I have heard.

At some point I will ride a Ducati. But there is a 50cc scooter I have my eye on. Fun before terror.

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: I think my fascination with riding and two-wheeled machines shows in my pictures. It has become an obsession. Not sure if they rise to the level of marketing images but I try to portray how I feel about them.

I think a ride on the Street Triple might be enjoyable for you.

tochaman said...

Great pics always!

Really liked the one with the sunlight streamer hitting the road in the background.

Isn't it interesting that the different personality within each bike brings out a little different personality in the rider. Sometimes being something the rider may not have even realized they had within themselves!

So now that you've ventured outside of your "chocolate comfort zone" and survived...maybe a little smooth riding, "butter pecan cruiser" is next on your list? Goldwing would count for that.. but it's a class, or two, above plain ol' butter pecan!

Steve Williams said...

tochaman: Thanks for your comments on the pictures. The more I shoot the more I seem to see. I guess practice does have an effect.

Butter pecan cruisers. I like that. Kissell Motorsports has a lot of Kawasaki and Triumph cruisers in stock and I suppose at some point I will take one out. And I will probably respond the same way as I have with other bikes--- wow. This is pretty nice...

The Triumph Speedmaster looks pretty nice.

Jeremy Z said...

I had a bike like this, it was really, really fun. Mine was a Suzuki SV650, my first bike back in 2000. There are several nice things about lightish naked bikes, one is that although they are quick, the lack of wind protection kind of discourages one from going fast for longer periods.

I put a mid-height windshield on it to make it more tour-worthy. My fuel economy went from mid-40s to mid-50s immediately, but if I didn't pay attention, I found myself going 15-20 mph faster at any given time.

I see that you also tried a new KLR. I can't recommend them enough. I just traded in my sport-touring motorcycle, a 2005 Yamaha FJR1300 for a 2009 KLR650. Although I took a hit in power, braking, wind protection, fuel delivery technology, and maybe even a bit in quality, I don't regret it. The riding position is nearly perfect. Anyway, I won't babble more about it here; I'll just update my blog and you can read it if you're interested. (

Joe said...

First time reader here - I like the bike and your pics are great, some superb. Thanks for taking the time to write the report and set up all the pictures - much appreciated.