Triumph Speed Triple – The First Production Streetfighter

MK1 Triumph Speed Triple

Last Updated on 08/04/2021

The Triumph Speed Triple has been a cult icon all its life. 

Just the name brings about visions of big twin headlights, sleek single-sided swingarms, a wide motocross handlebar, and a rottweiler stance that knows how to beg for speeding tickets.

Which is interesting considering that the original production streetfighter, Triumph’s 1994 Speed Triple, shared none of these characteristics that we now consider to be iconic Triumph style.

Yet even with its big single headlight, double-sided swingarm, and clip-on handlebars, the first generation Speed Triple has undeniable streetfighter additude, and quite possibly a place in a museum in the near future.

What is a Streetfighter?

Compared to Japanese sportbikes of the same year like the Suzuki GSXR 750, and Honda CBR 900RR with their screaming inline four-cylinder engines and audacious purple and black fairings (Full disclosure: I can’t even pretend I don’t love both of these things. Speed holes!), the Speed Triple didn’t stand a chance at being competitive from a racing standpoint, and it wasn’t intended to. 

Although Triumph did sponsor a “Speed Triple Challenge” race series to give the bike some extra street cred, from the onset the Speed Triple was intended to capture a different market that valued both aggressive performance and refined style. 

“Streetfighter” culture had become popular in Europe by the 1990s, a product of the impromptu customization resulting from riders crashing their fully-faired sportbikes and not having the cash to replace the expensive fairings.

As a consequence, bikes best suited to the racetrack were stripped down to their bare essentials with some form of a headlight lashed onto the front end for legal purposes, and released back into the wild to go on terrorizing the locals. 

But these frankenstein bikes formed a style all of their own, lacking the refinement of traditional “cafe” style, but keeping the “racer” part of that same moniker in tact.

Triumph’s original Speed Triple was a nod to both the cafe and performance worlds, keeping the low tucked clip-on handle bars and aggressive riding position while ditching the plastic fairings and split seating.

The engine was left fully exposed, its polished black finish matching nearly every other visible part on the bike from its radiator to its wheels to its “Diablo Black” paint (unless you wanted yellow, for some reason), with a three-into-two low-slung black exhaust whose bubbly growl spoke of legally questionable intentions. 

First described as “Purposeful, naked aggression waiting to be unleashed” by Motorcycle News at first glance in 1994, the new Triple would prove to be worth the wait at its release later that year.

Triumph Speed Triple 1994 mk1
A 1994 motorcycle magazine ad for the Triumph naked Streetfighter

Triumph Speed Triple Performance

Triumph has long been fond of taking a “modular” approach to their lineup of motorcycles, that is, using the same engine across several models save for a few tuning tweaks in their gearing and power delivery. 

The 1994 Speed Triple was no different, sharing its 885cc DOHC liquid-cooled engine with the Tiger 900 dual-sport, Trident 900 standard, Sprint and Trophy 900 sport-tourers, as well as the Daytona 900 road racer. 

Triumph accomplished this same feat the year my own 2009 Speed Triple was built (I may be a bit biased…) by utilizing the same 1050cc engine in the Tiger and Sprint ST, and I’m here to tell you: Don’t let it fool you into thinking these bikes were lacking any degree of performance. 

Bike Magazine published rave reviews in 1994 about Triumph’s new production streetfighter calling it “One of the most accomplished chassis/engine combinations on the road. Superb power and response, with a huge spread of torque.”

The bike’s 150 mph speedo and 9500 rpm redline tach may have been wishful thinking, but riders had no issue reaching the 130mph mark if the wind speed didn’t blow them off the seat first thanks to the nearly 100 horsepower and 60 lb-ft of torque between their knees.

It was no slouch in the corners either, with adjustable 43mm Kayaba (now KYB) compression and rebound adjustable forks up front and a preload and damping adjustable rear shock out back, all rounded out with fully floating double disk breaks and four-piston calipers.

Buying An Original Triumph Speed Triple

Around the time the now infamous 1050 Speed Triple was introduced in 2005, the first generation models had sort of a begrudgingly beloved status among Triumph fans. 

They didn’t have the trademark bug-eye headlights or the single-sided swingarm, but they still had the style, refinement, and torque that make riding any Speed Triple on the street a true pleasure. 

First-gen models were a stylish alternative to dime-a-dozen race replicas for relatively cheap thrills, and weren’t all that hard to find. But something has changed since then…

Nowadays tracking down an original Triple has become an ordeal of its own. There isn’t a single one for sale online on my side of the pond at the time of this writing. 

And what used to be a $2,000 used bike seems to have finally transitioned in the past 5 years into truly classic status, with recent auctions seeing the $6-7k mark for well-kept examples. 

It seems people have stopped comparing the original to its successors, and started viewing it for what it is: a piece of hooligan bike history with a style all its own. 

Restoring a Speed Triple

Interestingly enough, although the bikes themselves are tough to find, a full cataloge of new OEM parts is still readily available online from side covers to body panels. 

There’s also a fair amount of second-hand bits to be found on places like eBay, and while they aren’t exactly cheap, they’re not ‘63 Bonneville expensive either. 

If you’re looking to do a full overhaul, however, you should be prepared to spend some serious cash.

Finding a mechanic who is knowledgeable and capable of rebuilding these motorcycles may be harder than finding the machines themselves, so if you’re considering a full resto, be prepared to do some traveling to the nearest specialist and to pay top dollar when you get there to have it done right. 

Is An Original Triumph Speed Triple a Good Investment?

Judging by the current market, a well-preserved first-gen Triple stands to become increasingly coveted as the first generation of owners begin to wax nostalgic for a by-gone era of carburetors and damper-rod forks while a new generation of riders gains respect for the unique style and character of these bikes. 

If you can find one in the sub $4k range, the single-lamp Triples stand to become a wise investment, and a nice bit of garage candy to boot. 

At this point spending anything more than that just feels like speculation, and there’s already enough of that going on in the market today without dragging our beloved British brawlers into the fray.

Verdict

The first generation Speed Triples are many things. 

Visually distinct from their predecessors and followers alike, these bikes have a style of their own without losing the aggressive body language that Speed Triple fans adore. 

They are both a nod to the classics and a classic themselves, powerful yet carbureted, refined yet simple.

The T309 Speed Triples are both past and present, both a joy to be ridden regularly and a gem worth preserving. 

Regardless of what lies ahead for these machines in the years to come, I hope the future holds onto at least one for my garage.

Triumph Speed Triple - The First Production Streetfighter
About Kurt Spurlock 7 Articles
Kurt has 15 years experience in the saddle and has owned 9 motorcycles so far including a 2004 Nicky Hayden RC51. Currently in the garage resides a 2003 Suzuki DR650 and a 2009 Triumph Speed Triple.

4 Comments

  1. Very good written article, thank you Kurt. I own a Mk1 since 1994 and some other T300/400 too. As you wrote, the Mk1 is not the fastest and not the lightest. But hell, it’s an unbelievable good looking bike after almost 30 years still and it gives me a smile every time I watch here.

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