2011 Triumph 675R: MD First Ride

April 8, 2011

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Sometimes a motorcycle company deserves a hearty “well done,” a cheap cigar and a pat on the back. Triumph’s success with its 675 Daytona is one of these times. It was not so long ago that Triumph seemed to be floundering in the sportbike department. The 955 Daytona was never a huge success (although a very nice machine to ride, to be sure), and was quickly outclassed by its Japanese and Italian competition. Its middleweight cousins, the TT600, Speed Four and Daytona 650 were solid bikes, but again, it was tough for a small company like Triumph to compete in a class with two-year product life cycles, and the machines were outgunned before they entered the showrooms.

That all changed when the new Daytona 675 came out in 2006. Triumph’s product planners made a brilliant decision to build the best bike in its class—an all-new class of one, using Triumph’s signature inline-triple engine configuration. With down-low torque, a class-leading 110 horsepower at the back wheel and a feathery 410-pound wet weight, it was an instant hit with magazine testers and sportbikers alike. In fact, 96 percent of 675 owners call their bikes outstanding, and 97 percent recommend the bike to friends. Thanks to its dominance in the class-of-one, as well as a slowdown in new supersport model introductions from other brands, the 675 is still a strong contender in the middleweight market, despite just one minor update (aside from BNG) in five model years. So how do you make a good thing better? Ducati will tell you, if you care to ask—make an “R” model with premium suspension and brakes. That’s just what Triumph’s done for 2011 with the 675R.

I got to ride the 675R and the revamped Speed Triple (but that’s another story) for two days not too far from the MD headquarters. A day on the street, on the twisty roads leading to Idyllwild, California, and a day on the incredibly fun new Chuckwalla raceway. Before the ride, Triumph’s technical guru Chris Langlois told us what was different about the R.

Not only does the 675R get full Öhlins suspension, it’s just about the best you can buy if you don’t have a factory sponsorship patch on your leathers—or even if you do. In front is the NIX30 43mm inverted fork, available for the first time on a production model of any brand, according to Chris. It offers 2mm more slider diameter than the fork on the standard 675 (for better rigidity), but offers the same travel. As for adjustability, well, what do you think? Of course there is full adjustability—preload, compression and rebound damping, fore and aft, but more importantly, the adjusters actually do something when you turn them. Other brands (and I’ve been told this by at least one OEM rep) put the adjusters on there, but they often work about as well as the “PUSH TO CROSS” buttons mounted near crosswalks. You see, they don’t want you to adjust it wrong, hurt yourself, then sue them (what, you think that hasn’t happened?). So you’re paying for adjustable damping, but getting only “slightly” adjustable.

For even more racetrack credibility, Triumph has upgraded the brakes as well. Instead of the Nissin units on the standard 675, the R has monoblock Brembo racing calipers. The disc size is unchanged, but the master cylinder is also upgraded to an 18mm Brembo unit. Triumph promises a 10 percent increase in “braking performance.”

Now how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more. You also get a factory quickshifter (this interrupts ignition during clutch-less upshifts) and some carbon-fiber—a front fender, rear hugger and some trim pieces. All for the low, low price of $11,999, and I checked that price twice as I thought it was a typo. It’s just $1500 more than the standard 675, plus you get the cool red accents on the wheels and subframe (and no, even though I speculated about lighter wheels in our 675R first look story, the wheels are the same as the stocker). That doesn’t even cover the cost of the forks, much less the brakes, shock or quickshifter. How do they do it?

Who cares? I get to ride the bike on a very fun track, with smooth pavement, maddeningly challenging corners and a sweet banked bowl turn with no limits on how fast you can exit. And that’s where the 675R is really meant to be, although it makes a fine streetbike as well. The suspension is excellent (especially when there are two Öhlins USA techs on hand to set it up for you); compliant, controlled and very comfortable. One of the techs asked me how it was, and I, not being much of a suspension guy, said it felt so good I forgot about suspension completely—if we had been in Massachusetts or Vermont he might have asked me to marry him on the spot. The other journos—some of whom are top-level AMA guys who can truly utilize the capabilities of good suspension—were similarly impressed.

The brakes are just as sweet. The master cylinder provides great feel at the lever, the pads bite hard, and the power is fantastic, with a single-finger squeeze sufficient for my slow-ish pace. The Nissin calipers (and Brembo master) on the Speed Triple feel nice, too, but the top-shelf Brembos just feel…expensive. And the quickshifter is just a no-brainer. Once you get used to using it, you wonder how you ever managed without one, it makes banging though the Triple’s smooth gearbox and close ratios so easy.

Just as I remembered from the last time I rode a 675, the motor is the best part of the experience. Powerful on top, strong-pulling down low, and very smooth everywhere. Unlike some other middleweights, gear selection is not as important, which lets you focus on learning a new track, for instance. Or finding the perfect line thorough your favorite turn. Triumph calls the R the “ultimate trackday tool,” and while everybody has their own idea of what that is, I’d bet the 675R is close to what most of us want—competent, forgiving, controlled and very fast when it needs to be. It may be getting long in the tooth, but it’s still sharp enough to please the most discerning riders.

On the street the 675R can be very civil. I thought that while compact—with a 55-inch wheelbase and a width of just 28 inches it’s hard to find a narrower sportbike—the seating was humane, with a comfortable reach to the bars and pegs that felt naturally placed. The seat is hard, as you’d expect, but wind protection is surprisingly good. And that Triple makes for a much easier experience riding at low speeds, although I struggled a little with an abrupt off-idle throttle response. All is forgiven when you hear that three-cylinder exhaust note behind you, though.

Twelve grand is a lot for a middleweight sportbike, half again as much as you’d pay not very long ago. But what you get is at least half again compared to the 80-hp, 480-pound middleweights from the late ’90s, bikes with soggy suspenders, crummy tires and poor cornering clearance. So I’ll say it again—well done, Triumph and where do I send the box of Cohibas? Were I in the market for a middleweight trackbike, the 675R would be on the top of a very short list.

MotorcycleDaily attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report. 

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