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I've spent a good deal of my time over the last four years selling motorcycles to people, so I can spend a few minutes talking to a person and guess with a fair amount of accuracy what kind of motorcycle they want.
Most of the folks walking into motorcycle shops have never owned a motorcycle, or haven't owned one in a long, long time. When they are younger- from 18 to 30 or so- they want a sportbike. The older ones want standards or cruisers. They usually want one of the Japanese brands, as the common wisdom of car buyers dictates that Japanese = good value and reliability.
There's another kind of buyer as well as the newbie. This buyer has had motorcycles for a long time and rides every single day. He or she wants something fast but sane, well engineered but not boring, and it has to have value. This rider is more experienced and won't be fooled by cheap suspension and braking components, uncomfortable ergonomics, or cheesy gimmicks. She demands a sturdy, well-engineered motorcycle that is engaging to ride and will last for years. They are kind of like the weird old guy in your neighborhood when you were growing up who had a million miles on his diesel Mercedes.
I'm one of those weird guys, sans 1977 300D. Over a year ago I assisted a rival website in a 700-mile road test of four budget middleweight standards: the Honda 599, the Yamaha FZ-6, the Suzuki SV650 and Triumph's Speed 4.
I decided the 599 was fun, but overpriced and under-suspended. The FZ-6 was too squishy, heavy and no fun when pushed hard. The SV650 is an excellent motorcycle, no doubt, but I had had one for a couple of years already and wanted just a little more power.
I've owned my blue 06' S4 for 6 months now and have covered a fair distance. With everything from weekly 2 + hour rides down the motorway, to a good hour scratching around on A & B roads on countless occasions.
These reviews to a large degree helped me decide it was the bike for me. Primarily because I wanted to buy from a private seller and most of the reviews are glowing. After shopping about I found a typical saving of about 33% verses a dealer. (I paid just over 2k for mine)
In my experience I've found it to be a lovely piece of kit and quite the weapon when wound up for what it is. Sure a big gixer would wipe the floor with it in a straight line. In the real world though, on the roads it does more than I dare ask of it in most situations. Added to which, I wanted something a bit different than the masses have. The handling is the best I've ever come across, it's really confidence boosting and doesn't punish you if you go in a bit hot.
However, I would not agree with some of the reports of faultlessness. It does run hot; this hasn't caused any real problems. The fuelling is really not great below 3k rpm, wanting to be heard on the motorway I fitted a triumph race can. This predictably made the fuelling slightly worse. Conversely, it does sound awesome - even gets a nod from the screaming eagle folk. I'm prepared to look like a bit of a novice kangarooing around town for the slight increase in middle range power and noise / feeling of safety on the motorway.
I wouldn't recommend this bike if you lived in a city and didn't plan to ride out much though. With the clip on bars and slightly heavy clutch it would get uncomfortable fairly quickly, you then start noticing things like the heat. At this point it occurs to you that the bike is definitely made for the open road. When the road does allow, the bike is genuinely 'in a class of it's own' you can believe that much.
Without a fairing you get satisfaction out of relatively much lower speeds and this can only be a good thing for the road, surely. Having said that, I've not had any problems with wind or buffeting from traffic at 3 figure speeds (on the track obviously).
Changing up under hard acceleration does require a bit of clutch, even when backing off a fraction to help it in the lower gears. Again though, for me this wouldn't be a deal breaker if I was still looking to buy one and discovered it. Mainly because everything else positive that I've experience has been as I'd read or hoped.
I note that there are no reviews from an actual owner so I thought that I had better write one to inform what the Speed Four is like to live with on a long term basis.
Before I bought a Speed Four I spent hours and hours looking for honest reviews, road tests etc. There aren't that many around and whilst most were very informative I could not find any bad points about the Speed Four. In order to get a balanced view I like to know what problems I could face with the bike as well as the good points. After owning a Speed Four I now know why I could not find bad points.... I am still looking for them after 2 years of untroubled biking.
I won't bother detailing all the technical specs since these can be obtained from other websites.
Up until I got my Speed Four I had always been a fan of fully faired out and out sports bikes, and these were all I had ever owned. I never, ever, thought that I would get in to the naked retro scene.
It was my uncle that introduced me to retro bikes. He bought a 1993 Speed Triple and bought it over. I was hooked. The single sided swing arm, the twin head lights........ what a machine.
As a result of my short, stumpy legs and pitiful 5'7" height and the 32" seat height of the Triple I never got to ride the machine. I was absolutely gutted.
However, from that point I needed a naked bike. After a bit of research I found the alternatives were the Fazer, Bandit, Hornet and Monster. Other than the Monster nothing really inspired me. The bandit could be customised, but it had read about poor build quality.
I managed to get a test ride on all and thought I had finally made my choice. It was on the drive back from testing the bandit I noticed it - A lime green Triple (that looked quite small) sitting on the forecourt of a local Kawasaki dealer. At first I thought it was a customised bike, and it looked like one that I could actually touch the floor on.
It wasn't till I got close to the bike that I realised it was not a Triple after all but actually a Speed Four. Up until this point I never even knew that they existed.
The Speed Four was devised in Italy. A dealer had a load of TT600s left over and decided to pull the fairing off, make it look like a Speed Triple and re-map the engine to make it more user friendly. These were then actually put in to production - although they never captured the imagination of the biking public.
The TT600, apparently, had engine issues low down. The fuel injection system was inefficient below 3000 rpm causing the bike to 'lurch' and be difficult to ride around town. I cannot comment on this since I have never ridden a TT600. The Speed Four has been re-mapped to over come this. However, it still lurches below 3000rpm. To me this is not an issue since all the sports bikes I have owned had a problem lower down the rev range. I (like most bikers) buy a bike to actually ride and in everyday riding you keep the revs up and the engine singing. I also bought a bike to ride out in the country - I didn't buy one to poze around the city on.
The Speed Four has retained the air intakes of the TT600. Whilst I have read a few articles 'slating' these I actually like them - it does make the bike look a bit weird but each to their own.
The rest of the styling is like that of the Triple. The twin head lights, small bikini fairing etc. One feature that the Speed Four does not have is the single side swingarm - probably the Triple's best feature - although the TT600 doesn't have one either.
Although I like the naked look I am still a sucker for some plastic. I ended up buying a radiator cover (highly recommended), single seat cowl, radiator cowls and a belly pan. I could not find any non Triumph aftermarket parts anywhere so had to order them from Mr Triumph. All in all the plastics cost me £650 - which is very expensive. However, they do come colour coded to the bike and with a fitting kit. They fit exactly and are quite easy to put on (unlike some after market body work I have bought in the past). The cost should be irrelevant since it is my pride and joy and I wouldn't put any old rubbish on it.
The riding experience of the Speed Four is something else. It produces 98bhp, which is higher than its rivals, with a top end of 140mph, again faster than it's rivals. Where it loses out is on torque. This is because it is, in essence, a sports bike.
The engine pulls very cleanly from 4000 rpm to 6000 rpm. From 6000 rpm to the redline it is time to hold on as the exhaust note turns in to a blood curdling scream and the Speed Four takes off.
Although the acceleration is not up there with the new CBR, ZX6, R6 etc, which should be expected given these are out and out sports bikes it is definitely not slow and sufficient for the novice and experienced rider alike. The feeling of acceleration is enhanced by the lack of body work. The bikini fairing does push the wind over the rider, but not to the extent that a full fairing does. This is not something that a sports bike rider will appreciate until s/he has a go on an un-faired bike.
The Speed Four is very comfortable to around 80mph (as tested on a run what you brung day at a disused airfield) and then the wind really kicks in. It is not a bike that you want to get to 130mph and leave there - unless you are a body builder! This makes it great in that if you get caught speeding it is highly unlikely to be the ridiculous speeds that you would be doing on a fully faired sports bike.
Just like a sports bike the handling is awesome. Although the Speed Four looks quite large it is very maneourvable and flickable. It is great for screaming round country lanes and going back road scratching on. It is hard work in that you need to keep the revs up and the engine spinning but that is part of the charm of riding the Speed Four. Given the right rider the Speed Four will keep up with any 600 bike.
The brakes on the Speed Four are second to none. They are taken straight from the TT600. A single finger is all that is needed to get the bike quickly to a halt when required.
The Speed Four attracts a lot of attention from both car drivers and other bikers, especially since that it is available in very bright colours. The roulette 'luminous bogey' green, 'dayglo' yellow, 'luminous' orange and electric blue ensures that everyone will see you coming. Almost everywhere I park up it becomes a talking point. Strangers will stop you in the street and talk about their old Triumph bonnevilles etc. The sports bike riders do not appear to appreciate the Speed Four as much - but never mind.
With regards to reliability mine has never let me down. It starts first push and doesn't miss a beat till the engine is killed. One thing to note is that they do tend to run quite hot. My Triumph dealer has told me that this is common with all the TT600 too.
Since the Speed Four is an un-faired sports bike it does not appeal to commuters (unlike most of its rivals), and does not appeal to the sports bike riders. It is a 'man-in-the-middle machine. Perhaps this is why the Speed Four never took off. Its styling seems to be something that you love or hate.
The twin lights, alien style bikini fairing, vivid colours (unless you buy one in black) does not appeal to everyone. Consequently, the Speed Four is a great value bike. I purchased a 53 plate with 3,100 miles on the clock one previous owner machine for £2,895. For this sort of money you get a bike that is barely run in, with excellent build quality and a great historic British reputation.
This does, of course, affect any future trade in value of the bike. But at the moment I can't see me ever getting rid of this bike - I will keep it for many years to come.