Words and static photos by Kenn Stamp
Action shots by Mark Frankenfield
2013 Triumph Trophy SE
Special thanks to Schuberth North America for the C3 World helmet
Here is a question for you: Is the 2013 Triumph Trophy SE a sport-touring bike or a full on touring bike? If you live in England then your answer will most likely be “it’s a touring bike”, but if you live here in the USA then you’ll probably say “sport-touring”. This is mostly due to our attitudes and the kinds of riding we do. Brits can get from one end of their country to the other in a matter of hours whereas us “colonists” would ride for days to accomplish the same task.
Since the Trophy SE doesn’t come with a trunk it fits squarely into my definition of a sport-touring bike rather than the “touring” bike moniker that both Triumph and the Brits put on it. There is another reason I feel the Trophy SE is more of a sport-touring bike rather than a touring bike – the handling……but we’ll get back to that a bit later.
Triumph started designing the Trophy back in 2008 and chose to go directly after the top dog of the near-touring, sport-touring pack, Herr R1200RT from BMW. Unfortunately, at least in my eyes, in trying to beat the Germans they left all the “British-ness” out of their design. Many other riders thought the bike was a BMW until either I told them it was a Triumph or they took a closer look. British designers were always about the curves in the shapes they designed and I can’t help but feel that the Trophy should have been more Spitfire and less Me109.
While the design may mimic the sharp right angles of its main competitor, the heart of the Trophy SE is completely British; a 1215cc triple that develops 132bhp (at 8,900rpm) and 89ft.lbs of torque (at 6,450rpm). When I first started riding the Trophy I was surprised at how much grunt the bike had right off the line. You can get up to speed and be perfectly happy without ever going above 5k rpm or half throttle. After a few days I figured out that while the Trophy SE is satisfied with puttering around town like it was some electric wheelchair, it didn’t truly become happy until you pinned the throttle open and spool the tach needle into the northern reaches of the dial.
Judging by the furious sound that comes from under the fuel tank at WOT, the triple in the Trophy SE is angry about being stuffed between the frame rails of a luxury sport-touring bike. I liked the way the engine felt around town but, other than being very torquey, the performance didn’t “wow” me…..until I decided to use the throttle like it was a serving wench and I was the Lord of the manor (hmm…where did that analogy come from?) The happy sounds, those whirring, screeching, fabricky-rippy noises that only triples make, coming from underneath all that angular bodywork told me that the heart of the Trophy SE likes to misbehave and be a bit naughty. I would never have guessed there was a hooligan lurking underneath all that plastic.
Another great thing about the 3-cylinder engines that Triumph is producing is the lack of vibration due to a counter-rotating balance shaft. Not to get too technical but, a big 3-cylinder engine only needs one balance shaft, running at the same frequency as the crankshaft, to smooth out unwanted vibes whereas a big 4-cylinder needs two balance shafts, running at twice the frequency of the crank to smooth out unwanted vibes. Less parts = greater simplicity = Win! for the triples. This lack of vibration really shows itself when you are cruising at 75-80mph and all you feel is a very light tingle coming through the bars. I’d venture to say that outside of an electric bike you’d be hard pressed to find a smoother engine.
The first time I threw a leg over the Trophy SE and stood it up off the side stand I thought, “Bloody hell! This bike is bleedin’ top heavy! It’s going to be a real gyp in the fanny to maneuver at dozy speeds! It’ll probably be no fun to bung around the corners at higher speeds either!” (editor’s note: My inner voice apparently thinks he’s British. I chalk it up to watching too much Python as a young, impressionable child. Unfortunately my inner voice has a crappy grasp of British slang so I apologize for any offense he may have caused). At some point on any road trip you’ll encounter twists, turns and curves in the road and, contrary to my initial impressions, THIS is where the Trophy shines.
Triumph cannot possibly be paying the person who was in charge of the chassis and handling department during the Trophy’s development enough money; whatever it is they should at least double it. At rest the Trophy SE feels bulky and top heavy, but the moment the wheels start to roll all that bulk and top heaviness disappears. It took me a week or so to really start pushing the Trophy in corners, and even then I always felt like I was leaving a lot of the bike’s ability on the table. I’d start to push hard, then harder, then a bit harder and then suddenly my brain would wake up, see what I was up to and run off to strangle my courage. I just could never mentally get over how a bike that was so wide and so heavy could possibly be so planted and stable while bombing around curves at speed. The Triumph Trophy SE is pure brilliance when the road throws some curves at you. Not just brilliant for a bike that weighs over 650 pounds wet (the claimed weight is 662 pounds to be exact) but brilliant for a sport-touring bike in general.
To help achieve this level of handling Triumph turned to suspension experts WP for the front and rear suspension on the Trophy. The SE version, the only version those of us in the USA will be able to buy, has electronically adjustable suspension at both ends. Up front the 43mm upside-down forks adjust with the push (actually a couple of pushes) of a button for rebound dampening while the rear electronically adjust for hydraulic preload and rebound dampening.
Adjusting the suspension is simple; you can adjust rebound dampening in three modes (Sport/Normal/Comfort), and the preload also has three settings (Solo, Solo w/Luggage, Two-Up). You can feel the bike change height when you adjust the preload (only when stopped of course) and changing the rebound settings actually resulted in a noticeable change in the Trophy SE’s ride and handling. “Sport” was a bit too harsh on the flat and level but really tightened things up in the corners, while “Comfort” was plush on the straights but allowed the bike to wallow a bit when leaned over. My default setting was “Solo w/Luggage” and “Normal” as I found that to give the best all-around ride without getting squirrely in the twisties.
A bike’s transmission,brakes and fuel injection/engine management system play a supporting role to the three main components of a motorcycle; the engine, the suspension and the chassis. My one main beef with Triumph’s in the past has been their ratchety transmissions; especially those found attached to the liter class motors. Apparently Triumph figured out what they were doing wrong and fixed it as the 6-speed transmission in the Trophy is wonderful; precise with a light, yet satisfying, feel. I never missed a shift or felt like I was forcing the transmission to shift when it would rather be off lying on a beach somewhere. As an aside, you can run first gear all the way up to 80mph before hitting the rev limiter. For some reason I found that to be both an odd and a strangely enjoyable thing to be able to do.
The brakes are a different story. They work fine and will stop the Trophy in a quick manner but they had two issues; lack of feedback and a non-linear feel.
The feedback issue never really bothered me too much as the Trophy SE is fitted with a very good ABS system as a safety net. The non-linear feel of the brakes however kept catching me out. I’d approach a corner, mentally set-up my line, start squeezing the front brake lever and pressing the rear brake pedal and……..suddenly I’d find myself having to readjust my line because I was going slower than I wanted to. I finally realized that the issue was the linked brakes. The front brakes are partially activated by the rear brake pedal; the harder you press on the rear brake pedal the more pressure it sends to one of the front brake pistons. This pressure sensitive set-up means that you don’t lose any slow speed capabilities, since the front brake won’t be applied in low-speed/low-pressure situations, but it also means that you’ll have to rethink your braking technique entering corners. Once I figured out the issue I was able to modify my technique – but I still wasn’t a big fan of the set-up. To me, linked brakes are the answer to a question no one asked.
In all the reviews I’ve done on Triumph’s I’ve never had to mention much about the fuel injection/engine management system because, well, there really isn’t anything to talk about. Triumph has pretty much perfected their game in this area and the system in the Trophy SE is no different; twist the throttle and get instant response – every time. I will mention that I was getting, with my frequent trips to the north of the tach’s range, right around 43mpg out of the bike. Not bad for me and my heavy-handed, “what’s a speed limit?” style of riding.
Earlier I mentioned how well the Trophy SE handled as soon as the wheels started turning and I want to expound on that just a bit. There are many factors that impact a bike’s low-speed handling abilities and Triumph seems to have gotten every one of them right on the Trophy. One area that contributes to a bike’s slow-speed capabilities yet is often overlooked is the clutch. A good clutch allows the rider to play with the power delivery to rear wheel in a smooth and linear fashion. I’m not going to say a lot about the Trophy’s clutch as it would all come out sounding like a paid advertisement for Triumph. Let’s just say that within the first day of riding I was able to turn the Trophy inside a 20′ circle with ease; something that, even after 8 years, 50k miles and a clutchetomy I still struggle to do on my personal FJR1300.
Sport-touring bikes are all about the idea of being able to link a lot of curves together in one trip; especially if those curves are separated by miles and miles of straight roads. I’ll admit that I was “amused” by all the “gadgets” when I first started riding the Trophy SE; and since the bike I rode had the “launch pack” accessories on it there were even more gadgets than usual. I quickly grew to love the heated grips but the heated seats left me a bit cold; literally. It was nice having my butt all toasty but that only served to illustrate that my legs were not as toasty as my butt was. This was because Triumph has done a great job in controlling the heat the 1215cc motor puts out. It’ll be great in the summer but a little engine heat venting onto your legs in colder weather is nice.
The press bike I rode also had the larger windshield installed. When in the full down position the larger windshield put the wind directly at the top one inch of my helmet (I’m 6ft tall). This not only caused a lot of buffeting but also caused the wind to zip across the helmet’s top vents in such a fashion as to be deafening – even while wearing foam earplugs. Putting the windshield in a position where I was looking about 1-2 inches over the top of it eliminated the turbulence and noise but also eliminated any air from reaching me. I actually had to ride with my visor open because I felt like I was suffocating with it down due to a lack of any discernible airflow through the helmet vents. I did find out you can stay completely dry while riding in the rain if you put the windshield in the full up position and then go at least 40mph.
The Trophy SE taught me a few things about myself as well. Things like – I never realized that I really like electronic cruise control on motorcycles and now I want it on anything I ride. I also never knew how much I would like having an actual stereo on a motorcycle instead of listening to music through Bluetooth communicator speakers in my helmet. The stereo on the Trophy had Sirius/XM radio and could stream music from your phone using magical Bluetooth technology. It was also powerful enough (combined with the sometimes-too-excellent wind protection) to allow you to hear the music at speeds somewhat above the legal limit…..- even with foam earplugs inserted in your ears.
The downside to all this gadgetry is you need a lot of switches to control it all and, unless the manufacturer wants to spend lots of money on parts (which Triumph obviously didn’t), those switches end up being the usual hard plastic, non-lit kind. At night on a dark back road you’ll constantly be changing radio stations instead of radio volume, raising or lowering the windshield instead of turning the heated grips on or off and numerous other button faux pas while trying to keep the Trophy between the lines on the road.
The analog tachometer is easy to read while the anolog speedometer, with it’s smallish numbers, may pose a bit of a problem to the older Trophy SE riders who’s eyes have lost some acuity. The central part of the dash is where the multifunction display is located. This is where you’ll see all the information that isn’t, in most cases, utterly important to the business of riding. The only exception to that would be the fault messages when the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) is reading low air pressure in one of the tires….or when it thinks it is like it kept doing on the test bike; repeatedly. I was reminded of a 1986 Chrysler New Yorker my mom drove as a company car – every so often the computer system would hiccup and constantly remind you that “Your door is ajar”…..even when it clearly wasn’t “ajar”. After the 5th time of stopping to check the tire pressure I just gave-up and ignored the warning.
I think the only two things I really didn’t like about the Trophy SE were the throttle spring and the mirrors. The Trophy has a throttle-by-wire system that works well but comes from the factory with a return spring that is too light. If Triumph doubled the effort it took to twist the throttle it would perfectly mimic most cable operated throttles.
The mirrors are….. just lousy. If you adjust them to see what’s directly behind you (which actually shows the side of the trunk, if installed, and the bottom of your arm, and just a little of what’s actually behind you) then you can’t see anything that may be lurking in your rear ¾ view. If you adjust the mirrors to see your rear ¾ view then you lose the ability to see what’s behind you unless you bend your head down and to the side. Mirrors that are too small, poorly located and don’t work are par for the course with sport bikes but sport-touring bikes should have mirrors that actually do their job properly.
Triumph set their sights squarely on the BMW R1200RT and then set about building a bike that would beat the Beemer at its own game. The Trophy certainly matches the R1200RT in any subjective category I can think of except maybe in the refinement of the electronics, and soundly trounces it in all objective categories; power, handling, engine smoothness, etc.. Were I in the market for a new sport-touring bike the Triumph would certainly be on the short list – and probably at the top. The only thing that stops me from contemplating what items I’d need to sell to buy one right this minute is that the Trophy didn’t “speak” to me. Maybe it’s too good, too polished, too….polite, but not once did it stir my soul and make me want it. The Trophy does everything you ask it to do without batting an eye but it also never nudges you and goads you to do more either. Never once did I look at the Trophy and hear that little voice saying “you, me, the road – lets go see what kind of trouble we can get into”. Of course most other sport-touring bikes don’t do that either so this isn’t a failing of the Trophy per se, just a characteristic of the sport-touring breed.
If you are in the market for a sport-touring bike and like the idea of a radio, more upright seating position, and a smooth engine to go long with your superb handling and near sportbike power then the Trophy SE deserves a good, hard look.
- Smooth, 3-cylinder engine
- Excellent handling
- Plenty of luggage carrying capabilities
- Comfortable, upright ergonomics
- The mirrors
- The buttons to control everything are not lit at night
- Linked brakes take some time to get used to and don’t offer any benefits
- Throttle spring is too light.
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