Punching above its weight: Prototype ride reveals Triumph’s Speed 400 is a little bike with big potential

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MCN was the first UK publication to experience Triumph’s all-new 2024 Speed 400 retro motorcycle after we got the chance to ride a pre-production version around the Cotswolds.

The test on a late-stage European-spec prototype has given us a tantalising first impression of what this new model is like, months ahead of its official launch.

The Triumph Speed 400 is the firm’s first small capacity, entry-level, A2-compliant model of the modern era and has been designed to both broaden appeal in Europe by being more accessible in terms of price, size and performance, as well as tapping into the vast, blossoming Indian and Asian markets.

Triumph Speed 400 left side

This is part of the reason the new Speed 400, the first model in Triumph’s TR-series platform, has been developed in collaboration with Indian automotive giant, Bajaj. This partnership provides Triumph with not only some small-capacity specialism and a ready-made Eastern-market distribution network, it also gives the British brand the benefit of Bajaj’s volume – which helps to keep prices low.

And while we’re talking about price, Triumph have announced that the Speed 400 roadster will cost £4995 in the UK, with the Scrambler 400 X starting from a more premium £5595. This puts it directly where we expected to compete with its A2 class rivals.

At its heart, the TR-series platform (which also underpins the forthcoming Scrambler 400 X) is a fuel-injected, liquid-cooled 398cc single-cylinder motor making 39.5bhp at 8000rpm and 27.7lb.ft at 6500rpm, married to a six-speed gearbox, and hung inside a steel perimeter frame.

Emma Franklin rides a preproduction Triumph Speed 400

Getting up close, it’s hard to believe that the Speed 400 is a bike that’s going to cost somewhere in the region of £5200. The level of fit and finish is on a par with the rest of the Triumph range. Everything from the switchgear and grips to the gorgeous little details such as the machined frame bolts, lacquered-in graphics and those charming mock cooling fins and solid-looking crankcases, is identical to the other models in the retro Speed family.

Sitting down on the plush bench seat for the first time, there’s a definite softness to the non-adjustable 43mm big piston forks and rear monoshock, which gives reason to question whether the baby Speed might be a little too plush for back road fun. Yet as soon as the bike’s in motion, that softness translates into a suppleness that offers both support during cornering and hard braking, as well as superior ride quality over Britain’s crumbling roads.

Deliberately aiming the Speed’s 17in Metzeler M9RR-shod front wheel at some of the Cotswolds’ largest tarmac craters reveals that the Speed 400 simply smooths potholes away as if they didn’t exist. Seriously impressive stuff, and we hope this characteristic sticks around for the production-ready version.

Triumph Speed 400 engine

Triumph’s development team certainly know how to make a bike handle and the Speed 400 is no different from its range-mates. With a wheelbase of only 1377mm and steering geometry close to that of the sweet-steering Triumph Street Triple, the Speed 400 effortlessly dances through turns with seemingly no input through the bars whatsoever.

Yet it does so in a very neutral, composed manner. At no point does this A2-compliant Triumph feel like a flighty little bike, toy-like or compromised – it feels planted like a bigger, heavier machine, not something that weighs just 170kg.

That big-bike illusion translates to the engine performance, too. The TR-series motor is a little belter. It’s been tuned for a broad spread of torque rather than outright peak power, which is why its 39.5bhp falls a little way short of the 43bhp of direct competitor, the KTM 390 Duke, and the A2 class limit of 47bhp.

Triumph Speed 400 on the road

What that top-end sacrifice has done, however, is allow Triumph to give the TR-series motor that signature Triumph broad, flat torque curve meaning that you can easily pull off country lane overtakes in higher gears without the need to get busy with the gear lever.

Riding it briskly on B-roads is simply a case of winding on and off the throttle and coasting on the linear torque rather than having to frantically thrash it. Wafting along the Oxfordshire countryside, it’s easy to forget that it’s just a 398cc single, such is the unintimidating robustness of the motor. It punches above its weight.

Thanks to a counter-rotating balance shaft inside the cases, the Triumph single is more thrummer than thumper as it’s wonderfully smooth without any unpleasant vibration through the bars, seat or pegs, even when revved hard. The fuelling on this pre-production model feels pitch-perfect, further boosting the motor’s creaminess.

Triumph Speed 400

Yet for all its refinement, there’s still that definitive Triumph character pulsing with every throw of the crank.

Tourists turn their cameras towards the Speed 400 as it thrums past. The exhaust has an understated-but-pleasing tone, even if you can’t quite hear it from the rider’s seat, although you do get to appreciate a cheeky little burble on the overrun.

As the road opens up, the Speed 400 happily cruises at motorway speeds, showing 6000rpm in sixth gear at 70mph. It feels unstressed and easily accelerates into +10% speeds for overtakes.

Triumph Speed 400 road test

As Triumph are still finalising the software, a few of the functions on this pre-production bike’s dash aren’t working, but the live fuel economy gauge reports 90mpg while cruising on the dual carriageway.

If correct, this would give a tank range of over 200 miles. You’d have no bother at all doing a long journey on a Speed, especially as the official accessories list boasts luggage, screens, heated grips and other touring extras. There’s no quickshifter, though.

The action of the assist-and-slip clutch is light and the gearbox is slick. However, the first few gears are quite short with first gear ripped through in the blink of an eye, such is the keenness of its acceleration, and the Speed will happily pull strongly from low speed in second.

Triumph Speed 400 with red tank on the road

Bringing things to a stop is a single radially mounted Bybre four-piston caliper gripping a non-floating 300mm disc, backed up by ABS. The initial bite from the Speed’s sintered front pads is positive without being harsh, and the progressive braking characteristic matches the smooth, refined attitude of the rest of the bike.

This 80-mile sneak preview of the Speed 400 has left us feeling that Triumph have hit a home-run with the new TR-series platform, thanks to quality looks, charm, as well as performance that’ll appeal to new riders as well as more experienced. We’ll ride it in fully finished form at the launch in December where we’ll give you our definitive MCN verdict.

12,000 orders across India

Triumph fully revealed the new Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X to the world at the end of June, and opened up the order book in India on July 5. Triumph tell us that they’ve since taken over 12,000 pre-orders from keen Indian buyers.

To put that into perspective, in 2022 Triumph sold 83,389 bikes globally meaning that pre-order represents 14% of their total annual global sales in just one model and region! It also matches the total number of new ‘modern classics’ (all manufacturers and capacities) sold in the UK last year.

The Indian-spec machines are 6kg heavier than the Euro version, as they’re fitted with regulation extras such as crash bars, saree guard, as well as tougher wheels and sump guard. The Indian model also has Apollo tyres, and different suspension settings.