Speed Triple S v GSX-S1000 v Z1000

You know the feeling. Your mate has just bought a brand new bike, the bike he’s been banging on about for ages. He then turns up on your drive bursting with pride and beckons you out of the house to admire his limited-edition Sugomi Kawasaki Z1000. Now you don’t want to hurt his feelings but what was he, and for that matter Kawasaki, thinking? 

The standard Z1000 is a good looking bike, very ‘Star Wars’, but painted crimson things are less clear cut. 

Parked next to the Triumph the Kwak looks like a gadget, a concept bike even, with the most distracting colour scheme I can remember. While, for example, the Speed Triple’s new switchgear is neater and its clocks are easy on the eye and simple to navigate, the switchgear on the Zed is simply brown, the 1970’s brown you find in hotel bathrooms on the Isle of Man. I like the Kawasaki’s clocks, the way the rev counter moves up in two stages, yet my eye was always drawn to the brown switchgear.

The Suzuki, meanwhile, is certainly eye catching and works much better as a naked bike than the faired S model, which looks like it’s been hit with the ugly stick. The clocks are the simplest of the bunch, but are clear with a gear position indicator (unlike the Kawasaki). Suzuki have thrown the Yoshimura accessories catalogue at our test bike, pushing the price up to £10,790, the base model is £9099, and the ABS version which our model is based on is £9599.

The GSX-S’s Yoshi pipe and the twin Akrapovic end cans that come as standard on the Sugomi model Zed are welcome, but neither sound as fruity as the Speed Triple’s standard cans. Triumph must have a different rule book to the rest of the bike manufacturing world because, while others make their bikes almost silent, the Speed Triple sounds great. 

Aside from sounding unique, the 1050’s inline-triple engine does have other advantages, namely its torque and smoothness. These nakeds are more at home on UK roads, away from neck-stretching motorways, where performance is all about the midrange and smooth power delivery for short, safe overtakes and brisk acceleration from 30mph zones – and it’s the Triumph that stands out, making loads of smooth and useful power and pulling from any rpm (although top gear does feel more like an overdrive for touring). 

Not that the Japanese bikes are lacking in the torque department. Looking at data from our acceleration tests (see page 18), they actually outperform the new Triumph in a couple of key tests. From 40 to 120mph in top gear the Triumph gets smoked, and from 30mph in third gear the K5-derived Suzuki edges in front. The Suzuki has a massively strong engine, loads of midrange drive and is happy to rev hard towards the redline too. But its fuelling is poor, and power seems to come in two waves with a lull between 5000 and 6000rpm. It’s less noticeable when you ride the bike in isolation, but compared to the Triumph and even the Kawasaki it feels terrible, especially around town. At low revs it’s snatchy and it’s hard to keep a constant throttle, not what we’ve come to expect from Suzuki. 

The 1043cc motor in the Kawasaki also has some real kick; its power can certainly match its aggressive looks. I like the lack of rider aids controlling it too, but in 2016 - when even A2 licence bikes have traction control - I’m not so sure everyone will agree. Even if you don’t find the Zed’s power delivery and lack of rider aids intimidating you might find the handling, which is the flightiest of the three, a challenge. It’s not scary, nor does it need a steering damper fitting, but you do notice the nervous front end in comparison to the others. You’re sat much closer to the front end on the Zed, so the riding position feels like your head is over the headlight, which makes it less natural than the others. The suspension set-up is also on the firm side, which gives the impression the Zed is track-ready, but really it isn’t. 

The front end of the Suzuki is arguably the best of the bunch. The steering is accurate and there’s lovely feedback – you always know what the front Dunlop is doing. The rear shock, however, lacks control over bumps and suffers badly during hard use, which takes the shine off the handling. The brakes aren’t the best either; they may say Brembo on the calipers but they certainly don’t feel like they’ve come from the Italian factory.  

The Triumph sits comfortably between both bikes. Its ride isn’t as firm as the Kawasaki, and it’s much plusher and more sophisticated than the Suzuki. It doesn’t have the sharpness of the GSX-S’s front end, but the rear shock is far superior and it wins in the handling stakes both on the road and track. The Triumph’s more track-oriented Pirelli Supercorsa rubber outclasses the more road-oriented Dunlop D214 OE tyres on the other two.

If you do decide to venture onto the motorway and have to crunch out some big miles, all three bikes are capable of covering distance, but anything above 85mph is painful. The harsh suspension, hard seat and close relationship between the bars and rider make the Kawasaki the worst of the bunch. The Suzuki fares a little better, its wide Renthal bars are more accommodating, but again the shock lets it down, jolting you out of the seat on occasions, while vibrations are also more noticeable on the Suzuki. 

The Triumph comes out on top but only has a 15.5-litre fuel tank, reduced from 17.5 on the previous model. However, its tall top gear makes it more frugal than the others on long journeys, with the fuel light typically coming on between 120 and 130 miles. (If you want to conserve power on the motorway you can always opt for the softer Rain mode.)

The Speed Triple S is the only one of the three with rider modes. There are five in total – Rain, Road, Race, Track and a custom mode, which you can personalise. Each mode not only changes the power and throttle characteristics but also the amount of traction control and ABS intervention. Furthermore the modes are easy to change on the move from the left bar. Once in your chosen mode, just close the throttle and pull in the clutch to confirm your choice. Simple.  

There are no rider modes on the Suzuki but you can change the level of traction control intervention on the move and even turn it off completely. If you decide to switch off the traction control it doesn’t automatically reset when you switch the bike off, instead it saves your last setting. The Kawasaki, of course, is ‘what you see is what you get’ which is fine on dry and grippy roads, but I might change my mind in the depths of winter when it’s greasy and slippery.  

While we waited for the rain to clear at the Bruntingthorpe test track we chatted about the bikes. The Suzuki left us slightly disappointed as it’s so close to being an excellent bike; it’s like watching a star footballer put no effort in! Fix the fuelling, replace the shock and increase the brake performance slightly with different pads or braided lines and it would have possibly won this test, but it hasn’t. Aside from the eye-poking looks we agreed there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Zed. It’s a little firm and has unnatural ergonomics but is otherwise a great bike, but please, Kawasaki, not that colour. But after a few days testing, the Triumph was the one we all wanted to take home.

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Adam Child

By Adam Child

Former MCN Road Tester with 15 years road testing experience on all kinds of bikes