MCN Road Test - November 1998
|- by Peter Wilson
Latest Triumph could snatch best sports tourer crown from Honda
"This is the best Triumph ever built and looks like it could topple the VFR"
Triumph's new Sprint ST is a stonking sports tourer which could finally strip Honda's legendary VFR of the world's best all-rounder crown.
That's our verdict after an exclusive first ride on the latest Triumph triple in Spain at the weekend.
And although we have yet to pitch the ST head-to-head with Honda, this best-ever Triumph looks like it has what it takes to topple the mighty VFR.
The only thing that could count against this new British contender is its price. The Sprint will cost £7995 when it arrives in showrooms early in the new year. The Honda is available for £500 less on official price lists and will be even cheaper as a parallel import.
The 955cc 110bhp ST is an all-new bike and the first to feature Triumph's twin-spar aluminum chassis, as opposed to the tubular set up used on previous models like the 955i - and it's spot-on. The bike feels superbly stable and even on rough roads and turns it feels more like a sports bike than a tourer.
Vibration through the frame is minimal.
The conventional forks have enough compression and rebound damping to stop the bike wallowing in fast, sweeping corners, but not so much that the ride is harsh over bumpy surfaces.
The forks also respond well when the four-pot Nissan front brakes are pulled on, soaking up the weight transfer from the rear to front with a smooth, progressive motion.
The brakes are slightly less powerful than the units on the 955i because the caliper has more flex. But the lever stayed consistent even after a couple of hard 100mph-plus stops, thanks to steel braided brake lines fitted as standard.
The retuned 955i motor has bags of torque so you can let the revs fall below 2000rpm and the bike will still pull cleanly when you open the throttle. The power comes on strong at 5000rpm and again at 7000rpm, before it tails off at the 9500 red line.
The gear ratios are exactly the same as the 955i. But the one weak point on the ST is the heavy shift action. The lever is also slow to return to the neutral position after each shift. Attempts to dance through the gears are greeted with false neutrals.
The Sprint feels comfortable as soon as you jump on it. The handlebars are high enough so you are not hunched over the front of the bike, like on a superbike, but low enough to let you crouch when you want to increase the pace.
When you are cruising at speeds of 70 mph or above, it is surprising how well the low, sculptured windscreen deflects the wind blast form your head. The screen is wider than the Honda VFR, but is at the same sort of height. The fairing gives you the same sort of protection.
On past Triumphs, you were not able to put your tip-toes on the footrests because of frame interference. But the Sprint's new chassis solves this problem and there is plenty of room for different foot positions. And the footrests are high enough off the ground that Triumph had to put long hero blobs on the end of them to make sure they touch down first!
The Sprint can hit impressive angles of lean before the pegs ground out, and this is helped by the standard Bridgestone BT56 tyres which work well on the bike. Triumph says the chassis has been developed with these tyres in mind from the start.
The clocks take some getting used to as the speedo, tacho, temperature and fuel guages are all on different angles to give a wraparound cockpit atmosphere.
There is a reflection problem, however, in bright sunlight, when the warning lights and nose of the fairing reflect in the windscreen, which can be distracting.
Like the VFR, the Sprint has been accused by some of looking bland. Others see it as stylish and the fit and finish on the test bike was the best we have seen from Triumph.
Until we pit the Sprint against the VFR and Ducati's ST4 in a couple of weeks, we cannot say for certain which is the sports tourer to buy in '99. But first impressions suggest Triumph is on to a winner.
Japanese rivals led the way for the Sprint
A team of eight designers spent two years working on the Sprint ST and checking out Japanese rivals.
Months were spent refining the fuel injection system. This was developed both on the workbench and with feedback from Triumph test riders.
The all-new twin-spar frame was developed using a combination of models and computer design systems.
Then Triumph bought class-leading Japanese bikes including a Honda VFR800 and Kawasaki's ZX-6R to see what makes them so good.
While all this was happening, Triumph test riders were riding a specially-built 955i which had its stock frame altered to have the identical steering geometry and wheelbase as the all-new Sprint.
This bike was tested on the road and on various race tracks around the world.
The next step was to build a prototype of the Sprint ST and put it through a tough testing programme to check everything was perfect before launching the bike.
| Stunning Sprint ST
is designed to be a totally hassle-free sports tourer.
|Triumph reckons the new Sprint ST
sports tourer is the most user-friendly bike it has ever built. The British
firm wanted to build a bike that is equally at home clocking up three-figure
motorway speeds and rocketing down back roads. Designers were told to make the
machine hassle-free, so it is perfect for sports touring.
And MCN's first test proves that is exactly what they've done.
Triumph knew it had a good sports tourer in the stonking 955cc engine used in the 955i superbike which has replaced the T595. But instead of going down the old route of building the new bike from a stock of frequently-used parts, it broke the mould by developing a totally new chassis and bodywork.
And the engine has been made even more user-friendly, with less bhp but a much wider powerband. It now delivers a claimed 110bhp at the crank, instead of the claimed 128bhp for the 955i.
To make owning the new Sprint ST as worry-free as possible, Triumph has given it the same Sagem fuel injection used on the 955i. This features automatic cold start and self diagnostic capabilities to cut down on the length of time a dealer will take to diagnose any problems - saving owners cash on labour costs.
The Sagem system also has 5° butterfly valves in the throttle bodies to replace the 12° valves on the old T595. The butterflies control the fuel-air mixture and the mods are designed to give more precise fuelling at low revs. Changing the angle cuts the distance the valve moves when you turn the twist-grip. This makes the Sprint easy to handle at low speeds.
The Sprint's 25° steering head angle is the same as Honda's old CBR600, which shows how sporty its handling is designed to be.
But the Sprint isn't just kind to its owners - it's also environmentally friendly. Triumph has tried to cut emissions to an absolute minimum to meet tough European pollution laws and the new engine is as quiet as possible to meet sound restrictions.
Curved intakes help cut down on induction noise and plates have been added to the inside of the engine cases to block out gearbox noise.
Even the new twin-spar aluminum frame helps cut engine noise by wrapping around the engine.
The Sprint ST's twin-spar frame is a departure from the rounded-tube designs Triumph has used in the past. It works well and helps give the Triumph sharp handling.
And the engine has only six mounting points, instead of the eight on the 955i, to cut down on weight and places where heat can be transmitted to the frame and eventually the rider.
Triumph has taken the single-sided swingarm from the 955i. This means the exhaust can tuck in and owners can fit large panniers without making the bike look too bulky.
The Sprint also features a moveable exhaust can like Ducati's ST2 and ST4 which can be lowered to fit panniers or raised to give more ground clearance.
The forks are 43mm Showa units that are preload adjustable only. A rising-rate Showa monoshock takes care of the rear end and has preload and rebound damping adjustments.
Stopping power at the front comes from two Nissin four-piston calipers biting twin 320mm discs. At the back there is a single twin-piston caliper biting on a 255mm disc.
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