The Sprint RS makes you run for the keys

Walking around the NEC Show last month it seemed everyone was flocking to look at Triumphís new 600, but totally ignoring its other new model for 2000-the Sprint RS.

Even Triumph had to remind the press there was another bike making its world debut on the stand.

Maybe it was the fact that weíve been printing pictures of it since the summer, but it seemed the half-faired sports tourer had been forgotten before it even turned a wheel. If youíre one of the guilty parties, youíre missing out on one of Triumphís best bikes yet. Almost a year to the day Triumph launched its Sprint ST Ė or Sports Tourer Ė in Seville, Spain. It was the first twin-spar aluminum framed bike to come out of the factory. Its second is the Sprint RS, so it seemed apt to choose the same location.

The bikes look similar, share the same engine and frame, the weatherís the same as last year and weíre even staying in the same hotel. But thatís where the similarities end, because this bike couldnít be more different.

Using the Sprint ST as a base, the half-faired RS was created with different bodywork, stiffer suspension and a new lighter, stiffer double-sided swingarm. They combine to make this an altogether sportier package than the VFR-beating ST.

As a base for a new bike the STís a good place to start. Itís a capable sports tourer with a good, solid handling that lets a rider relax and enjoy the scenery.

You can ride it hard, but its size and bulky fairing can be a bit intimidating. Compared to a sports bike the front end has a bit of a "dead" feel to it, but letting the rider know whatís going on downstairs. Next to sportier models the ST would be out of its depth. Thatís where the RS comes in.

Triumph realized there were buyers who wanted to join the Sprint family but wanted something sexier than the ST. Something that could handle track days if needed and didnít make them feel like theyíre middle-aged-even if they were.

As well as sportier looks and an altogether younger image, the RS also has more ground clearance and weighs 8kg (17.6lb) less than the ST. In fact, its just 1kg (2.2lb) more than the 955i superbike. It may not sound a lot, but it feels like a very different machine that would give a Honda VTR1000 or Apriliaís SL1000 Falco a good run.

I was surprised how much difference the weight loss makes. It means itís much easier to carve through traffic and lets you feel like youíre more in touch with the bike. The chassis also feels more lively and positive.

The lighter feel is partly due to the narrower fairing. It appears small when you look down on the tank and mentally that makes the whole bike feel smaller and lighter.

The rear end is also higher, putting the bike more on its nose to make the steering a touch sharper.

The bikeís steering and turning ability feels better than the ST everywhere. Through tight stuff it has a less of a tendency to feel like itís dropping into turns, while on fast sweepers you can really feel what the front end is doing. Even on slippery cobblestones in the back and beyond of Seville the bike rumbled its way past women drying their clothes in the street without putting the fear of God in to me. Trouble is the same cobbles really highlight how the RS has taken the sporty side of the ST that step further. The supple ride of the sports tourer has been lost and although they share the same seat, comfort is not in the same league. This is down to the RSís reworked suspension. Its fitted with stiffer springs and much harder damping rates, meaning an easier life for your backside is sacrificed in favor of a more exciting life for your knees.

Show it a series of bends and the ST would wallow and weave, making life unsatisfying at best, scary at worst.

The RS feels a lot more precise. Get on the throttle coming out of a turn, line it up for your desire destination and you can hold it as long as you dare.

Even when trying to get the bike out of shape through some fast and bumpy corners the suspension kept the tyres in firm contact with the Tarmac.

Sometimes when a bike has been designed with slow steering and then gets a steeper steering angle in a new model, the geometry can be put out and the handling can get a bit nervous. After riding the ST I almost expected the RS to tie itself in knots with tank slappers. But there was only a subtle wiggle of the bars to let you know the limits. Then again, Triumph does a lot of testing at Leicestershireís Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, where huge strips of overbanding make for a decidedly bumpy ride, so I shouldnít have been that surprised itís so stable.

Adding to this stability are the standard fitment Bridgestone BT020 tyres. OK, I admit to being a little worried about their ability after sampling what the sporting version of the new rubber had to offer when they were combined with a ZX-9r and a slippery race track. The BT010s were unpredictable and let go quickly with little warning. Thankfully itís a different, altogether more gripping story with the 020s, which have been designed primarily for sports tourers. The RS is the first production bike to use the new tyres, and they feel right at home. But then they should, because theyíve been developed in tandem with the bike.

On the road they failed to let go once and after a brief section of very hard riding I pulled up to check them for signs of wear. You know how you want the edges to be nicely ruffled on a hot summerís ride to confirm your hero status, while at the back of your mind you know it means theyíre wearing out faster and theyíll cost you more money for every hard corner? Well, these babies showed hardly any signs of scuffing-up, so the wear rate should be good. Triumph hasnít yet confirmed which other tyres it recommends for the RS, if any, but if you did insist on putting it on a track you might need to invest in a sportier compound. Weíll take it on a track soon so we can tell you exactly.

On the road however thereís no problems, and the package of chassis, suspension and tyres feels well composed, even when you start to explore the limit of the bikeís ground clearance. Push hard and itís possible to touch down some expensive metal, but you have to be pretty committed. Do the same on the ST and the footrests will be impersonating an angle grinder in no time.

The RS has more than enough clearance for tack day frolics and it would shame some more expensive and supposedly superior machines that claim to be full-on sports bikes.

As soon as I realized how far I could go, the pegs did have a small altercation with the road, but most people whoíd buy the RS would never find this outer limit - I only explored it in the interests of testing, you understand.

One particularly frenzied run through a well-surfaced and flowing series of bends really impressed me. Aiming it through some fast fourth-gear turns it refused to weave around and you could give it a lot of throttle on the way out to the next corner without fear of it breaking loose.

Wind on the power and the revs would rise quickly and there was the same subtle burble that makes Triumphís triple so famous and exciting to ride. Itís a strange combination of a motor that revs like a four yet sounds like nothing else.

When the revs spin thereís a deep "wharr" that only a Triumph can create. Itís an intoxication mix of multi-cylinder and twin-cylinder exhaust notes and is positively horny. If thereís one reason to buy a Triumph itís that exhaust note.

If the stock can isn't enough to make your earplugs suffer and your head throb, an aftermarket can will be offered when the bike goes on sale. In true Triumph style itís for "non-road use only", so youíll have to use it solely on track days. Mmm. If you go for this option make sure you get your dealer to fit it and update the fuel-injection system or youíll end up with a sweet-sounding bike thatís down on power. Triumph claims a 7bhp increase at the top end of rev range. No price has yet bees set for the pip, but it should go on sale alongside the bike.

Once on the move the engine feels identical to the St, but it seems to rev quicker. Most of this is because thereís less weight to push along the road Ė remember itís in exactly the same state of tune as the Sprint ST.

Power is seamless, starting right from idle and warbling its way up to the 9500rpm red line. There's no real defined powerband or sudden surge, which makes it feel slow. Donít worry Ė itís not. I know, because I kept hitting the rev limiter at firs, and a lot sooner than I thought.

There's an abundance of torque, which makes itself especially welcome when cruising along in top gear and approaching some traffic. Line it up in your sights, check and double check the roadís clear then snick it down one and you'll fly past.

Itís not slow, either. On a bit of a straight road (when I say road, I mean private road of course). I started to stretch the RSís legs until the speedo logged just over 150mph. Given room I think it would get up to around 160mph with no problem. Thatís fast enough for anyone and easily enough to make your acquaintance with the local traffic police.

As a first for Triumph the RSís sportier dash comes with a similar digital speedo to the one on Yamahaís R1 and R6. Maybe itís the time difference in Spain, but it seems to have a bit of a delayed reaction. Accelerate hard and the numbers roll around as it gains momentum. But when slowing down the numbers seem to decline slowly instead of registering the true speed immediately. Its quite odd to be stopped and looking at the little screen still reading 11mph for an instant. The tacho is still a dial and unfortunately not like Hondaís VTR SP-1, which uses a very cool digital rev-counter that illuminates along the top of the dash. A missed opportunity.

As for the rest of the controls the old style dog-leg clutch lever has been changed for a straighter one. This brings the lever closer to the bar and will suit riders with smaller hands. It works OK, but feels a bit heavy and slows gear shifting down a little. I had a couple of missed shifts, but changing the clutch lever for one, which is lighter and quicker to return, would make life a lot easier Ė and faster. Why Triumph doesnít put and adjustable lever on the bike I donít know.

But at least the clutch thatís there is supposed to be strong. Itís made by Japanese firm FCC and has gone through rigorous testing. Before the clutch was accepted for the RS it had to do 200 drag racing starts form 6000rpm with out any signs of clutch slip. Pretty impressive stuff.

Once youíre in place on the bike the seat feels soft and squidgy like the Sprint ST, but there's more of a reach to the bars. This places you lower on the bike and tucked down behind the low screen. It needs to be reasonably comfortable, as the fuel tank is the same as the ST and can go around 200 miles between stops. This should make the bike a good high-speed tourer as nothing slows you down more on a trip than having to stop every hour and a half to re-fill.

As for fuel consumption the bike managed up to 60mph in tests, though this was at a constant 65mph, and anyone who rode around this slow would be totally missing the point of the bikeís existence.

This is one of the best bikes to come out of the Hinckley factoryís design department so far. Although opinions on its looks were split at the NEC Show, I reckon itís the best Ė looking Triumph yet. The silver 955i looks pretty good, but the straighter lines of the RS seem to carry the yellow, orange or blue color schemes off beautifully.

The optional belly pan looks a bit like an after-thought, and without it the bikeís far more appealing. There's also a removable seat cowl to give it a sportier look and plans for a full range of aftermarket accessories, including an alarm, tank pad and panniers.

The only thing that ruins the look is messy wiring. Because of new engine pressure testing at the factory the wiring harness are split in two for easy access, but theyíre stuck around the engine bay and make it quite unsightly. Triumphís quality has come a long way so itís a shame for small details like this to ruin an all together great bike.

But slightly exposed wiring harness does mean itís very easy to fit some heated grips that will soon be available from the Triumph accessory range. If you intend riding through the cold season theyíre a worthy investment and should cost around £129.99. We recently said the Sprint St was the best choice as a two-up sports tourer, even against Hondaís almighty VFR800. But the RS is now my favorite British bike. It combines the best the firm has ever offered in terms of comfort and performance and will appeal to Japanese sports bike fans as much as dedicated stalwarts to the British badge.

Having said that, my opinion may well change after Iíve ridden the TT600Ö