|By Colin MacKellar
Amsterdam, November 16, 1999 -- "Know what that
is?" said the Triumph guy as we circled the stationary Sprint. "None
of the journos notice it when they take the Sprint," he said shaking his
head in amazement as he leaned forward to pull open a small plastic cap low on
the right-hand side of the bike. "It's even got a plug for your heated
touring gear." Then he stepped back to give me room to admire this example
of the commitment with which Triumph has set out to build their new generation
sport touring bike. Courtesy forced me to pause for a few seconds in silent
admiration, but an access plug wasn't what I was looking for from the bike.
There would have to be more than that -- a LOT more -- if it was going to come
even close to deposing the Honda VFR800, the long-reigning King of the Sport
There's been a Sprint in Triumph's line-up since 1993, but the arrival of the
new generation T595 Daytona in 1997 created a sales slump as the Sprint
struggled to find a place between the new Daytona and the full-dressed Trophy.
A large dose of new technology was needed to solidify Triumph's place in a
market segment that is small but relatively uncrowded. The most obvious
strategy would have been to do some minor work on the Daytona to take the edge
off the sporty character of the bike. But the problem was that nagging doubts
about the Daytona chassis led to its recall in 1997 after a couple of bikes had
the headstock fracture under severe crash conditions.
After that experience, Triumph had decided to bow to fashion and use a
conventional twin-spar frame for the upcoming TT600. Possibly its application
on the Sprint would give Triumph a little time to sort out any problems before
they launched the bike on which their future in the new millennium firmly
rests. So twin-spar aluminum perimeter frame it is, with a wheelbase slightly
longer than the Daytona and some tweaks to the steering geometry. The back end,
including the single-sided swingarm, has been lifted from the Daytona and
lower-spec suspension grace the front and rear.
The engine is close to the
955i unit, but with the inevitable changes such as new cam profiles to soften
power delivery as well as suitable fuel injection re-mapping.
Triumph claims to have cut power to 112 bhp from the Daytona's 130 bhp, but
they kept the torque high and flat around 65 ft lbs. from 3500 rpm through
redline at 9500 rpm. We were unable to get the Sprint to the dyno to check the
figures, but the seat-of-the-pants dyno says these numbers are in the ballpark.
What Triumph has definitely managed to cure is the hole in the power delivery
that the first T595 had at 4000 rpm. The Sprint pulls strongly from just off
idle to the 9500 redline with the rev limiter kicking in almost immediately
after. It's strange that Triumph hasn't given the Sprint any over-rev
capability since the bike is still pulling hard and a few more revs would be
appreciated by sport riders on a charge.
The Sprint can be ridden on the edge but it's hard work. With a dry weight of
456 pounds and the new standards for sportbikes set by the R1 and copied by the
new CBR929RR and GSXR-750, a few people might consider the Sprint positively
obese. Still, it carries its weight well and once turned into the corner tracks
like a rhino on a scent trail, although the worn Bridgestone BT57s on the test
model got quite loose mid-corner. Turning in needs a determined push on the
bars and flip-flops have you wishing you did more with your physical condition
than check out Men's Health every month. Identical brakes to the units
found on the 955i do as good a job despite the extra weight. If your friends
ride anything but the latest generation of hypersports bikes, you should be
able to use the ample brakes and motor to keep them within sight.
But the Sprint's not really about scratching on Sunday mornings. It's about
riding 400 miles on Saturday to do some scratching on Sunday morning, then
riding 400 miles home again on Sunday afternoon. It has many of the qualities
that you need from a bike to even consider such a proposition. The riding
position is excellent, with the wide, flat bars exactly right. The mirrors are
mounted well out into the slipstream and do more than let you admire your
elbows. But you have to watch them when lane splitting on gridlocked highways
or else they'll snag on car mirrors, hands holding cigarettes, dogs, kids heads
or anything else sticking out of cars full of stressed-out occupants. The
bike's well-balanced and good at slicing through traffic since the clutch is
light, the gearbox is smooth and the engine is full of grunt with perfect fuel
When the traffic clears, nail the throttle at 5000 rpm and cruise
at 100 mph all day -- at least you could if the seat were better padded. Our
test bike had 10,000 miles under its belt and the foam had started to settle.
Sitting on a lightly-padded sub-frame is not comfortable. Also, in true Triumph
tradition, the vibration through the bars will leave you with a numb right
pinkie after an hour, so a stop every hour would be welcome. The Sprint is
incredibly fuel efficient turning in 45 miles per gallon on the highway and not
dipping much under 40 mpg on the backroads. Good for the pocket if not for the
So there's some niggly stuff on the comfort level, but the rest of the vital
ingredients for an excellent sports tourer seem to be present and correct.
Despite this bike's generally high-level of all-around goodness, it's difficult
to feel passionate about the bike. It's competent at everything but seems bland
and dull all the same. There is nothing to give the bike any sort of character.
Even the potential excitement from the snarling 3-cylinder engine is smothered
in the technical efficiency of the exhaust system. The styling itself,
especially on the black model, is very restrained, reinforcing the perceived
dullness of the bike. It's not a bike to turn heads; it has them nodding
instead. Small wonder that in Europe the red color option outsells the black
two to one. For the 2000 model year blue will be offered as well.
So has the
Sprint snuck up on the VFR and stolen the honors in the sport touring class? It
comes close, but lacks the quantum leap of distinction that will seriously dent
the momentum of VFR sales driven by 15 years of Honda's market domination. Yet
Honda has left themselves vulnerable. The lack of a factory hard bag option is,
at least to a few Stateside journos, a serious flaw. The BMW R1100S is an
excellent machine, yet with all the touring options the retail price begins to
approach Harley-Davidson territory. Ducati did a good job when building the ST4
around the 916 engine with the engine and chassis and integrated hard bags
matching the sporty good looks. But Ducatis are sportbikes and expensive and
916 engines have been known to go pop as well.
Functionally, the Triumph can scarcely be faulted. If only the styling had been
a little more creative and some magical ingredient added to reinforce the
sportier side of the bike's character, they could well be King of the Sport
Tourers. For the time being the Sprint is just heir apparent.
Model: Sprint ST
Price: $10,495 USD
Engine: Water cooled 12-Valve DOHC in-line 3 cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 79 x 65 mm.
Displacement: 955 cc
Compression ratio: 11.2:1
Carburation: Electronic Fuel Injection
Transmission: 6 Speed wet multi-plate clutch
Front suspension: 43 mm cartridge forks w/dual rate springs
Rear suspension: monoshock w/adjustable preload and rebound damping
Front Brakes: Twin 320 mm floating discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Single 255 mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Wheelbase: 57.9 in (1470 mm)
Seat Height: 31.5 in (800 mm)
Fuel Capacity: 5.6 US gal (21 L)
Claimed dry weight: 456 lbs (207 kg)
Comparative Bike Prices (U.S. dollars):
BMW R1100S (w/hard bags): $14,590
Buell S3T: $12,799 ($12,899 CA model)
Ducati ST2: $12,495
Ducati ST4: $14,695
Honda VFR800: $9,499
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