FAST BIKES - January 1999 issue
Sprint is the name Triumph gave to their first generation 'pocket' sports tourer. Does the ali-framed second generation bike finally live up to its athletic connotations?
Can you imagine it? I only came back for two days and already my life has been endangered by two separate members of staff. So needless to say it didn't take much to persuade me to take the Seville bound Triumph launch plane, which would put me at least 500 miles away from the rest of the boyz even though it meant heading away from my favourite location - the South of France.
Having not ridden a bike since June I was certainly a little apprehensive. Is it something you forget? What happens if I can't pull wheelies any more? Would I become the laughing stock? Would friends stop ringing me? After all, when the girlfriend tells you not to worry, you know there's something major to worry about, especially when it's the third gear minger that netted her in the first place. Chance are it won't be long before the bags are packed and you're left on your jacksy. Pride stops me from ever becoming a victim of such a disease; better to flip out boldly than to whimper away in shameful obscurity...
There is a disease worse than the plight of the born-again road tester though, and it's called the born-stupid road tester, a malaise which has killed more than one new motorcycle stone dead and involves the curse of the so-called journalist who actually doesn't have the ability to competently assess a motorcycle. After some time away, my patience has improved somewhat, but reclining into yet another comfy five star couch in yet another comfy five star hotel and listening to the indescribably inept ramblings of a bunch of dead-heads who more often than not can't ride as well as the public they're speaking to, the irritant remains, and my heart goes out to the creators of previous bikes slain by such ignorance. At the Triumph Sprint launch I was interested to hear the opinions of one particular tester who complained about the lack of grunt coming out of the corners. Bollocks. It just so happened that the section of blacktop selected by Triumph didn't include any slow turns, consisting of a series of fast sweepers (even the slow ones were on the fat side of 70mph). So tell me exactly which sport tourer (Super BB excepted) is gonna lay down a darkie from that sort of speed? Which brings me to journo fuck No. 3, who found the suspension too soft and the bars too high. Shit. It's like giving a child a loaded gun! The point is it's all to easy when riding a dual purpose bike to assess characteristics in isolation. But surely the very nature of the category's nature implies compromise between slinging the bitch on the back and getting to the South of France without earache, and then being able to dump her off at the first B&B and play up the Tende pass when you get there.
Obviously the heart of the Sprint and the greatest departure for Triumph, is acquiescence to the tried and tested formula of the twin spar frame, distancing the bike corporately from the 955 from whence it borrows most of the rest of the components. As such, it is nothing short of an all-new bike. The new chassis has allowed the engine to be raised by about an inch allowing the exhausts to be tucked in to both give a tidier profile and, more importantly, improve ground clearance. Other benefits include improved sound insulation around the airbox which is aided by newly curved inlet tubes. Being a beam frame should also necessarily imply that it's inherently stiffer than the double-barreled tubes of the 955 and thus it only requires mounting at six points instead of its predecessor's eight. This not only reduces weight but improves heat transfer, not to mention ease of manufacture. Bolted to the rear of the frame is a single-sided swinger direct from the 955 parts bin. Although obscured by the wheel-hugging exhaust can, the arrangement allows for good size panniers to bolt on without making the bike as wide as it is long.
Sandwiched in between the two spars is the whining triple powerplant. To be brief, they've lifted the entire engine out of the 955 Daytona screwed around with it, and shoved it straight back in, gearbox and all. The general idea was to make the motor more torquey at lower and mid range revs and yet still produces a fairly healthy 112ps. As such, firstly, the cams have been swapped for a calmer profile whilst the pistons are cast instead of the more costly forged items. The fuel injection system is the same as that found on the 955i with '99 spec throttle bodies, only it has been re-mapped and matched to the new milder exhaust system. The only trick piece of engineering comes in the form of the cooling system which diverts the coolant back around the cylinder block while the engine is warming up, rather than simply blocking its route to the rad, like a regular thermostat controlled system would. This means that warm up times are significantly reduced without the problem of localised hotspots. All this fiddling has resulted in more than 80 Nm from just over 3,500 rpm right up to 9,500 rpm. Peak torque of 95 Nm arrives at 6,000 rpm. Perhaps more significant than the performance figures are the fuel stats. At a steady 75 mph the bike returns over 50 mpg which not only means bugger all fuel bills, but if you're the kind of loser that rides a motorbike at 75mph, you've also got yourself a 200+ mile tank range.
Suspensionally speaking, the swingarm is held up by a rising rate monoshock by Showa adjustable for preload and a little rebound damping. At the sharp end the forks measure 43mm in diameter and adjust only for preload.
The brakes are identical to those found on the Daytona with a twin set of four pots either side of the discs up front. All the rest is fairly irrelevant and really you can figure it out for yourself by looking. Styling-wise I personally think the bike is a reasonable looker considering its purpose. And against the VFR800 and the ST4, not to mention the R1100S, it's almost a stunner.
One of the most important assessments of a Sport tourer has to be the riding position. If it's too sporty then it's a crap tourer. If it's too upright and comfy then it's rubbish as a sportster. Triumph have a good record with riding positions and the last Sprint was as good a place as any to begin. Now the seat feels longer and you can happily crouch down and feel all racer-like or ponce around like one of those fed BMW fucks. Comfortable with a forgiving seat. Pegs are a good enough height and provide a serious challenge to ground out. For a six foot geezer your knees will fit snugly behind the fairing better than any other ST I've ridden. Some dwarf bloke on the launch was complaining about the bars being too far away from the seat but funnily enough I didn't find that a problem. He also could could put his feet on terra firma without wearing Alpinestars designed by the Spice Girls. I feel sorry for the poor bitches that read and believe his road test. Sure, its a fairly lofty machine like most modern motorbikes and should be avoided by those under five six. But then so should going out at night and chatting up girls ...
Jab the starter and the strong whine of another Hinkley mill graces the airwaves. Funny thing is, whether it's hot or cold the engine will only start if you steer well clear of the throttle. The slightest encouragement from the twistgrip results in the stubborn little bastard snubbing you altogether.
Engine power is super linear which makes for a particularly predictable band but much of the character has been programmed out of it. This mill was supposed to be a stonking 130ps number with incredible large bollocks, but it's more Lionel Blair than Tony Blair. That isn't to say that the power's not there. The factory quote a realistic 112 ps and I'm sure that most of it is present and correct. Wind open the throttle from two grand and you're met with that rather familiar fluff zone which soon disappears about a thousand rpm later. From then on you sit on a perfect linear wave of power and torque, a band so wide that some mistook it for a lack of power altogether because it lacked that urgent rush at higher revs.
Feeding the drive out of the corners was superb and any kind of skillful throttle control is completely unnecessary. Taking advantage of these characteristics you can afford to be fairly heavy handed with the gas and not worry about highsides etc. If you're really trying to cane the tits of it on a Spanish mountain type road, then you need a dose of momentum in the engine.
On the straights, of course, where you'd be wanting to drop down into first to check out the wheelie potential, the bike is just as accommodating. With these kind of power and weight figures you wouldn't be expecting and second gear monos off the power, but starting from the bottom all that's necessary is a light tickle from the clutch and the front hop springs in the air in a most vicious fashion indeedy. Once you find yourself through first gear and wanting second you suddenly realise the weight disadvantage of the Sprint as a wheelie machine. Unless the bike is standing right up on its nose second gear just ain't gonna happen. I didn't even bother trying further than this as I can't see too many Sprint ST buyers making their purchase on the basis of the bike's wheelie merits.
Gearbox. Now her's one area where I wasn't particularly happy. The selector needed a very positive shove to ensure the next ratio found its way home. It was particularly tricky from first into second and if a positive shift wasn't made then, there is always the chance that it may pop out on you under hard power and a quick change. Once past second the fear subsided and the cogs moved with relative fluidity if still a little clunkily when the left foot wasn't being positive enough. Like we've said many times, though, gearboxes are traditionally just about the hardest big components to get absolutely right, and it would be a miracle if the factory were building the best transmissions in the world at this stage of their emergence.
Considering the bike's purpose, the suspension is fairly spot on. The quality of the units is very good and the front end feels soft enough not to shake you to shrapnel on a less than perfect road, and yet still positive enough on the more radical curves. In more extreme circumstances it does feel a little vague, but the sensitive steering helps to let you know when you know when you're about to find yourself in deep shit. No reservations at all about the back end; it feels absolutely superb. With this incredibly linear and usable power band you never really push the shock to the max because the delivery is so smooth you give it plenty of time to react.
The new frame coupled with quick steering can make the bike a little nervous on anything other than positive throttle. Go for a little braking mid-corner, and the little bugger strains to contain itself as the conflict between forks, steering, and the rest of the bike is fought out. The bike likes to be ridden in a good ol' traditional slow in/fast out manner, so you can stress the rear shock and not load up the front end quite so badly. that isn't to say that flying into a corner carrying to much speed is a bad thing, but you may find a little wallow somewhere in there.
When I first peered down at the Bridgestone boots I was unsure as to the ability of said rubber. The idea of hoofing it up a windy Spanish road alongside a bunch of Germans with a 57F on the front and a 57R on the rear didn't instill confidence especially with remembrance day still fresh in my mind and a permanent case of road rage to boot. Still, the surface was very grippy and the tyres had no problem in warming up and sticking smartly to the tarmac. If anything it was the chassis that gave in long before the tyres and not once were they the cause of a near miss.
The brakes were most impressive. Of course they're the single item on the bike which has been left completely alone and are donated once again by the Daytona/Speed Triple side of the family. They don't feel as fierce as those found on the 955 but then this bike is substantially heavier. Nevertheless, the feel is terrific and the fourpots still have a hard-core initial bite. Power is still more than enough to stop the bike as quickly as possible utilising only a single digit; anymore would be unnecessary.
Sit the Sprint next to the Honda and Ducati equivalents and you have three very worthy competitors. Triumph may well have dialled out a little character from the engine to improve its performance but as an all round package the machine is very able and most definitely a Triumph in spite of its Japanese looking frame. The bike is altogether very easy to ride and there's plenty of room to move about and find yourself a comfortable spot. On the motorway the fairing demonstrates how sport tourer plastics should behave and crouching behind the bubble provides superb protection from the elements. It is certainly a bike which can be ridden for long distances and yet cuts the Colemans on the twisties. I guess that makes it a very able Sports tourer. A very serious challenger indeed.