Article online with permission of Motorcyclist Magazine - Copyright 1999 Petersen Publishing Company, L.L.C.
Unauthorized reproduction or duplication prohibited.
Britain fires a high-speed missile into the GT/sport-touring
by Gregory V. McQuide
There is something to be said about moving to the south of Spain.
Something about dark-haired senoritas, towering 16th-century palaces, and
famous matadors tempting fate in Seville's dusty Plaza de Toros. There are also
things to be said about siestas fol-lowing two-hour lunches.
But better still is the conversation wherein we skip said nap, inject our veins
with strong Spanish coffee and head for the hills on Triumph's new 955cc Sprint
ST. This is the conversation we should have, punctuated by the warm Spanish
sun, triple-digit sweepers through fields of grazing bulls, and the safety of a
letter-tucked under the Sprint's seat-from the mayor of Seville to the Spanish
police, urging them to turn the other cheek if we should be stopped for illicit
Such diplomatic immunity is critical when testing a rapid-fire bike like the
Sprint ST. the U.K.'s latest salvo in the grand-tourer/sport-tourer battles
currently waged by the likes of Ducati's ST2/4 and Honda's VFR. Like the Ducati
and the Honda, this next-generation Sprint subscribes to the sporty side of the
sport-touring equa-tion: slot a slightly detuned hypersport motor into a
slightly more comfortable package and rocket toward the horizon.
Based on our first impressions, it looks like the Brits got it right. Gone is
Triumph's original modular concept that gave the first-generation Sprint its
lazy, 885cc motor and top-heavy sin-gle-spined frame. In its place is the same
three-cylinder, 955cc, fuel-injected 12-valve engine that powers Triumph's 955i
Daytona, wrapped in a completely new twin-spar aluminum frame, topped with the
Daytona's single-sided swingarm and dual-disc/quad-piston front brakes. In
fact, strip away the new Sprint's bodywork and you're looking at a bike that
screams "racer" more than anything else.
It is all, of course, purely intentional. "We were out to meet or beat the
best of the sport-tourer market:' says Chris Hennegan, the Sprint's youthful
and enthusiastic Senior Project Engineer who also happens to be the chassis
designer of the T595 Daytona. "We used the competition as benchmarks, and
set out to achieve very specific, class-leading goals:'
Two such goals were power and weight, specifically 110 crankshaft horsepower
and a dry weight of 456 pounds. Hennegan and his team claim to have achieved
both, which would make the Sprint both lighter and more powerful than Honda's
awesomely competent VFR800F. Egads.
Powerwise, this shouldn't come as a complete surprise, given the Daytona
engine's 128 crankshaft horses. Triumph says it ini-tially planned to use the
885cc mill from the old T509 Speed Triple, but changed its mind "in
anticipation of advances by the competition:' Smart move. Different cams,
pistons, exhaust system and fuel-injection mapping than the Daytona take the
Sprint down to around the '99 Speed Triple specs, but the ST's injection
map-ping has been altered from its bug-eyed brother's for a more "refined,
sport-touring feel:' Torque is a claimed 70 foot-pounds at 6200 rpm (compared
with the VFR's 55 at 8500), with 60 foot-pounds available at just 3500 rpm.
What is surprising, however, is that the Sprint ST'S all-new frame is a design
that Triumph claims is actually better in some ways than the Daytona's.
Hennegan admits that the current Daytona/Speed Triple frame, with its
faux-trellis design, makes some concessions to cosmetics. The Sprint ST'S frame
does no such thing, and is stiff enough that the number of engine mount-ing
points (six) is two less than the Daytonas, thus reducing weight as well as the
amount of heat transmitted from the engine to the frame to the rider's legs.
And while the Sprint's engine needed to be raised to allow its exhaust system
to be tucked away within the bodywork. The new frame lowers the center of
gravity to a point almost on par with its hypersport big brother.
And as we chuck the ST into one perfect bend after another, Fiats and olive
trees and loopy Greek motojournalists falling away behind us, it seems clear
that all this paper-trail hype has indeed passed into reality. The ST's
wonderfully flat torque curve translates readily into gobs of tractor-pulling,
turbine-smooth power wherever and whenever you need it, and seat-of-the-pants
dyno readings suggest at least 100 ponies at the rear wheel.
The chassis, too, delivers as promised: The new frame, Daytona swingarm and
expanded wheelbase (1470mm, 30mm longer than the Daytona, 40mm longer than the
ST4) make the Sprint feel solid and stable. Nudge the high-set clip-ons, shift
your body weight and peel through that corner with confidence. The Bridgestone
Battlax BT57 radials bite nicely and the bike's 43mm preload-adjustable front
fork and adjustable rear Showa monoshock offer firmness without harshness, even
on bumpier routes. Heeled over for photographic purposes, the ST's footpeg
feelers and front bellypan can scrape the tarmac fairly hard, but this isnt't
likely to happen in real-world use.
And when-regrettably-it comes time to slow down, a sim-ple two-fingered squeeze
of the brake lever is all you need, braided-steel lines and 255mm discs
offering only a tad less sharpness than the Daytona's identical setup. Of
course, a true gentle-men's express should do all of the above in comfort and
style, and the Sprint's black-tie manners are as impecca-ble as any tuxedoed
English baron's: Comfy ergos and protective windscreen mean you'll arrive at
the ball uncramped and unruffled. Light steering and Triumph's revised-for-'99
fuel injection mean smoothness at around-town speeds; and, as promised, the
leg-baking heat that plagues the Daytona has been eliminated.
Fit and finish are also top notch, and like the ST2/4 (and unlike the VFR), an
extra seven bills gets you color-matched saddlebags that are unobtrusive yet
large enough to hold a fall-face helmet. Triumph's extensive accessory catalog
is an added bonus: Serious travelers can order such goodies as a tankbag,
heated grips, and a 45-liter, color-matched top box.
And so, the crux of our conversation is this: Triumph has gone and built itself
a high-quality sport-tourer-one that success-fully blends speed and comfort at
a price ($10,495) that's a grand more than Honda's VFR and $4000 less than
Ducati's ST4. How much havoc would the Sprint ST have wreaked in last month's
sport-touring shootout ('Axis Powers:' February '99)? A good question, and one
that we plan to examine carefully from our new headquarters in the southern
Spanish hills. Adios.