There will be a reader's Sprint ST report in the January '00 issue (on sale early December) and they will have an official long-term Sprint on loan from Triumph early next year.
This article reprinted with permission from Motorcycle Sport and Leisure. Copyright 1999.
Unauthorized duplication or distribution prohibited without prior permission.
Ten minutes into a ride aboard Triumph's new sports touring contender, now touching its tyres down at Triumph dealers worldwide, tells you this is a very serious challenger to Honda's class benchmark VFR800 - let alone other new kids on the all-rounder block like BMW's R1l00S or the Ducati ST2/ST4. Ten hours later, after a 300-mile day riding through the hills and highways of southern Spain, you're left with very little option but to accept that Triumph must now be taken very seriously in any market it chooses to compete in - both by competitors and customers alike.
Going head-to-head against Honda is something Triumph has some practice in, for the T595 Daytona was an unashamed FireBlade foe when first launched two years ago, same as the Tiger is targeted at the Africa Twin/Varadero family. But in aiming to carve itself a slice of the flourishing sports touring sector - an unusual one, inasmuch as it features a relatively small number of models, each selling in quite large volume and most of them European, thanks to the prevailing road conditions here as compared to Japan or the USA - Triumph engineers didn't do as they might have been expected to even as recently as five years ago, and applied their mix n' match modular motorcycle concept. Instead of adapting the 955i to more all-rounder mode, they started with a clean sheet of paper and did the job properly. So much so that my ten hour quickspin left me convinced that this is certainly the best bike Triumph has yet built in its born-again John Bloor era, it's also very likely the most practical, best all-round sports bike I've yet to sample.
When I first saw the Sprint ST, I was less than overwhelmed by its sober styling, at its indoor Munich launch. But that was before viewing it in daylight. In either red or black (no metallics though - pity) the Sprints parked in the forecourt of the Sevilla launch base displayed understated allure in the Spanish sunshine, with subtle curves to the distinctive 'face' (headlamps are shared with the 955i, hence the family resemblence) which only really become apparent in bright sunlight. Together with the clean visual sweep of the alloy twin-spar frame, the result is a sense of distinctive refinement that's in keeping with the more restrained tastes of the sports touring market, and is a credit to design chief John Mocket and his colleague Rod Scivyer, who was largely responsible for the overall styling.
Hop aboard, and the proverbial ten minutes later you've discovered that form and function march hand-in-hand on the Sprint ST, because not only is the riding position perfectly tailored to a six-foot rider, but the relatively low-cut screen and fairly wide fairing give impressive protection even at three-figure speeds. The Triumph feels physically bigger than a VFR, so more spacious and comfy, but not at the expense of becoming unwieldy. Though retaining the 955i's single-sided swinging arm, the wheelbase is slightly (30mm) longer than the sport triple's, at 1,470mm, which though with the intention of providing added stability, does have the spin-off benefit of loading up the front wheel weight-wise a little more, to make it stick better in corners.
This however doesn't affect the ST's steering, which is beautifully well-balanced and neutral, with extra leverage available from the quite long, ideally angled handlebars. Together with the 830mm seat height and not overly rearset footrests, these deliver a relaxed and comfortable riding stance that makes mile-eating a pleasure, without too much weight on your arms and shoulders, yet with space to crouch lower when you want to up the pace. But it's also quite aerodynamic, with turbulence and wind blast well contained, even sitting relatively upright at high speeds. The Sprint is a very untiring bike to ride hard, fast and long.
Part of this is because the whole thing feels very solid and together, with a build quality even on this pre-production model that's fully the equal of a Honda or BMW, which is praise indeed. Only an uneven gap where fairing meets frame, and ill-fitting shrouds for the arms of the otherwise excellent mirrors (which give a good rearwards view without vibration or the need to peer round your shoulders) leave room for attention which may well be rectified by the start of production (which will have begun by the time you read this). The seat is just spacious and well-padded enough to be comfy, and there's quite adequate room for a passenger, who has a very effective grabhandle, which has to be removed if you fit the good looking single-seat squab. Pity there's no pocket in the fairing, but the Sprint does copy the Ducati ST2/ST4 idea of having an adjustable exhaust that can be raised for increased ground clearance or lowered to give room for the hard luggage available as an option. However, Ducati might care to take its payback by copying the Triumph's sidestand, which is correctly angled, must be positively retracted (so no suicide operation to benefit the parts dept) and has an ignition cut-out should you forget to do so.
Ducati should also take note of the fact that the Sprint's good looking, wraparound dashboard - perfectly legible even in bright sunshine - is dominated by, ahem, a white-faced tacho that's perfectly legible in the dark, with a digital clock, analogue speedo and temp and fuel gauges, the latter ideally positioned at the top of the dash, where you can monitor it properly on a long run. Not that you should need to do so too often, for the Sprint ST is pretty frugal. A fuel check midway through a hard-riding day showed 45mpg, good enough for a 200 mile range.
As you probably know by now, reprogrammed engine management (the Sagem EFI has been modified to smooth out the power delivery and increase torque) isn't the ST's only difference from the 955i's new-generation 12-valve triple. There are different camshafts as well, plus cast pistons and steel liners (replacing the sportster's forged pistons and coated aluminium liners). So whereas the 955i pushes out 128bhp at 10,200rpm, the Sprint delivers a claimed 110bhp at 9,200rpm at the crank on the same 11.2:1 compression ratio, but with a wider spread of torque that peaks at 701b ft/6,200rpm (955i - 741b ft/B,500rpm). In fact, says Triumph, the top speeds are quite similar, with the ST good for 155mph against the sport triple's 162mph. But to be honest, this is pretty academic, because though the Sprint may also take longer to get there, it's so much more user-friendly in the way that it does so, and scores heavily for added convenience in real-world riding conditions.
The ST's stiffer frame means Triumph has dispensed with two of the eight engine mounts employed on the 955i chassis, which in turn means not only that the frame doesn't get so hot - an important factor when riding in jeans - but also that you feel even less vibration than on the 955i, and certainly far less at motorway speeds than on BMW's R1l00S. The Triumph has hefty weights on the ends of the bars which help out here, but the overall feeling even at higher rpm is of a smooth, svelte power unit that has just enough mechanical presence to be thrilling to ride. There's no choke, but the Sagem EFI is programmed for cold-start compensation, though even when hot you must remember to keep the throttle closed when starting, otherwise some embarrassing and time-wasting spluttering will be your only reward.
But once up and running, response from the light action throttle is immediate, though not so sudden as to cause a jerky pick-up at low revs. Instead, once underway, the engine pulls cleanly from 2,500rpm upwards in top gear with no hiccups or flat spots, and with a light, positive clutch action from rest or when changing down which is a model to others (and both brake and clutch levers, incidentally, are adjustable). Sagem's changes to the EFI include fitting 5-degree butterly valves to the same 41mm throttle bodies as used on the 955i, instead of the 12-degree ones employed on that bike, which gives more precise fuelling at low rpm and together with the balance pipe added to the exhaust system delivers improved response low down. From there to the 9,700rpm rev limiter there's a seamless spread of power that makes the Triumph so easy, yet so invigorating to ride, with no cheater dips in the power curve to pass noise or emissions tests, though the ST does meet the tough new EC emission laws due for introduction this year. Only a couple of extra rushes of revs around 5,000rpm and again at 6,800, when engine speed picks up even faster and the exhaust note hardens slightly, punctuate the effortless flow of torque and power.
Not that you're really aware of this in standard guise, for the ST is noticeably quieter than the 955i, thanks to a new exhaust header and silencer system, a revised airbox with curved intakes, a supression block at the back of the crankcase to deaden gear and sprag drive noise, and the shrouding effect of the twin-spar frame itself. But if you buy a Sprint and don't spend an extra 200 quid on the muted but musical aftermarket pipe Triumph offers 'for track use only' then - sorry -you've got no soul. Quite apart from the extra 6bhp it delivers, it gives a crisper edge to engine pick-up. This has to be the two-wheeled equivalent of Alfa's V6 car motor - the best sounding mass-market motorcycle engine money can buy.
If you change gear a little more often than necessary, just to catch that glorious Hallelujah Chorus, you may find the change a little stiff in the bottom three gears, as on one of the bikes I rode. Still, this one had barely 600 miles under its wheels, so I'll reserve judgement - the others were all fine. Ratios of the six-speed box are the same as on the 955i, with the top three close together and none of them an overdrive, which is not only good engineering practice, but also ideal for high-speed cruising with sports bike potential held in reserve. In fact, it does pay to rev the Triumph out to somewhere approaching the redline if you're in a hurry, because you can feel the extra punch of power above the 7,000 rev mark, and Sprinting past lines of traffic on the way back to Sevilla in the gathering dusk of a Sunday evening snarl-up, underlined the Sprint's outstanding midrange pick-up and good acceleration, in spite of a higher 207kg dry weight than the 955i.
You don't notice the extra kilos in real-world road riding though, for the Sprint ST has a balanced, sorted feel to the handling which makes easy work of tackling a series of fast sweepers. It's not as nimble as the Daytona -oops, 955i - but by sports touring standards it's relatively agile in slower turns, and just needs to work a little harder when in sporting mode. Best to relax and go with the flow, when the quite sporting steering geometry will allow you to swing the Sprint through turns with effortless aplomb. This is a deceptively fast point-to-point bike which you may suddenly realise you've been riding harder than you thouqht or intended, and a prime ingredient in this is the Bridgestone BT57 tyre around which the Sprint was designed, whose profile is well suite to the demands of the chassis an style of riding. It's especially wise to have opted for a 180-section which avoids heavying up the steering too much without sacrificing grip to the level required by a sports tourer. Start scratching moderately hard when riding alone though, and you'll soon ground the hero tabs at the end of the footrests, which are longer than need be for when the exhausts are lowered to fit some luggage.
Make no mistake, the Sprint ST is endowed with all-round real-world handling that's fully in the supersport class, a big factor in which is the compliant response of the Showa suspension package. This features conventional 43mm forks with twin-rate springs adjustable only for pre-load, and a rear shock with a different link than the 955i which delivers 120mm of travel on stock settings, is adjustable for rebound damping and also has pre-load adjustment (ideal for variable pillion/luggage weights). Ride quality is not only by some way the best yet on any Triumph, it also beats all its rivals in the sports touring class for plushness, even the VFR - yet it doesn't sacrifice compliance in doing so. Hit a bump or dip when cranked over and it shrugs it off with maybe a single lazy wave of the bars if you're trying really hard. No weaves, no shakes and especially no wallowing around on too-soft settings that are the bane of some other pseudo all-rounders with delusions of grandeur, handling-wise. You will marvel at its composure on poor surfaces, lacking only some rebound adjustment up front - it bounces back a little too strongly over the worst of the bumps, on standard settings. But best of all, the Sprint is supremely stable at high speeds, tracking better than the VFR even (say Triumph testers) when loaded up with luggage.
Stopping from terminal velocity loaded right up might test the braking, but when solo the four-pot Nissin calipers (as on the 955i) do a great job, with lots of initial bite and a progressive feel which copes both with just stroking the lever and panic stops. This is an effective set-up from an unexpected source (the Sunstar discs are from Thailand) highlighted by the fact that Brembo's one contribution to the ST is, er, the cast alloy wheels !
What Triumph has concocted here is a motorcycle that comes very close to delivering the best of both worlds, even more so than the VFR Honda which for most of this decade in its various forms has worn the mantle of champion all-rounder. So often, trying to be all motorcycles to all riders merely means being adequate at everything but exceptional at nothing - whereas on the Sprint ST it's almost the other way round.
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