SuperBike - Febraury 1999 issue
unofficial web page at
reprinted with permission of SuperBike Magazine - Copyright 1999 SuperBike
Dash of panache - Sprint ST
By Grant Leonard
Triumph launch their attack on the sports-tourer market with the Sprint ST. Grant flies to Seville for a slice of the action.The first time I saw a Triumph Sprint in the flesh, as it were, was at the Munich Show. A keen marketing chap was good enough to take me around the bike, describing its features. For every point he made, he automatically compared it to the Honda VFR800. Of course, the Triumph trumped the Honda every time. It was perfectly clear the bike was aimed directly at the VFR.
Targeting another manufacturer's model so directly can have its dangers. By defining yourself purely in terms of the opposition, you can lose any individual character you might otherwise have built into your bike in your attempt to out-do them. And in the end, when your scoresheet has a line of ticks all the way down it, there'll always be one cross at the end - it'll never be the "real thing". Worse, you could end up like Kawasaki, launching the ZX-9R at the main opposition, the FireBlade, only to have Yamaha stuff both of you with the R1. I'd certainly prefer to see Triumph plough their own furrow in motorcycling - like BMW, or come to that, like Honda did when they first designed the VFR750 back in the late 'Eighties.
Having said that, it's no bad thing to build a bike that can stand comparison with a bike with the stature of the Honda VFR. The VFR's success in reconciling the sports/tourer contradiction accounts for the phenomenal success of the VFR series. So it's not surprising Triumph have targeted the Honda VFR market as worth muscling in on. Ducati recently did the same, pitching the ST2 directly at the VFR, but I find it hard to imagine a punter tossing a coin between two such fundamentally different bikes. Triumph are presenting a bike designed to compete head-on in terms of performance and usability.
The Sprint has its innovations - well, innovations for Triumph, anyway. They've opted for an aluminum beam frame with single-sided swinger, a configuration familiar to VFR owners for the past six years or so. The use of the single-side swinger is justified by the slimness it gives the rear of the bike so the exhaust can be tucked away and luggage added without ground clearance suffering. But I get the impression that it's just as much a marketing gimmick as a logical design feature. If the VFR's got one, the Sprint's gotta have one too. And running down the list, the Sprint does very well against the VFR in terms of performance objectives, specification and equipment.
Let's have a look.
Weight:the VFR tips in at 208kg, the Triumph 207kg; claimed power: the Triumph puts the boot in by a couple of horsepower, 112bhp versus 110bhp. A V4 may be hard to match on torque, but a good start is a parallel triple with a 174cc advantage - the Sprint makes 68ft-lb at 6,200rpm versus the VFR's 6lft-lb at 8,500rpm.
The bikes both run electronic fuel injection and the standard of equipment is comparable, with both bikes having clocks, centrestands and seat cowls. As an advantage over the Honda, the Triumph has a Stage One 'race' pipe as an option and a range of luggage (panniers/topbox); the upswept silencer is designed to swivel down so the right side pannier can be fitted. Of major importance when you're comparing the two bikes so closely is price. At time of writing, (as prices seem to change by the minute) the Honda is £8,675 + £250 OTR, the Triumph £7,999 +£350 OTR. Honda's discounted Black & White price is £7,695 + OTR.
So on paper, it's a close call between the two. In terms of performance, well you'll have to wait 'till next month's issue for the definitive comparison. The only way to see if the Sprint ST lives up to its spec sheet is to ride it, which happily Triumph invited me to do.
For the location it was a toss-up between Hinckley and Seville and would you believe it, Spain won. It was a good call as it turned out, because it was pissing down and freezing cold in Hinckley and it was 24° and sunny in Seville.
My experience to date of Spanish roads is that they're crap - badly surfaced, dusty, slippy and there's obviously no Spanish word for 'camber' or 'gutter'. Fall off the edge of a Spanish road and you fall off the edge of the world. In short, you don't fuck with Spanish roads.
Strange then to find myself fucking around BIGTIME, in a twenty-strong convoy of journalists from all over Europe, as we hammered around the twists and turns north of Seville - and on brilliant roads. Speeds rarely dropped out of the 70mph to 130mph range. Bums were edging off seats as the pace hotted up, knees beginning to snick the asphalt on occasion when the moment was right.
It's funny. When a pace rises from casual cruising to brain-out thrashing, there's a weird crossover between riding styles which go from bum square in the seat, arms straight out and head up, to bum off, knee out, arms braced and head down. It's a very uncomfortable transition. You can never quite commit to one or the other. So you end up riding along a straight, sat upright with a bum-cheek hanging off. And of course the worst thing is when you decide to go for it, but the pace isn't quite there and some Hermann comes cruising past bolt upright while you're giving it The Doohan.
So there we were riding the Triumph Sprint in the manner for which it was intended. Which is of course, bolt upright with one cheek hanging off. Yes, you see, it's a sports-tourer. This could mean it's neither sports nor tourer - a compromise that fails on both counts - or it could mean it succeeds on both. I'd say the Triumph Sprint, like the VFR800, succeeds.
Its riding position is comfortable yet leans you into the cockpit. It's light-years away from the awful contortion the Daytona T595 has you in, with its high pegs and low bars. I know the Daytona T595 is trying to be sporty, but there's no way I can ride a bike fast if I can't move my legs or shift my weight around. In contrast again to the Daytona T595, the bike is neat and compact with the front fairing much closer to the rider, giving the impression of a smaller, more integrated machine, rather than the big, heavy, rangey thing that the Daytona is.
I felt nothing familiar when I first sat on the Sprint. There was only the badge on the tank to identify it as a Triumph. Styling is individual to this model, though not to half a dozen existing Japanese bikes I could mention. Firing it up I was almost shocked to hear the whistling-gargling sound that is unmistakably and uniquely a Triumph triple.
We headed off into Seville's morning rush-hour traffic, straight onto a motorway ring-road, jammed solid. Not that keen to join the queue, we split the lanes straight away, snaking between the wing mirrors on and off the gas and brakes as the gaps opened and closed on us. There was no thinking, no need to adapt to the bike: I was at home straight away. It says plenty about the flexibility of the motor and the overall balance and maneuverability of the bike at low speed - it was more CBR600 than Daytona, for sure.
The only thing I didn't like was an initial, sharp dive to the forks when I grabbed a handful. It turned out to be a facet of the Sprint I got used to quickly but one I'd rather it didn't have, especially later in the day when we were hitting the brakes hard going about 70mph faster...
As we left the traffic of Seville, heading north, I started winding the Sprint up overtaking long lines of traffic, ducking in, whacking it back on, winding it back up, almost all in the same gear. It became obvious very quickly that the bike was producing some monster torque. The gearbox took on an irrelevance which underlined the flexibility and smoothness of the big triple. There's barely any vibration - just a tingle at the top - and there's virtually no top-end rush of power, just a progressive surge to the redline. Like all Triumphs, the Sprint motor is redlined very conservatively at 9,500rpm, so the power is spread low down. Peak torque is just 6,200rpm, 50 the delivery is much different to a four-cylinder bike - more like a twin. But unlike a twin, the power doesn't tail off toward the redline, it carries on up, then stops. I've never liked this trait of Triumphs - it's the coitus interruptus of motorcycling. Overtaking lines of cars I was constantly hitting the rev limiter, which is a bugger when you aren't expecting it and not the moment to be taking your eyes off the road to see what's up. It sounds like I was riding like a tosser, but honestly, the flexibility of the motor, the seamless delivery and premature cut-out made it quite tricky to ride just by feel. I have to say, as such, it's the blandest engine I can remember riding. Sometimes having perfectly linear power and flat torque precludes that crucial element which has made, say, Ducati, so popular - character.
On the positive side, in the low to midrange, the instant response is fantastic. The combination of a well-mapped fuel injection system and the inherent grunt of a 955cc triple gives the Sprint more effortless urge than anything this side of a SuperBlackbird. As such, it scores in its sports-tourer guise giving the rider very little to do but concentrate on the roads.
Although we didn't test it during our Spanish thrash, a point that Triumph emphasized very strongly is the extremely good fuel consumption the Sprint returned in their testing. Until we test this ourselves, we'll have to take Triumph's word for it. It's not just that your money goes further; if you're touring, it means less stops too.
Anyway, I wasn't really bothered with any of that down in Spain. As the roads thinned out to virtually empty, the pace hotted right up. Now we'd see how much sports' had been compromised for 'tourer'. I must say, my earlier impression of Spanish roads changed very quickly. We were sweeping along, almost dream-like, through and around hills, racing the bikes either side of 100mph. There were no hairpins, just fast, predictable bends and perfect for gauging a bike's general demeanor when pushed hard. The problem of the soft front end showed itself to be confined to the first part of the fork dive; thereafter it would damp progressively as I braked hard from high speed, ready to lob it into a turn. But committed in the corner, the bike is too slow in its recovery, wallowing as the suspension unloads on the brakes, then loads up again as you negotiate the turn. I wasn't feeling much from the front end, but then it didn't stop me going quick, just stopped me feeling comfortable about it. I had no real complaints about the rear; it behaved itself and gave more back than the front.
The brakes themselves, Triumph-badged four-piston Brembos acting on 320mm discs, did the job with plenty enough feel. Again, no complaints. It's ironic, but I reckon I could ride the Sprint as fast as a Daytona T595 - ironic because the Daytona is the flagship Supersports bike and the Sprint is pitched at a less demanding market. It's a sign of how far Triumph have progressed in the last two years since the Daytona was launched.
Indeed, I'd have no hesitation in saying that the Sprint is the best bike that Triumph have ever made. Whether it achieves Triumph's aim of being a VFR800 beater, remains to be seen. I can tell you now, it's close. And where Honda scores with its great reputation, Triumph, at least, has that famous name and its country of origin, which for a lot of people counts for a lot. For me, yes, I'm proud to ride British-made bikes like the Triumph Sprint ST. I just wish it didn't look like it was made in Japan.
Triumph Sprint Tech FeckThe frame of the Sprint is an aluminium beam design with single-side swingarm - the T595 was/is a tubular alloy perimeter frame, remember, which was accused of being weak and cracking catastrophically at the head-stock. The new model may have carried that stigma with it, so it's sensible to draw a line under it. The new frame has rake and trail of 250/92mm compared to the Daytona's 240/86mm. The wheelbase is up 30mm at 1,470mm, which takes it out of the Supersport dimensions (usually around 1,400mm). But the upside is reassuring stability, especially when carrying passengers and luggage. Suspension is adjustable at the front for preload only, and at the rear for preload and rebound. The engine is a retune of the Daytona T595 unit, a liquid-cooled, D0HC, 955cc fuel-injected triple. The Sagem fuel injection system allows speedy plug-in diagnostics at servicing.
Compared to the Daytona, it has steel instead of coated aluminium liners, cast instead of forged pistons, different cams, exhaust system and a revised cooling system which reduces warm-up time by routing coolant around the cylinders instead of blocking its passage as with a thermostatically controlled system. According to Triumph's own dyno, the spread of torque stays between 58ft-lb and 68ft-lb from 3,500rpm to 9,500rpm - there's nothing like it. The motor is potentially a 130bhp unit, so the tuners had plenty to play with. Incidentally, Triumph offer a stage one noisy pipe as an optional extra which comes with a programmed chip which helps boost power throughout the range. We tried it at the launch and the difference in response is noticeable. It isn't intrusively noisy either.
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