electronic Telegraph issue 1282 Sat November 28,1998
| Article posted in its entirety with
permission of Kevin Ash 12/30/98 Copyright Kevin Ash and Telegraph
Reproduction of this article without permission of Kevin Ash strictly prohibited
Brave and brilliant
With the new Sprint ST, Triumph set out to pip the impressive Honda VFR. Kevin Ash is in awe of a mighty machine, full of punch, power and poise
YOU'VE got to admire Triumph's courage. Where many of the smaller motorcycle manufacturers hunt around for market niches where they can shelter from the intense heat of the mainstream competition, right from its rebirth in 1991 Triumph hasn't shied away from a head-on fight with the Japanese in the toughest sectors.
The supersports Daytona achieved Triumph's aim of matching the opposition, but with the new Sprint ST the Hinckley company has set its sights even higher: it's designed to be better than the most accomplished, respected machine of the last decade, the Honda VFR.
When you ride the bike, your admiration turns to Triumph's engineering team, because that's exactly what they have achieved.
The engine is the first thing to impress. Straight away the efforts to reduce mechanical and intake noise are clear as the characteristic growl of the three cylinder, 955cc motor is accompanied by a more muted background than the Daytona the unit has been borrowed from (with a retune to add mid-range torque at the expense of peak horsepower).
But there's much better to come. Stick the light and ease gearbox into first, release the clutch and the Sprint pulls away with almost startling urge, even with the central, white-faced tacho indicating little more than tickover revs. The torque spread is huge - Triumph claims more than 60lb ft is available from 3,500rpm up to 9,500rpm, with substantially more than a VFR in the lower reaches.
The horsepower peak is higher than the Honda's too, with 110bhp being produced at 9,200rpm, enough to take the bike to a claimed top speed of 155mph. It's very fast, certainly, but still this doesn't present the full picture. Triumph has dedicated a great deal of the engine's development time on refining it and improving its drivability, with the result that the fuel injection works faultlessly, pick-up is smooth and crisp, and as a bonus fuel economy is claimed to be exceptional.
At the bar in the evening (always the best place to pry the most interesting snippets from factory staff) one Triumph test rider said that on a particular test route where a VFR was returning 38mpg, the Sprint ST was managing 56mpg. The ST's project chief, Chris Hennegan, puts this down to very smooth transition between points on the fuel injection map - good, well that's explained that, then.
What most riders will be more interested in is the very handy 200 mile-plus touring range the bike will have, as well as the easier life of their wallets, especially as the Sprint's touring abilities extend well beyond this. The riding position for example is natural and roomy with a gentle forward lean, although the low screen means there's still quite a lot of wind pressure on the head and shoulders. Still, the alternative of a higher screen usually means strong buffeting and lots of wind noise, so as a compromise this is preferable.
The seat is well designed, and after a day on the bike I could still walk normally (not the case with some machines), but the suspension plays an important role in the ST's comfort levels too. The ride quality is exceptionally good, giving the bike a plush but well-controlled feel, yet this is matched to very capable sporting ability. At high speeds the Sprint is much more precise and stable than the VFR and even betters the Ducati ST4 in this respect. Flicking the Triumph hard through tight S-bends also fails to upset the suspension, although it does move around more than more firmly set-up sports machines.
Only the spring preload can be adjusted on the Japanese Showa forks, but few riders will feel like they're missing out because the standard set-up works so well. At the back, the preload and rebound damping can be altered, more to cope with extra loads than deal with any handling niceties.
Of course, if you start to push the machine hard it does squirm more than a pure sportster, but it's not hard to believe Triumph's claim that the Sprint frequently came very close to lapping some racetracks as fast as the Daytona.
Only the steering at low speeds is inferior to the well-balanced, natural VFR. It's not bad on the Sprint by any means, but the very light steering, which makes high speed work so much fun, also makes the bike a little too sensitive at sub-20mph speeds, where the VFR just goes where you want.
I found two other criticisms to try and retain some personal credibility, which were mirrors that wobbled too much and the ugly gap between the fairing and frame.
I mention the latter because people commented on it at the NEC show, but both apparently are entirely due to the show and test bikes being pre-production models, and both will be resolved on showroom machines.
Oh well, back to the barrage of praise then. Next on the list are the brakes, which consist of hydraulics and discs from the brilliant set-up on the Daytona and calipers from the old spine-framed Triumphs, but modified. There's less initial bite than the Daytona's stoppers - probably a good thing on this softer focused machine - but still plenty of power available with enough feedback to be able to take full advantage of it. The back works reasonably well, too, an increasing rarity on modern machines.
The individual components all work well on the Sprint, from the animated, evocative engine to the outstanding suspension and effective ergonomics, yet the whole still seems to be more than the sum of these parts. This is a truly inspired machine which is not just brave, but brilliant.
Triumph Sprint ST
Price/availability: £8,000 approx/early 1999
Engine/transmission: transverse, three cylinders, 955cc, four-stroke, 12-valves, 110bhp at 9,200rpm, 70lb ft of torque at 6,200rpm/six-speed gearbox, chain final drive
Performance: top speed 155mph, average fuel economy 48mpg
Worth considering: Honda VFR800, £7,605; Ducati ST4, £8,150