A middle-aged rider who had just come back from riding the Triumph Daytona said, "My knees are buggered anyway, but by the time we got to the top of the mountain I’d had enough; I wanted to get off!” Another rider, of around the same age, said, “It’d be fun to own, but I couldn’t afford the chiropractor bills after each ride.” I’d been feeling a bit dubious about the wisdom of choosing Triumph’s mid-size sporty to test-ride, and those comments were hardly encouraging! I told them I had a crook back, and watching me head over to the red sportster for my test-ride they laughed and said, “Good luck with that then!” So, feeling considerable trepidation, I climbed aboard, fired it up and set off on the ride with the rest of the Triumph test-fleet. As I headed down the road, crouched over the red beast like a dog eating its dinner, my back started protesting about the unnatural position. “What are you doing on this?” it seemed to be saying. “What have you got us into?” Well, I thought it’d be good to try the much-lauded and multiple award-winning Triumph sportster. Something different. And reports I’d read suggested that it might not be as cruel to a crotchety old rider as some of the other mid-size super-sports. But now, perched on the firm seat and reaching down to the low-set clip-ons, and thinking about the test-route that lay ahead, I was starting to worry! But let’s take a more general look at the bike first. Since its introduction in 2006 it has been a hugely successful model for Triumph; and it’s won several major awards.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
The bike looks the goods – aggressive and sporty. It looks like it’s lunging forward before it even moves! Look at the headlights, especially in the photo above; they're like two mean eyes glaring threateningly at anything that dares to get in its way. Anything in front will be eaten by the front wheel and swallowed into the cavernous opening of its fairing! The fairing makes the front look sleek and sporty, but the back half of the bike looks naked, with bits of matt-black frame, including the two-beam swing-arm, poking out from behind the bodywork. There is a pillion-seat of course, typically for the breed, positioned high on the rear mudguard, right above the under-seat exhausts. The footpegs are mounted high up on the frame; so high that they’re almost in line with the handlebars. It’s almost as if the bike is saying, “You want to ride pillion? Okay, but your knees will be touching your ears and you’re going to get your bum scorched. Now do you still want to go?” You approach this with the knowledge that it is a sportser, so you have to judge it on that basis. Of course the riding-position is going to be aggressive. Of course the seat is going to be firm. So it wasn’t a question of whether I was going to like it, as a bike I might want to own, it was more a question of whether I could handle it for the duration of the test-ride. So before the ride I went over and gave it a try. The seat is fairly high and the bars are very low, so you don’t so much sit on it as crouch over it. As I said, you feel a bit like a dog eating its dinner. But I figured it’d be okay for the relatively short ride we’d be going on. And unlike, say, the Ducati Monster 696, my head didn’t feel like it was sticking out past the front of the bike; I could still see a bit of bike out front. You see, that’s where this bike is a bit different. It puts your body into a racer’s crouch, you expect that, but it isn’t as cramped as the Ducati Monster. And in that respect it’s also better than some of its rivals, which follow a more minuscule design in the pursuit of light weight and short-wheelbase flickability. The seat has a kind of soft fabric covering and actually looked like it might be okay. Of course it’s firm, but not quite as plank-like as some other mid-size sporties. Another hallmark of its sports design is the high-mounted footrests. Apparently the bike can achieve a lean angle of 57 degrees; so your feet have been put well up out of the way. If, like the guy I quoted at the top, you have bad knees, this is definitely not going to suit! My knees are okay, so they were fine during the test. Of course it’s not where I’d like them to be, but as I said, you approach this knowing it’s a sporty. The instruments seem a long way down, and back. To find the instrument binnacle I had to tilt my head way down; like I was navel-gazing. The gauges aren’t the easiest to read anyway (the Street Triple uses basically the same set-up), and being well out of the line-of-sight made reading them even harder. The speedo particularly is hard to find and read. I suppose you’d get used to it. There’s a big analogue tacho that is red-lined at 14,000rpm, with the digital speedo underneath. The mirrors seem a long way down too, and are also well out of the line-of-sight. And, especially from that angle, they aren’t big enough to get a good look at what’s going on behind you.
OUT ON THE ROAD
There was no way I was going to give this bike a proper test. To do that you’d have to be on a racetrack. And you’d have to be a lot braver and faster than me! No, what I was looking to do was experience this sportster within the limitations of an old bloke riding it on the road; through suburban traffic and along real-life everyday roads. The test-route is a good one. It’s the same route used for my test of the Triumph Sprint ST, Street-Triple, Tiger, BMW F800R, and others. It begins with a bit of suburban running before heading up a narrow mountain pass, along an open back-road, out onto a major road and onto a highway leading back into the city. So, some open running with an opportunity for some high-speed, some tight twisty stuff, and some traffic. Smooth roads, and some patchy back-road stuff. The engine is amazingly tractable! Looking at the specs, and where maximum power and torque come in, you’d expect it to be a no-show at anything under screaming point. But that’s not the case; the engine is, as I said, amazingly tractable and quite torquey. You can ride this around town at 3,000rpm and it’s quite happy. It will pull from 2,000rpm in top without too much complaint. I even stuck it in top while going up a steep suburban hill (actually the bottom of the mountain pass), and with the tacho hovering at just 3,000rpm it still pulled well. Get it up into its preferred operating range and the performance is even more impressive. There’s a lot of power there – especially for a mid-size engine. It’d show a clean pair of heels to anything that isn’t being ridden seriously quickly. I didn’t come close to accessing all the performance there is available; you’d need an empty road with a lack of speed-limits for that! Another thing that impresses with this engine is that it is very smooth; right from low-speed lugging to enthusiastic reaching for the red-line. It really is an amazing donk! With such a wide rev-range, and that stratospheric red-line, you'd need the afore-mentioned empty road and no speed limits to experience those high revs. I didn’t encounter such a road, unfortunately. But I had it up around 8,000rpm a few times, and to 10,000rpm a couple of times; still well short of the red-line though. Even in 1st gear you’d be going pretty quick by the time you got to 14,000rpm. But you’ve got to try the high revs, haven’t you! So, as we turned onto a major road, I left it in 1st and wound it up. At 80kph it was just under 9,000rpm, and looking to go faster. A bit of clear road so wind it out a bit more; 12,000rpm came up. Quick look down at the speedo – hmm, 108kph. Yes, still in 1st. Click, click, click, click, click into top. Back to 5,000rpm, at about 100kph. Top gear runs a very sensible – for this bike – gearing of about 20kph / 1,000rpm. The gear-change is light and easy. Even clutch-less changes are smooth. My only complaint is that I had trouble finding neutral. The handling is great. Did you expect otherwise? Well, probably not, but again it’s good even for old blokes. The steering is quick and it changes direction as quick as you want, but it doesn’t feel at all nervous. You might expect the weight on the bars to make it feel nervous or twitchy, but it never does. It holds its line perfectly, but is equally willing to change its line to exactly where you want it to go. It’s great fun to squirt it through the twisties! And it always felt absolutely stable. If I’d been feeling a bit apprehensive at the start of the ride, the further I went the more confident I became, and the more fun I had! This bike continually inspires confidence. Again, I have to compare it to my feelings with the Ducati Monsters; the 1100S and especially the 696. On the 696 I never got confident with it; I felt nervously insecure most of the time. On this I always felt secure; the bike gives a sure-footed, solidly-planted on the road feel. It’s like the bike is saying, “Okay, you’re in this unnatural crouching riding-position, but just relax and enjoy, let the bike look after you.” And it does! At higher speed – 120kph or so – it all works even better. The wind takes a bit of the weight off the lean-forward crouch and the bike is so smooth and willing. It likes to go fast; and because it feels better the faster you go, it encourages you to go faster. It’s an indication of just how good this is as a sports-bike. Yeah, sure, it’ll toddle along at old-bloke speeds fine, but let it rip on some open road, or even squirt it hard through some twisties, and it’ll show you just what it’s really all about and how good it is at doing it! The brakes are brilliant! The initial bite is strong, and they feel very powerful. The ride is better than might be expected too. You might expect race-track stiffness that’d shake your teeth out on any real-road bumps, but it’s much more compliant than that. Although the firm seat lets you know when you do hit any decent bumps. The suspension is fully adjustable, including separate adjustments for low and high-speed damping, so you can fine-tune the handling / ride balance to suit your preference; within its design parameters, of course. When we got back it was good to get off. Well, my back thought so! But ignoring that I could’ve gone further and enjoyed the bike more. My back was glad I didn’t. When I got home I was reaching for the anti-inflammatory cream and other back-related medication. The back of my neck was sore from the constant tilting up to look straight ahead. Across the back of my shoulders was aching a bit. No, of course it’s not a bike for an old bloke. But for what it is, it’s an amazingly good thing! I thought of what the other guy said about needing a chiropractor after each ride. For most old blokes – and especially me with my dodgy old back – he’d be right. But I couldn’t help thinking that you’d be going to the chiropractor with a big smile on your face! SNAPSHOT This is not a bike for old blokes. But it’s a brilliant bike! It’s a full-on sportster, and puts you in a very uncompromising riding-position, so old blokes like me with crook backs (or buggered knees!) should not apply. But for what it is, it’s brilliant. And it handles real-world riding conditions very well too. The engine is a prime example of that, being easy and tractable at low revs, fast and fiery at higher revs, and delightfully smooth throughout. It handles like a sport-bike should, but doesn’t rattle your teeth over real-road bumps. A civilised sportser? Yep, it sure is; and such, I reckon it’s a triumph (pun intended!) of design and engineering!
Engine: 3-cylinder, 675cc. Power: 93kW at 12,600rpm. Torque: 72Nm at 11,700rpm.
Fuel capacity: 17.4litres.
Weight: 185kg (wet).
Seat height: 830mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 180 X 17.
Brakes: Front: Nissin, twin 309mm disc. Rear: Nissin, single 220mm disc.
Price: $14,890 (+ORC).
The main up-date has been to the engine. It’s still a 675cc triple, but the internal dimensions have changed, giving it a shorter stroke and larger bore. Accordingly, the red-line has been raised by 500rpm to 14,400rpm, and it also runs a higher compression ratio. I’d expect these changes to result in it not being quite as tractable at low revs as the previous model, but then people who buy this probably don’t buy it to ride it the way I did! Despite these changes, power has only increased by a bit over 2kW and torque by just 2Nm. Weight has come down by a kilo and a half. The frame geometry has been changed, and the swing-arm shortened, to make the handling more responsive (did it really need it?). So it’s a teensie bit more powerful, probably more revvy in nature, and a bit quicker in the handling. For those who will buy this, they’re probably small but worthwhile changes.
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