I am old enough (just!) to remember when British bikes ruled the roads. Sure, there were exotic (and expensive) bikes from other countries around, but it was the British who dominated. (No pun intended!). Then the Japanese invaded. And soon their bikes were more modern, more reliable, easier to ride, and just better bikes all-round. The British, typically, failed to keep up and the industry died. Then in 1990 John Bloor bought the Triumph name and started making bikes. And the iconic British name was back!
Since then Triumph has been a world -wide success. They mightn’t "rule the roads", but they’ve become very popular and much admired. At the time of writing this (early 2007) the Daytona has just won several Bike Of The Year awards. And the Triumph Sprint ST, which is one of their most popular models, has just been up-dated. And I've just taken one for a test-ride. (You can see it in the photo on the left; and you can read about it below).
The Triumph Sprint ST has been a bike I’ve admired for quite a few years; although until recently I’d never ridden one. I’d sat on them in the showroom and found them comfortable, and that appealed to me. They were always good value for money too. Then I rode the Triumph Tiger, which used the same engine and gearbox, and was very impressed. So the Sprint was looking more and more to be a bike I’d like!
In early 2007 I embarked on a quest to find my choice of sports-tourer. I wasn’t about to go out and buy a new bike right then, but I wanted to find out what my choice would be when I was in a position to buy; as well as providing something for the web-site that, hopefully, people would relate to and perhaps find helpful. It began with a long ride on the Suzuki Bandit. I then rode several other bikes that appealed to me, such as the Honda VFR800, Ducati ST3, and Yamaha TDM900. The Triumph was high on my list of bikes I wanted to test, but because the 2007 model had only just been released, it took a while for the dealers to get demo-models in; and it ended up being the last one on my list that I rode. Although in the meantime I did get a test-ride on a very low-mileage 2003 model.
The 2003 bike was as impressive as I expected it to be, but what would the 2007 model be like? Because the bikes were very different. In 2005 Triumph up-dated the Sprint. The triple-cylinder engine went up from 955cc to 1055cc. More significantly though, the bike itself changed substantially; becoming more “sporty”. The styling was more sleek and modern, making the older bike (which I’d liked anyway!) look out-dated and bulbous by comparison. Road tests generally raved about the bike, reporting better handling and a sportier feel. But in the process, the riding-position had aalso become more “sporty”. To me, I thought it had gone too far; it now wasn’t as comfortable, not as good a balance between the “sports” and “touring” concepts as the previous model had been. Well, apparently others (including owners) felt the same. And Triumph, to their credit, listened to the all the feedback and made appropriate changes for 2007.
With the 2007 model, Triumph acknowledged that they had moved the Sprint perhaps a little too far towards the “sports” end of the scale, making it just slightly less “touring” than the previous model. No doubt it was still good at both duties, but to regain that delicate balance they raised the handlebars by about 30mm and also moved them back towards the rider by about the same amount. That brought the riding-position back to a more neutral balance between “sports” and “touring”. There was also a slight change to the profile of the seat. And to further enhance the touring duties, the screen was taller, and the fairing came in for a slight re-design to help better dissipate the heat. So, while still retaining most of the “sporty” up-dates of the 2005 model, the 2007 Sprint is now back to being the grand tourer it always was – actually it’s even better!
When I did get a test-ride, it wasn’t at the local dealer, but one in another town. So the test-route I used for this was different to any of the others in my sports-tourer comparison. It was also one that gave the Triumph every opportunity to disappoint! It wasn’t an ideal route for “sports” riding, and neither was it an ideal “touring” route. While it wouldn’t give the bike an opportunity to really shine and get into it’s element, it would certainly show how it handled the “real world” of every-day riding. Read on and see how it handled it!
When I first sat on the bike I wasn’t sure about the new seat profile. I could feel the stepped-up division to the pillion area against the back of my rump. But a couple of kilometres later I’d got used to it. A couple of kilometres after that, as I left the city-limits and opened up the throttle, I felt the raised profile kind of holding me in place and counteracting the thrust of the acceleration.I liked it! And the seat itself is well-shaped and very comfortable. (There’s also an option of a gel seat to make it even more plush).
Further enhancing the touring capabilities (and general practicality) of the bike are standard good -quality lockable panniers. (The panniers had been removed from the test-bike; and impressively that doesn’t leave ugly brackets etc – it still looks good!). There is also a small lockable compartment in the right-side of the fairing top.
Looking around the bike it’s obvious the three-cylinder engine greatly inspired the stylists! Underneath the seat the exhausts exit in a neat three-pipe outlet. At the front, there are three headlight lenses. In the cockpit there are three dials, with one of them having three buttons under it. There are even three rivets along the side of the fairing. (Okay, we get it – it’s a triple!).
The three dials comprise an analogue speedo (numbered to 280kph) and analogue tacho (red-lined at 10,000rpm). The third dial is an LCD display providing information such as fuel-level, fuel-consumption, odometer etc. (Other info is accessible by pushing the buttons, which I didn’t try).
Starting the bike brought that typical Triumph sound. It’s a unique sound; a kind of whistling whirring type sound. Out on the road the same sound is still there, but it takes on a lusty nature. Most road-testers enthuse about the sound, one describing it as “a glorious noise”. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it does sound good!
The engine is a great piece of engineering; a real gem! It produces 94kw (just slightly up on the 2005 model) and 105Nm of torque. That endows it with great performance! Twist the throttle and it surges forward with an urgent rush. In 2nd gear you’re up to 100kph almost before you’ve had a chance to look down at the speedo! Then there’s 4 more gears to go! But it’s not just in “sports-mode” that this engine impresses; it’s amazingly flexible, and entirely snatch-free! It’ll pull away easily from 2,000rpm. I even tried it from 1,500 revs, and not gently rolling on the throttle as you normally would at that speed, but giving it a determined twist. Lesser bikes would either cough and splutter or snatch violently, but not this one! The engine sent vibes through the bike as if to say, “You’re in the wrong gear, you goose!”, but was totally forgiving and just pulled smoothly away. Very impressive!
Adding to the easy-to-ride nature is the gear-change, which is very light and easy. Since chirping the back tyre on a closed-throttle down-change on the Honda VFR, one of my “user-friendliness” tests has become changing down on a closed throttle. I tried this on the Triumph and it was totally smooth. When I tried it again, at higher revs, the gear-change clunked a bit (as you’d expect) and the revs jumped, but the whole process remained smooth and forgiving. Again, easy-to-ride and totally snatch-free!
The bike is quite high-geared, running about 27kph per 1,000rpm in top. This high gearing, plus the power and flexibility of the engine, makes it seriously hard to keep to speed-limits! A lot of my riding was on speed-limited roads – a bit of town and some 80kph back roads. I’d back right off, even change down, but it still wanted to creep up over the posted limit! Even when the limit was 100kph it was hard to maintain if you weren’t careful.
High-speed touring is obviously going to be something it’s good at! I didn’t get much opportunity to try that, but on the couple of occasions when I was able to settle back and go into “cruise mode”, it was smooth, comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable! The sort of bike that makes you want to point it at the horizon and just keep on going!
There were no freeway sections on my route; but on one fairly open, somewhat unevenly-surfaced back road I gave it a quick blast up to 140kph and cruised at that briefly. The bike was perfectly stable and doing it easily. The screen was doing a good job of keeping the wind off too. I’m quite tall (just over 6ft in the old money) and I bent down just slightly and the wind was noticeably less. So a shorter rider would find it even better. In any case it was quite good, and better than the 2003 model I’d ridden.
My test-route began with middle-of-town traffic and then led out onto a secondary-type back-road. The road surface was a bit uneven and also quite choppy in places. I then continued onto a narrow (almost one-lane), rough, tightly-twisting, steep mountain road. At the end of that came a more major back-road with some flowing corners. After some distance along there, I turned around and followed the same route back.
The bike’s easy-to-ride nature makes it easy to handle around town. There’s that smooth, flexible engine; and the weight, at 210kg, is light enough to be quite manageable around town.
Out onto the open back-road and the bike’s comfortable ride comes to the fore. The suspension doesn’t look to be anything out of the ordinary, but it does an excellent job! Up front the conventional forks have adjustment for pre-load, while the rear unit is adjustable for pre-load and rebound. The road was quite choppy in places, but the suspension gave a superbly compliant ride, soaking up the bumps very well. Larger bumps make their presence felt, but it’s never harsh or jolting. Impressive!
The bike handles well too! The only thing I noticed was that, counter-steering through the bends, it did seem to understeer slightly on entry to corners. Maybe that was just me though, because I haven’t read of any other complaints in that regard. (A more positive push on the bars had it turning in quite well, but I always seemed to be "feeling-my-way" into the entry of corners). In any case, once on-line in the corners it remained secure and stable. It was quite happy to adjust the line if necessary too. A regular reader owns one of these (he must have been one of the first people in the country to buy one!), and when he learnt I was about to test one he said, “Don’t be afraid to lean it over”. He said he hadn’t scraped the pegs, but had touched his boot on the road. I didn’t get it that far over, but when I was leaning it the bike felt totally secure and stable; and seemed to be enjoying it as much as the rider!
On the narrow mountain road I took it very steadily, as it was extremely narrow, rough-surfaced, steep, very tight, and with mostly no visibility around the corners. When I could see ahead a bit though, I had a bit of fun giving it some throttle and blasting away between the corners. I might have been (mostly!) taking it easy, but the bike was impressive in the way it handled this road, remaining easy to ride and perfectly stable and controlled.
Coming back down this road highlighted a rather odd thing I’d noticed earlier. I found the front brakes felt a bit lacking in initial bite. Perhaps the brakes hadn’t quite bedded-in properly (the bike had less than 500km on it), or maybe it was just a lever-adjustment thing (although the lever-travel felt okay), but when pulling on the lever there seemed to be a slight hesitation before the brakes really started to work. It was the ABS version (a $1,000 option), although I doubt that would have been the cause. Strange; but otherwise the brakes were fine!
Speaking of levers, I found the clutch-lever’s take-up point was very close to the bar. This would certainly only be a matter of adjustment, and I only noticed it when taking off from standstill, but it was something I noticed so I’ve mentioned it.
One thing that road-tests have mentioned is the heat-transfer through the seat from the exhaust. This current trend of running the exhaust underneath the seat is a sure case of form (or style) winning out over function. I actually didn’t find it too bad, but the seat was definitely warm after the ride. A sheepskin cover should insulate it sufficiently. It was a hot day when I rode the bike, and there was noticeable heat around my legs at town speeds. Out on the open road it was quite okay though.
So there it is, Triumph’s newly up-dated entry into the sports-tourer market. I won’t “spoil the ending” by telling you where it finished up in my comparison with the others I tested, (click here to read the comparison), but you can tell I was very impressed with it!
A sports-tourer, especially if it’s the only bike you own, has to be a real “jack-of-all-trades”; and this is just what Triumph have achieved with the Sprint ST. They actually achieved it a long time ago, but now it’s even better!
The engine remains a real gem; endowing it with great power and performance and yet being remarkably flexible, almost docile, around town. The suspension endows it with great handling and holds it secure and stable on the road, yet also delivers a surprisingly compliant and comfortable ride. Chris Pickett from Cycle Torque summed it up well when he said, “If you are looking for a bike capable of handling the cut-and-thrust of every day life, do the big tour with ease, plus handle a dog fight, the (Sprint) will do sterling service!” And at $15,990 it’s even great value for money! Now, if only that bank-account looked a bit healthier…!
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