The new Sprint ST represents a bit of a milestone for Triumph. For starters, up until now it's always been the big Daytona that got the first of a new generation of motor, and pushed front and centre as Triumph's flagship. But the new 1050 triple motor (basically a stroked version of the old 955) saw its debut in the ST and new Speed Triple … the Daytona is still using the 955 motor.
And why not? The Daytona never could compete with the one-litre Japanese supersports, despite having the edge on character thanks to the relatively unique in-line triple motor. Where Triumph could see a gap where it could make an impact, was in the sport-touring market – especially with the VFR800 remaining unchanged for the last few years (time for an update and a bigger motor Mr. H?) – and they've gone for it with determination.
Having said this, the old ST did an okay job at being a sport-tourer, but was somewhat shy of the spotlight with a too friendly, rounded look and slightly subdued riding character. Slapping in a much torquier motor in the '05 version, Triumph have not only added a much needed umph, but they've also managed to create a more aggressive, angularly-styled beast that demands to be noticed.
Is this enough to capture the market? It might just be …
By increasing the stroke of the 955 motor, Triumph have shunned the more accepted philosophy of more power through bigger bores (but at higher RPMs), opting for low-down torque instead. The result is a modest 5 hp and 3 ft-lb addition at top, but with significant gains in both power and torque lower down the RPMs – where you can use it most in the real world.
There's a sizable amount of torque from low revs, amplifying the inherent base character of an inline triple – somewhere in between the torque of a twin and the smoothness of a four. Rolling on the throttle lays down the power, strongly and progressively, from around the 2,000 rpm mark. Although there are some vibes, even they just seem to emphasize the luscious mechanical feel of the triple motor.
It always seemed, still, to be happiest above the 5,000 rpm mark, and would lay down serious power from there all the way to the 10,250 cut-out. Basically, anywhere above 5,000 meant that you were in instant power, and is also the point where the exhaust note makes its transition from growl to howl – very addictive.
Talking of which, the pipe burbles quite loudly on the overrun, which has a certain coolness to it, but is very odd for a fuel-injected bike, as theoretically, there should be no fuel going into the motor to make such noises. Still, I was just happy that the thing had as much bark to it that it did, so I'll shut up now.
Oh, and as much as I appreciate the sleekness of design that comes with under-seat pipes, the seat did tend to get noticeably warm after a good run. Assistant Editor Lewis even had a plastic part of his glove melt while riding bitch … err, pillion. I'm not quite sure how that happened, other than maybe a combination of grabbing onto the rail behind him, and some weird exhaust drafting. Odd.
Fuel injection is good and offers very smooth throttle action and easy starting from cold. The only problem I found was the wait for it to complete a self-diagnostic check before it would allow me to fire it up. Not a biggie, but every time I stopped to check the map I had to wait a few seconds before it would let me start up, usually giving just enough time for the slow truck to pass and reveal an endless convoy of cars behind it. Feck.
The new six-speed box is pretty smooth, although slightly notchy, but not so pronounced that after a couple of days you didn't notice it anymore. The gear ratios are also a good match to the motor's characteristics, first not being too low and top not being too high.
Clutch action is light (good for grid-locked traffic), but a late engagement meant that I'd be slipping it a lot if I got sloppy with my changes.
A SPRINTER'S BODY
With the new frame comes new geometry, notably a shorter wheelbase and steeper rake for sportier handling. This enables it to get quite aggressive when the road allows, certainly more so than the last generation, although I found it a bit troublesome getting my feet on the pegs right to get into the correct sporty posture. Likely more to do with being a lanky bastard than anything else, but it meant that it wasn't an automatic shift and shoot procedure, rather a shift, look down at the pegs, shift, shift again, that's it, okay shoot.
The Nissin brakes work well, especially in sporty mode and a good hard squeeze at the front will give retardation in a similar league as the supersports, while the back has accomplished that fine balance between being too harsh and too soft. However, it was only when I was taking a rather conservative passenger (my sister) that I noticed a bit of a lag when using the front. There's about an inch of lever travel before anything happens!
All I can think of is that when I'm in solo (fast) mode, I always had a finger on the lever and naturally took up the slack. Slap a "Rob, you're going a bit fast" sister on the back ("too fast" is about 50 mph BTW) and all a sudden you notice that inch every time you reach for the brake. Odd.
Suspension components are quality Showa units, with a pair of conventional telescopics up front and a single shock at the rear. I initially found the settings to be on the soft side (bouncy-bouncy), although easily cured by jacking up the preload (front and rear) and rebound (rear only) a couple of notches (plus a few more with a passenger).
Of course, it would have been easier if the rear preload adjustment came with a (now-standard) knob (screwdriver in a slot = difficult) and the rebound was actually accessible (shock linkage and drive chain get in the way).
But I'm bitching over minor things, as the whole package works remarkably well – the ST offering quick sportbike-like steering and suspension that will happily absorb most road irregularities, yet still keep things in check when a sporty moment goes a little too far …
To me, the pegs did feel a bit high … or is the seat too low? It has a huge rider cutaway that gives the effect of being "in" rather than on the bike. This gives a certain amount of lower back support, but also means that there's plenty of leeway to fit a taller seat.
I was hoping that Triumph had fitted the low seat option by mistake as the initial press pics show an ST with a much less extreme cut. Apparently not … but then I can't complain too much as it still seemed to do a remarkable job at keeping my derriere comfy over the long haul and any problems are likely lanky-related anyway. I think.
The slight forward lean position also helped comfort, with the low-cut seat enabling the upper torso to rest quite comfortably on the tank when you have to tuck in for some, err, high speed motorway testing.
The screen is quite low as well, and the rider gets a linear, steady air-flow to the upper body. It's not turbulent, but if I was cruising at anything over 120 Km/h, I could feel my neck muscles starting to work. Lanky bastard syndrome again? Maybe, but Triumph are offering a taller "Aero screen" as an accessory just in case.
All the passengers I took gave it the thumbs-up for comfort, except for when the hard bags were fitted, as they consumed some of the passenger foot space, and meant riding with heels on the pegs. Shorter passengers liked the fact that the difference in seat height meant that they could peak over the rider and see ahead. Taller passengers got a clear view but also a chunk of windblast. Sisters also got to see the speedo (bad).
The mirrors actually do give you a view of what might be behind you, although at speed, they would tend to fluctuate on their long stalks, making them hard to focus on. Integrating the flashers into the mirrors is a good idea too and helps to keep the smooth, clutter-free style at the front.
Lighting is intense and would have done a stellar job at illuminating the tight Dales roads had they not been set a tad high. It might not have helped having a passenger on the back, but I eventually got so embarrassed at being flashed by every oncoming car (as they thought I'd left my high beams on), that I resorted to applying the front brake every time a car came, so as to dip the front-end, and so the lights.
Again, I'm nitpicking here, but to me that's also a sign of an excellent bike – it all works so well, that niggly faults come to the fore and become issues.
What's not to like? Well, some people have a bit of a problem with the arse-end, and its tall, pointy triple-pipe under-seat exhaust. I think that's tres cool, and I love what they've done with the exposed single-sided swingarm (no more pipe in the way) sharper tank and fairing, and blacked-out frame. There's also a triple theme throughout the ST, from the three lights up front, to three clocks on the dash to the three pipes out the rear. Nice touch.
I don't know why, but I used to despise the frame on the old ST with its rounded, bulbous look. The upper fairing, with its blobbyness and bog-eyed lights didn't help either. It just pissed me off, albeit irrationally so. Hmhh, however, I do feel much better for saying that …
Kudos to this iteration's designers (an outside agency) as they've managed to reign-in Triumph's modern styling trend of extreme sharpness, just enough to keep it edgy and yet make it all work.
TROUBLE AT T'MILL ?
The only thing that really disappointed me with the ST was the build quality, or lack thereof. Triumph have always pushed this factor as one of its central principles, yet the Sprint ST came to me looking like it had spent a winter used as a London dispatch bike.
The brake discs all had some rust on them, the exhaust headers too, and the aluminium of the engine was positively furry with corrosion. I asked Trevor about this when I returned it and he confessed that the bike had been broken-in in December in preparation for the world launch in South Africa, but still …
Triumph make a few accessories for the ST, mainly hard and soft bags, but there's the higher screen that I mentioned, as well as heated grips, a replacement (louder?) exhaust can and a gel seat. Of these, my tester had only the bard bags fitted. I hate to say it (because it looks like Triumph put some thought into trying to get a funky design), but overall I wasn't impressed with them.
Of course, there's the passenger footpeg issue I mentioned, but also the locking mechanism has to be one of the most fiddley things I've ever had to use. Then once you'd opened one, good luck trying to get it to close again. In the end I resorted to giving them a good shove with my knee, with varying results.
On the plus side, their capacity is very good (nothing lost to exhaust pipe cutaways) and they're almost waterproof – there were a few drops of water inside, but only after a quite horrendous downpour.
THE HAPPY PLACE?
The Sprint is happiest on tighter roads. Not too tight, mind you, as (with any big bike) you do find yourself managing its size. No, just tight enough where you really benefit from a good dose of torque to slingshot you out of corners or up and over hills.
It's quite a flickable bike as well (albeit not in the league of supersports) while still maintaining an overall solid and planted sensation that inspires confidence in corners and during a high-speed slog on the highway.
For me, it all came together at the end of a rather long day where I thought it would be both big and clever to shoot up to Scotland for lunch and then meander back down through the northern Pennines – getting home in time for a last pint at the local, followed by the sleep of the righteous.
The alignment of the heavens occurred for me on a rather famous biker road, just as the sun's rays had turned to a soft evening light, splashing its amber glow over the hills around me. The road in question climbs steeply up and over the moors and then hits Teesdale and a long meandering, gentle decline into and along the valley floor. And to top it all, it was traffic free.
The Sprint eagerly gobbles up the straights and with a smooth application of front brake, poises itself ideally for the upcoming bend. Down a gear entering the corner, off the brakes and onto the throttle at the apex, and you have the perfect transition.
Then it's time to wind it open, snick it up a gear or two, tuck in and pretend to be piloting through the stone-wall-lined roads of the Isle of Man. 50 … 60 ... 70 mph before another tight bend demands that you shut off the throttle, drop back a gear and repeat the whole process.
A happy place for all.