Test Ride: Triumph Sprint ST

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Words: Ian Chadwick

I’m a cruiser kind of guy. I like low, slung-back bikes, with plenty of chrome and loud pipes. So when I was offered a chance to test ride the new Triumph Sprint ST for a week, my first reaction was “Who, me?”

The author and the ST

I was actually pretty apprehensive. It looked too much bike for me; too sporty, and too fast. I imagined myself in a low, hunched riding position that would require a chiropractor to unbend me after a few minutes in the saddle.

But it wasn’t a chance I could afford to pass up, so I took the keys from John Broderick of J&R Cycle and put on a brave face. I plunked myself in the saddle and fired it up. Or rather I attempted to do so – John gently showed me that I had to pull the clutch in, in order to ignite the engine. Newbies, eh?

So he looked me in the eye and asked, “You okay with this?”

I looked him back and nodded steadily. Never show them fear.

His final comments to me were, “Keep it under 35 hundred.”

Hmmm. That meant I had to break the bike in. The odometer already showed 140 kilometers, so I only had to ride it another 20 before I could increase the RPMs to 5,000. Enough time to get a feel for the bike’s behaviour. I slowly eased over to the driveway, then out onto the highway and twisted the throttle.

In my limited experience with sportbikes, they seem to have a throttle that has about 1/16th of an inch of twist between idle and light speed. I get nervous just standing beside one. They are twitchy, eager to rise up on one wheel and race away.

Not the Sprint. My first reaction was pleasant surprise. This is a remarkably well-behaved machine, a thoroughbred, not just a high-spirited racer. The throttle is responsive, but Triumph tuned the Sprint to put the power in the middle, not all at the low end. The Sprint has controlled acceleration.

And 3,500 RPM gave me lots of speed for my first ride – about 90-95 kmph in top gear. I began imagining myself in a multi-hued, full-body leather suit.

Within a few days I had put 500 kms on the ST and taken it to the limits of the local roads – and my riding abilities.

Triumph has completely rebuilt the Sprint for ’99. It begins with the amazing 955i engine – putting the ST into the same family as the T955 Daytona and the Speed Triple. The fuel-injected triple is smooth and powerful. Although positioned as a sport-tourer – the emphasis is on sport – the tuning makes the ST a competent and comfortable street bike as well.

The seating position puts the rider forward, but not aggressively so. It’s more forward than the Triumph Trophy and Honda ST1100, but less so than the Daytona and most sportbikes. I quickly got used to it and found it comfortable, even for long rides, despite my tendency to lean on the bars a bit too much. If the bike were mine, I’d lower the seat height (800mm stock) just a tad.

The throttle was so smooth and responsive that I was significantly impressed. I never felt I had lost control of the bike when accelerating, even quickly. In passing, a twist of the wrist gave a whopping power surge, but it was delivered smoothly and without being choppy or twitchy. The tachometer shows a redline at 9,500. Since the bike was still in its break-in stage, I couldn’t push it past 7,000 – but I never needed to. I reached 140 kmph in sixth gear at around 5,000 rpm. I’m not sure where I’d put the rest of the power. My test ride hardly brushed the ST’s capabilities.

At every speed, the ST was steady and inspired confidence. I was able to ride it into corners on the back roads at what would normally be sphincter-clenching speeds and never felt uncomfortable or unsure of the bike. Around town, even in wet weather, I was making low-speed turns faster and at lower angles than I normally can with my Thunderbird. At 450 lbs dry weight, the ST is so agile and maneuverable, it feels more like 350 lbs. I love to ride Airport Road through the Hockley Valley. It’s a nice, twisty hill that offers challenges in both directions. I wrestle the T-bird through those curves, but the Sprint slipped through them so easily that I missed the usual excitement the hills offer. It’s such a competent bike that I always felt I was in the safe zone.

That doesn’t mean the ST is a middle-of-the-road bike. There’s a hooligan hiding inside that engine, but it waits for you to command it to come out, rather than presenting any unpleasant surprises. The EFI system provides a silky-smooth power flow – although I was a bit bemused by not needing a choke to fire it up cold.

Just as a note, I was surprised the ST has a cable-operated clutch. As far as I know, all other bikes in Triumph’s new line have hydraulic clutches. It may have been a weight-saving decision. I didn’t notice any difference in performance.

Up front are twin four-pot disc brakes. Compared to the single disc on my T-bird, the ST has amazing solid stopping power. I seldom used the rear brake except to bleed off a bit of excess speed.

Mirrors are acceptable – certainly equal to or better than better than on any cruiser I have ridden. They’re positioned forward compared to the T-bird’ s, so it took a bit of practice to locate them in a quick check.

The windscreen is small and gives partial protection, but unless you hunker right down on the tank, it’s really too low for most riders, directing the air up around the head level. Expect an after-market screen to offer better protection.

On the highway, the fairing provides adequate protection from the wind, but when you drop from highway to street speeds, you’ll notice the hot air from the engine is directed over your legs. It wasn’t a problem in May, but in the heat of summer, it may be uncomfortably warm.

The adjustable suspension was fine. With the exception of the mammoth cruisers and highway tourers, I never worry overly much about suspension unless it’s noticeably mushy or hard. I found neither on the ST, nor did it ever bottom out or cause riding problems.

Triumph rebuilt the frame from the Daytona, using the lines, but reverting to a more traditional rectangular cross-section, rather than the tube structure they used on the other 955 machines. It looks serious, but stylish.

Exhaust note? Well, for a cruiser guy, the ST is too damn quiet. When riding, there were times when I couldn’t judge the need to shift by the engine sound. There’s a beautiful sub-woofer note underneath, but I’d opt for the add-on pipe that gives a heartier sound. Finish and looks are heart-stoppingly beautiful. The bike I borrowed was the ultimate definition of red, and came with hardshell bags large enough to store a full-face helmet. The fairing is clean, with twin headlights making a pleasant face. There’s a snap-on peg on the left to provide leverage if you want to add a centre stand.

“Ride me baby, ride me …”

The ST gets appreciative glances from the younger crowd, making me feel about 20 years younger when I rode it around the area. They probably wondered who the old fart on the hot bike was. Older cruiser riders glanced at it, turning back to look only when they realized the tank said Triumph. Then it got nods of approval.

I’ve always said the T-bird was the best bike I’ve ever ridden. Now I have to amend that. The Sprint ST takes that position. I never had so many smiles per mile on a modern motorcycle. This is simply an astounding motorcycle.

The saddest day of the year was when I returned it to J&R. But it left a lasting impression on me.

Specifications

Bike
Triumph Sprint ST

MSL
$13,899 ($14,899 with bags)

Displacement
955 cc

Engine type
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line triple

Carburetion
Electronic fuel injection

Final drive
Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front
120/70-ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55-ZR17

Brakes, front
2 x 320 mm floating discs, 2 x 4 piston calipers

Brakes, rear
1 x 255 mm disc, 1 x 2 piston caliper

Seat height
800 mm (31.5 in)

Wheelbase
1,470 mm

Dry weight
207Kg

Canadian colours
Tornado Red and Jet Black

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