THE FIGHT SO FAR
In Part 1 we took a look at the three ST-monikered bikes that we had managed to get our mitts on and then threw them into the ring to duke it out with motors, gearboxes and handling.
With such different motors (a horizontally opposed twin, inline triple and V-four) you’d think one would come out on top, but we found each motor well matched to the chassis and style of bike it was placed in. So Round 1 was a draw, but how about the gearboxes in Round 2?
Well, Honda had the slickest and came out top, with Triumph dropping some points for notchiness, and the BMW getting a cut above its eye for stiff action, clunky clutch and a very tall first gear. Ow.
Round 3 was all about handling and saw the BMW come out swinging. Starting off with a bit too much spring in its step, some quick damping adjustments soon saw the Beemer dance around the ring with confidence.
The Triumph managed to dodge the Boxer’s punches thanks to its sportbike-like agility and ability to flick from side to side, leaving the rather portly Honda to get it square in the face! Although able to carry the extra pounds well, the Honda couldn’t keep up with the younger and lighter Europeans and was the happiest of the three to hear the bell and make it out still on two wheels.
So, no bike is taking a decisive lead at this point, but there’s another four rounds still to go. Will the BMW keep swinging? Can the aging Honda use its experience to outlast the cocky Europeans or will the sporty Triumph rev it up and deliver the knockout blow? And more importantly, will ‘arris keep these boxing analogies going for the whole story?
Sadly, yes … he thinks it’s right clever.
ROUND 4 – BRAKING
BMW’s servo-assisted braking system has taken a while to evolve, but with the system fitted to the current ST it’s now pretty much perfect. It comes on very strong however, and lacks some of the subtle feel of regular braking systems – but the action is progressive and once you’re used to it, you can out-stop anything.
However, it’s also a complicated technical system and this is where the BMW takes a slight stumble. Turn the key and the braking system goes through a self-checking loop. The process starts with a rapidly flashing warning light, which means you have to wait until it goes to a slow flash before you’re good to fire her up.
Trouble is, if you forget to do this and just fire her up and hit the road, the system doesn’t engage the ABS. To add insult to injury, the rapidly flashing dash lights just sit there and say “Wanker, you've gone off half-cocked”. Very annoying!
Much like the Beemer (but without the servos to help) the Honda’s brakes come on quickly and with force, which takes a short while to get used to. But strong brakes are a must to bring this ST's mass down (especially with no real engine braking to help) and they do an excellent job.
The Triumph’s brakes are strong too, but before they start to work, there’s a sizeable amount of lever travel that you have to get past first. The answer is to keep the lever slightly on when you’re giving ‘er, but it’s enough to spoil an otherwise excellent set-up.
Despite the annoying self-checking procedure (which it seems even wankers like us can get used to), the BMW takes this round, with the Honda a very, very close second and the Triumph’s long-travelling lever third.
ROUND 5 – ABS
Before we get too far away from the braking round I should mention that all the bikes we had came with ABS. Is that enough for a round of its own? Yes, why not …
The Honda took the honours for this, with a seamless operation that made you wonder if the ABS was actually working or not (It was). The BMW and Triumph tied in second, with the BM dropping some points as it would occasionally let go between applications (speed and bumps!), whereas the Triumph would sometimes allow the tire to squeal before cutting in with the ABS (slightly unnerving).
ROUND 6 – WIND PROTECTION
The BMW comes with quite a small screen that's way better at keeping the wind and rain off than it should be. Only Mr. Lewis wasn’t enamoured by its shielding qualities, so rider height might be an issue. It is adjustable but only manually – although raising its height oddly seemed to make little difference to its protective qualities.
The Triumph comes with the smallest screen and is non-adjustable. As a result it offered the least weather protection … unless you’re Mr. Lewis, who seemed to love it. Ed reckoned that if they added a lip to the top of the screen all would be well. Mr. Seck and myself just opted for the other bikes when rain loomed.
So the Honda gets another round, with the BMW coming a surprisingly-close second and the Triumph an expected third.
ROUND 7 – ERGOS
This is possibly the most important round and so we saved it for last. A sports tourer has to be able to keep the rider comfortable, otherwise it’s just a sportbike.
The biggest unexpected turn of events is the BMW. The company that claims much of the touring spectrum came out the worst when it came to comfort. It would not just make you feel every ounce of weight on your wrists, but would then numb yer arse and splay out your legs to boot. Hmhh, sounds like just another day at US customs awaiting entry. Ouch.
To top it all, if you happened to spend any time in the motor’s vibey zone, then there was a good chance that your hands would go numb too. I either ended up sitting far forward – which would splay my legs, as my knees no longer fit into the tank cutaways, or pushing my arse way back, in which case I fit the tank but ended up putting a lot of weight on my wrists.
Raising the seat actually made matters worse, so I kept it low and accepted the cramping. Dropping and moving the pegs back would have helped, but they were sadly non-adjustable.
You’d think that a lot of this would be height-specific but the only one on the ride that didn’t seem to find the ergos a problem (in fact he positively loved them) was Mr. Seck, who is about the same height as me. Odd.
The Honda is the exact opposite and would put a big soft couch to shame. There’s lots of room, a comfy seat, high bars and a big screen to keep anything nasty away from you. It was the perfect option after an extended stint on the Beemer.
Some of the less lanky riders found that the seat sloped forward a bit, which meant that they inevitably ended up too close to the tank. However, those who came out as God intended (tall and with a fine English accent) did not find this an issue. The only real issue with the Honda’s ergos occurred if you were brave enough to try and get sporty, at which point, being sat back, arms up, on a wide saddle was not a very amenable position.
The Triumph, which due to its sporty tendencies was the bike that was expected to cause the most discomfort, was in fact almost perfect in its ability to offer comfort over the miles. The position is more standard than sports and so keeps most of your weight off your wrists.
On the downside, I found it a bit lacking in legroom and surprisingly, so did the others (as that’s usually just a lanky-related issue) – shame that the seat isn’t height-adjustable, as that would have made it perfect!
So who wins this round? Well, the Triumph got high praise with a slight concern on the leg cramping issue. On the longer hauls the Honda got the vote for sheer comfort, while the BMW’s ergos limited the amount of time that you’d want to spend in the saddle.
After some discussion the Triumph seemed to get the nod … well, that was until Mr. White put his vote for the BMW, which got most thinking again until we eventually got too drunk to think at all. Being the Grand Fromage, I’ll make an executive decision for the Triumph, with the Honda a smidgen off in second and the BMW third … or first, if you’re Mr. Seck.
IT’S OVER TO THE JUDGES
There’s been no knock-out blows, but Honda has taken the most rounds with three, BMW two, and the Triumph with just one (although technically they all took Round one). With that, let’s move it over to the four riders (Messers Seck, Lewis, White and myself) to give the final verdict.
The question is, with such diverse parts of the Sport Touring spectrum being covered by our three contenders, just how do you determine the criteria to select a winner?
What we came up with was the following question: if you had to pick one as a long-term tester for the year (as in: no costs, lots of time, lots of different conditions of use, etc) which one would you grab? The answer was surprising but unanimous – Triumph’s Sprint ST!
While all the bikes managed to work within all the conditions that we put them through, we thought the bike that won the most rounds – the Honda – was just too geared toward long-distance riding to be stuck with as a sole bike for a year. The BMW, which I thought was going to grab it, just didn’t quite fit everyone and suffered badly when it came to all-day comfort – something that is vital for a bike with touring pretensions.
And so the Triumph, though coming last in braking and wind protection, proved strong enough to come through on top. It may be the most sporty of the lot, but it still managed to keep one foot in the touring camp, thanks to its relaxed ergos. It was able to be ridden all day and yet get sporty when asked – isn’t that just what an ST should do?
Will someone please give it the unfeasibly large, medal-emblazoned, leather champion’s belt so that we can all bugger off home now?
CMG MODEL RATING
(Graded from 1 to 3, 1 being the best)