Road Test Review
Approach the new Triumph Sprint ST 955i, take it for a blast through the hills, and it will serve as a mirror for your attitude toward sport touring. If you love the Sprint ST, it will immediately define your understanding of the genre as sport touring. If you decide one of the more fully featured machines suit you better, your tastes may lean toward sport touring.
We are entering a golden age of this type of riding. After more than a dozen model years, Honda has introduced the ST1300, the successor to its very competent ST1100. Likewise, Yamaha has countered with its FJR1300, and suddenly the whole subject of sport touring is hot again.
How do you know if you’re ripe for the Sprint? If you wear out the sides of your tires before the centers; if you not only know how to lubricate and adjust a drive chain, but actually enjoy doing so; if you consider more than 550 pounds of wet weight as excessive; and if you still refer to full fairings as “barn doors,” you sound like Triumph Sprint ST material.
With the market moving toward ever larger, heavier machines with greater engine displacement and higher performance, Triumph has embraced the high-powered part, while giving a pass to the weight issue. The Sprint ST for 2002 utilizes the same heavily revamped, liquid-cooled, 955cc fuel-injected three-cylinder engine that also powers the Speed Triple and Sprint RS this year. The new engine features high-pressure, die-cast crankcases for lightness and strength, dual-overhead cams and a four-valve head. Compression has been bumped from 11.2 to 12.0:1 from last year’s Sprint ST, and the new cylinder head utilizes 1mm-larger intake valves and 1mm-smaller exhaust valves, set at a narrower included angle, to enhance flow. The cast pistons run in steel liners, and even crankcase breathing has been revised to minimize power loss.
Smaller, lighter fuel injectors are paired with a larger airbox, and light, efficient plug-top ignition coils feed the fires. An oxygen sensor now monitors and adjusts the fuel/air mixture, and injection mapping has been adjusted for increased midrange. The alternator has been moved to the left end of the crankshaft, and the starter motor to the right, thereby reducing noise and eliminating the separate alternator gear drive. A new balance pipe and exhaust headers hang on the front of the engine. In the interest of emissions, German and California models get a secondary air-injection system.
Most of these changes were designed to enhance midrange torque, add 10 horsepower and smooth the shifting. Despite all this, Triumph tells us the new engine is 5.5 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Our Sprint ST generated a very respectable 107.8 peak horsepower at the rear wheel at redline, 9,500 rpm, and 66 pounds-feet of torque at 7,600 rpm. That’s 6.3 horsepower and 1.3 pounds-feet of torque more than our 1999 test bike.
The twin-spar aluminum frame and single-sided swingarm are unchanged from the previous model. That’s a good thing, as the chassis is heck-for-strong and more than adequate for its duties. Power is still transferred by chain final drive.
Take a seat and you’ll find the Sprint ST fairly comfortable for such a sporty bike. You’re leaned slightly forward over a low shield, your feet held relatively high for cornering clearance on a seat 31.5 inches off the pavement.
The engine catches with that characteristic throaty Triumph triple growl and industrial-sounding whir, with a welling roar under acceleration. Snick its six-speed transmission into gear and notice the high effort required by the cable-actuated clutch lever, and the high effort to shift. The throttle likewise requires a good twist. Obviously the home office needs to pay some attention to making the controls more user friendly.
The Sprint ST is relatively high-geared; first gear won’t win you any slow races, and at the high end fifth and sixth gear ratios are spaced very closely together. At an indicated 65 mph the engine is turning 4,200 rpm in fourth gear, and 3,800 in fifth. We often short-shifted from fourth to sixth, which yielded 3,500 rpm at 65. The clutch effort becomes tiring by the end of the day, and its lever offers no adjustment wheel.
Every member of the Rider staff has put some serious miles on the Sprint ST, and I rode it from our Ventura offices to north of San Francisco, a distance of about 400 miles in each direction, and also took it on day rides. Those miles gave us the chance to savor the Sprint. Its sporty, compact riding position rotates the hips slightly forward, which was comfortable for perhaps 75 miles, after which I sought relief by stretching my feet back to the passenger pegs. Seating comfort overall, however, was quite good.
The low shield shunts the wind to mid-chest level, which was fine for my long ride. Triumph offers a taller shield for $169.95. Those stalk-mounted mirrors provide a very useful, calm view, and are easily adjustable.
The 43mm fork allows for spring preload adjustments, and was biased toward comfort. At sporting speeds, even with the adjusters turned fully in, I still wanted stiffer springs. It also exhibited what I felt was excessive dive under hard braking.
The single-shock rear suspension offers spring preload adjustment and stepless rebound damping settings. While it was adequate and well-controlled on our trip, the shock fell short of offering the kind of plushness now available on state-of-the-art sport tourers from Germany and Japan.
Our Sprint was shod with Bridgestone Battlax BT57 radial tires, a 120/70-ZR17 front and 180/55-ZR17 rear, which changed character as they wore. Initially, the bike did not want to turn in readily, despite the fact that its 25.3-degree rake and 3.7 inches of trail hinted at relatively quick steering. Initiating turns required an inordinate amount of effort, then at extreme lean angles the bike wanted to fall into the turn. A friend following me on our favorite mountain road remarked, “You don’t seem happy on that bike.”
After a long, straight shot to San Francisco, and more curving roads heading back, the tires wore in and completely changed character. Now they were rolling into turns easily and predictably. In my experience Bridgestone offers some excellent rubber, but if the Triumph were my personal ride my next set of tires would be some other Bridgestone model, or another brand of sport-touring tire.
The new engine loves to rev, yet delivers power over a wide rpm range. It can be throttled down to a mere 2,500 rpm in sixth gear without protest, then when you twist the gas it gathers itself up with a rush past 4,000 rpm as it screams to its 9,500-rpm redline. High gearing allows it to turn just an indicated 3,200 rpm at 60 mph, and this willing accomplice may even have you burning along unintentionally at 80-90 mph if you’re inattentive. The fuel injection was spot-on for all of our 1,000-plus miles and is a major factor in the bike’s very tractable power.
Even with its four-position adjusting wheel set farthest from the grip, the front brake lever remained closer in than my stubby fingers wished. A greater range of adjustability would be welcome. The dual four-piston-caliper front brakes are powerful and very controllable, with good feel and modulation-don’t be intimidated by fork dive. The twin-piston rear single disc likewise offers good power and modulation.
The hard saddlebags measure 18 inches long, 11.75 inches high, and the lids and bodies total about 16 inches deep at their widest points. They will accept a full-face helmet. Two pairs of internal straps per bag help separate your gear, and a pair of locking flip latches draw the bags closed over bulky loads. The bags can be easily unlocked from the brackets and removed. Reinstallation involves sliding the bracket on the back of each bag onto a receptacle on the bike. The bags (which require a separate key from the ignition) are then slid forward and easily locked to the bike with another flip latch.
The saddlebags hold a decent amount and look good, but even a quick wash lets in an unacceptable amount of wetness. The bag label directs that no more than 13 pounds be loaded in each. Triumph’s clever exhaust system can be left in either the angled upward position without bags, or pivoted downward (as shown) to clear the optional saddlebags ($1,029 plus installation). Additional luggage options include a color-matched top box (add $470), and the extremely roomy, expandable Triumph tankbag shown ($155). It held a great deal and attached securely, but one of its minor zippers failed during our test.
If the hard luggage is too rich for your blood, Triumph also offers throw-over soft luggage. Other accessories for the Sprint include an alarm, heated grips, a color-coordinated rear-seat cowling and more.
The Sprint ST has a welcome centerstand, but the lift handle (which pivots out from the bodywork) is low and requires a dead lift. It’s hard on the back, especially with the bags loaded, and not approved by the American Chiropractic Association. The Sprint also lacks helmet holders; you’ll have to lock them in the bags, take them along or risk leaving them behind.
The Triumph ST is available in the Sapphire Blue shown, or choose between British Racing Green and Tornado Red. If the look of the full-bodied Sprint ST is not to your liking, you may wish to consider its sibling, the Sprint RS. This even sportier companion model has a conventional two-sided swingarm, a shorter wheelbase, a lower handlebar, less fairing coverage and is not designed to accept hard luggage.
We like the Triumph Sprint a lot. It generates a good deal of power, is relatively light, comfortable, sporty, and quality hard bags are available. Unfortunately, once you crunch the numbers and add the hard saddlebags to the $10,899 base price, you’ll find that at $11,928 it exceeds the price of the hot, new Yamaha FJR1300 ($11,499), and is only about a grand less than the new Honda ST1300 ($12,999, or $14,499 with ABS), both of which come with standard saddlebags.
If that is your sticking point I have three things to tell you: Triumph wet weight, 548 pounds; Yamaha FJR1300, 635 pounds; Honda ST1300 ABS, 716. While these two excellent, larger-displacement new bikes will definitely take a bite out of the Sprint ST’s potential market, it certainly has a place in your garage if your mirror reflects a rider who puts the emphasis on sport touring, lightness and performance.