2011 Triumph Sprint GT

Road Test Review

photography by Graeme Brown and Tim Keeton

The Highlands of Scotland, land of woolen plaid kilts, smoky single-malt whisky and William Wallace—the painted-face warrior played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart—are crisscrossed by rolling two-lane roads. Cut and lined with stone walls long before they were paved, they are narrow and follow the natural contours of hulking mountains, coastal lochs and valleys full of peat bogs and snowmelt creeks. It’s a verdant playground ideal for frolicking aboard Triumph’s new Sprint GT.

Since introducing the Sprint 900 in 1993, Triumph has sold nearly 48,000 Sprints worldwide. After evolving into the Sprint ST 955i in 1998, Triumph’s sport tourer debuted the company’s workhorse 1,050cc triple in 2005, a torquey engine that also powers the Speed Triple and Tiger. For 2011 Triumph transformed the Sprint into a grand-tourer, ratcheting up practicality without sacrificing sportiness. To demonstrate the capabilities of the Sprint GT, Triumph invited Rider to spend four days riding 900 miles through northern Scotland and down to the company’s factory in Hinckley, England.

Visual differences between the Sprint ST and GT are not striking, but changes on the new model are plentiful. Triumph placed more importance on broadening function than superficial tweaking. The front fairing is nominally sleeker in shape, and its trademark triple headlights are now of the reflector rather than projector type for a wider, brighter beam of light. The mirrors still double as front turn signals, but a new internal mounting system keeps their view clear at speed. From cruising to super-ton speeds there was good wind protection with no buffeting, and the mirrors—aided and abetted by a smooth-running engine—stayed true.

Though the liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC, in-line 1,050cc triple is unchanged, a new, freer-flowing stainless-steel 3-into-1 exhaust and revised engine management system raise power and torque across the board. Peak power is said to be up 5 horses to 128 crank horsepower at 9,200 rpm (300 rpm below redline), and torque is up 4 lb-ft to 80 with a 1,200-rpm-lower peak for better midrange. Whereas the 1050 triple feels raw and visceral on the Speed Triple and Tiger, it feels refined on the Sprint GT. Its exhaust note is more muted, the greater mass of the bike and more enclosed fairing providing sheep’s clothing to the wolf within.

That’s not to say the Sprint GT is not exciting; bombing down country lanes, real woolly sheep in adjacent pastures scattered in fear. Passing cars and caravans on short straights required just a quick flick of the wrist. Yet the engine turns a mere 3,200 rpm at 60 mph in the 7 percent taller top cog, and it never felt like it was working too hard. Revised fuel injection provided spot-on throttle response and good gas mileage. According to the onboard computer, it averaged between 45-50 mpg. With the same 5.3-gallon fuel capacity as before, that’s an honest 230-250 miles between fill-ups. And the transmission shifted smoothly and positively; no complaints.

The exhaust silencer was moved from under the seat to the right side to move mass lower and to reduce heat felt by the rider and passenger. Can’t say I’m a big fan of the large triangular can, which completely obscures the five-spoke wheel affixed to the single-sided swingarm. Oh well, the saddlebags cover most of the wheel anyway. Still, I’m always disappointed when such engineering elegance is hidden. Engine heat remains a potential issue; it was ever-present on the right side and sometimes warmed both thighs in slow, traffic-clogged conditions.

Wrapped around the engine is the same twin-spar aluminum frame found on the Sprint ST. A beefier rear subframe and longer single-sided aluminum swingarm make the GT a longer, stronger, heavier machine. Wheelbase is up 3.2 inches (to 60.5 inches), weight is up 24.3 pounds (to a claimed 590 pounds fully gassed), even though the bike retains chain final drive. To offset such a large gain in wheelbase, steering geometry was tightened up, with rake reduced from 24.4 to 23.5 degrees and trail shortened from 3.5 to 3.3 inches. Handling was light, predictable and stable.

The Sprint’s Showa suspension was also upgraded. The 43mm fork, which still has dual rate springs, 5.0 inches of travel and preload adjustability, now has more compression damping to reduce dive under braking. Bringing up the rear is a shock with 6.0 inches of travel (up 1.3 inches) and a new remote preload adjuster knob; it is also adjustable for rebound damping as before. With rear preload cranked up to accommodate my haggis-laden body and gear-laden saddlebags, the suspension handled quick acceleration, braking and directional changes and irregular road surfaces well, though it lacks the refined suppleness of some other GT-type tourers.

Continuing the Sprint GT’s theme of practicality, anti-lock brakes are now standard rather than optional. The ABS system has been updated, rotors (twin 320mm floaters in front, single 255mm rear) have been lightened and new brake pads have been fitted for better feel and 10 percent more stopping power. The dual front four-piston calipers and single two-piston sliding caliper are by Nissin. Unfortunately, the adjustable front brake lever was too far from the bar on the closest setting, hindering modulation. Nonetheless the brakes were stout and withstood plenty of abuse, and the ABS works great, though it does kick back annoyingly at the lever and pedal when engaged.

Though visually the same, the cast-aluminum rear wheel is 2.2 pounds lighter, compensating somewhat for the heavier swingarm. The Sprint GT wears Bridgestone BT021 dual-compound tires—120/70 front, 180/55 rear (the BT023s on page 54 weren’t available during development of the GT; they’ll probably show up as original equipment down the road).

We traveled many wet and roughly paved roads, and the BT021s held onto the tarmac tightly. Cornering clearance on the Sprint GT is more than adequate. Only rarely did the centerstand—redesigned for easier operation—scrape when hard charging.

The riding position is un­changed and mildly sporty, with some weight on the bars and ample legroom. Having long arms allowed me to sit more upright at times, and I had plenty of room to move around. On the revised instrument panel there is an analog speedometer on the left (with numbers too small to read at a glance), an analog tachometer in the middle and a digital display on the right, which is backlit blue in dark conditions. The LCD readout shows fuel level, engine temperature, odometer/tripmeter and one of several functions: fuel consumption, range-to-empty, journey time, average speed and clock functions. The rider must reach a good ways to the small buttons on the instrument panel to scroll through functions—a button on the left switchgear would be better —and ambient temperature is conspicuously absent.

As a grand-tourer, the new Sprint GT has greatly improved passenger and storage amenities, yet remains nearly 100 pounds lighter than other sport tourers with shaft final drive and electric windscreens. Moving the exhaust to the right side freed up space for underseat storage, which will hold Triumph’s accessory U-lock or other essentials. The stepped saddle, which was all-day comfortable several days in a row, allows the passenger to sit lower than on the ST. The passenger footpegs are also lower, though with the balls of my size-11 feet on the pegs I occasionally banged my heels into the hangers. Behind the passenger is a standard luggage rack with grab handles. Instead of the 22-liter saddlebags that were optional on the Sprint ST, the GT gets as standard all-new 31-liter panniers that each hold an XXL full-face helmet. Keyed to the ignition, they were easy to lock, unlock and remove and the interior space is roughly cubical for ease of packing. The waterproof saddlebags will carry a total of 33 pounds between them.

Triumph also employs a unique horizontal pillar that puts the bags in contact with each other and allows them to move somewhat relative to the bike. It’s intended to reduce influence on the chassis of shifting load weight. Though I didn’t feel the difference in practice, I appreciate that Triumph thought things through enough to design this safety feature. Without a mounting rack or rails, the GT looks good when its saddlebags are left at home.

Though it won’t be available until January 2011, a 55-liter accessory top box will hold two full-face helmets and increase total storage capacity to 117 liters (an extra key barrel provided with every bike allows the ignition key to open all locking luggage). In addition to providing a secure backrest for the passenger (optional comfort pad will be available), the top box has built-in electrical contact points (no wiring necessary) to power a 12-volt socket for charging mobile phones or other gadgets. For real practicality, having a power socket on the bike to run heated gear would be a nice touch. Color options will be Aluminum Silver and Pacific Blue; accessories will include heated grips (we had these, and they worked great), a taller windscreen, a gel comfort seat, a low seat, luggage liners, a 30-liter magnetic tankbag, a tailbag and a few cosmetic items.

In a land where intersections and police are rare, where traffic lights are used only to control traffic over one-lane stone bridges that predate internal combustion, the 2011 Triumph Sprint GT was a crown jewel. With less weight and a lighter feel than some other large sport tourers, the GT was the bee’s knees for fast-paced riding in technical conditions. It was also comfortably composed when droning on motorways, negotiating lorry-filled traffic and twisting and turning at a walking pace through quaint villages. Hinckley Triumph celebrates its 20th anniversary in September, around the time Sprint GTs will show up in U.S. dealers. This well-refined machine is a shining example of how far the company has come in such a short time. Way to go, mates!