2005 Triumph Sprint ST | Review

Triple Play

Triumph came of age in 1998 when the British manufacturer—which John Bloor had brought back from the dead in 1990—launched the sports touring Sprint ST. This first model of Triumph’s post-modular era featured dedicated chassis and engine design rather than the mix-and-match formula Bloor had previously employed while getting his historic marque up and running.

Competing head-on with the best from Japan and Germany, the Sprint ST was a true all-purpose roadrunner: a sportbike that ate miles, a tourer that carved corners, a real-world superbike that quickly became Triumph’s bestseller. Though remaining a contender even seven years after its conception—especially following its power-up makeover in 2002—the Sprint ST had fallen behind its sports touring competition.

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Rather than revamp the existing model, Triumph chose to produce an all-new 3-cylinder sports tourer aimed at regaining its supremacy in its market. While piloting the new Sprint ST along the superb, traffic-free roads of South Africa’s Cape Province, it becomes clear that Bloor’s boys have once again met the coveted goal of producing the best all-around sportbike. Triumph’s engineers worked in conjunction with stylists at Renfrew Design to retain the Sprint’s family resemblance, but with the addition of a highly distinctive triple-headlamp that gets the new model noticed—and provides much-improved illumination. The R&D team also carried over several critical elements which had made the old bike so enjoyable for long, fast, hard-riding days. Key among those was the riding position. The Sprint ST’s 805mm-high seat retains its predecessor’s best-of-both-worlds approach, providing fatigue-free comfort during an eight-hour day of high-speed touring while allowing your knee down as you hustle hairpins through rugged mountain passes. Just enough body weight on your arms facilitates a sporting stance without becoming tiring, and the footrests are parked sufficiently rearwards and high enough up to provide adequate space for a passenger. The fairly widespread handlebars, fitted with adjustable levers for both brake and clutch, give a straight-backed stance. And, despite the under-seat triple-exit exhaust silencer, there is plenty of room on the new Triumph for a passenger and luggage.

The Sprint ST has outstanding suspension compliance, and although its Showa forks are essentially non-adjustable—only the preload of the dual-rate springs can be altered—this apparent cost-saving measure doesn’t have a negative spin-off. Triumph testers and Showa technicians have done a fine job dialing in the suspension at both ends. Ride quality is superb—improbably so, over broken road surfaces—and the way the forks eat up serious road rash easily sets a class benchmark. Even the worst of bumps doesn’t upset the slightly-heavy-but-stable steering. Triumph has also dialed in the right weight distribution to minimize weight transfer with the rider in place, and the Sprint ST stops from high speeds without ever moving around or backing into turns.

The Bridgestone BT20NN rubber, specially developed for the Sprint ST with a slightly softer compound than normal, gives such good grip that I was quite prepared to feel the center stand touch down under exaggerated lean angles, but . . . nothing. Yet, at the other end of the practicality scale, the steering lock is extremely tight, allowing U-turns in less than the width of a two-lane blacktop.

You can hold hard on into fourth or fifth gear through a series of sweepers, in complete confidence that the Triumph will shrug whatever surprises the road surface may hold for you. But if you have to use the outstanding stopping power of the Nissin brake package to anchor up hard, even the non-ABS-equipped version of the new model will do so with the minimum of fuss. A somewhat stronger rear brake than that on the old Sprint ST helps in situations where you don’t want to encourage too much fork dive, thus changing steering geometry at inconvenient moments.

The engine is the star of this capable bike, better than its predecessor in almost every way. It feels much stronger, surprising, given the new motor’s similar horsepower and torque ratings. The all-new, cubed-up 1050cc 3-cylinder motor manages a mere 3 hp over the older 955cc model, and torque has been improved by just 4 percent. The Sprint ST pulls cleanly from just past its 1,300 rpm idle speed. Gas it wide open from as low as 2,000 rpm in top gear, and feel it pull through to the 10,500 rpm rev-limiter without any hiccups or trace of transmission snatch. But use the clean-shifting, 6-speed gearbox to make some motion with the same ideal ratios carried over from the old bike, and you will discover the Sprint ST has a serious appetite for revs. The torque curve peaks as low as 5,000 rpm, then flatlines all the way to the 9,250 rpm max power mark. Change action is faultless, and the clutch lever is not so stiff that it ever becomes tiring, even in traffic.

South Africa’s Cape Province was the backdrop for our ride aboard the new sport tourer from Triumph. (Click image to enlarge)

This is a gentleman’s express of the highest order, which makes tackling sweeping turns or driving out of mountain hairpins in a speedy manner a real pleasure—especially to the unmistakable accompaniment of the 3-cylinder engine’s distinctive exhaust note. The bike not only works well all-around from a riding standpoint, but its engine does likewise in the way it delivers such torquey, high-revving performance. Consider that the Sprint ST’s top speed is quite fast enough to keep up with traffic on the autobahn, without sacrificing superb rideability and effortless performance at slower speeds.

The new bike’s standard instruments are already a huge improvement over the old Sprint ST’s frankly inadequate array, which had a dangerously inaccurate fuel gauge and did not even include a second trip counter. The triple lineup of dials includes analog tachometer and speedometer readouts—the latter, rather cluttered with smallish mile and even smaller kilometer figures—plus a circular, hyper-accurate digital instrument that displays engine temp and fuel level, and a trip computer accessible from a scroll-through button on the dash, which shows a clock, tank range, average and instant fuel economy, odometer with twin trips, journey time, average speed, and maximum speed.

One worthwhile add-on, the user-friendly GPS, relays useful information, and assists in flexible route-planning.

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The lack of protection from the low-cut windscreen above 80 mph for taller riders is a serious handicap. The resultant windblast is irritating enough to discourage the ton-up speeds at which the Sprint ST begs to be ridden. The large mirrors give a good rear view, but vibrate irritatingly at similar speeds; this should have been fixed in preproduction.

The Sprint ST has little storage, with the exhaust occupying the space beneath the seat. At least there is a lockable compartment beneath the right handlebar that fits a mobile phone or a sunglasses case, though accessing it requires stopping the engine to stick the ignition key in the lock, which is a bit fiddly. As with the old bike, the new 21-liter fuel tank is still made from plastic, so you cannot clip a magnetic tankbag to it. I do think Triumph should have found space to fit a remote preload adjuster for the rear shock, as manufacturers of the Teutonic persuasion—KTM and BMW, for instance—are now doing.

Being able to alter this crucial setting to reflect whether you are carrying a passenger, or have just added or

removed hard luggage, should be an available function on a bike like this. Yet these niggles do not detract unduly from the overall excellence that the Sprint ST represents. Near-faultless handling for this kind of motorcycle — many supersport contenders are less capable — has not been obtained at the expense of comfort and practicality. And the new longstroke 3-cylinder engine feels stronger and torquier than before, as well as more refined and tractable. It’s hard to think of a better, faster way to get from point A to point B on two wheels. I reckon someone in Triumph must have made a typo on the name tag: this is the Sprint GT, not the Sprint ST.

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