Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Triumph Sprint ST 1050

“It’s basically a Sportbike with bags.” 

At some point during our trip every test rider uttered this sentence, or some variation of it, about the Triumph Sprint ST. And it’s a fair summation, for both good and ill. 

The brilliant star of the Sprint ST is the 1050cc three-cylinder engine. The British marquee has placed its future success, wisely in our estimation, on the novelty of its Inline-Triple and Parallel-Twin platforms. And we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Triumph is onto something with its Triple. Anything but a compromise, its pleasing blend of a torquey Twin and high-revving Four showcases the strengths of both designs. And while the Beemer and Kawi motor proved the big brutes in our ST testing cadre, the Triumph’s scrappy Triple belts out a robust powerband too. 

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 2009 Sport-Touring Shootout
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Fueling lacks the refined feel of some of its competitors, but the throttle delivers a playful pop and gleefully quick acceleration. Mate the real-world road performance with the grin-inducing intangibles of an exquisite rumbling backbeat from the exhaust note and, mwahh (we just made that French kissy face gesture). We like! 

“This motor was smooth and the exhaust note the best. With a nice aftermarket pipe the sound would have been awesome,” deems Tom. “I just love the sound of the Triple.” 

Having previously ridden a Sprint kitted with an accessory Arrow exhaust, we can vouch for Tom’s assumption. An aftermarket pipe could also help close the power gap on the dyno, with our test unit running 118 hp and 72.1 lb-ft power peaks at the rear wheel. Sure, the Sprint’s 1050cc are outclassed by double digits on the dyno by the Fours’ 200-plus extra cc. However, even in stock trim, nothing matches the English mill’s pure personality and character. 

2009 Triumph Sprint ST
The Triumph Sprint ST's sportbike characteristics lend itself to quick cornering and one of the sportiest dispositions.

As the sole chain-driven bike in the test, the Sprint ST’s transfer of power to the rear wheel is one of the smoothest of the lot, too. The well-sorted six-speed gearbox also works fine, though shuffling through gears isn’t as slick as the Japanese units. We’ll also gripe about the absence of a gear position indicator – one of those hairs we split on comparisons like this. 

The Triumph’s 578-lb curb weight mitigates, in part, the Triple’s displacement disadvantage as it pushes a full 86 fewer lbs than its closest competitor. The lighter weight manifests most dramatically during low speed maneuvers. Trust us, there’s a comedic difference between duckwalking it and the 689-lb Concours in a parking lot. 

Twist the wrist and the Sprint’s heavy sportbike leanings manifest, literally, as one of the quickest and most aggressive corner carvers. No heavy input on the bars required, as the Triumph tips in without a second thought and changes directions lickety split. Credit the most assertive steering geometry, with a 2-degree steeper rake (24 degrees) and 2.6-inch shorter wheelbase (57.4 inches). 

 2009 Sport-Touring steering geometry

The 43mm Showa fork and rear shock felt stiffer than all but the Concours, but the stock settings can be pushed hard and will suffice the majority of riders (including our testing crew). Some advanced riders will want more adjustment range, however, with the 43mm fork only offering changes to preload and the shock preload and rebound adjustment. 

The Triumph’s brakes haul things down in fine enough fashion, but they rated at the bottom amongst its high-performance company. The 4-piston Nissin calipers up front transmit a more wooden feel to the lever when biting on the dual 320mm rotors, with more pronounced front end dive too. The optional $800 ABS system didn’t generate any

2009 Triumph Sprint ST
Viewed side by side, the Sprint's smaller screen and reduced rider protection in obvious.
particular notice, a good thing in ABS terms, lacking much pulsation at the lever and pedal. 

The Sprint’s sportbike shortcomings build as the miles pile on. The sporty, forward pitch of the riding position aids in handling but places pressure on the wrists and lower back. Riders can still bear long-distance rides, particularly thanks to the cushy seat, but there’s no question the Sprint exhausts riders faster than its rivals. 

The fixed windscreen delivers less than optimal wind protection. An optional larger screen, which we’ve tested in the past, improves things, but an electronically adjustable screen is de rigueur for a sport-tourer. Same goes for hard saddlebags, which surprisingly didn’t come standard on the Sprint until 2008 (a concurrent touring-friendly upgrade being the switch to a metal tank to serve magnetic tank bags). The hard luggage on the Sprint works well enough, once you get its less-than-intuitive opening 

2009 Triumph Sprint ST 2009 Triumph Sprint ST
While it's sportier ergos hinder touring comfort, the Triumph's uncompromising character will fit perfectly with some riders.
and release mechanisms. Storage felt the least spacious of the lot, though it can hold a full-face helmet like the rest. The appearance of the bags are also less integrated into the styling. 

Speaking of which Sprint may have rated lowest in Appearance on our scorecard, but is by no means an ugly bike - the single-sided rear and integrated turn signals recieve uniform praise from test riders. The tall mirror stalks also provide one of the better rear views.

One rider liked the minimal sportbike-like instrumentation, but most found it hard to read and too Spartan. Fit and finish in general yielded the lowest marks with the Triumph, more a complement to the other bikes than a dig on the Trumpet. One quirk in our test unit contributed to the low score, with a sensitive fuel light tripping on and off, and a fuel gauge that on two occasions read empty when there was plenty of fuel on tap. We recall a similar fuel light glitch on the Speed Triple in our 2008 Streetfighter Shootout. 

On a more positive note, the Triumph registered the best fuel efficiency at 45 mpg. Teamed with its 5.2-gallon tank, the Sprint gets a respectable 234-mile range. Not bad for a “sportbike with bags.” 

The Sprint also slaughters its rivals in a price war. At $11,999 in base trim, with $12,799 for ABS, the MSRP beats its closest competitor, the Kawasaki, by a full $1500. With that extra scratch you could score some optional heated grips and maybe a good chunk of an aftermarket pipe. 

Adding things up, the Sprint may finish fourth, but it sits only three measly points adrift of second-place overall. The Triumph took its biggest hit in the touring categories on the scoresheet. Tweak the Sprint’s riding position, add an adjustable screen, a hair more protection from the fairing, maybe rethink the instrument console… Those slim points separating it from fourth to second-place overall look quite manageable. 
In spite of its touring hindrances, the Sprint’s lively Triple and reasonable MSRP make it an attractive sport-touring option. If shorter tours on more aggressive roads are your metier, the Triumph may be the perfect match. 

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