Road Test: Triumph Sprint ST

Triumph have gone straight for Honda's sport touring jugular. Watch out VFR, here comes the new Sprint ST. Jon Urry flies to South Africa to ride it.

By Jon Urry on Thu, 24 Apr 2008 - 09:04

Visordown Motorcycle News

There are just over 400 people in the UK waiting very excitedly for a specific day to happen. This day may vary from one person to another, but each one will almost certainly have his, or her, specific day pencilled into their diary. It will probably be highlighted in red, but one thing it will certainly say on that page of the diary is 'pick up new Triumph Sprint ST'. That's how many of the new Sprints Triumph has already sold - and before anyone has even ridden the bike.

On the face of it 400 bikes may not sound that impressive, but put it in context. This is half of Triumph's UK allocation of Sprint STs already sold and it's going to take until April for any spare ones to appear in dealers. If you want one you will have to prepare yourself for a wait.

And you really do want one of these bikes because it's very, very good. Sorry to break this news to the non-deposit holders. Those who have already placed an order, prepare to be very smug indeed.

Why is it so good? Well, let's get a bit of history out of the way first. The current Sprint ST is a very underrated bike due to its one major disadvantage. It looks crap. I'm sorry, but it looks like a six-year-old CBR. Get over this and you'll discover a very good motorcycle hiding behind the jelly-mould exterior. The chassis is excellent, the motor very smooth and it's extremely comfortable. I think the correct term is 'BOBFOC', which stands for Body Off Baywatch, Face Off Crimewatch.

Put it against the competition and it's almost there, but just a few little niggles let it down. And in a class led by the legendary Honda VFR800, a few niggles is all it takes to drop down the order.

But Triumph has given the Sprint a work-over. The look is new, chassis updated for a more sporty performance and the engine, while retaining the triple format, has been completely re-worked. It gets a smoother gearbox and a 150cc hike to 1050cc, and that equates to a claimed power increase of 3bhp to 123bhp, with torque up to

But it isn't the engine that has caused this rush of pre-orders, it's the new look. According to Triumph the theme of the new Sprint is 'three'. A triple engine, three headlights, three clocks and three exhaust outlets, but thankfully only two wheels.

And it looks good. Really good. Triumph's had a bit of a design shake-up in recent years and keeps on getting stronger and stronger. Think Daytona 600, Rocket III, Speed Triple and Sprint ST, all really good-looking bikes from the Hinckley stable. The Sprint even has one of those funky underseat pipes that are all the rage nowadays. Which is a blessing and a curse.

The problem with underseat pipes is that you can't fit anything under the seat. Now, it's not often you get the chance to ride a bike in South Africa so I brought my camera with me to take some snaps. Not a problem, I thought, as the new Sprint has a little cubby hole in the right hand fairing panel to storestuff in. Unfortunately, on opening the lockable compartment I discovered the tool kit was taking up most of the space, and the remaining space was only just big enough to fit a camera and a mobile phone at a squeeze. Jettison the tool kit and you can fit a camera, wallet and mobile phone and packet of fags, but any loose change will fall to the bottom, which makes it hard to get at. Nice idea, just not very well thought out.

It's a silly little thing and to be truthful this, and the fact that the mirrors vibrate in the wind flow meaning you only get an idea of what's behind you rather than an actual image, were the only real complaints I could come up with about the Sprint ST. And that after two days of riding. As a package the bike really is that good.

Fire it up and the Sprint has a nice rough sound about it. It's much more pleasant than the sewing machine sound that so often accompanies Japanese bikes, and what makes it even better is the snarl and pop on over-run that Triumph has left in. It's not a back-fire, more of a burble when the throttle is closed and is something that the Japanese would never consider leaving in.

Like the old ST, the new one is extremely comfortable to ride - essential for a mile-munching sports tourer. The seat is padded to perfection and the peg/bar relationship seems ideal for all-day touring. The screen is perhaps a tad low, but this is normal for sports tourers and a higher screen is available as an extra, but overall it's just about perfect - at least it was for my six-foot two-inch frame - and easily comfortable enough to see off the 200-mile tank range.

During its development Triumph enlisted the help of around 100 German sports tourer riders asking what they felt was important in a touring machine. Apart from enough luggage space to carry their lederhosen, a quick-release beach towel holder and nothing resembling humour, this focus group highlighted the need for a decent instrument display. Triumph took that on board and the ST now comes with the clearest and most comprehensive instrument display of any bike I can think of. On the far right the display you get a clock, two trips, a fuel gauge, temperature gauge, miles left in tank, average mpg, top speed and current mpg all clearly displayed on a big LCD display. Excellent.

So ithe new Triumph looks good and has some great features built in (which include a centre stand, pillion grab rail as standard and adjustable span brake and clutch levers), but this doesn't really mean much unless it goes well too.

Which it does. Triumph has an uncanny knack of getting road suspension virtually spot on, and the Sprint ST, in my opinion, is the best yet. It's sprung softly enough to make the ride pleasant and absorb bumps while still retaining enough stiffness to complement the sporty chassis.

We tested the Sprint ST along some roads with fast 100mph-plus corners as well as tighter knee-down second and third gear bends on smooth and bumpy surfaces and it was excellent on everything. Despite the comfortable riding position ground clearance isn't an issue and it has a very neutral and balanced feel while still being definitely sportier than the old model. Riders aren't going to jump on it and think 'wow this is much better than a supersport bike', but it turns quickly and holds its poise well - I would say as well as the VFR800, which is definitely a sportier package than the old ST.

And it's got the legs on the VFR when it comes to power. The new triple engine may only have a small power increase, and in truth doesn't feel that different to the old model, but it is a very nice engine to use. Top gear will pull smoothly from 40mph on a slight incline all the way up to the claimed 161mph top end, something I tested. Although to be truthful I only managed a paltry 160mph on the accurate GPS, despite the Triumph's clock showing an optimistic 170mph! And the improvements to the gearbox were also very noticeable; gone is the old ST's clunk, replaced by a smoother gear change.

Considering the high percentage of Triumph riders who have strong brand loyalty, the big question for owners of the Sprint ST is 'is it worth updating my old bike for?' And the simple answer is 'yes'. The new Sprint ST is simply a better machine than the old model. The engine isn't hugely different but the gearbox is much better as are the handling and features. Is it worth buying if you have never had a Triumph before? Again, yes. The Sprint ST is a great compromise of a sportsbike and a tourer that looks good, handles well and has bags of character. It also costs less than the competition at £7799 OTR.

If you are not convinced then try one for yourself. Every Triumph dealer will have a Sprint ST as a demo bike, so give it a shot. For the first few months the Sprint ST will only come with conventional brakes, but in a few months an ABS version will be added to the range, something that dedicated tourers often ask for. It should cost in the region of £8500 and will come in an extra colour, red, as well as the standard silver and blue.

It may sound like I'm on Triumph's payroll as I've been so positive, but I really did struggle to criticise it. Yes, the mirrors vibrate and the cubby-hole is poorly thought out, but that's about all I could fault, which is almost enough to annoy me in itself. Give one a try yourself and let me know if you can come up with anything I've missed.


Massive improvement in both style and performance over outgoing model. A genuine contender for the VFR's crown




PRICE NEW - £7799


POWER - 123bhp@9250rpm

TORQUE - 77lb.ft@5000rpm

WEIGHT - 210kg



TOP SPEED - 161mph

0-60 - n/a


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