Motoring: Triumph on top of the world

The new Sprint ST is in a class of its own
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Indy Lifestyle Online
TRIUMPH'S NEW Sprint ST sports-tourer represents another big step forward for the revitalised British bike firm.

Two years ago, the stylish and powerful T595 Daytona sportster confirmed Triumph's ability to compete with the world's best superbikes, although it did not quite have the sheer performance of cutting-edge machines such as Honda's CBR900RR FireBlade.

Now Triumph has taken on Honda head-to-head . When the Leicestershire firm's engineers began developing a new sports-tourer almost three years ago, their target was the Japanese giant's class leader - the VFR750F.

That bike has since been superseded by the VFR800FI and joined in the market by Ducati's ST2 and ST4. On the evidence of the Sprint ST's launch in Spain, the new British challenger is a match for them all.

The Sprint has much in common with the Daytona, notably its 955cc liquid- cooled three-cylinder engine. Revised camshafts and a new exhaust system combine with a redesigned fuel-injection system to give increased low- and mid-range performance while reducing peak power output from 128 to 110bhp.

This bike is the first Triumph to use a twin-beam aluminium frame, long favoured by the Japanese and chosen here because it is cheaper to produce and more rigid than the Daytona's tubular aluminium structure.

Styling is less aggressive than the Daytona's, but the Sprint still manages to look sporty, with a sleek twin-headlamp fairing and single-colour bodywork in red or black. Its riding position is designed for comfort as well as speed, with slightly raised handlebars, a broad seat and plenty of legroom.

Built for comfort it may be, but the Triumph provides plenty of excitement. Its 12-valve motor is magnificent. When you wind open the throttle from as low as 50mph in top gear the Sprint responds with more enthusiasm than its rivals, and keeps accelerating with thrilling force to a top speed of over 150mph. Improvements to the French-made Sagem fuel-injection system - including cutting fuel delivery completely when the throttle is closed - have made the motor considerably more economical, too, giving a range of 200 miles under normal use.

When ridden hard the Sprint can't quite match the handling precision of more firmly suspended sports bikes. But at 207kg the Triumph is light for a sports-tourer, and its Japanese-made Showa suspension is excellent. On the winding roads north-west of Seville in southern Spain the bike was great fun, combining easy steering, stability, powerful brakes and sticky radial tyres.

On longer trips I'd prefer more wind protection. But, to my minor complaint concerning the finish of mirror mounts and fairing edges, Triumph had the perfect answer: both were already being put right in time for production.

That single-minded approach has resulted in a superb all-rounder competitively priced at pounds 7,999 - slightly more than Honda's VFR800FI but cheaper than Ducati's ST4. It's an indication of Triumph's progress that, if forced to pick a winner, this former VFR owner would have to choose the Sprint ST.