Motorcycle press launches happen where speed limits don't seem to apply. Journalists ride on uncongested roads. Performance, handling and design get thoroughly scrutinised, but the schedule is different from real motorcycling. The weather's usually fine, you have no luggage to carry, nobody has a pillion passenger, and the bikes are serviced daily by company mechanics.
When I rode Triumph's 1,050cc Sprint ST at its launch in South Africa last year, it impressed me. But, to really work, a sports tourer must still be impressive after thousands of miles, two-up, on grotty roads.
It must combine performance with comfort and load-carrying ability. Tyres and suspension must handle motorway hauls and still stay dependable on rural switchbacks. ABS must keep working when drenched in rain and hammered by grit.
So, I asked Triumph for a long-term loan of a Sprint ST, complete with ABS, panniers and a top-box. Then I put my 14-year-old son Toby on the pillion, crammed the panniers with luggage for two and set off to discover how the Sprint performs in extended hard use.
Day one, on the motorway between Glasgow and Gloucestershire, showed the plain fact that any sports tourer is a compromise. For a while, the rain was torrential. The fairing kept my legs and hands dry, my bulk kept my son dry - but the screen did not keep the deluge off my body. By the time the sun broke through, my summer touring jacket was soaked.
A flaw? If so, it's a modest one. Our luggage remained bone dry. The Sprint felt rock solid even where the carriageway was drenched. Instruments were unclouded by condensation and the six-speed gearbox did not miss a change. Fuel consumption averaged 47mpg (the range is comfortably more than 220 miles at motorway speeds).
But most noticeable was the comfort. Toby says the Sprint ST is the first motorbike on which he's not had numb-bum syndrome. For me, at 6ft 3in and 15 stone, it has a tailor-made riding position. We stopped only for fuel that first day - and that briefly. My back, legs and wrists felt unstressed after 400 miles. A lot of credit goes to the frame geometry and handlebars, but the engine helps; the big triple-cylinder is smooth as well as powerful. Vibration is minimal. The panniers and top-box go on and off smoothly and easily.
Day two; 100 miles of minor roads via Salisbury Plain to Portsmouth and the fast ferry to Cherbourg. The ABS proved its worth when a Land-Rover and trailer chugged out in front of us. There was gravel and horse manure on the road and a coach coming the other way. I hit the brakes very hard. The heavily laden Sprint dipped, the front brake lever pulsed - we stopped safely. ABS is optional on this. Buy it. It saves lives.
First stops in France were the D-Day beaches. Flitting between the British military cemetery at Bayeux and the huge German gun battery above Gold Beach at Longues sur Mer, the Sprint felt dependable on the wet, winding lanes of the Normandy bocage. At the Airborne Landings Museum at Ste Mère Eglise, it earned envious looks from teenagers on mopeds. "Is it really British?" asked one. His dad had told him that Britain stopped making motorcycles in the 1960s.
After stopping at the vast American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and following the route inland from Gold Beach taken on 6 June 1944 by the men of the Royal Greenjackets, we set off for Plougasnou at the western tip of Brittany. On toll-free, two-lane Breton motorways, with sweeping curves and hills, the Sprint's 123bhp is all usable. Between Caen and Rennes, with the inside lane jammed with HGVs, we were bullied from behind by a Mercedes and escaped by cresting a rise at 130mph. It was then that I remembered advice not to use the panniers at more than 85mph. It is too cautious; they suffered no consequences, and Toby loved the adrenalin burst. In fact, he loved the whole trip, and so did I.
From our holiday home in Plougasnou we ventured south to Bordeaux, back to Brittany and then home via Plymouth, Tetbury, Leicester and Edinburgh. The Sprint covered 2,300 miles in six days on every type of road. It is smooth and gentlemanly in town, has the torque to shock the fastest car and handles like a real sports bike when the going gets twisty.
The only maintenance I performed was routine chain lubrication (Motul Chain Lube spray); the engine required no additional oil (and still does not 800 miles later); the Bridgestone Battlax tyres look good for another 1,000 miles.
The headlights are a little feeble at high speed. But the engine is the best in its class, and the handling characteristics are sublime. It is mechanically trouble-free and it hauls a holiday touring load effortlessly. For fast touring on European roads, the Triumph is excellent. It made me proud to be riding a British motorcycle.Reuse content