all consuming: Wheeling back in Triumph

The reborn company's new sports bike is challenging Honda, writes Roland Brown
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The Independent Online
The recent news that Triumph's new T595 Daytona sports bike outsold Honda's mighty contender, the CBR90ORR FireBlade, in the first three months of this year will have come as no surprise to enthusiasts who have tried to buy one - the British bike is sold out for several months to come.

Such was the response when the 995cc three-cylinder road burner was revealed last autumn that the Triumph was guaranteed a high ranking in the sales charts even before it had turned a wheel in anger.

Why the excitement? The T595 - the factory code name - is the first Hinckley- built bike to compete head-on with the Japanese and Italian firms in the large-capacity super-sports class,motorcycling's most glamorous and hard- fought arena. More to the point, the new British challenger is proving itself good enough to hold its own against the FireBlade and Ducati's 916.

Until now, Triumph's remarkable rise since being relaunched six years ago had been based on fine but conservative models that shared many components, including their frame and most engine parts. This kept production costs down, and allowed Triumph to expand its range quickly. It also prevented the specialisation required to make a competitive sports bike.

The T595 Daytona is significant not just because it is Triumph's best bike yet but because it represents a decision by John Bloor, the firm's boss, to attack the super-sports market with a purpose-built machine for the first time. Even so, Triumph's designers quickly whipped off the fairings to create a second new model, the aggressively styled T509 Speed Triple.

Raising the stakes in such a high-profile way was a bold move for a small company (Triumph employs 450 people), but so far the gamble is paying off. With the 1,550 machines allocated to the British market before August all accounted for, the T595 looks set to be one of the year's best-selling bikes of any category - not bad for a machine that costs almost pounds 10,000. Export demand is high, too.

Amid the euphoria, it barely seems possible that just seven years ago the British motorcycle industry was apparently dead. From BSA to Vincent, the great names had folded one by one. The old Meriden-based Triumph firm had struggled on longer than most, but eventually succumbed to the Japanese-led invasion.

Then Bloor, a Derbyshire builder who had bought the bankrupt Triumph from the liquidator in 1983, revealed a hi-tech new factory and the range of three- and four-cylinder superbikes that his firm had been developing in secret. Few could understand why a successful businessman who didn't even ride a motorbike should sink tens of millions of pounds into a doomed industry. But Bloor, 53, hadn't gone from plasterer to multi-millionaire by accident. He had spotted a gap in the market for a high-quality, mass-produced British motorcycle - and has delivered just that.

Bloor's ride has not been easy. Triumph's first bikes quickly gained a reputation for reliable if unspectacular engineering, and sold well in Britain. But progress in the important German market was slow, and Triumph's four-cylinder models were too reminiscent of Japanese bikes of a few years earlier.

One of Triumph's assets is its ability to react quickly. The firm shifted emphasis towards the more distinctive triples, revamped its German network, improved existing bikes and introduced new ones. Production has risen steadily, from 2,000 bikes in 1991 to last year's total of 14,000, of which 70 per cent were exported. And now Bloor has decided Triumph is big enough for a serious super-sports challenge.

Enter the handsome T595 Daytona, with its powerful three-cylinder engine, its innovative frame of oval-section aluminium tubes, and its swoopy all- yellow (or black) bodywork. The 995cc, 12-valve motor is fuel-injected and tuned with the help of Lotus Engineering. It produces a maximum of 128bhp - slightly more than the 916 and FireBlade. The chassis is light, low and fitted with top-quality suspension and brakes.

The result is sensational - a thrillingly fast machine with its own distinct character. Its riding position is unashamedly aggressive, with low handlebars and rearset footrests. The engine is flexible, smooth and hugely powerful; the French-made fuel-injection system gives instant response to hurl the bike towards its 160mph top speed. Only a slight flat-spot at 5000rpm and an occasionally notchy six-speed gearbox eam less than top marks.

Handling is excellent, too. The Daytona's blend of light weight, rigid frame, taut suspension and well-chosen chassis geometry makes the triple slightly less manoeuvrable than the FireBlade, but correspondingly more able.

The naked T509 Speed Triple, which combines the T595's chassis with a detuned, 107bhp engine of the original 885cc capacity, is itself a quick and eye-catching machine. At pounds 8,299 the Triple is considerably less expensive than the pounds 9,649 Daytona, and will not be the only model to benefit from technology developed for the sportster. Rumours are already circulating of others under development.

This year's production will total around 15,000. , the highest yet. In the near future Bloor plans to move to a larger factory on an adjacent site- although he says he won't build more than 25,000 bikes, preferring to keep Triumph small and flexible. When you consider that 10 years ago the British bike industry's total production was close to zero, even that would represent an amazing achievement.

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