2011 Triumph Sprint GT : MD Ride Review from Four Different Perspectives

March 23, 2011

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We provided a brief report, and technical specs, regarding Triumph’s new, heavier but more comfortable sport tourer, the Sprint GT here.  Gabe and his Northern California riding  buddies took turns testing the new Triumph on the beautiful roads in and around San Francisco.  Here are their separate reports.

John Joss: 5′9”, 150 pounds, 76 years old

Age-old question: what bike to buy? Only appropriate answer: how experienced are you and what kind of riding do you want to do? Touring or sport? Cruising or commuting? On or off road? Motocross or trials? The choices are as complex as humankind, realizing that most of us—I include myself—can afford only one motorcycle (statistically, about 90 percent of owners).

Then, the budget conundrum: how much can you afford to spend?

Why does all this matter? Because cynics say that a compromise sacrifices some capabilities to deliver others. In the case of sport-touring, it’s the compromise between sport and touring. Compromise could mean that it does both badly. So a pure sport bike can’t tour and a pure touring bike is a slug.

Enter the Triumph Sprint GT, 2011 model.

Triumph has been producing its Sprint since 1992. The bike has gained respect from a worldwide community of “serious” bikers. Why “serious?” Because occasional, weekend or dilettante riders, often little more than fad-followers, are not a community. Serious bikers commute, tour, carve canyons and ride as a life routine, often daily, not just when the sun shines or an itch must be scratched.

The Sprint GT (borrowing the ‘Gran Turismo’ car label) focuses on serious, committed riders. It’s not inexpensive, at $13,199 (equipped with ABS and bags, standard) but highly competitive compared to two other class stars: Honda’s $16,499 ST1300 and Yamaha’s $15,490 FJR1300A. It aims to satisfy riders who like an eager, powerful, responsive motor with precise handling (sport riders) and those who want to travel long distances safely and comfortably (touring riders). It can only survive in the competitive marketplace by delivering performance and value to serious, committed riders.

Three-cylinder heart . . . and soul

Triumph has created the heart and soul of a great motor: its Triple. Triples have established the reborn British Triumph, in all their manifestations: the 675 Daytona, the Street Triple, the Speed Triple (borrowing the name from the iconic, 1930s ‘Speed Twin’ from Meriden), the Tiger, and the 1050cc Sprint.

All feature that smooth, creamy, vibration-free, broadband three-cylinder power that offers the low-rev-range torque of a Twin with the high-revving four-cylinder advantage. Since BMW’s magnificent but underpowered K75 died of neglect, the only world competition now is MV’s M3 (sadly discounting Benelli’s Triple, almost undistributed in the U.S.).

A quality motorcycle

Appraising the beast before riding, one sees immediately the superior fit and finish. This is a well-made bike, in appearance and feel. The bags (able to hold an XXL helmet) demand a stretch of the right leg and foot when mounting, but once in the saddle everything fits, including a seat height that works for smaller riders. The controls are well placed and intuitive, with all the usual cockpit data.

On the road, again

The Sprint handles well, with very light steering—perhaps too light, slightly lacking in front-end feedback. It carves corners satisfactorily, though the physics of its almost 600-pound heft limits ultimate corner velocity. It ‘shows a buck plus’ on any decent straight, without breaking a sweat. Suspension quality is first rate, but on the test ride there was no opportunity to adjust for rider weight. Its initial setup was for an average rider, a good compromise (that word, again).

Throttle action is flawless, without snatch, down to 2000 rpm in any gear, from closed to WFO, without “takeup slack” at the grip—an infuriating problem that afflicts too many bikes. You need not row it along with the gear lever. All of the claimed 128 hp and 80 ft.-lbs. of torque push the bike to relaxed, high-speed performance The clutch is light and takes up progressively, as it should. Gearshift action, even on this brand new machine, was decisive, though neutral was a little hard to find from second gear. Brakes are firm, sensitive and modulate well. The standard ABS was not engaged in hard stops but no doubt another tester will comment.

The saddle can handle a full day’s ride. The only minor ergonomic gripe is the screen: about three to four inches too low to protect the head from buffeting. This is not rocket science—the aftermarket providers should take care of that problem but the factory should offer it as a delivery option.

Range is an issue. The 5.3-gallon tank will barely scrape 200 miles, riding conservatively at an estimated (not measured) 36-38 mpg (190-201 miles, to bone dry). A 50-mile cushion, or reserve, is vital for many rides in the American West, but the Sprint doesn’t offer it. When will manufacturers realize that range is important and a minor increase in capacity would help? In the case of the Sprint, six to 6.5 gallons of capacity should be offered but isn’t and won’t be.

The 2010 Sprint ST, 60 pounds lighter than the GT, with a central exhaust system akin to its smaller, 675 sibling, is not available in the U.S. A pity. Those 60 pounds would make a big difference and would enhance an already highly satisfactory motorcycle.

The bottom line: anyone who needs more sporting performance, at the expense of everyday comfort, should get a repli-racer. The Sprint GT’s power and handling make it a match for any bike in its class. You could say that it’s close to the near-perfect sports-touring compromise. It does both well.

Lucien Lewis: 6′3”, 210 pounds, 45 years old

I have trouble understanding why motorcycles are getting heavier and heavier. I can’t blame it on America’s gluttony since the Brits and the Japanese seem to be moving in that direction as well. That is not all bad; heavy bikes are stable and planted on the road. Wind isn’t going to blow you into the next lane.

The 2011 Triumph Sprint GT is big. You know it when you walk up to it, when you sit on it, when you start it up, and every moment you are riding it. It is not one of those “once you’re rolling, the weight disappears” type bikes. Its 590 lbs are always present. In a straight line, weight is not a big issue—it just slows you down. But weight is not your friend if you want to turn quickly at high speeds. Gravity and inertia have other ideas.

Pork aside, this is a very nice bike. Its three-cylinder 1050 mill debuted in 2005, and (essentially unchanged) it has been a solid performer since, offering up a wide, useable powerband. Maybe not rocket ship acceleration, but it certainly gets you to Point B in a hurry. The brakes are nice too, with the ABS kicking in when it should and the easily removable side bags that have a bit of back-and-forth movement actuated by a rod that runs from bag to bag behind the rear fender. Putting them back on for the first time can a bit of a puzzle, as they fit and lock on in at least three different positions. And there are a dozen other thoughtful touches that elevate it from ordinary to quasi-luxurious.

Ergonomically, I was surprised at how high the footpegs sit, seemingly without reason. My 34” inseam legs felt folded nearly in half, but the footpegs never came anywhere near touching the ground, even in full lean. The handlebars were well placed for spirited back-road riding, but for long-distance freeway trips I would want to change the angle a bit with some sort of aftermarket solution. Other design quirks are an analog speedometer with the numbers the size of a grain of sushi rice (if you are over 50, get out the reading glasses). This is especially puzzling since there is a nice big LCD display on the right side of the cluster that tells you all kinds of things, including clock, current fuel consumption, average fuel consumption, range, trip distance, average and maximum speed, but it does not act as a speedometer. The seat, however, is as close to perfect as I have found on a stock bike.

When I got out on the back roads with a couple of friends on smaller bikes, I kept expecting them to be right in my mirrors, setting up to pass the behemoth. That never really happened, and I was impressed at how quickly the bike got through the corners. I would not go so far as to call it confidence inspiring, though—it always felt a little closer to the edge than I like. Going into corners at higher speeds my brain kept telling me that the ditches might draw the bike toward them with some magnetic force. Some suspension adjustments probably would have helped here.

Blasting around the city, the Sprint worked well. The mirrors fold up and click back easily, so squeezing between cars becomes more manageable. It feels a little like riding a big fast horse through a fattened herd of cattle. The bike wants to go, and cars have no chance. Also, this thing is sharp looking, and gets its fair share of head turns as it cuts through the masses.

The Sprint GT is a particular type of bike for a particular type of rider. It will not be the bike of choice for everyone, but there will be a segment of riders who find this bike to be just the ticket. Being $5000 less than Honda’s VFR1200, one of the main competitors in its class, certainly makes it easier on the wallet, and should help sales significantly. The bike is user friendly, solidly built, and gets down the road just fine. Now if we could just get it on a bit of a diet (or bring back the ST that they’re still selling across the Pond) for 2012….

Alan Lapp: 6′2”, 265 pounds, 46 years old

When Gabe asked me if I wanted to get a quick impression of the 2011 Triumph Sprint GT 1050, I was excited to take up the offer. As a motorcycle magazine art director, I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride when it comes to manufacturer press introductions, so it’s always nice to share the love with test bikes. For the past five years, I’ve been riding SuMo and dual-sport bikes. I used to ride big, fast four-cylinder sport and naked bikes, and have recently been thinking of getting back into something bigger and more comfortable. I enjoy long distance riding, but luggage on a dual-sport bike is hard to arrange safely (ask me about The Fire) and, literally, it’s a pain in the ass to spend multiple full days in the narrow saddle. Throw in the fact that I’m a tall, burly, married, middle-aged guy, and I start looking like the target demographic for the Sprint GT.

The first thing I noticed about the Sprint is that it’s an adult-looking motorcycle that doesn’t need to call attention to itself. It’s wrapped in an understated blue, and doesn’t have a buncha zoomy disco-looking graphics. In fact, the only ornamentation is a tasteful chrome accent on the cooling duct, and the model name in small lettering. The bodywork design is quite minimalist compared to the competition, some of which is so angular that it looks like an origami project instead of a motorcycle. Thankfully, it’s not adorned with (apologies to Thomas Dolby) fins and gills like some giant piranha fish, like the Kawasaki Concours14. As an artist, I also notice and appreciate that Triumph continues some of its design identity in this bike: the rounded triangular cross-section of the bag/passenger peg mounts, the Star Trek insignia shape of the heel guards, the single-sided swing arm, etc.

My wife and I picked up the Sprint GT on a fine, balmy February day, and headed north. I was pleased that the GT handled two ubiquitous Bay Area highway hazards with confidence: stiff cross-winds on the bridge, and that loathsome grooved pavement. The GT does follow pavement irregularities, but not worryingly so. I noticed that the steering was very heavy and wanted to run wide on turns unless the throttle was applied. At a gas stop, I quickly found the hydraulic preload adjuster, but the rebound damping adjuster eluded me. I called Gabe for some tech support, and we deduced that the Brits not only drive on the left side of the road, they install their shocks with the rebound clicker on the left, where it is inconveniently located behind the foot peg, drive chain and shock linkage and can barely be reached with the tool kit screwdriver, instead of the right side where it would be visible and accessible. Stiff upper lip, old chap.

With the suspension adjusted more suitably, the steering became more neutral, and required less effort on the tight, twisty, bumpy Marin roads. That said, with fluids it’s a 590-pound machine, and it’s a lot of work to get it to transition quickly side-to-side. It’s not that the bear dances well, it’s that the bear dances at all. Once we get into medium-fast turns and smoother pavement, the GT starts making more sense. Make no mistake: this bike is not a race replica with bags. It’s a Grand Tourer. The suspension is supple, verging on under-sprung and under-damped (ironic to me given that it’s designed to carry two people and luggage) The ride is quite comfortable, doubly so if you’ve recently ridden an R1 or KTM 690E. Heck, the seat is a little slice of heaven. My only ergonomic complaint is that the bars are a bit far forward for my aching wrists, elbows and shoulders, but I’ve injured all of the above in road racing crashes. A younger, less-abused person may find the seating posture agreeable.

As the road unwinds into flatter, higher speed sweepers, the GT really shines. The chassis settles into the turns and plays to the Sprint’s biggest strength. The motor is a real treat: it delivers power just like the volume knob on your stereo increases the volume. The 1050cc triple rewards throttle input with smoothly building, linear, predictable, flawlessly-delivered power. No hiccups, no burbles, no flat spots, no surprises, just torquey fuel-injected goodness. Oh, and the lovely howl the motor makes gives me goose bumps. Really. It’s a beautiful thing.

If I were buying this bike, I’d have a very short to-do list. First and foremost, I’d upgrade the rear shock to an aftermarket unit with significantly stiffer spring rate and damping. I’d source risers that move the handlebars up an inch and back two. And finally, because I’m tall in the torso, I’d want a taller windscreen or one with a lip to direct the highway air blast over my head. With those mods, I’d call it good, and get on with wearing out tires.

Gabe Ets-Hokin: 5′6.5”, 155 pounds, 41 years old

I have a 10-inch (wait for it!) Wustof-Trident chef’s knife that we got as a wedding present. The lady at the kitchen store tells me that the hot thing in chef’s knives these days are the fancy Japanese ceramic jobs they sell, and she lets me slice up a carrot with one of them every time I’m in there. They work pretty well.

But my Wustof feels right to me, perfectly balanced and with a razor-sharp edge that never seems to dull. After 12 years of daily use the blade is starting to discolor, but it works fine. Why do I need another knife? My mother has similar knives that she’s had since before I was born, and even though this is a woman for whom shopping is a competitive sport, she refuses to buy new knives.

This Triumph is such an implement. It doesn’t really do anything better than most other bikes in its class, (except be a lot lighter than most of its competition, such as the FJR and ST1300) but it’s built well, does everything you need it to do and makes you feel special when you’re riding it. As my merry men have noted above, it’s surprisingly capable on twisty roads, feels like it has more power than it does and can tour as well as you need. It’s imperfect (as are we all); it could have better wind protection, the bars are too low and that solid, dependable feel makes the design seem 10 years older than it is.

Ol’ Leftenant Joss has a 1999 Honda VFR800, which is a kick-ass bike much in the mold of this Sprint, except it’s 90 pounds lighter and doesn’t give up much in the way of power, comfort or handling. The beautiful thing is you can get one of thosefor $3000, which is about ten Big Ones less than the Sprint. Not really fair to compare a used bike to a new one—after all, the Sprint has a two-year warranty and won’t eat regulator-rectifiers like popcorn shrimp. Some cats (not moto-journalists) can afford to drop 13 Large on a new motorcycle, and they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labor in that way.

Me, I like well-worn things that get the job done with a bit of style. Maybe I’ll look for a used Sprint in 10 years…

The manufacturer provided Motorcycle Daily with this motorcycle for purposes of evaluation.

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