2008 Triumph Sprint ST

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

Traditionally, Triumph has been a nonconformist's brand. From the giant Rocket III to the bad-boy Street Triple, the British manufacturer has consistently gone its own way. Even their stylish sport tourer is motivated by the "oddball" 1050cc triple. Sure, different is good, but distance is better, and Triumph's Sprint ST delivers a pleasing mix of both.

Sport touring is fun. The ability to carve the curves yet comfortably hammer the slab when necessary is a combination that can't be beat. Granted, the performance of some of the big touring rigs belies their size on the two-lanes, and even a few cruisers can hold their own in the tight stuff, but a healthy dose of sportbike agility mixed with a spacious set of hard bags is an ideal combo. Case in point, our bright red Triumph Sprint ST. A mere glance in its direction conjures visions of blue highways and wanderlust that entreat you to pack up, climb aboard, and hold on. Highway duty is eminently doable, but the back roads are where this scintillating British beauty truly shines.

Thinking Three

I had already gotten a little taste of the Sprint's prowess at a new model introduction in the spring, and my initial impression of the three-cylinder mill was cautiously positive, but I was the only one aboard then and the bags were empty. The true acid test of its long-term trial would be how well it could hold up under real world loads on all types of roads.

Triumph's 1050cc, fuel-injected three-banger is a bit of an anomaly. Its power characteristic fills a unique niche that falls between the torquey nature of a big twin and the free-revving propensities of an inline four. At lower rpm, the genteel exhaust note emanating from the three, separate under-seat tailpipes assures muted exits from the neighborhood. But once away from the sensitive ears in the houses next door, liberal throttle treatments release a howling animalism that would have Sasquatch sending roses. Even with all three bags full and pillion aboard, third and fourth gear roll-ons produce a jump bettered by only a few models boasting bigger displacement. There's something to be said for having 125 ponies in the barn. Once cruising velocity has been achieved, the Sprint settles into a velvety rhythm and is capable of carrying one or two comfortably across any stretch of road in vibration-free comfort.

As for commuting duties, the Triumph's power signature, which so competently competes for smoothness bragging rights on the open road, also generates a healthy around-town grunt on par with the power cruisers. A perfectly seamless fuel injection makes full use of the 77ft-lbs of torque, especially in lower gears, allowing the Sprint to be comfortably lugged through the most lethargic traffic. The only issue I had on this point arose on warmer days in the slow stuff. A somewhat uncomfortable amount of engine heat will seep from beneath the fairing, eliciting a few grumbles during North Carolina's dog days.

The six-speed gearbox performed almost flawlessly, with the only hitch being an occasional false neutral found by an admittedly sloppy shifter. Those with more deft toes probably won't encounter this problem. The hydraulic clutch, an easy squeeze, always performed like a champ, handling two-up and tour-loaded romps through our favorite mountain mazes with ease.

A Dragon Tamer

One of the best roads for testing any machine's sporting prowess is the Tail of the Dragon at Deal's Gap, NC, and we paid that beast a visit to test the Triumph's mettle with rider and passenger aboard. Just a few twists in, the Sprint lived up to its name, quickly and effortlessly hurtling us from side to side while dicing a sure-footed line irrespective of where I aimed her. Though known to fiddle with suspension settings on occasion, I found the preload adjustable 43mm forks and the fully adjustable single rear shock to be spot on and decided to leave well enough alone; and I marveled at how easily the Sprint dispensed with each of the slithering Dragon's curves. A large part of the Sprint's mannerly demeanor in the hills can also be attributed to its stout aluminum beam perimeter frame and single sided swingarm. Even with the bike's weight limits tested, the chassis components never budged, delivering a confident ride at all times. My propensity to trail brake never upset the apple cart. Our only slow-down that afternoon on the Gap was a pickup towing a boat, which provided us with a perfectly valid excuse to go back and do it all again.

Out on the freeway, the same settings react quite nicely to the dreaded pavement joints while two-up, but the response is a little harsher sans pillion. While tempted to adjust for more smoothness, I remembered the joy of riding the twists and kept my hands off.
Maintaining a brisk pace in the mountains requires more than great legs. The binders have to be up to snuff too. Sporting a set of four-piston calipers pinching twin 320mm discs up front and a single, twin-piston squeezer working a 255mm disc out back, the Sprint's 'slow' was just as competent as its 'go'. The brakes responded to the smallest modulations of the levers and were never overbearing. An optional ABS was included on our tester and thankfully was never needed. But several controlled lockdowns showed that the system should work well if called upon. Though I can't criticize the braking system's actual performance, I was a bit dismayed that the rear pads were shot after only 6,000 miles.

Life With Triumph

We had the Sprint for several months and put it through the paces of nearly every type of riding. As mentioned earlier, its abilities as a sport tourer are topnotch, but it handled other more mundane chores with equal aplomb. The sporty, yet upright riding position and firm seat assured an easy, fun commute. The stout triple's ability to crawl as competently as it flew made equally short work of the morning rush as it did rural lanes. And with the stock lockable, waterproof saddlebags, there's plenty of space for all but the largest briefcases. Should the trip home require a quick stop at the grocery, the optional top case that Triumph provided could swallow several bags of grub and a 12-pack with room to spare.

Optional accessories that amplified our everyday enjoyment were the Flip-Up Aero Screen and High Handlebar Kit. The higher biased windscreen complements the more upright riding position offered by the bars and keeps the breeze at bay on the highway without completely sacrificing that wind-in-the-face sensation. Though this combo takes a bit of the sport out of the equation, it does lend the Sprint a more favorable long-distance disposition.

The Sprint's combination of high style, functionality, and flat-out fun factor is a real winner - and the thought of sending it home has depressed us. We've ridden few machines at RoadRUNNER that are as adept as this one in conquering both freeways and byways. And with the addition of those few factory extras, we had a truly impressive ride that spent very little time guarding the garage.