I'm stuck behind a line of cars following a dawdling farm tractor along the winding A259 road between Rye and Hastings in East Sussex, England. A gap appears in the oncoming flow: time to test the new 1050 Sprint ST's acceleration. Staying in third gear, I signal, crank the throttle and pull out. In seconds, the speedometer is nudging three figures, the tractor is rapidly disappearing in the mirror, and a tight right-hander looms. I set up for the turn and cover the brakes but the new ST simply glides through like - well, like the previous 955 ST didn't.
Triumph's 955ST was a great bike - the Cycle World sport tourer of the year in 1999 - but now six years old and showing its age, it's time for a replacement.
The Sport Touring category is perhaps the least clearly defined of all motorcycling niches. Included in this class, at least by manufacturers' definitions, are has-been sportbikes, shaft-drive luxo-barges, street standards with luggage, multi-cylinder trailies, and even the odd bag-sporting cruiser.
But central to this class is the sporting tourer (with the emphasis on sport), essentially detuned (or retuned, as the makers prefer) sportbikes with more conservative ergonomics, bigger bodywork and hard luggage. In this class you'll find the Ducati ST3 and ST4, Aprilia Futura, Triumph Sprint ST, and evergreen benchmark VFR800 from Honda.
It's a class I'm familiar with. I rode an Aprilia Futura around southeastern Australia, a Ducati ST4s across the southwestern US, and I've owned a 955 Sprint ST for five years. The Ducati handily tops the others on power, and runs closely with the Futura on handling, whereas the 955 ST is the most comfortable, but with less precise steering. Now I've come to England to see how the new 1050ST shakes out on the list.
On the road
As I pull away from Triumph's Hinckley parking lot, it's immediately apparent this is a completely different bike. While the ergonomics are essentially unchanged, the feel is lighter, livelier and more spirited. Contributing to this are much lighter controls, especially the clutch and gearshift although some light "stiction" remains in the shifting. Throttle action is lighter and quicker, as is the steering - Triumph has sharpened geometry from rake and trail of 25 degrees/92mm to 24/90.
The livelier steering is noted while battling blustery crosswinds as I race down the M20 Motorway to Dover. Though not especially sensitive to these blasts, the 1050 requires precise and forceful rider input to keep it on track. Throttle response is also more vivacious, with what feels like almost full torque available from 2,000rpm.
Triumph claims only 5 more horsepower and 4 Nm more torque than the last 955, and my finger-in-the-air dynamometer records at least as much: The 1050 feels far stronger and spools up more quickly. The result is arm-stretching (rather than neck-snapping) acceleration in any of the first three gears, with effortless passing. As overall gearing remains unchanged, sixth gear becomes a driving gear rather than overdrive, and on the M20's long straights I occasionally find myself groping for a seventh.
The 1050's seat is also more "direct" than the older, plusher bike; and though its careful shaping prevents butt blisters, it's noticeably firmer. The 1050's revised suspension makes the rear end firmer and tighter, transmitting more road blemishes than the older model, but the cartridge-fork front end works superbly, absorbing bumps and rebuffing any tendencies to be pushed off line by surface imperfections. While maneuvering the bike in a parking lot, I'm impressed by its apparent lack of bulk. Although Triumph admits a 3 kg weight increase, the new machine "feels" much lighter. I suspect the center of gravity is lower, as the 1050 feels far less "tippy" at low speeds.
I seek out the A259 west from Folkestone, and I'm soon rolling across scrub-grass marshland along massive dikes. This is a good opportunity to explore the new ST's handling, as the road wriggles along the coastline - and I'm truly impressed. Steering is light and neutral with a faster response, and the stability inspires much confidence. I start to push the bars further toward the tarmac while swinging through the numerous "roundabouts." I grow addicted to the rhythm: downshift, flick left, dive right, apex late, ease on the throttle, flick left again, wind it open... This is wonderful stuff! The ST always had character and thrust; now it has excellent handling too. And the wide torque band makes gear selection largely optional.
Back on the two-lane A259 and in traffic, I experiment with the 1050's passing prowess. Third becomes my favorite gear, thrusting me to three figures on the analog speedometer with indecent haste, and I have to restrain my throttle hand - though the typical Triumph smooth, powerful brakes always cope with my over-exuberance.
Just west of Eastbourne is Beachy Head, a vast chalk cliff towering over the English Channel. The minor roads leading to the cliff are delightful, whipping over and around the dunes, and, unusually for England, hedgerow-free - so I can watch for any approaching traffic. The new ST would leave the 955 for dead here on the basis of much faster and more confident bend-swinging. It also feels more planted at the front, in spite of its wicked acceleration. My 955 goes light at the front with a full luggage load and a handful of gas in first gear. The 1050's front stays put.
The busy haul into Brighton gives me a chance to reflect on the new ST. More than simply evolving, Triumph seems to have deconstructed its sport tourer and re-engineered it from the ground up, and the result is a truly impressive machine. It feels lighter, faster, safer and more precise. I also like the mirrors that actually allow you to see behind (with built-in turn signals, a really smart idea); the stylish analog tach/speedo with digital instrument panel (two trip meters, clock, instant and average fuel consumption, average and maximum speed [Mine read 117.8mph: must have been a previous rider...], elapsed time, and fuel range); easy access to headlight bulbs for replacement, a real pain on the older bike; the underseat exhaust, which allows for uncompromised hard luggage (other makers take note) without obscuring the beautiful five-spoke rear wheel, while emitting a gloriously fruity growl; and the "glove pocket" built into the fairing, another "duh."
Less endearing: the loss of underseat storage; the two-second delay between switching on the ignition and being able to start the bike (I know this is a feature of modern computer-controlled bike fuel/ignition systems, but my car doesn't do it, so why should my bike?); the rear wheel still attached by a single nut, requiring you to own and schlep a 43mm wrench. (Most other single-side swingarm bikes use a simple four lug-nut system: why not Triumph?)
So how does the new ST stack up? While the first-generation ST suffered by comparison with other sport tourers in terms of suspension and handling, the new bike is at least their equal. And the triple's creamy power delivery is far less intrusive than the shuddering V-twin drive of the Italian machines.
In summary, the 1050 addresses all of the issues with the older ST, while building on its strengths, and the result is an outstanding machine that's probably the best all-round sport-tourer on the market, especially in terms of value. Even the notoriously anti-patriotic UK bike press gave it two thumbs way up, and most testers seem to agree: In the sport touring sector, Triumph's new entry is now the bike to beat.
Triumph Sprint ST 1050
+ Engine, brakes, handling
- Rear wheel attachment, no underseat storage
Distributor Triumph Motorcycles (America) Ltd
MSRP $ 10,599 as tested $ 11,899 with ABS
Engine four-stroke inline four DOHC, 16-valve
Bore x Stroke 79mm x 71.4mm
Fuel System multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Power 123hp at 9,250 rpm
Frame aluminum beam perimeter
Front Suspension 43mm cartridge forks with dual rate springs adjustable for preload
Rear Suspension monoshock adustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Rake/Trail 26° / 3.54 In (90mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 320mm discs/ single caliper, 255mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR x 17 180/55ZR x17
Dry Weight 462lb (210kg)
Wheelbase 1457mm (57.4in)
Seat height 805mm (31.7in)
Fuel Capacity N/A
Fuel Consumption N/A
Colors Caspian blue, sunset red aluminum silver