It's not often that motorcycle manufacturers choose to debut their latest models on the east coast. So when Triumph asked if we'd be interested in joining the coming-out party for their latest Urban Sports models in the Great Smoky Mountains, our response was immediately affirmative.
Anyone who has been to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the Great Smoky Mountains knows that locating a straight road nearby is a tall order indeed. A riders' wonderland, the region is just the place for Triumph to be sweeping the sheets off the 2008 Urban Sports roster. Presto! Change-o! There they are - now let's go riding…
Don't be put off by that "Urban" tag either. It isn't significant. These aren't the sort of bikes meant for city riding; but as Triumph says, they're "designed for riders who demand real world performance" which certainly must encompass a good deal of Urban attitude blasting away down rural roads.
The lineup on hand this cloudy morning includes the street-fighter Speed Triple, the do-it-all (except for dirt) Tiger, and that sport-touring icon, the Sprint ST. And although they may appear to be somewhat unrelated, they do share one powerful commonality: Triumph's wickedly fun 1050cc, inline three-cylinder engine. A bevy of awesome roads and the brand-new bikes awaiting us are more than enough to carry the day in great style, even if the weather doesn't cooperate. No one's going to allow a little rain to spoil the fun anyway. And if it does come, I suppose we'll be finding out how "waterproof" our Triumph Accessories riding gear really is. So, let's hit the road already!
Many riders still think of the Tiger as a dual-sport machine, but that's no longer the case. In 2007, the bike's intended use shifted to street-only. However, the Tiger's multitasking capabilities haven't fallen by the wayside; it still retains a taste for asphalt of any flavor. Impressed, after taking my first shift of the day aboard a Caspian Blue beauty, I got off the bike feeling that the ride was all too brief. The upright seating position and wide handlebars feel right at home to this "naked" fan, and due to its tallish 32.8-inch seat height, my 5'10" 33-inch inseam frame has ample legroom yet comfortable contact with the ground. The wide, firm seat garners my approval as well. On the road, the longer travel (5.9-inch front and rear) suspension feels firm and planted and yet supple enough that passage over smaller road imperfections is barely discernible.
All things from the power perspective are up to snuff too. The big triple has a nice combination of low-end grunt, a stout midrange, and, I'm told, it provides plenty up top for freeway duty. Unfortunately, the setting for my Tiger tale - some tight, twisting roads - didn't give me the opportunity to "open 'er up."
Your standard Tiger is delivered without accessories, but it can be outfitted with any number of Triumph's tour-related features, including a three-box luggage system, taller windshield, and a gel seat among others. Comfortable, responsive, easy to ride, and easily made ready for nearly any traveling duty that comes to mind, the Tiger 1050 continues to shine as an excellent do-it-all machine.
I spent my next stint aboard the Sprint ST. Never having ridden this triple-powered sport-tourer, I was eager to give it a go. Again, the smooth power delivery of the big 1050cc engine is quite impressive. In the confines of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where speeds are closely monitored, and in the nearby small towns of Cherokee and Bryson City, the spot-on fuel injection and easy-going low-end power delivery makes loping around a breeze. But then, as we hop on the four-lane for a brief jaunt west, opening the throttle produces a soulful wail and a spirited lunge forward that instantly triggers a wide-mouth grin.
Once off the slab and back in the twists, the Sprint flaunts its sporting prowess. The chassis feels incredibly stable while bombarding the esses, and the near effortless steering actually stirs the impulse to ramp up the pace. The ergonomics are not as upright and relaxed as the Tiger's, but the more aggressive, though still comfortable, bars and foot-peg positions could certainly be used to define the 'sport' side of sport touring. Perched in the driver's seat, I didn't feel cramped, but taller riders may disagree.
For 2008, the Sprint ST is delivered with color-matched, hard side-cases that look great although a little small. That can be addressed with the addition of a top case. As they have for the Tiger, Triumph offers all sorts of accessories to complement the Sprint ST.
Toward the end of the afternoon, my inner punk kid grew tired of drooling over the Speed Triple, so I went ahead and laid claim to one. This model is Triumph's number-one seller worldwide and, by looks alone, it's easy to see why. The rugged anti-hero of the bunch, this bike is one to conjure with, enflaming pure motorcycle passion. Stripped of everything unnecessary, it seems, the Speed Triple strikes a menacing pose, remaining true to its street-fighter heritage, and features stubby, dual high-rise exhaust pipes, a single sided swingarm, bobbed rear fender, and exposed, twin bug-eye headlights. Just being around this bike has me gnashing my teeth in frustration that the mohawk filled out long ago, the piercings have closed, and my lawless riding inclinations have faded like a ten-year-old prison tattoo.
It weighs 416 pounds dry and the claimed output of the banshee triple is 131 tire-scorching horses. I always try to save the best for last and when heading up Route 28, with the infamous Tail of the Dragon just ahead, I didn't think my anticipatory grin could possibly stretch any further - but it did.
With the Dragon's 318 curves falling victim to the Speed Triple, it's abundantly clear that I am aboard something that is so much more than a fashion statement. This ride is the perfect marriage of serious performance and rollicking entertainment. Bottom line: If you can't have fun on this bike, you're the King of the Stoics. The howling triple provides gobs of power where and whenever needed, and its guttural throbbing brings out the absolute worst in a rider, in an oh-so good way.
Upgrades for 2008 include a pair of very effective four-piston, four-pad Brembo brake calipers up front, an aggressive aluminum handlebar shaped especially for the Speed Triple by Magura, and a host of other new elements, like the restyled bodywork, seat, and more inviting pillion. From the accessory catalog, look for optional Arrow exhaust canisters and systems that increase the growl and shed weight without upsetting the EPA. There are also numerous color-matched and carbon-fiber bits and pieces to add more fuel to this hooligan's fire.
Triumph is aggressively seeking to expand their market share and hopes to double their current sales over the next three years. We were told to expect new models, and improvements to the existing line. By concentrating on well engineered, unique machines that are loaded with character, Triumph aims to keep pleasing their existing audience while capturing the imaginations of a new crowd of triple-threat enthusiasts. Having spent very little time on Triumphs before attending this eye-opening event, I can say unabashedly that they're on the right track.
…And those muscles that work my smile are still sore.