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2003 Triumph Sprint ST - Silver Bullet

Road test by Adrian Percival

Triumph's new Sprint ST is already a huge success, but has it got what it takes to be the No1 in the Sports Tourer market?

So what is a Sports Tourer then? Well, a true sports tourer is a bike that can be pushed along at a respectable pace and with some determination whilst offering running gear that allows this somewhat spirited going, but there's more.. A Sports Tourer will allow you to sit on it all day without getting a bad back, sore arms and neck ache, carry a pillion in relative comfort, load up your stuff into good, usually optional, factory luggage, boast a pretty high level of wind protection and have very good reliability. So building a proper sports tourer demands a lot from any manufacturer, in fact it is possibly the closest thing to demanding the "perfect" all round motorcycle.

The sports tourer class is quite well populated but there are not too many bikes that have been designed to have a true dual role, and there are few that do it particularly well.

Triumph's Sprint ST has been universally acclaimed as one of the kings of the sports tourer category. The power delivery is smooth all the way up the rev range, just like a sports tourer should be, and with the same engine as the Speed Triple and Sprint RS the engine is just right for its intended task. The injected 118bhp, 75ft-lb torque 955cc triple powerplant has been retuned for a bit more midrange grunt, but isn't lacking anywhere in its new guise. Just wind it on and you're given a smooth, linear spread of power from tickover all the way to the bike's 9500rpm redline. The engine spins freely through the gears, utilising a revised claw-type gear-change mechanism and giving a much smoother and more positive shift action than on previous models.It really doesn't take much time at all to get well into illegal speeds, and not realise it!

The latest exhaust system has been modified with new downpipes and balance-pipe to boost midrange, and to satisfy the emission-police in Europe and North America. A nice idea is the two-position exhaust, either fixed high for added cornering clearance, or lower down to allow room for fitted luggage. Bodywork is nigh-on the same with the graphics changed and the twin-spar aluminium frame and single-side swingarm remain unchanged.

The one thing that still stands out with the Sprint ST and all the other triples from Triumph is the noise, it sounds great, even if it is from a standard silencer, put an aftermarket pipe on there and it sounds fantastic! (he says speaking from past experience with my own high level carbon race can on my T595!)

The brakes on the Sprint ST are absolutely brilliant. Four-piston calipers on 320mm discs up front have good initial bite when hauling the bike down from high speeds, but combine that with plenty of power and feel and you have superbike brakes on a Sports Tourer! A few years ago you just wouldn't get this type of set up on this type of bike. The rear brake is ok but in comparison to the front is is non-existent, but who cares, apart from the odd U-turn who needs rear brakes!

Getting on the bike you are greeted with a neat array of instruments and good controls. The seating and positioning are very good for almost any distance complemented by a slightly forward riding position, with the footpegs giving good legroom and allowing knees and upper legs to slot into the tank cutouts perfectly, and the protection from the broad, but not too high screen is excellent even at high speed. To ride the Sprint ST around town and in traffic is an absolute doddle. You would think that riding a 207kg bike would be somewhat difficult but the ST hides its weight very well. With its smooth power delivery at the lowest of speeds you can concentrate on riding rather than throttle control, unlike on some other bikes, allowing you a more relaxed time of it. Out on the open roads is where you find the Sprint coming into its own though, it handles well, steers well and even with minimal suspension adjustment takes most roads in its stride. The only criticism I would have here is that the front end is a little soft for my liking, but with a little playing around with the pre-load I'm sure it would sort itself out.

During my time with the bike I had an opportunity to carry a pillion for some 70 odd miles and the ST seemed totally un-phased by this. The comfort (so I'm told was excellent) and the overall stability was un-effected and wind buffet was not increased. On that particular day I managed to cover some 260 miles running between meetings and I can honestly say that it didn't feel like it at all. On some bikes you know you have done it, but the ST just took it all in its stride, but then I suppose that's what a Sports Tourer is all about really.

The overall quality of the Sprint ST is excellent, I had the silver version as you can see in the photographs. There are some nice touches with the ST including a pillion seat cowling (a factory option) and the broad pad on the bottom of the sidestand, eliminating the need to search for bits of wood etc on soft surfaces. Optional factory extras include fitted panniers (including bracket kit to angle the pipe a bit lower), heated grips and a rear hugger.

It was sad to drop the Sprint ST back at Triumph's factory in Hinckley, it had taken me on numerous journeys over the past week and it had been a pleasure to ride it. Value for money, comfortable, easy to ride, well made, they're all words which can be used to sum up the Sprint ST, but they give no idea of the satisfaction you get from riding one of these bikes. If you're looking for a Sports Tourer then there are a lot of bikes out there, Honda's VFR800, Ducati's ST4, Aprilia's Falco, are all contenders for this segment of the market. This makes the final decision hard, but with the advent of the new Triumph Sprint ST, the choice could have just become a whole lot easier...

For specs & price go to the New Bike Guide or see below


Triumph Sprint ST

Second opinion by Dick Henneman

In 2002 Triumph took the decision to put the 955i Daytona engine in their sports tourer - and an excellent decision it was too! For this year they've left things alone apart from a colour change, which is good and then again not so good. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Throw a leg over the deep, well-padded seat and the average rider will have no problems getting both feet firmly on the ground. It's only a short reach to the bars and all the usual controls fall easily to hand, to give a relaxed riding position that's best described as being on the sporting side of touring. A couple of hours in the saddle won't cause any of the numb-buttock and leg-twitching sensations common with more focused sportsbike riding, but at the same time there's plenty of space to move around on the bike and even hang well off if you want to get a move on. Sounds about right then!

The instruments are mostly analogue, with a large central white-faced tacho, smaller fuel and water temperature gauges on the right and the speedo with digital odometer and trip on the left. And almost as an afterthought there's a small digital clock that's so deeply recessed that you have have your head in just the right position in order to see it. Below the screen there's the usual row of "idiot-lights" for indicators, high beam, oil pressure, low fuel, neutral, charge and engine management maladies. On the move everything apart from the clock is easy to read, although the numbers on the speedo are a bit small and close together. However, by modern standards the whole thing is beginning to look a bit dated.

OK - let's get this thing rolling.

Turn on the ignition, check for neutral and press the starter button. Nothing! Ah - it's a Triumph, so you have to pull in the clutch lever. Press the button again and after a couple of revolutions the engine rumbles into life and the engine management system sets it into a fast idle. A quick check on the controls before setting off - just a minute, I can pull the front brake lever back to the bars! I'm assured that this is normal (normal?), but I'm not convinced and I'm going to take things easy for the first couple of miles and check this out. Into first and the light clutch engages smoothly and the engines pulls away cleanly and strongly.

Right, let's look at these brakes. Straight quiet road, plenty of space, 40 mph, de-clutch, gentle pull on the brake lever - Strewth! I almost land on the front tyre. No problems with the front brakes then, and as I clock up more miles I find that hard stops from seriously silly three-figure speeds rarely needs more than a gentle two-finger pull on the lever. The rear brake however can best be described as "for MoTs only", since even standing hard on the pedal seems to have no discernable effect upon forward motion. Hmm?

Back to the riding. The 955 motor really is a stonker, and de-tuned from its Daytona-spec it develops even more torque for fuss-free, press-on riding. Its ability to pull hard and clean from 2,500rpm in any gear makes overtaking a doddle, and even with a pillion and a full luggage load, steamin' across Europe is not going to be a problem on the ST. With the tacho red-lined at 9,500 this is an engine that doesn't need to be revved to get the most from it, as the wide spread of torque means that you don't have to be going up and down the box all the time to make good progress. Which is perhaps just as well as the gearchange on the test bike was rather stiff and notchy, although there was never a problem selecting a gear or getting any false neutrals. Perhaps it will loosen up after a few thousand miles. The Sagem engine management system does a good job of getting the right amount of fuel/air mix into the engine at the right time, but there there were one or two "snatchy" moments when cracking the throttle open in low-speed second-gear corners. Some of this might have been down to a little too much slack in the throttle cable or the drive chain loosening up from new, but we didn't have time during the test to adjust these and see if they made any difference. And although the bike came with a comprehensive toolkit, we didn't have the handbook to find out the correct settings.

The dual-rate springs in the 43mm front forks work well with the monoshock on the rear single-sided swingarm, to give a firm but compliant ride that soaks up the bumps but still provides plenty of feedback. It's only when the pace hots up that the lack of any damping adjustment on the forks makes its presence felt, and the the front can get a little twitchy but things never get out of hand. This is a good-handling bike that steers well, can be used to attack corners and holds a stable line through the bends; the whole plot being supplemented by that glorious engine with its wonderful three-cylinder growl and exhaust note, slightly subdued now with an 80dbA end can. At the rear there's adjustable compression damping and a simple preload adjuster that can be accessed with a screwdriver blade through a hole in the left side of the frame; both useful features for a bike that may need to be well loaded up for those touring two-up touring trips across the continent.

Like all their bikes, Triumph can supply a comprehensive range of accessories for the ST from a 3-box luggage set to a rear seat cowl, by way of a carbon endcan, paddock stand, alarm, dust cover, heated grips and even a disc brake lock. You'll probably need their tank bag if you're going touring, as your magnetic one won't stick well to the composite petrol tank on the ST.

Although the fairing shape is not cutting-edge and may not be to everyone's taste, there's no doubt that it's incredibly effective. At speed, there's just enough wind pressure to take the small amount of body weight off the wrists, and the rest is deflected cleanly over the helmet to give a very relaxed ride. Add to this the stress-free nature of the engine and it's superb pulling ability, and you can find 120+mph indicated on the speedo without even trying. Which can be a little disturbing on a 50-limit road! The fairing also contributes to the good fuel consumption figures, and although we didn't thrash the n*ts off it, it was ridden reasonably hard for most of the time on test and we never got less than 40 mpg. With a 19.5 litre tank this gives a useful range of 160+ miles between fuel stops; but the fuel gauge will be showing almost empty by 120 miles, although at 100 miles it will still be on full.

If all this sounds as though I liked this bike, then you'd be right. But there are a few flies in the ointment. I'm just under 6 foot tall and not known for being long in the leg, but my knees were rubbing hard against the rear edges of fairing panels. While this wasn't uncomfortable, it was unexpected on a bike of this size and is certainly going to mark the panels after a few thousand miles. Moving the pegs would be an option but you're unlikely to find someone making rearsets for a Sprint ST, and if you do then they're certainly not going to improve the comfort factor of the riding position. And the fairing panels don't appear to fit the frame too well. The top edge of the panel doesn't follow the line of the frame, and the gap between the two varies considerably from front to rear. The rear bodywork also comes in for some criticism as the lower part of this completely open. This means that muck from the rear wheel is going to get up inside the rear subframe and make a right mess of everything the first time you go out in the rain. A rear hugger would improve matters here, but you'll have to pay extra to get one fitted.


The Sprint ST is aimed directly at the section of the market that for many years now has been dominated by the Honda VFR, so the boys at Hinkley have given themselves a tough challenge. They should be complimented for producing a bike that has all the dynamic qualities that a sports tourer requires.

Tech Specs

* List price £7,499
* Water cooled 955cc 3-cylinder transverse 12-valve 4-stroke.
* Aluminium beam perimeter frame.
* Tyres 120/70 x 17 front, 180/55 x 17 rear on 3-spoke alloys
* Kerb weight (dry) 207 kg
* Seat height 805mm
* Fuel capacity 19.5 litres
* Colours - Aston Green, Aluminium Silver, Caspian Blue
* Performance -118bhp (120PS) @ 9,100rpm; Torque 74ft/lbs (100Nm) @ 5,100rpm

Read external Triumph Sprint ST reviews on ciao.

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