BMW K1300S vs. Honda VFR1200F vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Triumph Sprint GT

Long distance calling

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Triumph Sprint GT

Never mind for a moment that gratifying three-cylinder wail it leaves behind at 7000 rpm. We’ll be getting to those excellent hard saddlebags, the comfy riding position and genial road manners a little later in the program. Right now, the sexiest part of a new Sprint GT is its $13,200 sticker price. You can’t touch a comparable sport-tourer in anyone else’s showroom for that kind of coin. On the flip side, it requires acquiescing to a little honest input from the sensible side of your brain. Are you willing to live without amenities like shaft drive, heated grips and electronically adjustable anything to save something between $2400 and $7800?

Recast for 2011 to reflect a cleaner, more workmanlike, sport-touring image, the Sprint sits a little lower than its more expensive traveling companions, feeling pleasantly narrow with 5.3 gallons of super unleaded between your knees. Its predecessor’s underseat muffler was lost in the translation from ST to GT in favor of a less adventurous one under the right saddlebag. That opened up more room for a passenger as well as some storage space under the one-piece seat. Speaking of storage, the Triumph’s bags offer more useable space than the others. Taking them off is easy, even under bad lights in a hotel parking garage, and they go back on just as easily in the morning. Critical eyes will notice the cheap-looking adjustable control levers and ignition switch. The mirrors and turn signals obviously didn’t come out of a Honda parts bin, nor did the straight-blade preload adjusters on the forks, which scream Suzuki Katana. Toggling through trip-computer data means poking around the center of the dash and trying to remember which one of those three button does what. A bar-mounted button would be better, but you’re lucky to have a trip computer at this price.

The Sprint looks harmless outside a seemingly nontoxic Central California burger joint. Do you care? Give the chain a quick check, then explain to the curious that Triumph still makes motorcycles, and they don’t leak oil like Uncle Woody’s ’59 Bonneville. Yes, we did come all the way up from Los Angeles. No, we’ve never met Paris Hilton, and we have heard Santa Cruz is full of hippies, now that you mention it. What’s a hippie?

Wind on a handful of throttle on the way out of town and Triumph’s ubiquitous 1050cc triple comes up to freeway speeds easily despite its long gearing, leaving a hint of that gratifying wail hanging in the air to mark its passing. Our Sprint’s transmission felt sticky through the first three gears right out of the crate, but shifting improved once all the cogs got better acquainted. The smallest engine of the bunch feels relatively weak right off the bottom. It works a little harder to keep up at times. Convincing acceleration lives above 5000 rpm. Make that 7000 if you’re really in a rush. Throttle back to a steady 75 mph in sixth and the Britbike feels calm, with just enough mechanical presence to let you know what you’re riding. The cockpit gets a bit breezy if you’re taller than 6-foot-nothing, and long legs inevitably tire of being bent between the low seat and high pegs. Assuming your inseam measurement is something less than 35 inches, racy ergonomics feel natural enough after 100 miles to encourage 100 more.

The Triumph feels sportier than the average sport-tourer. Inveterate sportbike junkies will feel right at home whistling through a few hundred corners at speeds that don’t illicit expensive roadside interludes with local law enforcement. Steering is reasonably light and reassuringly neutral, but lazier than Honda’s VFR through the twistiest bits. No hard parts grind on the pavement. All is well. But when proceedings escalate beyond 8.5 on the Motorcyclist Adjusted Aggression Scale, the Sprint’s reasonably priced suspension and brakes are well beyond their comfort zone. The GT’s relatively simple Showa fork and shock are firmer than their counterparts on the old Sprint ST, but both wilt quickly at this pace, letting Captain Sensible wallow and pitch enough to make most of us uncomfortable. While the Triumph’s engine is ready and willing to hammer along at 9000 rpm all day long, its brakes aren’t.

Back it down around 5000 rpm or so and the Triumph can coax 200-plus miles out of a tankful chasing S.R. 25 up the San Andreas Fault toward Paicines, Tres Pinos and Hollister. It gives you time to think about things. Like how nice a pair of heated grips might feel right now. Judging by that pasture, maybe one 1000-lb. cow really does drop 20,000 lbs. of cow pies every year. Or whether one BMW K1300S in the garage beats owning a Sprint GT and a Honda CRF450X for the same money. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more, but if scaling sport-touring back to the essentials is sounding pretty good right now, this Triumph is all you need.

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carewser
Why the Yamaha FJR1300 was left out of the competition I can't imagine. Triumph? Over Yamaha? Really?
spokexx
I test rode the Triumph Sprint GT this past weekend. Damn I loved it. Now I'm contemplating a purchase but I really don't have to. I just want to. I would say that it is a touring sport bike where as the BMW is a sporty touring bike. The Honda seems to fall into a the former catagory also and the Kawi falls into a class with the beemer. I also test rode an older K1200 ...r? gt? whatever. And Im just not a fan of shaft drive.
mfrito
Didn't you forget the FJR1300?  Just a few years ago it came in second to the Concours.
JETSKI88
Dave,

The BMW's sure are intriguing but all I ever hear is high maintenance costs and expensive repairs.  That has kept me on Kawasakis for 17 years.  Bikes and jetskis.  Reliable and powerful.  Best machines out there!
BMWDave2007K1200S
My lemon
Almost 4 years ago I bought my dream bike a 2007 BMW K1200S from Cliff's BMW in Danbury CT. After about 100 miles the bike started to lurch and jerk under 3000 RPM (tough to make right turns without pulling in the clutch and ride at low speed in 1st gear) Well the dealer did not have a fix so I did not have a problem... After repeated attempts to get it fixed finally after the start of my 3rd season they re-mapped it and it has been fine. They even did not charge me...(how nice was that after all that time to find out it was not me and the way I was riding the bike) 3 years ago I went in because my clutch chattered, slipped and would not let me take off fast. Needless to say my 0-60 MPH in 2.8 seconds bike was not. This is not my first bike and I have driven manual transmission cars for 33 years. Clutches last a very long time. I would bring my bike in and Dave the service manager, Brianna a service writer (at the time, now service manager) and Cliff the owner all said "this is normal" I don't think I have it in writing because they did not want it in the records. I went in many times and was told it is normal. The new owner also "said it was normal" at my last oil change  So no help here... so only about 50 miles later I go to trade the bike because I don't think it is normal. What a surprise that I was told I need a new clutch. It will cost me around $1000.00 for the clutch and the housing. Cliff's should have bought my lemon back and gave me a new bike. between the surging and the clutch my bike was a big disappointment and not what I paid for. With a 19K list price and I paid $17500.00 and I still have around 14 payments left. Thanks for listening and I will tell this story to whoever will let me. Needless to say don't do business with Cliff he has an insurance company now and I am sure won't have anyones interest but his at heart.
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