First RideGive Triumph credit for having guts. With the all-new TT600, the comparatively tiny manufacturer has elected to go head-to-head with the likes of Honda and Yamaha for a share of one of the most competitive market segments there is: middleweight supersports. Moreover, Triumph has repeatedly signaled that it won't be happy to create a "Triumph of the 600s" but will reset the existing middleweight standards. Those are fighting words, guv'.
A big problem in this class is the rapid pace of development. When Triumph began this exercise in early 1996 neither the Honda CBR600F4 nor the Yamaha YZF-R6 had been introduced. With the arrival of those bikes, Triumph realized it would have to re-aim its efforts to take top honors, so a comprehensive midproject rework was undertaken. Separately, the bike's engine and chassis were designed and tweaked-for a time a prototype TT circulated European racetracks with a previous-generation ZX-6R engine amidships. Last August, with an engine making 108 horsepower at the crank and a chassis pruned for an all-up weight of 374 pounds, the TT600 once again hit the racetracks for suspension calibration.
Finally, in March, the TT was introduced to the world press in south-western France. The short answer is this: Everyone there felt Triumph had, perhaps amazingly, pegged the target dead-center, producing a genuinely competitive middleweight supersport that will need no disclaimers or excuses to stand fairing-to-fairing with the F4 and R6.
Four years in development sounds like a long time, but it's an eyeblink compared with the head start the other manufacturers have in the 600 class. What's more, Triumph had to completely abandon the modular philosophy that has served it so well (economically, at least) and concentrate on making the TT the best 600 it could without regard to sister platforms or even future expansion. (Triumph believes that as quickly as the 600 class moves, its next salvo will have to be another clean-sheet design.)
Why a four-cylinder bike in a product line dominated by triples? Triumph briefly considered a triple, but to be competitive in outright horsepower it would have to be nearly 700cc. To be smooth, the triple needs a balance shaft, preferably located ahead of the cylinder bank, and this requirement precludes nestling the engine as close as possible to the front wheel. So a four-banger it is. Triumph follows class orthodoxy in general and the CBR-F4 in particular. With a 68.0mm bore and a 41.3mm stroke, the TT's 599cc four is the most oversquare of the current 600s-and has the highest compression ratio, at 12.5:1. Dual overhead cams are driven by chain from the right side of the crank and the primary drive is via straight-cut gears to the clutch basket. Triumph has, for the first time, used die-cast aluminum cases; all of its other engines have sand-cast cases. The company says tighter production tolerances result.
Although the TT's engine is not a carbon copy of a Honda or Yamaha powerplant, it strays from the norm only in the details, such as cast sections at the top of the exhaust header that allow the port shape to be continued well into the pipe. Triumph also fitted digital fuel-injection, marking its first appearance in the 600 class. Similar to the system used in the larger triples, the ram-air-fed Sagem setup allows injection and ignition maps to be changed to suit aftermarket pipes. (Triumph will sell its own slip-on muffler in stainless and carbon-fiber wrap.) And, at $8299, the TT is priced just a bit above its Asian opponents.