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.
Chassis-wise, the TT stays in the 600-class comfort zone, with a 54.9-inch wheelbase and aggressive geometry-24 degrees of rake (about the same as the other 600s) and just 82mm of trail (considerably less than most but 1mm more than the R6). As you would predict, Triumph emphasized chassis stiffness and low weight; the bare frame is claimed to weigh just 28 pounds. Fully adjustable Kayaba suspension components are fitted; the 43mm fork is noteworthy for using an aluminum cartridge.
Throw a leg over the TT and you'd swear you're on a restyled F4. Aluminum clip-ons mounted above the triple clamp greet you and there's even a comfortable seat. An R6-style gauge cluster peeks out of the slightly bulbous fairing. The metal fuel tank's humpback shape vaguely recalls Triumph's Daytona and Sprint models. In person, the TT comes off more polished and purposeful than photos suggest, but it's still staid compared with the vicious R6 and chunky Kawasaki ZX-6R; the red/silver paint scheme is by far the more attractive.
Our first ride on the bike came at Pau-Arnot, a tidy track in the shadows of the Pyrenees. Looking like a 51/48-scale Sears Point with a fussy, half-size Laguna Seca-like corkscrew thrown in, Pau's flowing curves and lack of long straights flattered the TT. Consistently stable and predictable, the TT nonetheless possesses quick responses and rapid roll rates; it changes direction with little effort. Riders expecting the TT's 82mm of trail to inflict headshake or instability will be pleasantly surprised. In general, the TT places between the stable F4 and the lightning-quick R6. Without the direct competition on hand, it's hard to precisely position the TT among its peers; first impressions suggest that while the TT may not set new standards for the class, it's most definitely in the hunt.
The same can be said of the engine. Although it's got a bit more mechanical noise than the F4's, the TT's powerplant is a significant achievement. Good torque in the midrange makes road riding pleasurable, but all the excitement waits until you get past 10,000 rpm. From there to the 14,000-rpm rev limiter, the TT positively howls, pulling strongly even at high velocities in the taller gears. A blast up to 130 mph is no trouble at all. Shift action is fine-perhaps not as good as the best Japanese middleweights, but no embarrassment, either.
On the fast but rough roads surrounding Pau, the TT pleased the scribblers and amazed the French. The engine is soft on the bottom of the rev range, but all the current, high-output 600s are, and there's a bit of vibration coming through the footpegs at near-legal cruising speeds. Triumph had the track bikes fitted with its "racing" silencer and remapped injection while the road bikes remained stock. The modded versions had noticeably better throttle response but even the standard bike follows Triumph's successes of installing friendly and lurch-free injection systems. Reduced emissions rank among fuel injection's big benefits; Triumph claims the TT engine is the cleanest it's ever built.
Among the TT's most noteworthy chassis accomplishments is its excellent suspension. Even for larger riders, the TT is adequately sprung and the damping rates feel ideally matched. Although the ride is taut, the TT was never harsh, even over some very sharp-edged breaks in the French pavement. All told, the TT proved both comfortable and thrilling on the road, with decent weather protection and a relaxed riding position.
How it will do in a straight fight against the other 600s remains to be seen. We can hardly wait to get a TT600 stateside and put it against the best of the 600 class. There's a strong chance the TT might unseat the CBR-F4 as the best middleweight all-arounder. Even if it doesn't, for Triumph to have come so far, to be so close to the heart of a very competitive class on its first try is a real, um, triumph.
|MSRP ||$8299 |
|Type ||liquid-cooled inline-four |
|Valve arrangement ||dohc, 16v |
|Displacement ||599cc |
|Transmission ||6-speed |
|Weight (claimed) ||374 lb. (170 kg) dry |
|Fuel capacity ||4.8 gal. (18L) |
|Wheelbase ||54.9 in. (1395mm) |
|Seat height ||31.9 in. (810mm) |