L.A. to Laguna

By The Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Todd Westover, Joe Bonello

Triumph Sprint ST
The insult comic sport-tourer
Words: Brian Catterson

Ever been to Salinas? It's a nice place ... for me to poop on!

Sorry, but whenever I hear the name Triumph nowadays, I can't help but think of the insult comic dog from Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Ever since the trash-talking, cigar-chomping mutt told J. Lo her butt was "like Mount Everest for dogs," he's made me, uh, howl.

I got a hoot out of riding this latest version of the Triumph Sprint ST, too. Apologies to my two high-rolling companions, Charles Everitt Winchester III and Tim Car-rithers, but I don't care how much money you spend, there's no better platform for sport-touring than a sport-tourer. And when your destination is the USGP at Laguna Seca, and your tour guide Photo Joe Bonerello on the Notorious CGC (Cagiva Gran Canyon), the sportier the better.

For 2005, Triumph--the manufacturer, not the dog--redesigned the Sprint from top to bottom, giving it an all-new twin-spar aluminum frame and the same fuel-injected, 1050cc inline-triple as the nasty-boy Speed Triple. Compared with the previous 955cc version, it's got significantly more poop, if you'll pardon my pinscher.

Things didn't bode well for our trip when I turned the Sprint's ignition key for the first time and nothing happened. Dead battery? Nope. Not until you toggle the kill switch does the dash report for duty, the analog speedo and tach needles sweeping gracefully through their arcs, the warning lights illuminating to signify they're present and accounted for. Cool display, but it takes about five seconds, during which time the engine won't start. That's not an issue until you're parked in the middle of one-lane Santa Rosa Creek Road with a hay truck fast approaching.

Fittingly, the triple's dash--along with its headlights and underseat muffler outlets--holds true to the Rule of Threes, with a trio of gauges: speedo on the left, tach in the middle and multi-function trip computer on the right. Pressing the leftmost (of three, naturally) buttons varies the digital display to show time, mileage, fuel economy and range, plus average and top speeds--but not your current speed, which would be arguably more useful given the tiny numbers on the 180-mph speedo. Something to consider when your target buyers are in their 40s; our vision isn't getting any better, you know.

Cruising I-5 en route to our rendezvous point at Kernville, I found the Sprint's riding position to be pretty much perfect for sport-touring, with handlebars that aren't too far of a reach, footpegs that aren't too radically rearset, a fuel tank that isn't too fat and a smallish windscreen that actually does a good job of deflecting windblast. The seat felt nice and cushy at first, but got a bit too cushy as we piled on the miles, the padding compressing until I could feel the plastic base. That, however, pales in comparison to the other comfort issue: excessive engine heat rising up around the fuel tank and radiating from the exhaust pipe inboard of the

right footpeg. Admittedly, this was worse in slow going than at speed, but I'm fairly certain I'm sterile now.In terms of power delivery and handling, the Sprint feels much like a typical inline-four. Two details are notably different: First is vibration; not in a bothersome, high-frequency, finger-tingling sort of way, but rather a coarse buzz. And second, the distinctive exhaust note, which changes from a menacing rottweiler growl at low revs to a coyote howl near redline. So you could say it has the bark to go with its bite.

It would be tempting to blame engine vibration for the blurred images in the well-placed mirrors, but alas, they were fuzzy even when the engine wasn't running. Coast-racing down the twisty, bumpy stretch of road from Fort Hunter Liggett to Highway 1, I couldn't tell if it was Timmy on the Beemer, Charlie on the Wing or Michael in the chase truck following me. Joining the mirrors in their Shakira-shaking-her-moneymaker impression were the projector-beam headlights, whose narrow, rainbow-hued beams had motorists in front of me darting for the shoulder at night thinking they were being pulled over by the police. I could maybe overlook that if it had only happened once, but it happened several times. Weird.

To make our Sprint into a proper sport-tourer, we installed a set of Triumph's accessory panniers (saddlebags for those of you in Rio Linda), which for $1050 ought to work better than they do. While the floating, color-matched bags look great, they aren't easy to use. Putting them on and taking them off is relatively painless, and opening them isn't particularly difficult. But closing them with your belongings inside is--apologies to comic Triumph's mom--a real bitch. It takes three hands and a small boy to turn the key, hold down the big button and align the edges of the Tupperware-like lid with their respective slots in the base. The bags are also way too wide--some 38.5 inches across, compared with 36 inches for the RT and just 33 inches for the Gold Wing--which restricts your mobility in traffic ... say while splitting lanes for 45 minutes leaving Laguna Seca. And on top of that they aren't waterproof! You'd think, of all people, the British would understand the importance of keeping one's knickers dry.

Not surprisingly, the bags' added weight (chock-full of a week's worth of clothing and toiletries) taxed the rear suspension, the shock feeling sacked-out and the front end pushing wide in corners. Maxing spring preload in back restored handling to its previous glory, even if the screwdriver in the included toolkit proved too small to turn the adjuster. You need one with a fatter handle to get the necessary leverage.

OK, I'm nitpicking, but that's only because I spent the better part of a week and 1100 miles on the Triumph and have seen plenty of its soft underbelly. Admittedly, most of my criticisms concern peripheral issues, and at its essence the Sprint is a superb motorcycle. Between its potent engine and its near-flawless handling, suspension and brakes, the Sprint ST stood head and shoulders above the other two pretenders whenever the road turned twisty--which on this ride meant most of the time. Although Tim and the BMW did a surprisingly good job of filling my mirrors on occasion, I could pretty much disappear at will. That's because, bags or no bags, the Sprint is a sportbike at heart, whereas the RT and the Wing seem more like conveyances with which to haul an ever-increasing number of gadgets.

The Sprint ST doesn't have a stereo, an intercom, an adjustable windscreen, an electrically heated seat, a top box, a passenger backrest, fairing vents, shaft drive, EAS, ABS, LBS or any other BS, which is fine by me. Consequently, and because the British--bless their nationalistic little souls--still trade in pounds rather than euros, Triumph hasn't been affected by the poor exchange rate that has haunted European manufacturers of late. That means its motorcycles are a relative bargain, especially compared with the overpriced luxury liners piloted by my two nouveau riche companions.

As Triumph the dog might say: "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poop-On? I keed, I keed, I joke with you! But really, Honda, you're so fat, Sir Mix-A-Lot should have sung, `Goldie's Got Back.' And Beemer, dreamer, you're no motorsickle, you turn me on as much as Michael Jackson's tickle. My namesake, Triumph, that's the one, if all bikes were this good, there would be none ... for me to poop on!"

By The Motorcyclist Staff
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