2011 Triumph Sprint GT ABS Sport Tourer Motorcycle Test

Since the Triumph Sprint ST’s redesign in 2005, I’ve been drooling over the sport-tourer, waiting for my chance to try one out. The ST was, to me, the most aesthetically beautiful motorcycle I’d seen to date, and after riding several other Triumphs that use the same liquid-cooled, 12-valve, 1050cc in-line three-cylinder power plant, I decided that it’s my engine of choice. The ST’s sporty design, at least on paper, would completely satisfy my needs for two-wheeled excitement. And with hard bags as standard equipment beginning in 2007, the Sprint ST seemed the perfect all-around motorcycle.

I finally had a chance to test my theory last year at a Pirelli tire launch. But my dreams quickly faded as the ST’s low, sporty bar position was far from comfortable. Leaning forward and down is okay on the track or for quick jaunts around town, when you’re spending just 10 or 20 minutes at a time shifting your weight from one side to the other. But in the real world, I need to be able to comfortably spend more than a few hours in the saddle before wrist or back pain ends my day of riding. The dream of the Sprint being my perfect motorcycle was over or so I thought.

When we acquired Triumph’s new 2011 Sprint GT, which was positioned to be more touring friendly than the ST, my hopes was resurrected. While the touring aspect has been given special attention, the GT carries over all the sporty characteristics of the ST, including the low sport bars that I loathe so much. Even so, the GT is a more practical choice. Besides the large, color-matched panniers that come as standard equipment, many aspects of the new Sprint focus squarely on rider and passenger comfort. The under-seat exhaust found on the ST has been replaced with a triangular, lower-right-side canister. The new can removes the heat that can be felt through the seat on the ST, while improving engine power and center of gravity. It also frees up the area under the seat for additional storage. The battery, fuse boxes, and electronics are located under the seat in the generous storage area, and are tidy, conveniently located, and labelled. Another convenience feature Triumph revised is an easier-to-use centerstand.

A newly redesigned luggage rack incorporates realistically sized passenger grab rails. A new seat lowers the pillion, while a lowered passenger footrest position offers greater long- distance comfort. Four hidden tabs are attached to the bottom of the seat for additional bungee points, should you require them.

The Sprint GT is lower and longer than the ST, with a longer single-sided swingarm, lighter rear wheel, and ABS as standard equipment. The front suspension is revised with updated internals for improved control, reduced dive under braking, and a more solid feel and overall improved performance. The GT gets an all-new rear shock with a remote preload adjuster wheel you can turn without tools. The front brake discs are lighter than the ST’s and have a more rigid mount that increases durability, and the brake pad formulation has also been enhanced for more performance and feel. Triumph claims that the GT’s overall braking power is 10 percent better than the ST’s, appropriately, considering the two-up, fully loaded intent of the touring model. New, dual-compound Bridgestone BT021 tires are more durable than the BT020s they replace.

While the ST is meant to be the sportier of the two models, the exhaust and ECU change actually created a slight engine performance increase. The GT’s 128 hp at 9200 rpm is 5 horses over the ST, and 80 ft-lbs. of torque is also stronger than before. But not only do these numbers increase, but the torque is delivered at 1200 rpm lower, making the GT stronger all the way though the rev range. Gearing is well-placed, and each shift is heard and felt with a very solid thunk. Levers are fully adjustable, which is good because the clutch can be considered a little on the stiff side. Sixth gear on the GT is 7 percent taller than on the ST, providing a more relaxed highway ride with improved fuel economy.

The new cockpit fairing and headlamp on the GT update the ST model as well, sporting an edgy style. The full fairing tends to trap the engine heat, like so many sport-tourers do, and it’s felt on the shins and feet. I found that wearing riding pants guard against the heat. The reflector headlights offer a wider spread of light, which work extremely well at night. A new internal mirror mounting system keeps reflections clear and free from vibration. A lockable compartment on the right fairing isn’t new, but makes storing small items pretty convenient. Unfortunately, it’s not waterproof. While it’s the perfect size for the tool kit, an iPod, and more, make sure your stuff is sealed before you stow it in that space.

On the dash, a stylish triple dial display includes an analog speedometer on the far left with teensy little numbers. You’ll need more than a quick look at the speedo in order to register your speed until you’re used to the layout. The middle display shows the tachometer, which has a more legible readout and a variety of warning lights. And the far right dial encompasses the digital onboard computer. This LCD readout includes fuel consumption, range-to-empty, journey time, average speed, fuel and temp gauge, two trips, and a clock. This digital gauge glows a cool blue after dark, which some staffers liked, and others found a little harder to see than a whiter light. But everyone agreed that the three rubberized toggle buttons are extremely difficult to find at night. Even when you know exactly where they are, getting a feel through gloves is almost impossible. It’s time for Triumph to use the technology it incorporated into its own Rocket III Touring model: move at least one toggle switch up to the handlebar controls where it’s easy to use without taking your hands off the grips.

The factory-fitted, large, color-matched panniers are new for the GT and come as standard equipment. (Note: The ST is sold with hard bags as an optional accessory again.) The good-looking hard bags follow the slanted design of the bike, offer 31 liters of capacity, and will fit full-face helmets. Our test unit didn’t have the optional top box, which is said to accommodate two full-sized helmets and incorporates a trick, plug-and-play, 12-volt power supply for on the go charging. All bags lock with the ignition key, and use Triumph’s particular bag mounting system, which allows a degree of movement relative to the bike. This movement allows for greater stability and chassis control while loaded and at speed. One turn of the key will lock the bags to the bike but allow you to open and close them without the key. Turn the key past this point to fully lock them. I found this feature especially convenient when warming the bike up, as I could continue filling the bags while the engine was running. Wide elastic straps on the upper and lower portion of the saddlebags meet in the middle with a plastic U-hook, which is easy to use with one hand and holds contents securely while you close the lid. To close, just push the lid and the twin ratchet closure system clicks loudly and securely. I initially wondered whether these bags would be watertight, as they appear to leave an open gap when closed completely. However, upon close examination, I saw that the bags were designed with a waterproof gasket inside a wide plastic lip. After drenching the bike in direct spray for some time, there was no water seepage whatsoever.

With a 5.3-gallon fuel tank, I averaged 38 mpg, giving me an estimated range of just over 200 miles. Taking my nine-year-old as a passenger, I noticed the roominess of the pillion. Not only did I not feel her body against mine at all, but I had to insist that she hold onto me, even though the grab rails were in the natural spot for her. I was careful to shift smoothly and take off slowly, because without a top case or backrest behind her, I was afraid of her falling off. The combination of my body leaning far forward and the roomy passenger area made it seem like she was a mile behind me. She also noted how she was able to look forward and over my head, instead of having to look around my helmet.

Using the GT as my daily ride for the few weeks we had it, I was able to log a fair amount of miles. The long length of the bike can feel intimidating but once moving feels stable and solid. The torquey powerband emphasizes the sporty intention of this motorcycle, and keeping it legal may be the hardest part of riding the Sprint. I tried to get used to the seating position, because except for the back and wrist discomfort it gives me, I really love this motorcycle. I’ve found that on most bikes that are fast and swift and a pleasure to wind through fast sweepers, you don’t notice the discomfort. But I would eventually have to raise the bars if I were to spend more time with my beloved Sprint. RB

By Tricia Szulewski, Photos By Bob Feather

Originally published in RoadBike, March 2011