“That’s a new Sprint GT, how did you get that? It’s not even available yet.” These were the words stammered out in a barely understandable, thick Irish accent from an enthusiastic ferry worker as I parked the bike in the lower vehicle deck of the ferry, Snaefell, which took Paddy and me over to the Isle of Man from Liverpool for the 2010 race festival. I’d picked the bike up two days prior, which meant I hadn’t yet had the need to explain to fellow riders how I came to be riding a pre-production motorcycle, although plenty of people stopped and admired it, as they had only heard rumours about it, or had seen photos of it on Triumph’s website. Other than a press launch just days before in rural Scotland, it hadn’t made it into any European magazines yet, so this really was the first time anyone had seen the new Sprint GT in flesh, so to speak. That initial ferry worker happens to own a previous version Sprint ST and was very curious how I came by this bike, since the GT was only to begin production the following week. My explanation was followed by dozens of other questions regarding handling and performance of Triumph’s new sport-touring bike.
I was fortunate enough to snag the pre-production Sprint GT from the Triumph factory in Hinckley, England, for my “European Vacation,” which meant I had a little over three weeks to give the bike a good workout. As it turned out, the GT is quite athletic and it barely broke a sweat.
The 2011 Sprint GT is a reconfiguration of the ST, a model that has had a good five years to stretch its legs and, therefore, any shortcomings in the design should be reconfigured into a better, more obliging bike in the GT. I couldn’t compare the ST to the new GT since I had never ridden the previous version, but the GT was a compliant bike on so many levels.
My initial stab at the starter button brought the in-line, three-cylinder engine immediately to life, and it instantly settled into a nice, smooth idle. The liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC 1050 cc engine is the same used in the previous ST, but thanks to a re-designed triangular-shaped exhaust system and a reprogrammed ECU, horsepower has increased five ponies to 128 at 9100 rpm, while torque has been boosted by four foot-pounds to 80. More importantly, the peak torque now takes place at a more usable mid-range engine speed of 6300 rpm, as opposed to the previous 7500 rpm.
Acceleration is butter smooth anywhere in the rev range, and although sixth gear is an overdrive, it still accelerates at a decent pace on the highway. But to really enjoy the ride, dropping down a couple gears is where the fun begins. The need for acceleration became immediately apparent in England and parts of continental Europe, where traffic congestion warrants passing just about everything in sight, often with very little room before having to duck back into your lane to narrowly avoid the oncoming vehicle. The transmission shifted lightly through all gears with a light snick, although I often found neutral hard to select from first, and it seemed easier to find it by clicking down from second. The adjustable clutch lever provided smooth and predictable action through the clutch cable. Even with the jackrabbit acceleration and high-speed German autobahns, I was still able to average a very respectable 5.3 L/100 km (52.5 mpg). Regular riding on our Canadian roads, in a much more civilized manner, should yield very decent mileage numbers.
Quick acceleration and swift rowing through the gears also equates to the other end of the spectrum. Finding room to squeeze back into your lane after a high-speed pass required extensive use of the brakes to slow down before you kissed the bumper of the vehicle in front. Thankfully, the brakes worked as well to slow the GT down as the engine did to speed up. At speed, care must be taken as the dual 320 mm floating rotors and four-piston Nissin calipers up front required only a light pull on the brake lever to make very quick work of slowing the bike down, while the rear 255 mm rotor and dual-piston caliper did a great job of assisting the front binders. The GT comes standard with ABS, and while I’m sure I came close at times, it didn’t engage in a panic situation. I did, however, employ the ABS when the roads were wet just to ensure it worked, resulting in the usual pulsing of the foot pedal and the hand lever.
While the Sprint ST tended to lean more to the sport side of the sport-touring moniker, the Sprint Grand Tour has undergone a few tweaks, rendering it a little heavier on the touring side of the genre. Due to the fact that the exhaust no longer exits from below the seat at the rear of the bike, the redesigned seat no longer toasts your buns in the heat of summer. It also now offers some underseat storage, and has been lowered slightly to 815 mm (32.1 in.). Lowered foot pegs have also enhanced rider comfort. While there is still a very slight lean forward in the new GT’s riding position, it isn’t overbearing, and I was able to ride many hours, day after day, without any discomfort to neck, shoulders or wrists. Those many days in the saddle also testify to the comfort of the seat. It was only after many long days of all-day riding that I had to stand on the pegs or slip a cheek off the seat from time to time to give my derriere a break. Wind protection was excellent from the neck down, leaving your helmet in clean, turbulent-free air. But in saying that, wind and rain get thrown from the non-adjustable windshield directly at neck level.
With a few changes to the front end of the bike, one of which is a new reflector headlight design, it’s the rear of the bike that takes on the biggest changes. The whole rear subframe of the bike has been modified to handle the extra weight brought on by 31-litre panniers that claim to hold 7.5 kg (17 lb.) each. The pannier’s locking system uses the ignition key, and the bags are very easy to operate and remove from the bike single-handedly when you get to your destination. The bag’s mounting points are flexible, allowing the bags to move quite a bit; Triumph claims this flexibility cancels the effect of loaded saddlebags on the chassis and helps to maintain high-speed stability. The GT looks equally good with the panniers off. While the panniers proved to be completely watertight, they are of the clamshell design. Personally, I prefer top-opening panniers and letting gravity do its job to help fill them, rather than fighting gravity as it tries to unload the side-opening cases as I try to fill them up. One thing to remember – the panniers are wider than the fairing and the handlebars, so care must be taken when squeezing into tight spots, and that your boot doesn’t scuff the colour-matched side case as you throw your leg over the seat.
The luggage rack and sturdy passenger handles are a new addition, as is the optional top box. The top box, with integral 12-volt power supply, wasn’t available when I picked up my demo, but Triumph claims it will hold two full-face helmets. There is also a small locking glove box on the right-hand side of the fairing that will easily hold a wallet and phone or other items for easy access.
The lengthened single-sided swingarm has increased the wheelbase by 80 mm (3.1 in.) for added stability when fully loaded, bringing the wheelbase up to 1537 mm (60.5 in.). (Unfortunately, the new three-into-one triangular muffler hides the open wheel face.) While the longer wheelbase, in theory, has some detrimental effect on cornering, the GT did corner quite easily with a slight push on the bars, and the dual compound Bridgestone BT021 (120/70-17 on the front and 180/55-17 bringing up the rear) easily held on to every corner. While high-speed cornering was a breeze, low-speed cornering was a whole different ball game. The GT felt top heavy and the turning radius was very wide. At a hard lock, my hands were quite close to the fuel tank, making for awkward clutch operation, and three-point turns were the norm. Helping the three-point turns is GT’s weight of 268 kg (590 lb.) ready to ride – that is, full of oil, fuel, coolant and with battery installed – making it one of the lightest in the full-sized sport-touring genre.
Front and rear suspension has been updated on the GT. The monoshock rear suspension offered an easily accessible knob to adjust preload and rebound damping for various road conditions, or for solo and two-up riding. The front fork has dual-rate springs and adjustable preload. The factory setting worked great for the roads I was on. Many times I would find myself leaning over in a corner when I hit a series of bumps, but never once did the bike feel upset, and the tires stayed firmly planted on the tarmac. Some of the roads I rode on, especially in Eastern Europe, had pot-holes that could swallow a small bus, but with 152 mm (6 in.) travel in the rear and 127 mm (5 in.) up front, the suspension never bottomed out with a solo rider and fully loaded panniers.
Instrumentation consists of an analog tach flanked by a speedo on the left and an LCD trip computer display on the right. The tach has large numbers and is easy to read at a glance, but the numbers on the speedo were small and hard to read, a comment that was echoed by the Sprint ST-owning Isle of Man ferry worker who sounded disappointed that this oversight wasn’t fixed on the new model. The multi-function trip computer toggles information such as average and top speed, immediate and average fuel economy, clock, kilometeres until empty, and a few other tidbits of info you may never need to look at. Not noticeable until dark is the colour of the trip computer display – it’s lit up blue. It seems out of place, since the analog speedo and tach are not blue.
The handgrips buzzed ever so slightly over 5000 rpm, but it is very rare you would have to feel this for long, since riding at 80 km/h in sixth gear registers an engine speed of only 2800 rpm. The fairing-mounted mirrors played double duty, as their fronts act as turn signals. The mirrors are set out from the fairing enough to offer a full view of what you just passed and were completely vibration-free.
While the underseat exhaust of the previous ST won’t help on those cool days, there is a 12-volt outlet tucked neatly inside the left side of the fairing to plug in any heated clothing or a GPS.
Rider comfort and ergonomics, excellent fuel economy, good weather protection, plenty of smooth useable power and efficient braking make the new 2011 Sprint GT, by anyone’s standards, a very obedient long-haul road-burner. Scheduled for a 2010 fall release, the new Sprint GT should be arriving in Canadian showrooms as you read this, and at an exceptionally reasonable price of $14,399, you can expect to see plenty of these full-on sport tourers on the road come springtime.
For more information on the new Triumph Sprint GT, go to www.triumph.co.uk and click on Canada.