Triumph provided four of its latest Urban Sport motorcycles for us to test on the southern roads surrounding Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The hazy skyline of the Smoky Mountains in the distance contrasts the sharp lines and vibrant colors right before us – a host of Triumph motorcycles all begging for action. Arriving in Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Triumph’s invitation, MotorcycleUSA.com was on hand to sample four bikes from the British firm’s 2008 Urban Sport lineup: the Speed Triple, Sprint ST, Tiger and Daytona 675.
Reborn under the financial resources of John Bloor, the Triumph name has transformed from economic ruin to annual sales of almost 13,000 units. The blueprint for success, as explained by Triumph’s North American Marketing Manager, Jim Callahan, is simple – “build on our reputation for high quality, well-engineered, well-designed bikes that are enjoyable to ride and full of character.”
The key word being “character,” as there is simply no doubt about the distinctive nature of the marque’s three-cylinder Triple powerplant. Teamed with the Twin-powered Modern Classics line, which stokes up nostalgia for the resurrected brand’s storied past, and you have a formula for success. It is a formula which Triumph believes will equate to the ambitious goal of increasing annual global sales up to 28,500 units within three years.
In order to hit those lofty numbers, Trumpet sales in the U.S. are critical, with North America CEO Mark Kennedy confirming that while market share in the States is small, in terms of volume it is the British firm’s biggest prize. The three-year doubling of sales calls for two courses of action: introducing new models and maintaining interest in the current bikes with appropriate updates.
Triumph has also bolstered sales by brandishing its name on a full accessory lineup that includes cosmetic and performance upgrades. Our contingent of Tennessee Trumpets included a liberal dose of carbon fiber and painted bolt-on parts that showcase how easy it is to customize bikes to individual tastes.
Arrow aftermarket exhausts were also prevalent on our test bike stable, as Triumph enjoys a productive partnership with the Italian exhaust manufacturer that now includes street-legal slip-on pipes to complement its track-only designs. We even had the opportunity to sample some of Triumph’s in-house riding gear. (To find out what we thought check out our Triumph Sympatex Jacket Review).
So, with promises of new models and outlines of corporate strategies rattling in our head, here we are glancing at these glistening Urban Sports. Curiously, only the Speed Triple received significant ’08 upgrades (the subject of its own 2008 Speed Triple – First Ride article), but we weren’t complaining, as this brace of Triples was prepped for a full day’s ride through the beautiful roads surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Our looping 140-mile route called for climbing up and over the Smokies south into Cherokee, North Carolina. From there we’d turn westward to head north on the notorious stretch of US-129 known as the Tail of the Dragon. Afterward we’d return eastbound back to Gatlinburg.
Although threatening rain clouds promise wet pavement in the immediate future, our biggest worry at the moment is choosing what to ride. All four Triumph models are arrayed in various states, from bone stock up to quasi-street-legal accessory showpieces. Hmm, what to choose… It’s a rough job, but someone’s got to do it.
Our first ride selection is the 2008 Sprint ST. We enjoyed the sporty, revitalized Sprint when we tested it last summer and felt immediately comfortable while motoring into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on our Tornado Red tester.
Deserving first mention on the trio of large-displacement Triumphs is the 1050cc Inline-Three (79mm bore x 71.4mm stroke). Different exhausts and engine mapping modify the tuning between the three 1050s, with the Sprint motor churning out smooth touring-type delivery on the low end and plenty sportbike-style oomph as the tach winds out to the indicated 10K redline.
The eye-catching Tornado Red paint scheme for the Sprint ST returns, with new-for-2008 colors Pacific Blue and Graphite also available.
Climbing up Highway 441 into the Smokies, the crisp Triple cackles in the morning air. Overflowing with torque and hp pop (118 hp and 72 lb-ft at the rear wheel when dynoed last year), the Triple powerplant distinguishes itself in the Twin- and Four-cylinder-dominated sportbike realm with its unique exhaust tone.
The six-speed transmission and pliant clutch are all user-friendly – just as we remember from our 2007 Triumph Sprint ST – First Ride evaluation. Also unchanged for 2008 are the dual four-piston Nissin calipers pinching down on 320mm rotors, which deliver progressive, confident stopping power.
Leaning heavy on the sport side of the “sport-touring” scales, the Sprint is still the dexterous handler we remember. Showa suspension components make a solid, stable base – although the preload-adjustable 43mm fork contrasts the more adaptable units found on its 1050 siblings. But the stock settings on our machine suit our tastes and the curvy sections of 441 are a pleasant point and shoot affair, with the Sprint’s able motor and deft handling making us long for a potential faceoff with the 2008 Super Sport-Touring winning Yamaha FJR…
The big upgrade to the 2008 Sprint is its new steel fuel tank. Oddly enough, the inability to attach a magnetic tank bag was one of our few gripes with last year’s unit. The bad news is the Sprint ST still lacks some of the touring amenities that many S-T riders consider “standard” – like an an on-the-fly adjustable windscreen and gear position indicator. Maybe next year.
As a sport-tourer the Sprint ST still leans toward the sporting end, with accessory parts like a larger windscreen and heated grips for the touring set.
Minor grievances aired, our current Sprint ST is fitted with a larger accessory windscreen, which – if our fuzzy memory serves – is an improvement over the stock unit we tested last year. Our kitted out ST also features heated grips, much appreciated on a brisk Tennessee morning. Another touring perk on the ’08 Sprint is the now-standard integrated side luggage, with an optional top case. They are very handy, although they do not seem as spacious as some found in the S-T clique.
Changes in 2007 relaxed the ST’s sporty ergos, but there is still a subtle forward pitch from the current riding position that pushes the pilot to a more aggressive stance than that on a typical touring bike. This is a good fit for those sporty portions of the tour, but the long-haul downside is wrist fatigue. The seat is comfortable, however, and overall the ST is certainly capable of piling on the miles.
New colors for 2008 include Pacific Blue and Graphite, with an MSRP of $10,999 (optional ABS $11,799). Callahan also mentioned that this year there will be a better supply of STs at Triumph dealers.