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2003 Triumph Daytona 600

Friday, August 1, 2003
2003 Triumph Daytona
2003 Triumph Daytona 600
You Don't Know Union Jack

Those of you who worship at the altar of motorcycle technology usually bow toward a certain Asian island in the Pacific. Japan has been unmatched at providing the highest specific-output engines on the planet, and nowhere is that more evident than in the category of four-cylinder sportbikes. Forged this, controlled-fill alloy that, and now titanium valves on the 2004 GSX-R600. Small wonder, then, that few others have been brave enough to immerse themselves in the scalding 600cc supersport cauldron, perhaps the most competitive market segment of them all.

That's why so many were shocked when upstart Triumph unveiled its supersport challenger in 2000, the TT600. Looking like a year-old Honda CBR600F4 left sitting in the sun too long, the TT appeared exceedingly dull next to new road blades such as the revamped F4i and Yamaha's lithe R6.

Also hindering the TT was its fuel-injection performance. Triumph was the first to fit EFI to a 600, and its early adoption resulted in an underdeveloped system that exhibited uneven fueling at low speeds—and endless updates to its fuel mapping program in a mostly vain attempt to make it better. Equally as bad was the relative lack of power from the injected motor, with most models over its three-year lifespan not able to crank out much more than 90 hp or 40 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheel.

Despite its solid-handling and quick-steering chassis, sales of the TT were far behind the Japanese offerings and it seemed as if Triumph had bitten off more than it could chew. But the number of units sold was actually pretty good for the much smaller Triumph operation than it would be for any of its Big Four competition.

And so, rather than be intimidated out of the supersport class, Triumph has come out with its next generation of middleweights, the Daytona 600. Although Triumph was unable to provide a Daytona in time for our five-bike Supersport shootout, MCUSA readers still clamored for information about the new contender from England. Our man Neale Bayly gave us a report from the Daytona's media introduction in Spain, but press intros aren't as revealing of a bike's overall performance as actually living with the bike for awhile. So here it is, our full road test of the Daytona.

As fresh as it looks, the Daytona is really just a highly evolved TT600 wearing an edgy and attractive new set of clothes. The two bikes share the same rake and trail, nearly identical wheelbase, 43mm conventional cartridge fork, and 4-piston-caliper front brakes with dual discs (down 2mm in diameter to 308mm). The Daytona uses the same basic motor as the TT, but with new pistons, a lighter crank and a CNC-machined cylinder head for improved flow. On the intake side, Triumph has abandoned the troublesome Sagem fuel injection for a twin-butterfly system from Keihin, helping up claimed horsepower from 108 to 110.

2003 Triumph Daytona
The Daytona looks captivating when the sun hits its edgy fairing the right way. Note the cool pair of bulges where the exhaust pipe merges from two to one.
Hopping aboard the Daytona reveals no surprises. The instrument cluster consists of a digital speedo and analog tach inside the nicely finished cockpit, both easily read if a bit generic looking. The silver streak feels a bit bulky between the legs, and that feeling doesn't diminish when lifting it off its sidestand.

Triumph says the Daytona is 11 lbs. lighter than the TT, claiming a wildly optimistic dry weight for the new bike of 363 lbs. Our certified Intercomp digital scales (sourced from the extensive White Brothers Racing catalog) tell a pudgier story: 423 pounds (451 lbs. including 4.7 gallons of fuel). MCUSA hasn't weighed a TT600, but I did when I was the road test editor of Motorcycle Consumer News, and it weighed the same as the Daytona, down to the pound. Comparing tank-empty weights, the Daytona is a massive 35 lbs. heavier than the class-lightweight Yamaha R6, and is 10 lbs. heavier than the relatively husky CBR600RR.

Unlike the CBR, the Daytona doesn't have the luxury of 105 ponies at the rear wheel. Instead it has to make do with just 93.9 hp. That's lower than not only the four other top-rung 600s (all of which bust the 100-hp mark), but even down a few horsies on the V-Twin Ducati 749. Anyone looking for the power-to-weight champ won't need to visit the Triumph dealer.

But there's more to a good streetbike than math equations, and the Daytona has several positive attributes. One of the Daytona's best features is its styling that is at once both arresting and understated, especially in our Aluminum Silver version. It's a fine line to straddle in this class and a huge improvement over the similarly understated but dull TT600. A Tornado Red version joins the classy silver and punchy Racing Yellow for the 2004 Daytona color palate. Designers, whether industrial or fashion, love to match colors, and Triumph's style gurus are no different. Included with each bike is a color-matched rear hugger fender and seat cowl (with interchangeable passenger seat), the latter having a surprisingly large chamber of usable area underneath. A black-anodized frame complements each version.

The Daytona's ergonomics are a near-perfect combination of aggressiveness and real-world comfort, with clip-ons mounted just below the upper triple clamp. It's not as tight as a 600RR but aggressive enough to put its rider into attack mode when demanded. Of our five test riders, no one had a complaint for the firm but nicely sculpted saddle or the rationally placed footpegs. MCUSA's graphic wizard, Brian Chamberlain, said the fairly tall seat height (a bit over 32 inches) suited his six-foot frame well: "It placed my body up over the front end and made me feel as if I was really in control of the bike."

"As I rode around looking for things to gripe about on the street I found that, except for the not-so-powerful motor, there is not much to complain about," said Editorial Director Ken Hutchison after an afternoon on the Daytona. "The bike is really sweet. It is comfortable, not too buzzy for a 600, and it handles very well."

2003 Triumph Daytona
The Daytona proved to offer solid and stable handling, even when leaned over on bumpy pavement.
Spend a bit more time on the Daytona and a rider will become irked by the bike's fluffy low-rpm throttle response, especially on a warm day in traffic in which the Triumph's digital temperature gauge remains worrisomely well above 200 degrees. This ragged response makes quick getaways from stoplights a bit of a challenge, not helped by the somewhat grabby clutch. It starts to run cleanly above 4000 rpm.

The Daytona's dyno chart shows a fairly progressive climb in power once past 5000 rpm, but the feeling from the seat of the pants is that midrange power is more anemic than the graph indicates. The Daytona feels less than enthusiastic until the highly oversquare mill spins above 9000 rpm, by which time it's making a healthy, visceral growl. Afterward, the power comes on for a strong albeit brief spurt that tails off by 13 grand. There are better engines for street use out there. At least the gearbox is precise and remarkably free of false neutrals, despite our best/worst ham-footedness.

The Daytona carries on the TT's reputation of having a capable chassis. Both ends sport fully adjustable suspension pieces that dutifully iron out most pavement wrinkles while providing a firm, controlled ride for sporting conditions. With its 24.6-degree rake and 89.1mm of trail, the Daytona carves pavement with a playful eagerness and a calming neutral feeling.

"The Daytona not only tracked well through the corners and adapted well to any rider input in the corner, but was also very stable," noted Chamberlain, a former racer. "I also felt very comfortable trail braking into corners, with little or no negative response from the bike."

Chamberlain's comments about the Daytona's handling on the street were backed up by several thrill-filled hours spent thrashing the Trumpet around the marvelously undulating and challenging Thunderhill Park. We wanted to give the Daytona the same room to stretch its legs as we gave the other 600s, so we loaded up to join our friends at Pacific Super Sport Riders for a great time at the hellaciously fun Northern California circuit.

Stability is another of the Daytona's strong points. The frame resists flexing even when subjected to brutish countersteering, and the bike feels secure when fully leaned over in higher-speed sweepers. Increasing the front preload from street settings completely solved an excessive front-end dive condition when hard on the brakes, a condition exacerbated by the grabbiness from the 4-piston caliper binders that proved to be very strong if a bit abrupt in application. There is certainly some promising potential inside the Daytona, as Kiwi Bruce Anstey proved when he rode a factory-backed bike to the 2003 Junior TT class win at the grueling Isle of Man races.

2003 Triumph Daytona
The Daytona feels bulkier between the legs than the current crop of compact carvers. Weighing in a few bowling balls heavier than its rivals does little to mask that sensation.
In a racetrack environment the Daytona's sparse low-end only becomes an issue when exiting certain corners. For the best drive, the engine needs to be in the meat of its top-heavy powerband, making gear selection critical and demanding a mid-corner shift in a few of Thunderill's longer turns. "The Daytona offers solid handling and stability in a refined package, hurt mostly by its lack of a few ponies," Chamberlain summed up.

Bigger, heavier and less powerful than the latest crop of racy middleweights, we hypothesized that perhaps something from the previous generation of top 600s would be a better match for the Brit bike. To test that theory, we brought along a 2002 Honda CBR600F4i to the track and for a few street rides with the Daytona.

It turns out that the F4i is a worthy match for the new Triumph. There isn't a huge difference between the two in regard to handling, braking and steering. The most apparent difference is in the power delivery department. The Honda has a much broader spread of power, and it feels like a big-bore 600 in comparison with the peaky Triumph. The result is much harder launches out of corners on the CBR without so much concern about gear selection. This translated into a maximum of 145 mph showing on the CBR's speedo before fear pushed my fingers on the brake lever for Thunderhill's Turn 1. The Daytona, on which I spent far more time aboard, registered a best of just 137 mph at the same point.

The F4i remains a vital part of Honda's street lineup even after the introduction of the stunning 600RR. The latest-greatest RR outsold the F4i by a factor of three in 2003, but F4i sales dropped by only 25% over the previous year and were almost double that of Yamaha's carry-over YZF600 (the precursor to the 1999-present R6), so there is still strong demand for its charms. The only change to the F4i in 2004 is a dual seat that is much more comfortable than the two separate bricks on the old F4i.

And so lies the conundrum: Why buy a Daytona for $8699 when you could have an F4i for $400 less?

2003 Triumph Daytona
What looks like a smooth, progressive pull to redline feels peakier from the seat.
First and foremost is the more dashing presence cut by the fresh and modern looking Triumph. Reactions by those who saw the Daytona in our travels were almost unanimously positive, and there's little doubt the relative exoticness of the historic Triumph brand sucks in many more onlookers than the plebian CBR.

The Daytona 600 provides most of everything its Japanese competitors do, but it does it in a more exclusive manner. Fix the low-rpm stumbling and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Daytona to any street rider who is turned on by its distinctive design. A two-year warrantee doesn't hurt either.

But judged directly against its peers, the Triumph falls short due to its timorous engine. If the Daytona wants to compete in this cock-fight of a class, Triumph is going to have to further massage the Daytona before it sees a happy ending.

In the meantime, we'll be waiting for a 650-700cc Triple like Triumph should've built in the first place. Now that would be distinctive.
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Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Distinctive and classy styling
  • Solid, trustworthy handling
  • Do-anything riding position
Lows
  • Dyno readings
  • Throttle response at low rpm
  • One step behind

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