2003 Triumph Daytona 600
The 600cc supersport class is undoubtedly one of the most hotly contested in the motorcycle world. For more than a decade, a war has waged for the blisteringly quick featherweights from Japan to grow lighter, more powerful and track-capable. At the same time, somehow they are also supposed to remain civilized, comfortable and affordable.
With the Big Four having a complete stranglehold on the class, it was a brave move by Triumph to become the first European manufacturer to produce a 600cc four-cylinder supersport machine, the TT600. Introduced three short years ago, it was and is a nice bike. But when it entered the market with some fuel injection problems and class-trailing power, the press killed it. While it was a stunning handler, it was a little heavy and, to be honest, was no Prom Queen in the looks department.
Continuous fuel-injection re-maps eventually tuned out most of its fueling problems, but the TT had been branded and the stigma remained. I had a TT on long-term test recently and, when you get away from all the hype about fractions of a second in the quarter, lap times and top speeds, it is a great everyday machine - more than capable enough for the majority of riders.
But we are constantly fed on a diet of better, faster, and lighter, so Triumph went back to the drawing board and came out with the all-new Daytona 600.
I was immediately drawn to Triumph's new sportbike when I first saw one in the flesh. It has a familiar look it shares with its big brother bearing the same name, the 955i Daytona, and its purpose is clearly stated. While the TT looks more sport-tourer than hard edge sportbike, new Daytona looks all sport, from the sharp angular fairing to the removable solo tailpiece and color matched rear hugger. And, while manufacturers sometimes adorn their particular models with wild graphics and designs, the new Daytona comes subtly understated in Racing Yellow or Aluminium (UK-speak) Silver.
So is it a warmed over TT or is it a new bike? The answer to this question came from Triumph's Ross Clifford as he gave a tech briefing at the Cartagena racetrack in Spain at its press launch.
The new Daytona 600 uses the TT600 for a base and is really an evolution of the former model. The satin-aluminum twin-spar frame is identical in appearance but not in construction. Where the TT's frame was a four-cell construction, the new Daytona is now a three-cell affair that is not only stronger but also 1.5 lbs. lighter. The rear subframe is made from box-section aluminum. And it has a certain amount of flex engineered in to keep unwanted forces generated by the rider from being transmitted into the main frame.
A naked 2003 Triumph Daytona 600
Also looking very similar but receiving numerous internal changes is the 43mm Kayaba cartridge fork. In an attempt to take as much unsprung weight out of the suspension for quicker steering and more precise handling, Triumph engineers made the internals from aluminum, which gave a weight saving of a little over 2 lbs. The forks now use single-rate springs and remain fully adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping. Out back, the remote-reservoir rear shock has undergone some surgery in the shape of a complete re-valve. It also retains its full adjustability.
The front brake rotors receive a 2mm reduction in size to 308mm for a 170-gram saving in weight. Don't ask me what that is in ounces; I just know the brakes still provide awesome stopping power. The calipers are the same Nissin 4-pistons found on the TT, what once were among the best brakes in the class. Out back a single 220 mm rear disc gets a standard fare single-piston caliper. The Daytona receives a number of other weight saving measures, with a lighter wiring loom, gear lever and foot pegs being listed among them. The factory literature also lists the Daytona's dry weight at 363 lbs., which puts in right in the ballpark with its Japanese counterparts.
Squeezed in between the new frame rails, the Daytona powerplant has also received some serious attention. Triumph claims its horsepower is up to 110 from the TT's 108, but that's not the whole story. The new motor works better than the TT from idle to redline, thanks to a lighter crankshaft, redesigned pistons and a cylinder head that is now CNC-machined. The valves remain the same size, but flow-bench work has resulted in 2% better inlet flow and 11% improvement for the exhaust. The overall result is greater efficiency as well as more power.
The quartet of 38mm throttle bodies has been developed with close assistance from Keihin (instead of the TT's troublesome Sagem FI), featuring twin butterflies in each throttle body. The throttle controls the first and the ECU module controls the second, which opens around 10,000 rpm. The relocated fuel injectors now fire fuel straight at the back of the first butterfly on full throttle, which makes for greater throttle response at all times and helps give the Daytona seamless power delivery. To further aid this, throttle travel has been reduced by means of a cam-shaped throttle mechanism which allows more control at lower speeds. Conversely, at higher rpm, less throttle is required when you need hard acceleration.
Dealing with the burned fuel is a new 4-2-1 exhaust. It is claimed to be lighter, and the down pipes have been tuned to match the updates on the intake side. The headers now have cross-over pipes to link the 1-2 and 2-3 cylinders for better power in the midrange. The bikes we rode on the track were fitted with Triumph's accessory exhaust pipe (track use only, of course) which sounded sweet as the engine made repeated trips to 14,000 rpm. The bikes we tested on the road were equipped with the quiet stock muffler.
2003 Triumph Daytona 600
Groups were split into two, alternating between track time and sampling the twisting tarmac that runs down to and along the Mediterranean Sea just a few miles away. I didn't need much time to get comfortable on the Daytona. It is so user-friendly that after a couple of laps it was feeling like and old friend. The transmission is slick and precise, the clutch action light and the brakes did their job without concern. The bike is totally stable at extreme lean angles, and the bike did not budge from its line even diving hard into the big right-hand turn at the end of the straight, with knee, foot and hero blobs grinding away on the asphalt. The front end stayed totally planted, and only under some manic late braking from 135 mph at the end of the straight did I get some chatter from the front end. As I rode harder, and started to find my limits, the Daytona just carried on, totally unfazed by my mediocre attempts to find its limits.
I found most of the other journalists were a little surprised how good the Daytona actually was. With the current crop of Japanese bikes being just so good, I think a few of them had thought the Daytona was not going to be quite up to the task. I personally don't think it hits as hard on top as the Yamaha R6, but I like the way it works in the midrange better. Ex-World Grand Prix racer, Niall Mackenzie, shared my thoughts, and I enjoyed getting his feedback. I liked the smooth, progressive power that was available. The Yamaha seemed to give a little pause through the midrange before catching its breath and taking off again, although I never got to try it on the track.
I have not tried the Honda CBR600RR and Kawasaki ZX-6R yet, so I cannot say how the Daytona stacks up against them. And besides, my mother always used to say "comparisons are odious," and you should always listen to you mother. What I can say is the new Triumph Daytona is going to be pretty close to all of these bikes in outright performance and for a non-Japanese company this is a pretty impressive result.
(What we can say is that we're conducting our 600 shootout as you read this, so stay tuned for comparisons between 600s from the Big Four (plus a tasty Ducati 749) on the street, the track, the dyno, and the parking lot at our favorite rider hangouts. --Ed).
Out on the street, where the pace was a little less hectic, I found the Daytona to be an extremely competent road tool. The Triumph mechanics softened the suspension a little and we rode with stock pipes. I think this made the bike a little more drivable down low.
2003 Triumpha Daytona in action at the track.
The switchgear is all standard Triumph fare, and the view from the riders seat is pretty plush for a sportbike. Nothing too flash in the gauge cluster, with a small circular speedometer and square digital speedometer sitting to the left. The engine's redline is set at 14,000 rpm, a little above the peak horsepower level that comes at 12,750 rpm.
The bodywork all fits really nicely, and the satin finish for the frame, wheels and forks give the bike a very refined look. The fairing-mounted mirrors do a pretty good job, even if they fit into a normal category of motorcycle mirrors that focus on the shoulder pads. Absorbing the bumps, bangs and irregularities of the Spanish coastal road system, the suspension proved to be as good on the road as it had been on the track. It gives a supple ride without losing it's taut feel, and is able to react to bumps and holes without tying the bike in knots.
The new Daytona 600 is a highly competent, leading-edge sportbike able to hang with the competition. Superb handling, a powerful engine and awesome brakes to compliment its good looks. If this isn't one of the best 600cc supersport currently made, then it's pretty darn close.
Editor's note: We've just completed our testing of the four Japanese 600s and Ducati 749 for our middleweight shootout. We'd hoped to have had a Daytona in time for the test, but some niggling glitches and importation problems have delayed getting production-spec test units. Stay tuned for the most competitive shootout ever.