Long-Term Evaluation: Triumph Sprint 900

Terribly distressed, a young lady begins to bellow something through the door of a bar I was sitting in: "There's been a big motorcycle wreck out here!" Is this a bad joke, I wonder, as she continues: "We can't find the rider, he must be up in a tree or something!" Vaulting off the barstool and running outside, I spyed a terrible heap of smashed motorcycle in the front yard of the house next door. It was my beloved 1988 BMW K75S. I had parked it out on the street, rear wheel to the curb in the prescribed manner, and some brain-dead driver had smashed into it and taken off. From the looks of the bike, it must have been a cement truck. Police reports and insurance paperwork were dutifully filed, and although still in mourning over the loss of my faithful, steady and forgiving friend, I began the search for a new bike.

I naturally gravitated toward BMW's, having ridden them with excellent results for nearly 20 years. My favorite bike of their line, the K75S, is in its last year of production, and hasn't been updated one whit since its introduction in 1985. The open-class K-bikes have had a thorough facelift however, and it was those that interested me. The price of the machine took my breath away unfortunately, especially since it cannot be bought without $3000 worth of stuff that I neither desire nor need, ABS brakes and the huge, heavy catalyst exhaust system.

The price of an R1100R is somewhat closer to reality, but it has just about as much appeal to me as socks do to a turkey. No doubt that it's a well-engineered piece, but in my eyes, it's a sheep in warthog's clothing. With BMWs eliminated, I shopped around and test-rode several motorcycles, all of which were magnificent. There are simply no bad bikes on the market today.

I managed a ride on a Speed Triple at a recently reestablished Triumph dealer here in Denver. While the riding position left something to be desired (the handlebars were far too close to the front axle for my tastes), the feel of the engine hooked me. When I noticed that the Sprint model had the handlebars on top of the triple clamp, a cheeky little fairing, and was 500 bucks cheaper than the Speed Triple, I swallowed the bait.

"The engine is simply magnificent."

After much arm-waving and paperwork, I took delivery of a 1995 Triumph Sprint 900, in Candy Apple Red, on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 6th. It was a beautiful day, and I thought to take a ride through the foothills and get used to this new machine. I made it seven miles from the dealer before the bike expired. No combination of fiddling with the petcock, kill button, or controls would cause it to start again. A phone call to the dealer brought the most sincere of apologies, and a young man in a pickup truck. We carefully loaded the bike, and he dropped me off at my house.

I got the Triumph back on Friday afternoon. The ignition pickup had picked up a case of infant mortality (a well-known phenomenon of electrical stuff). Also, when they removed the fuel tank to work on it, they discovered that the petcock would not shut off, and they replaced it as well (it's a silly vacuum-operated thing like on most Japanese bikes).

We had a little parking-lot party on Saturday in front of Motorcycle Parts Center, to celebrate the debut of my 1937 BMW R12, but it was Sunday that stands out in my mind -- it was the day I first rode my new pride and joy. I'm a member of a rather secretive group of hooligan sportbike riders. I only ride with them occasionally (mostly because they start out at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays), but I thought that a Sunday morning scofflaw canyon-twisty session would be an excellent way to wring out the new Triumph. In spite of having to use 5000 rpm as a break-in redline, I was mostly able to keep up with them, and I gathered several impressions about the machine.

First of all, it's a comfy ride. The Sprint is a big, heavy motorcycle, that is easily muscled around via fairly wide and high handlebars. The seat tends to push the rider into the rear of the tank a bit, but it both conforms and supports well. The engine is simply magnificent. Even at the modest break-in RPM, I always had good pull out of corners, and plenty of power to get around the motorhomes, which are the bane of a sportbike rider's life in Colorado. It's smooth, tractable, and pleasant, and has enough real-world snot to satisfy all but the most addicted horsepower junkie. I detected no handling faults other than the bike feels a little clumsy at low speeds. It requires moderate effort to initally get the bike into the proper attitude, then it tracks around even very rough corners like it was on rails. The steering is very neutral, partially due to the excellent Bridgestone Battlax tires.

"The engine is relaxed and the bike is supremely stable at all speeds, so unless one starts noticing that the stripes on the road look more like dots, you're likely to be doubling the speed limit."

The 200 mph speedometer is completely silly. The bike won't go anywhere near that fast, and the wide range makes the graduations so close together that the needle is 5 mph wide. Part of the problem, though, is that the machine is deceptively fast: The engine is relaxed and the bike is supremely stable at all speeds, so unless one starts noticing that the stripes on the road look more like dots, you're likely to be doubling the speed limit. I have a few other nits to pick. The indicator lights are too dim to be seen in sunlight. The handlebar grips are uncomfortable, and leave waffle-iron marks on the palms. The factory rear suspension settings are too harsh. And the fuel tank vent whistles wierdly when the bike is parked in the sun.

But, on the whole, I think I'm going to like this bike.

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