Sport-Tour 2006

BMW K1200GT :: Triumph Sprint ST :: Yamaha FJR1300AE


Kilroy Wuz Here.

That cryptic message, accompanied by a goofy drawing of a little guy with a big nose peeking over a wall, has been spotted in every corner of the planet. But what does it mean and where does it come from? There are those who say an anonymous GI scrawled it on the bulkhead of a troopship bound for North Africa in 1942. Others say it was actually invented by an unknown Australian or Kiwi soldier in WWI. Still another version of events is that Kilroy was a supervisor in a Connecticut shipyard who approved his riveter's work by chalking the missive on finished bulkheads. Which is true? At this point, it's impossible to know, so pick your favorite.

Three bikes, three different countries, three ways to sport tour.

So the same can be said of the ideal parameters of a sport-touring motorcycle. It can vary from something just short of a Honda Goldwing all the way to a single-cylinder MuZ Traveler. There are a few elements we can safely agree on, though. First, it must be comfortable, or at least more comfortable than your average racer replica. Second, it must have good wind protection, enough to keep you comfortable at triple-digit speeds. Third, it must be able to handle twisting roads with better-than-average competence. Finally, it should have locking hard luggage and humane passenger accommodations.

We here at MO realize that many non-ST bikes can be modified to meet the above criteria. Luckily, many manufacturers do it for you already, so you don't have to. Otherwise, you would all buy Honda Nighthawk 750s and modify them however you require, and the MO staff would have to get real jobs. Fortunately for everyone concerned, you have lots of choices.

We know there are bikes that lean towards the very sporty end of the spectrum, and there are bikes that are so big, squooshy and comfortable you might as well get a full-dress touring rig. What we're concerned with is the bikes that we think have the best balance of performance and comfort for us and how we ride. For this test we took three that we hadn't tested and had an impromptu tour de California to see how they stacked up.

The bikes we chose have the most modern of everything, and are loaded with electronic, mechanical and styling innovations. From BMW, fresh from Managing Editor Pete Brissette's intro report is the K1200GT. The Triumph is the Sprint ST, and the heavily revised and revamped FJR1300AE with anti-lock brakes and electric shifting represents Yamaha's sport-touring ideal.

Bikes in hand, we needed an extra rider. Friend-of-MO Jack Straw is always available to drop everything, call in sick and spend a couple of days on the road with the regular crew of MOrons.

The destination was San Luis Obispo, heart of California's Central Coast and more importantly, the center of hundreds of miles of twisty roads. It also has what must be the highest number of brew pubs per capita of any city in the USA. What more do you need? After hundreds of miles of riding, evaluating and trying to get phone numbers from co-eds, we had enough data to speak semi-intelligently about this trio of sport tourers. How do they measure up? Read on.

Meet the MOrons

Jack Straw

It's so windy!

Jack Straw is MO's local whipping boy. He lives a stone's throw from the office, and he likes to throw stones. In order to fit in with the rest of the world and its demands that one have a "real" job, Jack dons the hat of a veteran tool and die maker. We don't know if he has ever come close to dying while making tools, but he does make one helluva cool helmet lock extension out of titanium.

Jack is also a veteran of the road. He's been riding, buying, fixing and selling motorcycles for about a millennium. And he's been on a 1988 BMW R100GS for most of that time; he loves to travel by bike. Whether it be commuting or taking his wife on a trip, he'd rather do it on a motorcycle if at all possible.

When he's not carving government-spec bits out of hunks of metal, he's adding hunks of metal to his collection. Jack is a card-carrying anything-related-to-motorcycles pack rat, and damn proud of it!

His home garage and various storage spaces vary between full and slightly less-than-full. If he spots a rusty spoke from a 1973 Hodaka Ace lying in someone's backyard he'll find a way to get it, make use of it, re-sell it or store it for a future project with odds of completion rivaling the odds of winning a Nigerian lottery. Oh, we almost forgot. Jack also has the best working knowledge of California Speedway racing of anyone MO has ever known. Sounds like we should hire him...

This is not a picture of Pete. We wish Pete were this delicious.Pete Brissette, Managing Editor

With a heart of gold and fillings to match, a day with Pete is like a day without sunshine.

Working harder then Michael "Brownie" Brown and Don Rumsfeld combined, Pete's been with MO for so long he's practically a fixture.

He has mad knowledge of all things street and touring-related and spends much more time riding motorcycles than crashing them.

Al before he shaved his legs.

Alfonse Palaima, Executive Editor

Alfonse will soon be starting his fifth year at MO, but don't let that fool you; he's actually a very skilled and capable...something.

It's not every day you meet a guy who can take beautiful photographs, ride with more-than-marginal competence and do all that computer stuff necessary to make our site look pretty in that charming mid-1990s way.

Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor

What do we gotta do to get rid of this guy?

Thanks to the miracles of the modern pharmaceutical industry and a prescription pad a forgetful oral surgeon left on the bus, Gabe has made it through another year of shootouts, press intros and one-on-one basketball games.

Although he talks big, we're suspicious of his claims of vast motorcycling knowledge and are looking to outsource his job to India.

The Contenders

Triumph Sprint ST
$10,899, $11,699 with ABS (2007 MSRP)

For those of you who desire a more sporty sport tourer, Triumph presents their Sprint ST. It was completely revamped for 2005, but this is the first time MO has had one for an extended test.

Triumph has decided to focus on three-cylinder motors for their entire sporting lineup, but that's a good thing. They do three cylinders as well as anybody, and are known for smooth, torquey, reliable powerplants that combine the good characteristics of two-cylinder and four-cylinder engines.

This is the latest iteration of Triumph's three-cylinder powerplant. The 12-valve cylinder head tops a block with 79mm bores and a 71.4mm stroke. Compression is 12.0:1, and mixture is ushered in there with multiport, sequential electronic fuel injection. A six-speed gearbox and X-ring chain final drive get those horses to the pavement. Our last ST we tested in 2004 gave us 109.65hp and 67 foot-pounds of torque, and judging by Triumph's claimed crankshaft figures of 125hp and 77 lb-ft of torque, we expect this bike to make about the same (we're sorry to say we didn't have a chance to dyno any of these bikes).

The chassis has been revamped as well. The twin-spar aluminum-alloy frame is different from the Speed Triple's, looking simpler but no less rigid. It puts 57.4 inches between tires, using an attractive single-sided swingarm (for easy on-the-road tire changes and chain adjustments, plus it looks nice) to hold the rear 180/55-17 radial-equipped rear alloy wheel. A monoshock with a nice remote preload adjuster holds things up out back, and a conventional, preload-adjustable 43mm cartridge fork holds the front wheel. Dual 320mm discs grabbed by four-piston calipers handle stopping duties, and a 255mm disc and two-piston caliper work in the back.

"It's all wrapped up in curvaceous bodywork that definitely moves away from the safer, blander shapes of past Triumphs."

ABS is optional and adds seven pounds to the Sprint's 462-pound (claimed) dry weight. However, although Pete called the ST the "looker of the bunch", he didn't like the cut-out in the side of the bike that exposes the welds on the subframe. Jack was surprised, too; "fit and finish weren't quite what I thought a bike in this price range -- even the least expensive -- should have."

Gabe also noticed loose-fitting and thin plastic panels. We also found the chrome-paint piece in the center of the cut-out kind of tacky. "Sometimes simple is beautiful" is Pete's advice to Triumph's stylists.

The 5.2-gallon tank is plastic, which is no good for magnetic tank bags. The seat is broad and wide, with a roomy passenger platform (for 2007 the seat is narrower and lower in front and more thickly padded in the back of the rider portion) and a tall grab rail. A cool three-outlet exhaust peeks out from under the tail section, making plenty of room for luggage.

"Instrumentation and other amenities include a cool multi-function display similar to the unit on the Daytona 675 that lets you know fuel economy, range to empty, top speed (which is luckily easy to erase), time, and other bits of pertinent information."

The screen on the 2006 is sportbike-low; the 2007 is fitted standard with Triumph's taller accessory screen. A centerstand makes chain-adjusting -- not to mention loading and washing the bike -- more enjoyable. Getting on board the big burgundy Brit, we first noted a bike that was both small-feeling for a sport tourer and comfortable. Gabe thought the bars too low for sport touring, but Pete thought that "for being the sportiest of the sport tourers, the ST is surprisingly comfortable to be on for many miles." The seat is pretty high, but it does narrow up front to help short people get their little feet on the ground. Pete found the saddle's shape to be "excellent", with "spot-on" firmness and a good shape. Jack thought it was "comfortable enough to ride for long distances...I tend to like a more sport-oriented seating position anyway."

Once up to speed, the windscreen keeps your lower chest wind free, but warp speed is a noisy undertaking. The higher screen will help a lot with this. The passenger seat probably doesn't offer the kind of comfort the BMW and Yamaha's seats do, judging by size and thickness of foam. Although the Triumph is the least comfortable bike here, it's better than most sportbikes -- including the all-mighty Honda Interceptor -- and isn't that all you need?

OK, you probably want a rip-snorting motor as well. The Triumph has that, although in this company it doesn't feel as powerful. However, the fuelling seems dialed-in, and the character-laden three-cylinder mill pulls with great vigor from idle to its five-digit redline, all the way entertaining the rider with wonderful music. "The exhaust note sounds as good as the triple-outlet tail pipe makes you think it will" says Pete, and we all agreed. What the powerplant lacks in dyno numbers it almost makes up for in versatility, offering up torque like a twin and top-end punch like an inline four, even if it's a welterweight's punch.

But these aren't dragster-tourers, are they? Sport touring is about stringing together winding bits of road, and the Triumph is great to ride on two-lane tarmac. "I love Triumphs because the guys at Triumph design the bikes to perform on bumpy, twisty pavement" said Triumph-owning Gabe. Bias aside, the other testers seemed to agree; although the bike's zaftig size and stubby bars meant Pete found the steering heavy, he thought the handling was "superb" overall, with it never becoming "unsettled during mid-turn line changes or mid-turn braking." It does seem to favor high-speed sweepers with its long wheelbase and soft suspension, but "the ST will certainly hang with most sportbikes whilst doing it in comfort."

While the Triumph handled well, it still didn't stand out. Steering, stability and response from the suspension and chassis is about what you'd expect from a big sport-oriented motorcycle. It's stable but not the most stable, light but not the lightest, quick-steering but not the most rapier-like bike you can buy. We all liked it, but it's not the kind of bike that you'll remember riding for the rest of your life, or even the rest of the day if you ride a lot of different bikes like we do. We all liked it, but it's not the kind of bike that you'll remember riding for the rest of your life...

Overall the Sprint didn't have the refined, expensive feel the other two bikes possess. The front forks are adjustable for preload only, and while the ABS brakes worked just fine, Pete complained of a mushy feel; working the brake lever reminded him of "squeezing an over-ripe tomato." The build quality also took away from the bike's appeal, and overall the ST didn't quite have the balanced, sport-tourer feel that the other two have. Honestly, it's exactly what it looks like; a big sportbike with good ergonomics, a comfy seat and luggage. This may be all you need, especially if you only have $11,000 to spend on your traveling companion.

If it isn't, then the Sprint ST isn't for you, and it seems like this crew wants more tour than sport in their sport-tourers. Gabe said "after all, isn't every sportbike or standard just a few modifications away from being a competent sport tourer?" The Triumph was a stellar-handling bike and fun to ride, but the lack of amenities, less-than-perfect build quality and bland feel overwhelmed the bargain price and put the Triumph in last place.

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