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Bike Review - Posted 16th January 2015
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Triumph 955i Special, Part 1

Glenn Wilkin wanted an affordable sportsbike so he bought British in the shape of a Mk1 Daytona 955. Gradually it became apparent that the triple was better suited to life as a high-performance streetbike than a supersports pretender...

Do you believe in magic? I believe in magic. Not the faeries at the bottom of the garden, or dubiously dressed citizens of New Orleans poking pins in a Barbie doll sort of magic but the stuff we are all familiar with. It makes you shiver sometimes, grin insanely at others or just creates a little hard to rationalise feeling somewhere inside.

It is the magic, for example, of a Merlin engine in a Spitfire. There is the expected ritual of the tortured sounding starter, puffs of smoke and then flame licking around the exhaust stubs and finally a ragged cough becomes a snarl as all twelve cylinders come to life and shake that oh so beautiful airframe with barely suppressed power. The ghosts of the past are resurrected and live again in front of you. Of course it is merely a mechanical creation but you can’t deny that between that engine, that aircraft and the weight of history something special happens.

That is magic. That is incredibly, unbelievably, impossibly inaccessible magic to us mere mortals because we cannot experience the feeling of unleashing that power, it is simply beyond our pockets. Our fingers are not to touch that throttle and unleash what has been summoned from 27 litres of the most legendary engineering Britain has ever produced. We can only stand and watch in envy as the magician takes flight and let it thrill us from a distance.

Which is a bit of a bugger really.

So how do us without the necessary millions experience the magic? Obviously, and usefully for this article, we buy motorcycles. Even the most exquisite bike can be owned for the price of a set of Rotol propeller blades and if you can’t afford that, like me, then there is a bike for every budget. They all come with a bit of that magic. You just have to find the one that makes your wand sparkle, the perfect bike. Perfect? Probably not, they all have a dark side…

My rather schizophrenic piece of two-wheeled magic has the word Triumph on its tank. It is not rare, expensive, concourse or even very old for that matter. It is not a clattery all-alloy close-finned oil leaking Tiger 100, although I’d love one like my Dad had in the 1950s. It’s not a rorty 60’s Bonnie complete with the genuine retro look that so many including Triumph try and fail to re-create today. It’s not even an early Hinckley model representing the successful rebirth of the British bike industry. No, it’s a somewhat modified 955 Daytona from 2001, possibly one of the worlds most confused motorcycles.

Back in 2009, I’d have to confess to a couple of years of non-bike ownership as I had got rather caught up in kit cars for a while. Then a new baby came along (it’s always a new one isn’t it, not an old example) so I did what most people fail to do and bought a bike instead of selling one. I’d always wanted a full-fat, non-calorie reduced sports bike, preferably a Blade, but despite lots of bikes in my life I’d never quite managed to buy one. This was, I decided, going to change though the small snag was I only had a £2k budget. I duly looked at several of Mr Honda’s cheaper offerings and they all had a few things in common. They rode well, went like the clappers and they’d all been down the road on one side or another, so it wasn’t too encouraging.

I was looking at one such Honda I had just ridden, possibly a girlie’s bike if the white and pink paint was any indication (so I’d have to budget a re-spray and recover the seat because that was pink too) with lots of nice Ohlins and carbon bits on it when the vendor, with a sudden attack of conscience, told me it was a former Cat D write off.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport
Triumph Daytonas on Now...

Discouraged, I wandered around his stock for a while then spotted a nice blue Triumph. A Mk1 Daytona 955i. There was a bit of a crack on the left fairing but other than that it looked pretty good, 16,000 miles, newish tyres and everything stock. I took it for a spin after getting it jump-started because, as the honest seller said, the alarms do drain the battery. I rode this heavier, taller bike out of his lot and was immediately impressed with the engine; loads more mid-range grunt than the Honda and it made a passable noise out of the stock silencer.

The brakes were interesting, loads of free movement in the lever and then some stopping happened but not as much as hoped for especially as the Blades had all stopped on a six-yen-piece. It probably just needs bleeding I thought. Acceleration seemed on a par and everything ran straight and true at 80mph. Round the roundabout it certainly didn’t want to turn like that Ohlins-equipped Honda, but it was stable enough. So after a couple of miles back I went to Mr Honest and agreed to give him £1800 if he fixed the brakes. I collected it on a trailer a week later and took it home.

So what had I bought here? Well, first a confession, Honest Man had confessed that this bike too was a former Cat D, way back in 2003, but I thought about it and decided OK, it runs and rides well, no damage on the important bits, it’s in the budget so what the hell. I couldn’t find anything I could afford that had no bad history and everything I looked at was dubious in some way. History aside, this bike was better than anything else I’d seen, plus I had always wanted a 955 Daytona since I first saw the original T595 back in ’97. It had looked great and so did this one, Caspian Blue and perfect other than that little crack on the fairing… Oh and the other somewhat bigger crack on the bellypan that I’d missed.

And the brakes were still crap, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge and, after I took the plastic off to see what lay underneath, none of the brackets would line up again. Hmmm. I sorted the cracks with some magic resins and fine glass cloth from work, repositioned the brackets and felt that I had made progress. The battery was replaced with a new Bosch item weighing about 20 tons, the ghostly Spitfire pilot over my shoulder shaking his head at this blatant piece of German engineering only slightly mollified when he found out it was made in Taiwan or somewhere similar.

Brakes were less simple to sort and have continued to be so. I found the pads were an unknown brand and didn’t look too great. Who buys a 160mph bike and puts cheap brake pads in it? The pistons were free, calipers clean, so I gave it a good bleed which helped but it still didn’t feel right. Spongy is the best word, but it did stop pretty well. It should with two dinner-plate size 320mm floating discs and two four-piston calipers to bite them. Lastly the chain was shagged out so a new set of sprockets and a posh gold X-ring chain found their way onto the bike. So out on the road proper to see what is was all about.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

Make no mistake, this was (is) a fast bike. It might have been a bit heavier than the Blade but it had all the 130bhp of the competition and superb frame and suspension components. Acceleration is just as good because the extra weight allows you to put the power down better, and with a well-designed fairing 100mph is a mere breeze to achieve, changing up at mid rpm. 100 to 130 is a couple of seconds of gentle throttle twisting even in the way over-geared top. I have never maxxed it out: where can you do 160-plus off a track?

Handling was initially good, very stable through the bends with nary a wander despite bumps and lumps in the road. The Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3 semi-track tyres gripped like nobody’s business. As my confidence grew and I rode the Triumph further and harder, I found it to be at once a very clever and very odd piece of design. This was supposed to be, in the eyes of the press, a British Fireblade. Triumph never said it was (I expect because they had put it on the scales in the factory) but England plainly expected. And given the styling, race-style ratios in the somewhat clunky box, the ‘committed’ riding position which broke my neck and shoulders after about an hour, and the fancy white-faced instruments – who could blame her?

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

People were also saying the Daytona was a ‘real world superbike’ because of the mid-range stomp, but where in the real world do you want to have the most distant, widest, lowest and most downward pointing clip-ons this side of a torture chamber, mirrors blind to anything behind you, a 4500rpm flat-spot like the fens, pegs high enough that they cramped even my 31-inch inside leg and a first gear so high you had to slip the clutch up to about 30mph?

Oh, and when you wash it, the gap between the petrol tank proper and the blue plastic cover fills with water so when you open the filler to re-fuel a load of soapy water falls in the tank. Triumph were plainly aware of this and thoughtfully provided two drain pipes / breathers for this void but they’re only about 2mm bore and cannot possibly let any water pass through them.

Despite all this, I felt, there was a fantastic bike in here, trying to get out past a lot of conflicting design elements. Happily Triumph also knew this and although the big Daytona got a few revamps including a short-lived twin-sided swinging arm instead of the single-sided ‘muscle-arm’ (read ‘heavy-arm’), and a longer lived 147bhp engine upgrade and re-style, they had already found out what this bike was really all about in the form of the essentially identical Speed Triple. Plainly this was the way to go, but it was to take me a few years to get there because there were other more pressing and expensive issue to address first.

Next time: a triple transformation…

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