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Bike Profile - Posted 5th September 2011

1997 Triumph Sprint 900
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After years of riding fast sports fours, Laverdabru tries an unfaired Hinckley triple for size. And likes it...

This year I had intended to spend summer riding around on a new(ish) Kawasaki ZX-10/12R or a V/Street-Rod. An insurance payout and the proceeds from selling my deceased brother's house meant I could, for once, get a nearly new bike. Or so I thought. I had not taken into account legal costs when someone dies intestate. So if you want to save your nearest and dearest time, money and stress, then make a proper will…

Back to the plot. My sights and budget were lowered, and the search began. The first bike I tried was a Suzuki GSX-R1100W. I had seen the bike around, talked to the owner, and then he offered me first refusal if he sold it. Mine for £1k. It looked in such good nick that I nearly didn't bother with a test ride. But I did. Just as well.

Apart from one time when I hitched a lift with a patch club member who was off his head on acid on a chopped and tuned XS650, I have never been so glad to get off a bike in my life. I had mistakenly thought the big Suzuki would be similar to the 1250 Bandit I had been riding. A warning bell went off when the owner produced the dyno runs. The GSX-R had been tuned to the eyeballs and had a powerband like a hot two-stroke. In addition the riding position was extreme. With shaking hands I returned the keys.

Next up was a KZ650 Kawasaki, advertised locally. Phoned up the vendor. 1981 Californian import, fresh MOT, only 14k on the clock, first time starter, just serviced. Any rust? Just a spot or two. I explained I wanted something I could immediately use without any work needing to be done.

Yes, this'll be just what you need, just tax it and you'll be fine, quoth he.

Went to the address given. For some reason, it was parked in the middle of a field. Looked quite nice - from 200 yards away. The US Custom model with high bars and coffin tank. Closer, and it was not good. I don't know how much he had bunged the MOT man to not notice the pitted forks, perished and nearly bald tyres, knackered rear suspension and rotted guards. The 'one or two' spots of rust covered most of the bike. Seeing my now doubtful expression, he said he was only selling it because he could not afford the £500+ insurance he had been quoted. Judging from his shaking hands and poached egg eyes, I think there might have been a drink driving penalty involved. He went to start it, and only a depressing UR-UR, followed by a click, resulted. And that was with an already warmed engine, always a worrying sign.

It's never done that before, says he…

It did start first kick (and, to my shame, I had to be reminded there was such a thing as a kickstart!), and to be fair, the engine was very quiet, rustling away like a good 'un. I used a Z650 for 50,000 miles in my despatching days, so I know the bikes well. I prodded at the torn seat, which fell off. More rust underneath, and a sticker revealing it was a Canadian import. Slightly different climate to sunny CA. I declined the offer of a test ride. Noticed it on the MCN website a few weeks later, same price, and the photo was of it in the field.

To be honest, Hinckley Triumph triples had not been on my radar. Then, whilst sitting outside my local, I noticed one passing, and thought 'That sounds nice'. Cycled home and read the RC write-up on modern Trumpets, useful info, and it was in the price range. Insurance quotes for 900 Triumphs were about half of what I had been paying on the Ninja. I mentioned to Andy C of this parish I was thinking of buying a faired Hinckley bike, and he suggested I buy his unfaired one. Sent me some pictures and background, SWMBO liked the colour, and said 'It looks like a real motorbike'

SWMBO liked the colour, and said 'It looks like a real motorbike' 1997 Triumph Sprint 900

SOLD!

A test ride and pick up date sorted, and down to deepest Zummerset. A 40km test ride, fish and chips, followed by parking up, and a trip to the local pubs to sort out the fine detail, reminisce about our youthful days of Jap and Czech two-strokes , USA, Italian, Brit and Jap bikes of various configurations and capacities owned. Oh, and drink cider. My initial impression of the 900 Sprint was that it felt, er, very Japanese.

This Sprint had an interesting history, backed up by a letter from Triumph. It had been exported to Japan (coals to Newcastle indeed!) as a naked Sprint when new in 1997, hence the kph clocks and right hand dip [How odd: They drive on the left in Japan. RM]. The general condition, and feel, proved to my satisfaction the recorded miles - or rather kilometres, 16k, was genuine.

SWMBO liked the colour, and said 'It looks like a real motorbike' 1997 Triumph Sprint 900 - Later model tailpiece

The DVLA seemed to think it was a Sprint Executive. That model is faired and has fitted panniers. I believe the first owner in the UK converted it to Executive trim, and a later one put it back to naked status. Apart from the Scorpion pipe, a homemade instrument pod/flyscreen (out of the remains of the fairing) and stainless brakes hoses it appeared standard.

The riding experience, for someone used to full faired straight four 'Sports Bikes' since 2001, was different. At least a few months use of the 1250 Bandit meant the 'sit up and beg' riding position was not totally alien.

The hundred mile ride back from Zummerset to my location in the Midlands was tiring. I am used to this trip, due to weekly trips to visit my now deceased mum. But for the last decade I had been using either a GPZ900R, or a ZX-9R. Fully faired. My max speed on the Sprint was rather less, OK, 20-30mph less, than the cruising speed I was used to on the Kawa. About 75-80mph. And by the time I had got back to Worcestershire, I felt like my upper body had had a workout with Mike Tyson in his glory days.

The Sprint is quite a lump, and top heavy. Another criticism I have heard of this generation of Triumph triples is that the engine sounds like a concrete mixer. Hmm, well, far be it for me to disagree with journalists spoilt by a diet of silky smooth and possibly blueprinted new test bikes, but things are different in the real world. My late Laverda Mirage, lovingly serviced by Slater's since new, would make the Hinckley bike sound like a sewing machine. As would any number of aged Jap fours I've owned. Like them, there is a large amount of rattling and noise till it warms up.

On warming up, it takes a while. My GPZ900R temp gauge would be off the scale by the time the Sprint's needle creeps off the pin.

Top heavy - I certainly agree, but due to the wide bars it's less of a problem than my Italian triple, which has the bars set in Jota mode. The Sprint does need to be told where it's going, but within a few days I was comfortable throwing it around in a manner I wasn't with the big Bandit, even after months with the Suzuki. The mass does have some advantages, unless you are a rabbit or pigeon. Hit both when going into work at dawn, and the Sprint did not twitch.

Four-piston Tokico callipers
Triumph 900s on Right Now......

Much to my consternation, despite their age, the Triumph badged Nissin 4-pot brakes on the front feel superior to those on the newish Bandit, or the Ninja's 6-pot Tokicos. The new pads, fluid and the stainless steel hoses fitted may have helped. Or maybe it runs thinner fork oil and softer springs and just feels like it's doing more? Nearly new Continental Road Attack tyres are fitted, which are recommended from my web browsing. A few more psi reduced but did not eliminate the tendency to follow white lines.

As for the handling, I think there is scope for minor tweaking. The rear shock seems fine, but the front end could do with stiffening up a bit.

RTFM - Read The Flipping Manual is a familiar acronym to RC users, at a guess. May I introduce another one?

NOTBO - Never Overlook The Blinking Obvious.

Now I consider myself competent mechanically and electrically, not expert, but OK. I was out on an early Sunday morning run, and parked up not long after first light by the Severn, in Upton on Severn. Took my usual stroll along the bank, and returned to the Sprint. Earplugs in, helmet and gloves, ignition on, hit the starter button, nothing. Well, a click, followed by the warning lights going out. Off with the seat, checked, poked and prodded fuses, leads and wires, and after a few minutes, it was as if nothing was wrong. All went well for the next couple of weeks. Charged the battery, just in case. Then, running late for work, it died. Totally.

Oh, bother. I said. Spent the next few days cycling or blagging a lift into work, and Sunday found me in the shed with a multi-meter. Everyone I had consulted told me it was the battery at fault, and I was tending that way myself. Short runs into work with the lights on are not the best thing for long battery life, and I was uncertain how old the battery was. Anyway, put on the old magic meter, and there is a healthy 13v, dropping to 0.3 or so when any load is put on the system. Hmm. Checked all the leads/wires again, nothing loose. Just on the off chance, I took a screwdriver to the battery bolts. Ah - although they appeared tight, they both took a full turn. No problems since.

Also available in less dull colours 1995 Triumph Sprint 900 - With standard fairing

Well, apart from the bike's fatal attraction to people of a certain age... On one occasion it took me over an hour to get back from work. 15 minutes when I parked up outside the supermarket, and 35 when I was unlocking it, discussing the history of Triumph. The name on the tank attracts attention, especially as it is a 'nekkid' bike. Maybe I ought to leave 'business' cards on the seat.

  • Yes, they are made in the UK.
  • They don't leak oil.
  • It is reliable. Well, most of the time.

    Apart from the loose battery connection, I have had few minor problems, no more than I would expect on a bike around 15 years old. One of the two twin rear light bulbs blew one filament. The cable operated seat lock is rubbish, and like the GPZ design it copied has been replaced with a hidden zip tie. The seat needs re-covering, but no surprise at this age.

    Good points; where do I start? I have been impressed. Revs well, goes well, stops well. Cheap insurance, not too expensive on juice. I have even thought of buying a Speed Triple to keep it company. It has certainly slowed me down, after years of owning increasingly faster Kawa 4s. No bad thing, as I am getting to the age where my reactions probably aren't as quick as they were.

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