And the Verdict is...
This is one of the toughest tests undertaken by the SR wrecking crew. Generally, a winner emerges throughout the testing process, with the thrashers clambering to get on board one particular bike all at once. Not so with our centerstand quartet. Each bike performs well overall, considering the context of the test, and it comes down to details in the end separating the winners from the losers.
The BMW, while extremely capable on both sport and touring fronts, is thwarted in a big way by its buzzy motor. It's also the most expensive of the four machines, and by a big chunk if you include the ABS brakes. The Ducati is the dark horse of the bunch. It has an excellent motor and chassis but a lack of reliability. (We popped a head gasket on our test unit.) And a lack of some refinements keep it from being our pick.
Everyone raves about the VFR800FI being the "perfect motorcycle" and how it "does everything well." As a touring bike, the Honda is just not quite on par with the rest of our quartet. The sporty riding position, and (especially) the lack of hard luggage place it squarely at the "sport" end of the sport-touring spectrum. And even in that context it's not heaps ahead of the other bikes in this test.
The Sprint ST is obviously the more touring-oriented bike in our foursome, but we were surprised at how well it justifies the "sport" part of its moniker. While definitely on the plush side and requiring the right touch, the Trumpet holds its own when the road gets twisty by virtue of its rheostat-like powerband, deceptively good handling and superb binders.
Perhaps the best compliment to the Sprint is this: Our man, aboard the Triumph and returning home late from two full days of testing at Willow Springs (about an 80-mile trip), actually wants to go exploring, wants to take the long way home--only on the Sprint ST.
In the end, the British have done it right by using essentially standard technology a transversely mounted engine in an aluminum beam frame with regular old brakes and suspension (single-sided swingarm excepted). When you think about it, that stuff's been around for a while now, constantly being refined and developed. It makes great sportbikes. And guess what? It makes great sport-tourers too.
•Telelever front end and ABS brakes
•Big points for uniqueness
•Needs some refinement
TRIUMPH SPRINT ST
•Handles deceptively well
•Temperamental when hot
•Best Triumph yet
•More sport than tour