Triumph Daytona 600
April 6, 2003
Forget antibiotics, hook & loop fasteners and washing machines; Motorcycles are absolutely the best product of the industrialized world. That said, it seems a shame that they are produced in such limited quantities and in relatively few countries. In the US we are, for all intents and purposes, limited to the output of the USA, Japan, Italy, Germany and sometimes Austria. Roadracers will only consider the products of Japan and, in a very few cases, Italy. As we have found in World Superbike, homogeneity, although comfortable, can also be boring.
We have watched while the rest of the world’s motorcycle manufacturers have follow Sun Tzu’s advice to attack where the enemy is not and have created new classes of motorcycles rather than challenging the formidable engineering barriers that Japan INC have erected around their markets. Even the nimble and resourceful Aprilia would rather squabble with Ducati over crumbs than risk famine at the banquet table of the 600cc sportbikes.
Except for Triumph. Straying far from their successful nostalgia market and even further from the modular construction of their original resurrection, they are trying to build a bike in the absolute most cut throat sector of road bike market. A market where costs are severely curtailed while consumers demand bleeding edge technology and purebred race specifications. The strong are worshipped and the weak derided, all on the basis of a few bhp and a couple of pounds. All praise Adam Smith and the invisible hand.
These motorcycles take a while to design and even longer to set up casting, forgings and bodywork which leads to a dynamic, not unlike the computer chip industry, where all the currently available products are obsolete when you buy them because a better one is already being designed before you can get the one you just purchased out of the box.
This lag leads to a tremendously complex calculus when the engineers have to predict where the market will be in two or three years in terms of weight and power while playing chicken with the other manufacturers on price. Each pound off the weight of the bike, each additional 100 rpm, each additional sensor for the fuel injection adds to the cost.
This year the 600s were so competitive that even the mighty Honda got it wrong. They misjudged how far Kawasaki and Yamaha would go and Honda showed up with a bike that was heavier, more expensive and, for all intents and purposes, unavailable.
If Honda’s actuarial engineers can misjudge how fast the 600s are evolving, so can Triumph’s. I am a devout “diversity is the spice of life” kind of guy and I feel that the world would be a better place with an additional manufacturer producing 600cc sportbikes. Because I want Triumph to stay in the game I am almost willing to overlook a few sins that I would happily condemn in a Japanese bike. However, it is my sworn duty to report the TRUTH and, in a class where every pound counts and three-tenths of a second covers first through sixth place, this Triumph can best be summed up as a contender, but not a champion.
A large part of this conclusion is based on the fact that Triumph is pitching this bike as a Supersport bike not a “street bike with track day potential” as they did with the TT600. They are claiming that this bike is ready to go toe to toe with the Japanese on race tracks around the world and backing up that claim by fielding a factory backed race effort in the English National Supersport series (which has rules closer to American Superbike than Supersport). This team, in its first outing, was able to place ninth and thirteenth behind Honda, Ducati and Yamaha but, notably, ahead of Kawasaki and Suzuki.
The old TT 600 has a few strengths (frame and chassis) and a few weaknesses (fuel injection, weight, power, transmission, styling) Triumph has attempted to preserve the former while addressing the latter.
The Daytona just might have a class-leading frame. The conventional looking aluminum black twin spar frame has two ribs (down from three on the TT) which connect the two sides of the spar internally dividing the spar into three channels. This trick makes for an exceptionally stiff frame which should also be very durable. Eliminating one of the internal braces lightens the Daytona frame by 685 grams while preserving its geometry and strength.
In addition to the frame Triumph took the TT on an aggressive weight savings plan and lightened the following parts:
These weight savings reduced the dry weight to 363, only eight pounds heavier than the class leading Kawasaki and nine pounds lighter than the Honda. Some of these weight savings were gained in interesting ways. The wiring harness was lightened by moving all the relays and control boxes closer together to shorten the wires running between them. The front brake rotors were lightened by reducing the outside diameter of the rotors by 2mm; the 2mm which were not being swept by the brake pads.
Triumph boosted the power output of the motor with a new head, new cams and new fuel injection but, unfortunately, kept the TT 600 short block. The TT 600 sported some of the highest lift cams in the class in its day, now the Daytona takes on that mantle with a huge 9.2mm intake and a 8.2mm exhaust. For comparison the next highest cams in the class are the Suzuki with a 8.6mm intake and the Yamaha with a 7.6mm exhaust. Although power characteristics are extremely complicated, typically a high lift cam will deliver better low-end power while a lower lift and increased duration cam will deliver more top end power. High lift cams are also tough on valves and springs which might explain, to some extent, why the Triumph has the lowest redline in the class at 14,000rpm. The other big engine redline axiom is the stroke of the motor (longer strokes = higher piston speed = ring flutter and/or rod failure) but the Triumph has the shortest stroke in the class leaving its low redline still a bit of a mystery.
The short stroke allows for a bigger bore (while remaining under 600cc) which leaves more room in the combustion chamber for valves. The Triumph takes advantage of the extra real estate in the CNC machined combustion chamber by packing in the largest valves in its class with 28.6mm intakes and 22.8mm exhausts. Bigger valves help with power across the board but are also heavier which, when coupled with lumpy cams, might also be a contributing factor to the lower redline.
The short block on the Triumph has the oldest technology on the bike. The crankcases are still not stacked so the crankshaft and the transmission shafts are all aligned on one axis and case seam. This makes for a long engine while all the other 600s sport stacked shafts to compact the powerplant. The Triumph engine looks wider than the other 600s as well. Within those crankcases lurks a transmission which requires a resolute rider and a stiff boot to switch gears.
Sitting on top of the newly designed head is a bank of Keihin dual butterfly fuel injection throttle bodies. The 32 bit processor in the ECM uses inputs from the throttle body mounted Manifold Air Pressure sensor (MAP), a barometric pressure sensor (for ambient air pressure which varies with weather and altitude), the crankshaft position, wheel speed, and the temperatures in the airbox and coolant. Unusual in a sportbike FI system is the Lambda sensor in the exhaust pipe which provides real time feedback to the ECU about the strength or weakness of the mixture being fed to the cylinders.
The other side of the head mates to a 4-2-1 stainless steel exhaust system with an aluminum muffler with stainless internals.
Triumphs have had a long history of running hot. The new Daytona sports a radiator which would make a diesel pick-up proud. It is massive. The bike does not run hot anymore.
The whole package is wrapped in some love it or hate it aggressive bodywork with a pronounced air intake right in the snout. Sitting on the bike it feels race track high in the back with a short reach to the narrow and acutely angled clip-ons. The gas tank bulges out over both knees and the fairing is expansive and generous in its coverage. The seat is pretty comfy and the mirrors actually stick out far enough to see behind you.
Not surprisingly, the choices that the Triumph engineers made are evident in the riding experience. We were invited to spend the afternoon riding the Daytona on a spirited romp around the back roads of rural Spain in the morning before spending two hours riding the bike on the Cartegena race track. Although usually quick to start, the Triumph took a few minutes to run cleanly from cold. This may be due to the lambda sensor in the fuel injection which typically do not operate very well until they are up to temperature.
The clutch pull is very light (much lighter than on the TT600) but the transmission has a big cog feel when dropped into first gear. The new lighter shift lever also has a bit of flex to it which, when coupled with the force required to shift gears, makes a run down through the gears a determined effort.
The high lift cams and valves deliver a vast expanse of low-end torque and power. This makes the bike pull wonderful power lifts in the lower gears and, coupled with the right sort of crests in the road, the capacity to wheelie in fourth gear. The old TT 600 had a bad flat spot right off idle which made it challenging to perform slow speed parking lot maneuvers. The Daytona seems to have eliminated that fault. The customary Triumph stainless steel brake lines provide a firm brake feel on the road. At typical Spanish highway speed (110mph or so, following our local Spanish guide we determined that the highway signs, like long distance telephone numbers, have an assumed “1” in front of the printed integers- so, just like the phone number 909-245-6411 would actually be dialed 1-909-245-6411 the speed limits in Spain represented by signs on the high way of 70 (kilometer) are actually 170, at least, that is how it appeared that our guide was interpreting them and who were we to question local customs) the fairing provided decent coverage.
The Triumph’s futuristic styling seemed to attract a large amount of attention wherever we parked them.
On the track the bike’s strengths and weaknesses became more apparent. The power delivery that felt smooth and ample on the street seemed a little more blotching and muted on the track. The transition from off to on throttle mid-turn was pretty abrupt and it seemed that in certain circumstances in very slow corners that there was a certain amount of lag in the throttle response which made the bike over steer until the engine caught up with the throttle. On the track, where bottom end power is rarely used, the top end power seemed to be a bit flat. This could be that the delivery is so smooth that the power delivery is deceptive, or, more likely, the bike is missing a bit on top. Although the bike’s peak power is made at 12,750 the engine pulls cleanly to the soft limiter at 14,000rpm.
The transmission was clunky. Although I never missed an upshift, a couple times the bike would just grind instead of dropping into second gear. This usually happened when I was depending on the engine braking to help me make a turn and led to a few moments of consternation and doubt. Some of this could have been that they had set the shifter lever pretty low giving my ankle plenty of torque for upshifts but making me really reach for downshifts. The shift lever is a direct connection to the shift shaft making small adjustments impossible.
The rest of the bike was thoroughly enjoyable. The brakes faded after repeated hard laps but this was probably just the fluid being overworked as the pads, calipers and lines are all of top quality. The Kayaba fork and frame geometry complimented the brakes and Pirelli tire to encourage knee down trail braking. Although the Triumph has a conspicuous absence of trail in its geometry the mid-corner feel was stable and responsive.
The turn in is light and neutral. The high rear end allowed for easy mid-corner corrections and the bike never felt like it was running wide as the exits of turns.
The clutch action was light and progressive. Although it took some attention to make sure the downshift stuck it was then a pretty simple affair to initiate a rear wheel slide by feeding in clutch. The clutch withstood this abuse admirably.
In fast turns where it was easy to keep the revs up the motor felt strong and responsive with crisp fueling. There was one tight awkward left-hander that revealed a weakness in the FI system. At low speed, at low RPM, the bike was hesitant between the off to on throttle enough to cause the bike to start falling into the turn before the power would resume. I was able to get around this by taking a late apex and getting on the throttle really early but it did seem that maybe Triumph needs to spend a little more time with the FI system.
Coming out of the turns the motor picks up quickly and, although the upshifts require a little more attention than I would have liked, I never missed one. The rear tire did an admirable job of transmitting the torque from the motor into forward momentum. A couple of the second gear corners overtaxed the rear tire but the chassis and shock allowed for picturesque, arcing, not violent and scary, slides out of the corners.
The ergonomics, just about right for the street, were a little too sit up and beg for the track. The footpegs could have been A. higher and B. further back. The bars, which felt about right on the street, were a little too high for comfort on the track. These traits are shared with almost all of the Japanese 600s as well.
Triumph has instituted a new purchase policy this year in the US whereby a dealership can purchase a bike or two from Triumph at a steep discount if the dealership can prove that the bike is being used in competition. Since very few dealerships actively support racing this is probably not an approach that is going to podium many motorcycles like, say, offering $2,000 a win would encourage winning races. This dynamic means that, in the coming year at any rate, very few Triumphs are likely to be raced seriously in the US and most of their track miles will be turned in the multitude of track day series around the country.
In a track day environment the Triumph will shine. Not only will their pilots be able to lord it over their friends when they shove their Daytona under their friend’s R-6 (and with these bikes only a slight edge in riding talent will allow for the above occurrence) but they will get to wear all the natty Triumph branded leathers and helmet with lots of Union Jacks.
To Triumph I offer encouragement. Your bikes are really good and getting better all the time. Start now on a 345 pound 112 (rear wheel) bhp motorcycle with a slick transmission delivered in November 2005 for under $9,000 backed up by a national contingency program and you will be leading everyone into turn one.