Created: 24 June 2008
Once upon a time, there was a ’gentleman’s agreement’, between the main motorcycle manufacturers and the nice suits who spend all our taxes in Brussels - y’know, those people who regulate the straightness of bananas.
It was called the 125bhp limit and most bikes conformed to it in the early 1990s.
But upstart British revivalists Hinckley Triumph saw that the 1990s were set to be a golden decade for big bike sales and wanted a slice of the action.
The result? Step forward one 147bhp kick in the Eurozone, in the shape of the Triumph Daytona 1200 four. Speed crazed, painted bright yellow, with lairy handling - The Aston Martin Vantage of British motorcycles had arrived.
How fast? The one question everyone asked of Roland Brown after he put Triumph’s Daytona 1200 through its paces in early ’93. The answer? Stunningly.
Everyone phrased it differently, but the question was always the same. ’Is it as quick as it looks?’ the guy at the petrol station asked. ’Faster than a ZZ-R1100, then?’ a more knowledgeable friend enquired. ’Have you maxed it out yet?’ my editor demanded down the phone line.
Big, bright and racy, especially in this vivid yellow colour option, Triumph’s Daytona 1200 rarely fails to prompt the oldest question in motorcycling: how fast? The short answer is that the Daytona is good for a genuine 160mph, but maxing-out the quickest production bike ever built in Britain ain’t easy at least on public roads in the middle of winter.
My first ride on the Daytona was in the damp and the darkness, a memorable blast home down the A5 behind the Triumph’s brilliant double-barrelled halogen glare. The road was almost empty; the pace distinctly hot. Several times I shut off and glanced down to see the speedo needle dropping past the 120mph notch, but that night I didn’t have the space or the visibility to get close to max velocity. The next day was booked for photos and dyno-room, and again the Triumph did its stuff with style. In the photo-session it was manageable and even agile, carving nonchalantly through the curves with the odd ching of footrest-blob on tarmac. Then it picked up its skirt to reveal a hefty 120 rear-wheel horses on the rolling road.
But I didn’t have a chance to stretch the 1200’s legs on a top-speed run, and my last day with the Daytona was dogged by howling winds that made speeds of much above 100mph dodgy as I headed back towards Hinckley. My most vivid recollection is of watching leaves blow almost horizontally across the Triumph’s path as I took a gentle curve on the Milton Keynes bypass leaning into the wind at a ludicrous angle.
So I never got to hear the slightly under-geared Daytona run up against its rev-limiter in top, as those who have held it wide-open for a mile or more say it will. But in those three short days the Triumph did enough to stake a serious claim not just as Britain’s best, but as the fastest and most powerful production motorcycle from outside Japan.
That’s quite something from a firm that few people even knew existed three years ago, so who can blame Triumph for showing two fingers to industry rivals who say they should respect the importers’ voluntary 125bhp limit? This is essentially a bike built by public demand, in any case. It’s basically the Daytona sportster fitted with the Trophy sports-tourer’s 1180cc powerplant tickled to deliver extra top-end stomp at the expense of a little low-down pull.
Triumph claim a maximum of 145bhp at the crank, compared with the original 1200 Trophy’s 123 horses and the 119bhp of the old Daytona, whose 998cc short-stroke motor was disappointingly gutless. Compared to the old big Trophy motor, the Daytona mill features new cams with more lift and duration, a revised combustion chamber designed to reduce masking of the inlet valve, and compression ratio hiked from 10.6 to 12:1.
The Daytona’s cylinder head also incorporates flowed inlet ports, shorter valve guides and a revised inlet valve seat angle. The 36mm flat-slide Mikunis have been rejetted to suit, the clutch beefed-up, and the cam-chain tensioner modified. Peak power arrives at 9500rpm, just before the rev-limiter cuts in, with the maximum torque figure of 115N.m being produced 1500rpm earlier.
Essentially the chassis is that of the old Daytona 1000, incorporating Triumph’s trusty steel spine frame still used by all models in the range plus the highest specification cycle parts available within the modular concept. That means multi-adjustable suspension front and rear, plus four-pot Nissin front calipers biting on 310mm floating discs.
This year’s Daytona also has a slightly firmer rear shock, but most changes are cosmetic and very effective they are, too. The bold new colour scheme is a big improvement on the previous, rather dated design. Graphics and contrasting chunks of black bodywork help disguise the fact that this is one bulky and, at 502lb dry, pretty heavy motorbike.
Triumph have made big improvements in their standard of finish since building their own paint shop. The thick paint yellow was an old Norton favourite, and the Daytona looks none the worse for that is backed-up by neat touches such as powder-coated frame parts, corrosion-resistant fasteners, and small Union Jack logos that were added in response to public demand to be ’more British’.
The Daytona’s riding position and pilot’s eye view has changed little. There’s a fair reach forward to the handlebars. The seat is broad and rather tall; the footrests quite high but not radically rearset. Mirrors are small, round and reasonably well placed. A 200mph speedo and a tacho redlined at 9500rpm sit above a row of warning lights, in a cockpit that is efficient but a little basic, with frame brackets and internals on show.
First impressions of the engine were that the tuned lump is slightly rougher than the supremely smooth Trophy unit though vibration is still very slight and that it has definitely lost a little of the massive low-rev urge that was such a feature of the original 1200. The Daytona pulls cleanly at low revs, but below about 4500rpm the sportster is a little bit flat by modern big-bike standards.
That figure equates to a top-gear 80mph, below which the Triumph accelerates respectably rather than violently, though there’s still enough instant oomph to send the bike stomping past lines of cars given a simple crack of the throttle. You’re normally better off changing down a gear or two, though, because by the time its tacho needle has hit five, the Daytona is alive and kicking mighty hard.
There’s no real power step above that figure; just an exhilarating surge of speed, accompanied by just enough vibration through the seat to let you know there’s a big four-pot motor hammering away down below. In the lower gears the acceleration is rapid enough to make the rider work hard with the six-speed gearbox, which was not quite as precise as the superb (and theoretically identical) Triumph boxes I’d used before, occasionally dropping back into neutral from second.
But it’s at higher speeds that the Daytona really shines, when its motor’s strength combines with the leant-forward riding position and impressively protective fairing slightly taller and wider than last year’s to make ultra-high speed travel supremely easy. At the ton the brute feels almost as though it’s idling, with huge amounts of grunt just waiting to be unleashed and an indicated 140mph-plus within reach in moments.
Yet Triumph’s sportster has never been intended as a pure race-replica, and the Daytona is versatile and well-equipped enough to make a genuine all-rounder despite its potentially annoying lack of centrestand and grab-rail. The tinted screen created a lot of wind-roar, but the broad seat was comfortable, the switchgear well-designed, and the big 5.5-gallon tank allowed a generous 170-mile range even when hard use brought fuel consumption down to 35mpg.
The only occasions when the Daytona was anything less than totally stable were on the aforementioned trip back to Leicestershire, when the ferocious wind provoked the odd front-end twitch despite my death-grip on the bars. Handling was otherwise excellent, with the typical, slightly top-heavy Triumph feel offset by a high degree of chassis rigidity, well-chosen geometry and very competent suspension.
Up front there’s scope for fine-tuning of preload plus compression and rebound damping, and the Daytona handled fine with everything on the standard, midway settings. Hard braking used up most of the fairly softly-sprung 43mm forks’ travel, though. For aggressive riding, time spent experimenting with extra preload and damping would be worthwhile. The only drawback is that the wide range of damping adjustment available means that riders who don’t know what they’re doing could easily end up making things worse.
The rear shock, also by Kayaba, was firm without being harsh. It never let the back end get out of shape even with its rebound damping on the standard, two-out-of-four setting on the easily accessible adjuster below the right sidepanel. (As with most other Triumphs, preload is easily adjustable by turning a nut under the seat.)
Such a tall, heavy bike is never going to be as nimble as a FireBlade but the Daytona’s fairly conservative geometry (rake and trail are unchanged at 27 degrees and 105mm), in conjunction with its 17-inch front wheel, gave neutral steering that made the bike pleasantly easy to throw around. Bridgestone’s Battlax tyres, the rear an untrendily narrow 160/60-section 18-incher, gripped superbly even when the partially damp photo-session roundabout meant I had to pick my way round one half of the circuit before flicking the Triumph onto its side just in time for the shot. On dry tarmac the folding footrests’ blobs scrape fairly easily, but for road use there’s ample clearance before the solid exhaust system touches down.
Brakes are also well up to the job. The four-piston Nissin front calipers used by the Daytona’s and Trophy 1200 models only (the rest get humbler twin-pot items) delivered plenty of power and feel in combination with the big discs, span-adjustable handlebar lever and thoughtfully provided braided stainless hose.
It’s details like the Daytona’s braided hose, alarm connectors in the wiring harness and two-year warranty, as much as its monstrous power output, that emphasise just how serious Triumph are about taking on and beating the very best superbikes in the world. The 1200 doesn’t quite have the sophistication, the poise or even the sheer speed of Kawasaki’s ZZ-R1100, its closest rival, but the British bike is remarkably close not to mention better looking and every bit as exciting to ride.
Overall, I’m not even sure that I prefer this tuned engine to Triumph’s original 1200 lump, which could have powered a more flexible and barely slower sportster. But demand from one sector of the public was for glamour, horsepower and speed at all cost and if there’s one thing at which the Hinckley management excel above all, it’s in reacting quickly to customer feedback.
With the Daytona 1200 they’ve succeeded admirably, too. Triumph’s new flagship looks stunningly fast, it goes as well as it looks and it’s the reborn firm’s first model with genuine credentials as a sportster. The riders who demanded this bike will not be disappointed.
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph daytona 1200.
||Water-cooled DOHC 16-valve transverse four
|Claimed power (bhp)
||120/70 ZR 17 Bridgestone Battlax radial
||160/60 ZR 18 Battlax
||43mm Kayaba fork, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
||Kayaba monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound damping
||Twin 310mm discs, four-piston Nissin calipers
||Single 255mm disc, twin-piston caliper