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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 24 June 2008
Do you like your bikes fast, yet nimble, able to carve through corners with the merest flick of your bodyweight across the gas tank? You do, great. You’ll love the TT600 from Triumph then; a compact, precise missile.
True, it isn´t quite perfect, with an irritating lack of urge below 4,000 revs, but the TT600 in every other respect is a class act and right on the pace - taking on the best 600cc sportbikes in the world.
That´s white hot competition and Hinckley are to be applauded for having a good go. Makes you proud to be British...
The first, fast chicane was a real buzz every lap. At about 130mph I’d brush the front brake lever and flick the TT600 into a right-hander, my knee-scraper touching down just as the track began to drop away down a hill. The Triumph would twitch momentarily as its suspension unloaded. Then as it settled, I’d haul on the bars and climb across the seat for the left-hand section, winding open the throttle to send the Triumph screaming off down the next straight.
As a way of testing the TT600’s stability, agility, throttle response and general speed in a few short, frantic seconds, that first chicane at the Pau Arnos circuit was just about perfect. If a bike was going to be a handful anywhere, it would show up here. But the new TT600 was good enough through the chicane, just as elsewhere on the hilly, technical track and also on the surrounding roads of south-western France, to confirm that Triumph’s challenger in the 600cc super-sports class has got what it takes to trade blows with the Japanese fours.
It’s really no surprise that the Hinckley crew’s first middleweight multi is so competitive. After all, Triumph has proved itself at the highest level before, notably when taking on Honda’s VFR with the Sprint ST a year ago. Having had to opportunity to develop an all-new bike against known opposition in the shape of the CBR600F, YZF-R6, GSX-R600 and ZX-6R (although the latter is updated this year), there would have been no excuse for failing to deliver.
The Triumph’s styling has taken a bit of stick since the bike was unveiled at last year’s NEC Show, and it’s true that there’s a distinct hint of CBR in the shape and even the paint job (not to mention the class standard layout of liquid-cooled, 16-valve engine in a twin-spar aluminium frame). For my money the TT600 looks neat enough in either its red-and-grey or yellow-and-black colour options, though it doesn’t stand out from the crowd in the way that Triumph managed, for example, with the 955i triple.
From the rider’s fairly low seat the bike seems compact, with clip-on bars within easy reach, and ergonomics that will seem familiar to anyone used to rival 600s. Its screen is quite low in fact low enough, like the ZX-6R’s, to hide the main row of warning lights from view if you’re very tall. Top marks though for the electronic instrument console, which combines a big digital speedo with a conventional white-faced tacho, and includes a clock.
When the motor burbles into life its four-into-one exhaust system’s silencer sounds pleasantly fruity for a bike that has passed worldwide emissions tests. (Triumph’s considerably more tuneful aftermarket pipe was fitted to the track bikes, but we rode standard machines on the street.) From cold the motor takes a fair time before it will pick up properly, though. And as the TT600’s one real flaw is likely to be one of the first things that many people notice, I might as well mention it right away.
Quite simply the TT600’s power delivery at very low revs is pretty poor. It’s not something that you notice at all on a track, except when pulling away down the pit lane. But on the road the revs do sometimes drop that low and, when you twist the throttle with less than 4000rpm showing on the tacho, the otherwise excellent Sagem fuel-injection system just can’t cope.
This made itself known, for example, when I turned off a main road onto a narrow lane in second gear, and the Triumph bogged down momentarily as I pulled away. And the glitch was occasionally annoying in the higher gears, as when I had to slow for a car on a main road, went to accelerate away again at 3500rpm and about 35mph in four gear, and the bike barely picked up speed until I cogged down into third.
Everywhere else, though which means about 99 per cent of the time the TT600 motor is a real star. Once into its stride it has excellent midrange power by 600cc standards. It responds crisply from four grand onwards and pulls harder from eight, though on the track it was best to keep it spinning above 10,000rpm. Peak power of 108bhp arrives at 12,750rpm, at which point the Triumph is still charging towards the 14,000rpm redline.
Equally importantly, the Triumph’s throttle response when accelerating out of bends on the track was spot-on. Both then and at steady cruising speeds there was none of the snatchy feel that many injected bikes suffer from to a degree. If Triumph can get the low-rev response sorted out the TT600’s power delivery really will take some beating. And after I’d had the gearlever moved down on its spline (full adjustability would be nice) to suit my long legs, the six-speed box shifted flawlessly too.
The Pau circuit is so tight and twisty that there was no need for fifth gear, let alone top, and the fastest I saw on the damp roads in the afternoon was 140mph. But at that speed the Triumph was feeling brilliantly smooth and still pulling pretty damn hard as I tried to peek over the rain-smeared screen, which is reasonably if not outstandingly protective, while tucking my waterproof-clad body out of the airstream. The Triumph is geared for 160mph at the redline in top, and given enough room on a fine day will probably make it.
Comparisons are difficult when you ride one bike in isolation, but my unofficial seat-of-the-leathers dyno would put the Triumph right up the R6’s tailpipe at high revs, and ahead of all its main rivals bar perhaps the ZX-6R through the midrange. And when it comes to handling, the British bike is every bit as good thanks to its rigid frame, excellent cycle parts and a competitive dry weight figure of 170kg.
The most impressive aspect was just how agile yet stable the TT600 was, even on a circuit with many changes of gradient and surface. Triumph’s efforts to reduce unsprung weight and steering mass, combined with well-chosen geometry (24 degrees of rake, 82mm of trail) have paid off with brilliant steering response. Simply nudge the bars and the bike carves another line, obeying every input with a precise, neutral feel.
Yet the Triumph was also unshakeable both under hard acceleration in a straight line and in high-speed bends, notably one very fast, downhill right-hander, where the suspension was heavily loaded as the gradient flattened out. Hard on the throttle in second gear out of the following tight left-hander the bars would waggle briefly, then recover instantly when the front wheel made firm contact with the track. Out on the road, howling along at over a ton on a blustery day, the bike remained perfectly planted at all times.
Excellent suspension takes much credit for that. The Triumph’s front and rear Kayaba units are ideal for the job: firm enough for a sporty feel yet compliant enough to give very acceptable comfort. They also respond well to tuning. Triumph had increased front and rear damping slightly from standard for our track session. The bike handled superbly straight away, but tweaking the 43mm forks with one click less of compression damping and one more of rebound set the front end down slightly and sharpened the steering still further.
The rest of the chassis is equally impressive. There is heaps of ground clearance; enough that only the footrest tips touched down under full track attack. The brakes, which combine four-pot Nissin calipers borrowed from the 955i with slightly smaller, 310mm discs (due to this bike’s reduced weight), are superb, right up there with those of the much-praised R6 in bite and feel. And Bridgestone’s new BT10 radials were equally fab, not only giving massive grip on the track but inspiring much confidence on wet roads later in the day.
Most of the bike’s details have been pretty well designed, too. Mirrors are useful, tank capacity is an adequate 18 litres (enough for 120-plus miles unless you’re really trying), and paint finish looks good. Numerous accessories are available, from a seat cowl and loud silencers to a rear carrier, soft luggage and a paddock stand. Most importantly, the British bike’s price of £6649 (plus £350 on-the-road charge) means it gives little away to its Japanese rivals.
In back-to-back tests the new entrant might not prove the very best super-sports middleweight (the new ZX-6R, in particular, is a formidable rival), but in almost every area it will be right up near the front of the pack. Which, in such a competitive class, confirms just what a blinding bike the TT600 is.
When deciding to build a middleweight super-sports bike in 1996, Triumph considered a triple before opting for a liquid-cooled, 16-valve four like all the rest. They found that a three-cylinder engine would have needed a capacity of around 675cc to match the 600cc fours, and the necessary balancer shaft would have lengthened the bike’s wheelbase.
Triumph’s engineers set a target power output of 108bhp, correctly estimating that this was what would be needed for a bike reaching the market in the 2000 model year. That target was achieved, as the TT600 produces a maximum of 108bhp at 12,750rpm and a peak torque of 68Nm (50.5ft.lb) at 11,000rpm.
The 599cc dohc, 16-valve engine’s dimensions were set at 68 x 41.3mm, over-square even compared to rivals such as the ZX-6R and YZF-R6. Early in the project Triumph opted to be the first in the 600cc class to use fuel-injection, continuing a partnership with French specialist Sagem. The system incorporates an on-board diagnostic facility that enables Triumph dealers to recover data following a malfunction.
A large, 8.5-litre airbox is fed by a ram-air system whose twin ducts emerge on either side of the headlamp. Inside the engine, the forged pistons are notably light and are cooled from below by oil jets. Aluminium cylinders have Nikasil liners for improved wear. The Hinckley firm carries out its own plasma nitriding process to harden the crankshafts, and for the first time fabricates crankcases using a high-pressure die-casting process.
The TT600’s chassis layout is also all new. It is based on a black-finished aluminium beam frame, made from cast and extruded sections, that weighs just 12.6kg complete with rear subframe. The main frame members are four-celled, with three strengthening inner walls running along the length of each spar.
A comprehensive policy of weight reduction resulted in new cast aluminium wheels, single-piece forged aluminium clip-on handlebars, aluminium top and bottom yokes, polycarbonate (instead of glass) headlight lens, new lightweight digital instrument console, and a rear sprocket that is 200g lighter than previous items.
Triumph collaborated with Kayaba to develop new 43mm diameter front forks that feature lighter springs, plus damper cartridges made from aluminium instead of steel. This saves half a kilo of weight; combining Nissin’s four-piston front brake calipers with smaller, 310mm diameter discs saves more. At 170kg dry the TT600 is fractionally lighter than the ZX-6R and GSX-R600, just 1kg heavier than the R6, and dead level with the CBR600F. Triumph hopes this year’s sales figures will be equally close...
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph tt600.
Engine Liquid-cooled in-line four
Claimed power (bhp) 108bhp @ 12,750rpm
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Transmission Six speed
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast alloy
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast alloy
Front suspension 43mm Kayaba cartridge fork, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One Kayaba shock absorber, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Nissin calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake Single-action caliper, 220mm disc
Top speed Top speed 155mph
fuel capacity 18 litres
Current price £6649 (plus £350 on-the-road charge)