We Get our Hands on the Upgraded Triumph Daytona

When we were gathering bikes for our 600 Supersport Shootout, we were disappointed when Triumph said they couldn’t supply us with one of its new, more powerful Daytona 650s in time for its inclusion. With the power boost and gearbox revisions it received for ’05, we anticipated that it might’ve upset the finishing order of our comparo, especially in its street portion.

After all, we found many things to like about the 599cc Daytona we tested in 2003, highlighted by a willing and stable chassis and a Euro panache not found on the Japanese contenders. However, we were less than impressed by its relatively wimpy power output and a less-than-perfect transmission.

“Judged directly against its peers,” we wrote, “the Triumph falls short due to its timorous engine. If the Daytona wants to compete in this cock-fight of a class, Triumph is going to have to further massage the Daytona before it sees a happy ending.”

Triumph obviously heeded our advice, taking a lesson from Kawasaki’s 636cc ZX-6R by stroking the new Daytona’s cylinders to yield 646cc and more muscle. A new crankcase and cylinder head makes it possible.

Once we finally got the new 650, we were immediately impressed with the much broader power curve offered by the big-cube motor. Its response is no longer flaccid at lower revs; indeed, it bests its middleweight contenders until nearly 11,000 rpm, even outpacing the big-bore ZX-636 until high revs. It peaks at 12,300 rpm with 102.5 horsepower, which is firmly in the supersport hunt; max torque of 46.2 lb-ft. is logged at 11,100 rpm.

This Daytona’s extra stonk is made even more noticeable by lower gearing. Instead of the high first gears of its racier Asian brethren (so the rest of their ratios can be closer together, which is preferable on a racetrack), the Triumph’s bottom gear has a lower ratio that makes stoplight launches as quick as any middleweight you’d care to name.

We happened to have a Kawasaki ZX6-RR along during the Daytona’s acceleration testing, which finely illustrated the difference in characteristics between a bike designed for the street (Triumph) and one designed for the track (Kawi). As befitting its RR designation, this ZX-6 is the one that fits the rules for racing national supersport classes, and as such its engine displaces 599cc (not 636), and it has a close-ratio transmission.

2005 Triumph Daytona 650 Dyno Chart 

The Kawasaki’s tall first gear and anemic low-end and midrange power made launching the bike from a stop an exercise in clutch control; three runs were aborted when the engine bogged from not holding the revs up high enough. In contrast, the best 0-60 mph time from the easy-to-launch Daytona was set on just my second run. The Triumph out-sprinted the higher-strung Kawasaki, despite carrying an extra 14 pounds. The Daytona stomps the Zixxer on the launch out of the hole, especially in the important 60-foot times. The Triumph holds an advantage through the quarter-mile, at which point the Kawi has caught up in terms of trap speed thanks to the better acceleration offered by its close-ratio tranny. By the time 150 mph comes up, both bikes are running neck and neck, with the ZX likely aided by slipperier aerodynamics and possibly a more effective ram-air intake.

With the Triumph’s comparable peak horsepower and extra midrange balanced with a few extra pounds (413 pounds, tank empty, about 15 pounds heavier than the Japanese offerings), it’s not too surprising the Daytona’s run through the quarter places it between the Suzuki Gixxer 6 and CBR600RR from our Supersport Shootout, although direct comparisons are vexing due to the different venues used for acceleration testing.

In this latest iteration of the Daytona, Triumph addressed criticisms of the Daytona’s clunky gearbox by switching to a new linkage-type shifter for its 6-speed transmission instead of the previous direct-actuating design. In addition, its clutch actuator was changed from a push to a pull mechanism, and it now has an anti-backlash clutch gear that reduces noise.

The above changes result in quieter and easier to shift operation but, as Korf notes, “it’s still a long way from being on par with the ’05 Gixxer line.” Despite its revisions, the Trumpet’s gearbox remains notchier than we’d like, requiring more effort than others in the class.

With a riding position similar to Honda’s versatile CBR600F4i and a cushy seat, the Daytona is one of the most accommodating supersports offered today, with ergonomics that we described in the Daytona 600’s test as “a near-perfect combination of aggressiveness and real-world comfort.”

“Ergonomically,” noted Managing Editor Brian Korfhage, “It’s a comfortable bike. It positions the rider in a more upright riding position, the reach to the bars is reasonable, and there isn’t any unnecessary pressure on wrists like some of the race replicas. Triumph engineers seem to have found a nice balance between comfort and control with the seating position. And its cushy seat would be a welcome asset on longer touring rides.”

Yes, the palatable riding position of the Triumph Daytona 650 gives it the ability to be a decent sport-tourer, aided by responsive thrust from the engine room when called upon. Our only caveat is the long-stroke motor transmits a bit more vibration than the competitor’s 600s and makes it feel a bit less polished. “The engine was a little buzzy,” Korf notes, “but it’s not bad enough to avoid the Daytona.”

When we tested the Daytona 600, we enjoyed the “playful eagerness” brought about by its scant 89mm of trail and longish 24.6-degree rake combined with a middle-of-the-road 54.7-inch (1390mm) wheelbase. It, and this new 650, has a neutral feel that works well on the track and street, feeling fairly nimble but with adequate stability. Its lack of a contemporary inverted fork won’t be noticed by those without a race license.

However, its extra pounds (compared to most other middleweights) make themselves felt when bombing around a racetrack such as the demanding Streets of Willow, as we did during a Vincent Haskovec charity trackday. There, the front end of the Daytona felt relatively heavy beside the ZX-6RR, a bike that has a longer wheelbase and more rake and trail, attributes that make motorcycles steer slower.

“The Daytona handles a little sluggish compared to the rest of the supersport machines in the class," says Korfagio, “But it turns in nicely. It’s not exactly the best tool on the track, but out on street pavement where caution is a part of the ride, it gets leaned over rather well for a portly 600.”

However, that doesn’t mean the Daytona doesn’t comport itself well around a racetrack. In fact, when compared with the ZX-6RR we had with us at Willow, lap times weren’t much different. The Triumph makes up some ground on the Kawi on several corner exits, using its brawnier powerband to claw its way out of the turns. Its power production is as good as any middleweight until it tapers off about 1,000 rpm before its 14K rev limiter.

“It’s a little anemic on top,” says Korf, “But for most real world riding, its power is perfectly suited for carving up your favorite road.”

One area in which the Daytona is held back is its braking system that is a notch below the ZX’s. Its standard-mount front brake calipers simply don’t have the feedback of the more modern ZX’s radial-mount jobbies, although they do have strong power, and its lack of a slipper clutch makes downshifting a bit more tenuous.

With its suspension set up stiff for the track, the Daytona holds up well to track abuse. The Pirelli Diablos fitted to our test bike offered better grip through the day than the Bridgestone BT-014s on the ZX, enabling us to determine that the Brit bike’s pegs drag a bit earlier. We also noted the Triumph’s throttle response is touchier than the Kawi’s, as its digital feel can provide a jerky reaction, especially over bumpy tarmac.

The Daytona 650 differentiates itself by its angular styling, part of what helps separate it from the Japanese herd. Although its look polarized opinions, some of us appreciated Triumph’s boldness in making it stand out in a crowd of relative look-alikes.

So, in the Daytona’s favor are its beefed-up motor, comfy street-oriented ergonomics and a distinctive design. And if its balkier gearbox and mid-grade brakes bother you, consider you can have this mildly exotic Euro bike for an MSRP of just $7,999 – that’s a full grand cheaper than a CBR600RR and $500 cheaper than even the F4i!

However, it should be noted the Triumph’s build quality seems to be below Honda standards. Its fit and finish isn’t as nice, evidenced by things like its dull plastic bodywork and large gaps between panels such as the tailsection and the seat cowl.

As this is one of the last bikes our own Brian Korfhage rode before he left us to go back to school for his MBA, we feel it’s only fitting that we give him the last words on the Daytona 650.

“It has a nice punchy mill and performs very well on the street, but also does just fine on the track. The Daytona would be the perfect bike for someone who is looking to purchase a supersport that deviates from the common path.”

Thanks, Korfie, for everything.