The middleweight sportbike wars just got interesting

When the new 2011 Triumph Daytona 675R kicked in the doors of the pub and proclaimed itself the new flagship sportbike of the legendary British brand, it did so by combining the original's classic 675 Triple engine, basic chassis dimensions and appearance with a few very important upgrades. The 675R is equipped with Ohlins suspension, 4-piston Brembo monoblock calipers, a Brembo master cylinder and a quick-shifter – all for just $400 more than its most expensive Japanese rival.

Triumph enlisted the help of the suspension gurus at Ohlins to address one of the few weaknesses of an otherwise excellent motorcycle. Up front, a 43mm fully adjustable NIX30 fork utilizes Ohlins’ proprietary technology, separating rebound on the right fork leg and compression adjustments on the left. Damping, rebound and preload adjusters are now located on top of the fork as well, alleviating the need to crawl around under the fork to make adjustments.

In back, a fully adjustable Ohlins TTX36 shock, which was developed over the past few years in MotoGP, brings true racing technology to the real world. Adjustments are all easily made on the side of the shock, but our baseline setup proved perfect during our day at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. This combination of NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock gives a much-improved range of adjustability to the 675R and improves the Daytona’s race track disposition compared to the base model 675.

Front brakes received an upgrade in the form of the radial-mount Brembo monoblock calipers, while the 308mm rotors are carried over from the base Daytona 675, as are the steel braided lines. Besides the Ohlins and Brembo hardware, the Daytona 675R features Triumph’s first factory-installed electronic quick-shifter and a slightly revised gearbox that features roller, rather than plain, bearings. First and second gears are now closer together as well.

Aesthetically, the Daytona 675R also receives some new treatments, including a carbon fiber front fender, rear hugger and a wrap-around heat shield on the silencer. The bodywork is Crystal White, and the rear sub-frames are now red. The wheels feature red pinstripes, which are a nice touch to the racer-replica look.

If you haven’t put it all together yet, let me do it for you now. The Daytona 675R is Triumph’s new premier sportbike. It has been geared up for success on the track, so now the only thing left for us to do is ride the damn thing and give you our thoughts.

Our two-day press introduction included a street ride through the Mt. San Jacinto State Wilderness on Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild. From there we pushed on down Highway 74 to Palm Desert. You can check out the Palm Desert Loop street ride in our Ride Guide if you want to ride the same roads. We rode over the mountains on roads cluttered with gravel as the California Department of Transportation tried in vain to keep us in check. Snow lined the highways past Idyllwild, but the scenic vistas were on display so no one complained about spending the afternoon riding on some of Southern California’s finest sportbike roads.

Out here in the real world, the Daytona 675R is strung a little tight. The Ohlins suspension is geared for the track, so it’s tall in the back and pretty stiff for street use up front. When we got on the cleaner roads outside of Palm Desert, it became less of an issue as speeds picked up. I imagine it would be pretty brutal around town on beat up surface streets, but anyone intending to ride this bike on the street should adjust the suspension to suit their needs, and I’m certain the Ohlins combination could be tuned down a bit.

Otherwise, the engine, brakes and riding position are very familiar. On the road, the new Brembo components weren’t really put to the test but the engine was on full display. The Triple is right at home in high gear, which eliminates most of the buzz from running it at over 10-grand, and it always seems ready to accelerate. The clip-ons are low and the pegs are high so it still feels too cramped for my needs on the street, and even though temperatures were cool I could feel the underseat exhaust. The instrument cluster now features white nomenclature on a black background, and the fuel gauge is forgone for a low-fuel light. It still has a speedo, tach and clock on the little LCD dash along with blue shift warning lights across the top of the housing.

Wind protection is good in full tuck but has less coverage when riding upright. The airflow maintains a steady stream aimed right at your helmet and doesn’t buffet the rider too much. The mirrors are decent, too. Not a lot of engine vibes come through to the end of the stalks, so the rear view is pretty clear and my stubby arms didn’t obstruct the view. My first impression is that the Daytona 675R feels like a harder Daytona 675 with a race-suspension setup, and low and behold, that’s exactly what it is.

Day two took place in the supersport-friendly confines of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, which is located three hours east of Los Angeles, three hours south of Las Vegas and three hours west of Phoenix. So if you are anywhere near the area, make sure to sign up for an afternoon of apex strafing with So Cal Trackdays on the region’s newest track. But let’s get on with the track impressions, shall we?

Right away the Daytona 675R feels at home on the track. After warming up the stock Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires for a few laps, it was time to push the R and see what she could do. Of course the engine is great, but the first thing that comes into play is the quick-shifter. In the past, the Daytona had a notchy transmission, so the new internals and quick-shifter are big improvements. Click through a few gears and the familiar Inline Triple exhaust note and intake honk really make it hard to stay off the throttle.

The engine makes great power (104 hp at 12,100 rpm) and has solid mid-range punch, as evidenced by the class-leading 47 lb-ft of torque at 10,400 the bike produced in all of our previous tests. It falls off on top but the mid-range makes it an excellent track bike and an even better street bike. The Daytona is very forgiving if you’re not trying to win Superpole during your favorite track day. When it comes to the engine and transmission, the only thing we would like to see is a slipper clutch, although that would certainly ratchet up the price tag.

What Triumph did address is the finicky suspension that has been a staple of the Daytona 675 since it entered the market back in 2006. The bike always tended to push the front, run wide and frustrate suspension techs trying to figure out a setup that works perfectly. Our previous shootout results confirmed as much, but it is important to remember that it wasn’t bad enough to keep it from winning our ’06 Supersport Shootout along with a host of accolades over the past half-decade from magazines around the globe. Race track success was more difficult to come by, and that’s where Ohlins comes in. With so much effort to get this top-shelf suspension on the Daytona 675R, we felt the benefits would be best explained by someone with intimate knowledge of the components, so we let the Ohlins team explain the backstory in their own words.

“It’s pretty impressive for Triumph to step up like this,” explains Ohlins’ Matt Sage. “First of all, they equip a Supersport class bike with a complete Ohlins Road & Track fork that integrates our 30mm NIX cartridge that is run at the AMA level by many teams. So right out of the box, this bike is taking advantage of some impressive technology that people are only used to seeing on liter-class bikes. It’s a big step for Triumph to put this in the public’s hands. Inside the fork for the first time is what’s really impressive: Rather than use four 25mm pistons, two rebound, two compression, we use our NIX racing technology, which separates compression and rebound so right-hand leg is rebound, left is compression, both of which are only 30mm pistons.

“The shock technology was developed in Formula 1, winning races in MotoGP in early 2000s and made available to the public for the first time to an exclusive number of racers in ’06,” continues Sage. “For this to make it to production level equipment is pretty impressive. TTX, or Twin Tube Technology, is completely different than the shimmed-piston designs that pretty much every other manufacturer uses on OEM-level equipment. The advantage of TTX technology is that all the changes you make on a TTX shock are 100% isolated from each other. If you make a compression change, it’s only compression; if you make a rebound change, it’s only rebound. Whereas in shim-piston technology, like most manufacturers use, that rebound adjustment at the bottom of the shock actually is a common bleed that affects both sides. So it actually allows us to get a much wider range of adjustability.”

I have to admit I am not going as hard as some of our more advanced racer-journalists, but I found the Ohlins setup to be a huge leap forward compared to the base Daytona 675. Riding the two bikes back-to-back confirmed my suspicions as the up-spec suspension keeps the bike more stable and seems to offer a much-improved front-end feel. That’s saying something considering I really had fun on the base 675, too.

However, I wasn’t blown away by the Brembo brakes. That’s because the four-pot Nissin binders on the 675 are pretty good. The logical train of thought is that the Brembos should be head and shoulders above them, but instead, they just aren’t that different at the speeds I was riding. The Brembo calipers feel good and are a standard upgrade on many race bikes these days. They offer very good feel as a braking system and are plenty powerful so don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice upgrade for sure. But in the end I’m sure it was easier for Triumph to just bolt on the Brembos to the Ohlins fork and promote the upgrade as the two systems often go hand-in-hand with each other, rather than try to keep the Nissin units.

When you take a step back and soak in all that the 2011 Daytona 675R has to offer, it’s difficult not to be impressed. This is a European sportbike that is unique and entertaining to ride. It’s fast, fun and now equipped with top-shelf suspension, brakes and a bunch of carbon goodies. It looks every bit the part of a race bike with mirrors and lights, plus it is light at 407 pounds ready to ride and at $11,999 has an MSRP that puts it right in line with the competition.

It all adds up to yet another contender for our annual Supersport Shootout. With the re-emergence of the Daytona plus the revamped Japanese and Italian contenders during the past year, this is shaping up to be a throwback slugfest on par with some of our original shootouts. The upcoming 2011 Supersport Shootout will feature seven of the most advanced middleweight sportbikes on the planet, and we can’t wait to see how the Daytona 675R will stack up against them.