PH2 Tested: Triumph Tiger 800/800XC

By popular demand, PH2's first bike test had to be a Triumph
By popular demand, PH2's first bike test had to be a Triumph
Last summer I toured Europe on a BMW R1200GS, and so did everyone else. Or at least it seemed that way. Every café car park, scenic view, lay-by and service area had about 20 GSs in it. The GS is a mighty good bike and not just because Ewan and Charley rode them all over the telly, but I felt a bit like a sheep.

There's another snag with the GS and that's its weight and height off the ground. I'm only 5ft 10 and a bit of a wimp, so there's always the worry that a foot might be plonked accidentally into a pothole and the whole bike (which with me, luggage and full of fuel must weigh almost 300kg) will topple over. I've dropped GSs off road and they take a bit of picking up.

The Tiger 800 in road trim...
The Tiger 800 in road trim...
BMW's smaller F800GS is much more manageable and is the bike I'd choose for a trip to Morocco or anywhere else windswept and interesting. But now I'm not so sure, because I've just ridden Triumph's new Tiger 800 and it's a bit good.

Triumph has been a player in the adventure bike market almost since it started building bikes in Leicestershire in 1990 but the new Tiger 800 is the company's first serious attempt at a bike that can actually go off road.

Two Tiger 800s are available: the (£7,149) 800, which is intended to spend its life on Tarmac, and the (£7,749) 800XC, which is the off-road version. Both are powered by a trademark three-cylinder engine, but it's not simply a larger version of the existing small three that's used in the Daytona sports bike and the Street Triple. The crankcases are the same but from the crankshaft up it's a bespoke motor with a longer stroke for more torque.

...and the more adventurous look
...and the more adventurous look
You can spot the difference between the normal Tiger and the XC from 100 metres because the XC has wire wheels instead of the normal bike's alloys. The XC also has a 21in front wheel to the road version's 19-incher. Sit on the XC and you'll immediately notice a few other differences like higher and wider handlebars and a higher seat height. The wider 'bars are to increase leverage and reduce steering effort off-road and can be adjusted by removing the alloy mounts and turning them around to move the 'bars backwards or forwards.

Suitable for goats, not sheep?
Suitable for goats, not sheep?
The XC has 40mm extra suspension travel at the front and 45mm at the back and its rear shock has a remote reservoir and is adjustable for preload (the 800 has a more basic unit without the reservoir). The seat height is 35mm taller on the XC at 865mm but you can remove the seat, flip a bar up the other way and lose 20mm in seconds. If you still can't get both feet on the ground then you can buy the optional short arse seat that drops the height down to 825mm. That's the dynamic differences between 800 and 800XC; the other changes are more aesthetic. The XC gets a double front mudguard (like the GS's 'beak'), handlebar lever protectors and adjustable headlamps.

Triumph says that it expects that sales of the Tiger will be split 45/50 between 800 and 800XC respectively, but since even those who go for the more off-road focused version will be unlikely to get their boots dirty for more than a few miles a year we'll have a go on the roadie Tiger first. It's cold and damp, just the sort of weather in which it's easy to highside or lowside a superbike on tyres that haven't got any heat into them.

And please don't adjust your sets...
And please don't adjust your sets...
First thing you'll want to do when you've written the cheque for the Tiger 800 is write another one for a decent pipe. Like all the Triumph threes, the Tiger's engine sounds great and has stacks of character. The fuelling on the engine is spot-on and there's only a slight lurch as you shut the throttle fully. Within a mile or so you'll have built-up loads of confidence in this bike. The engine feels more torquey than the 675 motor and the Tiger has longer gearing than the Street Triple, so the power delivery feels softer and less manic. The triple will still zap to almost 10,000rpm but it doesn't have the top-end rush of the smaller engine.

Since an adventure bike is essentially a touring bike under another name you'll probably want to go for the optional £600 abs (it's switchable for when you go off-road). The 800 is fitted with Pirelli Scorpions that feel perfect for the bike. Because the engine has so much character it's hard to resist riding the Tiger like a nutter - like a Street Triple in other words - and because the front end is so neutral and predictable. The Tiger 800 feels more like a street fighter-style bike that's been tweaked for longer distance riding than it does an adventure bike that's been given a shot of adrenaline.

...we'll get nice colour pics next time!
...we'll get nice colour pics next time!
Which is why the 800XC feels a little bit disappointing after the 800. It still feels surefooted despite its higher centre of gravity, larger front wheel and more off-road biased Bridgestone Battlewings (pukka Metzeler Karoo off-road tyres are an option), but there's a vagueness from the lighter steering that takes away some of the fun. Unless you really are going to the Sahara or doing proper trail riding, I'd stick to the straight Tiger 800. You can spec-up this bike with XC kit like the lever guards, fog lamp and mudguard anyway, so you can get the hairy-chested look without losing the standard bike's sharper steering and more fun character.

Triumph is big into accessories and there are plenty of things to spend your money on for the Tiger. The bike is fitted with a powerful alternator so you can plug in heated kit for the winter. I averaged about mid 40s to the gallon on the trip computer, but with more sensible riding you could do an easy 200 miles to a tank. Nothing like as impressive as the BMW F800GS, which can manage 70mpg, but then the Triumph is a very different sort of bike. The BMW is a brilliant lightweight adventure bike but it doesn't have the character and fun of the new Triumph.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (44) Join the discussion on the forum

  • LD1Racing 21 Jan 2011

    G0ldfysh said:
    Why wire wheels on the off road one, would they not be much harder to clean with mud in the wires than an alloy?
    It's for the added strength and repairability, not ease of cleaning. A busted alloy in the arse end of nowhere will have you stuck, whereas a bent rim with spokes can be reasonably trued back into shape with a bit of brute force and a spoke key.

    Anyway, Triumph have already been on the blower and will be registering their demo bikes when the weather is a little better up here. It will have to be something really special to get me off the big KTM.

  • TORQ 19 Jan 2011

    Mad Jock said:
    I ordered mine, an XC, late last year, the first order at my local dealer. At the 2009 NEC Bike show I had moaned at the Triumph chappie on their stand that Triumph needed an Adventure type bike, and that they were missing a trick here. He didn't even blink, and said he'd take it on board.
    I currently ride a 1200 GS Adventure, and it's a fantastic long distance machine, but not that great in town. I was given an F800GS as a courtesy bike while mine was being serviced, and I really enjoyed that bike. It's all relative, I know, but I could really chuck the thing about, it was responsive to the throttle, good brakes blah blah.
    When Triumph announced the Tiger 800, I was delighted. I had an original Tiger 900 in 1993, which had such a smooth engine compared to the Africa Twin that I had before.
    That's where the secret lies in the new Tiger 800. The triple engine. Much smoother than the F800GS, I expect, and it would seem lots of lovely low down torque. The F800GS does get a bit vibey, more so than the 1200GS, and the seat gets a wee bit uncomfortable after about an hour.
    As for taking it offroad, I will certainly do that. We're not talking motocross stuff, it's not that kind of bike, but fire trails, green lanes and the suchlike certainly.
    I'm keeping the 1200 GS Adventure though. It's too good at what it does for me, at least until I've tried a long run on the Tiger.
    As for BMW Clothing, I tend to agree. I don't like branded gear, it's a bit too twee, but the fact remains that the BMW clobber is really quite good. I'm daft enough to wear BMW gear on the Tiger, but not on the GS, but that isn't going to happen as I don't own any.
    The Triumph panniers, on first impressions, are not right for the bike. Why build a bike with a tough persona, then give it plastic panniers? Aluminium he-man panniers please. Someone will do them as an aftermarket accessory, but we'll have to wait for that.
    I expect to get mine in April, and head straight for the Highlands.
    Good point Jock should of said most of my riding was in town and the GS was too heavy for that, where as the tiger 1050 was perfect. The GS was amazing on the motorway though, so stable.

  • TORQ 19 Jan 2011

    rob1964bike said:
    I want to like Triumph I really do but MCN has completely put me off because they are obsessed with them its as if they cant put a foot wrong. I've ridden a few Triumphs and they are good but not brilliant.
    Sure but there is a difference between riding one and living with one. When you use it as your day to day transport then the small differences really do make themselves apparent, like not having fork brackets that corrode and all the paint peels off (my GS Adv) and the servicing bills not being comical (BMW main dealers). Each to their own but right now Triumph deserve all the praise they are getting and great to see something a bit different too!

  • ArosaMike 18 Jan 2011

    Yup...I've worked at Triumph for 2 years now as a Design Engineer, although I'm moving on soon. I've got to admit, I'm far more of a car enthusiast than a bike enthusiast, but I also love engineering, and the way it's applied here is really interesting.

    I see a lot of other bikes and have taken quite a few apart, and all manufacturers these days are incredibly well put together. They all do things subtely differently though and not everyone's corrosion resistance is the same. We're quite keen on making sure we're better than others in the class.

    MCN have indeed given a lot of good reviews recently, but this is entirely their opinion. They come to their own conclusions as much as any of the motoring press, and a good number of other publications agree with their verdicts. To be fair, they've done a fair bit of Triumph bashing in the past, so they're usually one of our harshest critics.

    By making bikes that have a very distinct character, they won't appeal to everyone and that's what choice is for. It's great than so many people like what's produced here, and not just in the UK, and the fact that we're now the biggest selling brand over 500cc in the UK means that a fair number of owners must agree!

  • rob1964bike 17 Jan 2011

    I want to like Triumph I really do but MCN has completely put me off because they are obsessed with them its as if they cant put a foot wrong. I've ridden a few Triumphs and they are good but not brilliant.

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