Triumph’s tagline is “Go Your Own Way,” a mantra fulfilled by building motorcycles that are, if not wholly unconventional, certainly on the outskirts of mainstream. Ten years before bringing back the Bonneville, Triumph’s resurrection was based on motorcycles powered by three-cylinder engines. In a world full of twins and fours, iconic bikes like the Speed Triple, Sprint, Daytona 675 and Rocket III laugh in the face of symmetric conformity. As rare as triples are in street bikes, they’re nonexistent in dual-sports (the Benelli Tre-K 1130 being a rare exception), mainly due to their excessive weight. The Tiger 900, introduced in 1993, was a Paris-Dakar styled adventure bike powered by the same 885cc in-line triple found in several of Triumph’s street bikes. But, despite appearances, the Tiger 900 wasn’t cut out for serious off-road duty. Eventually it morphed into the Tiger 1050, a canyon ripping adventure-street bike that kept the wide handlebars and tall suspension but tossed the 19-inch spoked front wheel in favor of a road-going 17-inch cast hoop.
Having matured into a 50,000-annual-unit OEM that has gained share during the global economic doldrums, Triumph is no longer satisfied building quirky alternatives. It wants to compete head-to-head with the big boys, and aggressively pursue new categories. Launching a milquetoast machine that flounders in the showroom wastes precious resources, particularly for a small manufacturer. So when Triumph decided to re-enter the burgeoning adventure segment, the lads in Hinckley did their homework. Just two weeks after Triumph unveiled its new Tiger 800 adventure bikes at the Milan show, we spent two days riding them in the mountains near Barcelona, Spain. Day 1 was a pavement-only ride on the street-oriented Tiger 800; Day 2 mixed on- and off-road riding aboard the Tiger 800XC (cross country).
To cook up a new model, the two main ingredients are the engine and frame. To avoid cannibalizing Tiger 1050 sales, Triumph decided to build middleweights. Creating a blank-slate engine is costly and time-consuming. Instead, Triumph selected the best candidate among its stable of five engines to serve as a starting point. The Bonneville’s 865cc parallel twin is too heavy and underpowered, making the Street Triple’s Daytona-derived 675cc in-line triple the obvious choice. To produce low-end torque and good traction in off-road conditions, Triumph increased the engine’s stroke from 52.3mm to 61.9mm but left the 74.0mm bore unchanged, bumping displacement up to 799cc.
Although the Tiger 800 engine has the same layout as the Street Triple’s mill and uses modified versions of its cylinder head and throttle bodies, 85 percent of the liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC engine is new. And cam timing is milder, valve overlap shorter, compression ratio lower. The upshot is a lower redline (10,000 rpm vs. 13,000 rpm) and less top-end horsepower (94 vs. 124, claimed), but higher torque (58 lb-ft vs. 53 lb-ft, claimed) with a wider, flatter spread, particularly at low revs. The airbox was moved under the seat to protect it from damage and debris, an oil sight glass was added and the generator was upgraded to an oil-cooled, high-output unit (645 watts) to power electro-farkles.
The Tiger 800 engine, with spent gasses exiting through a 3-into-1 high-mount exhaust canister, is unmistakably Triumph. It revs easily with the same high-pitched whine found on other Hinckley triples. The fuel injection is crisp, the throttle response direct. True to its mission, the Tiger 800 lacks the snap of the Street Triple; power builds in a linear fashion, user-friendly down low and raucous up top. A balance shaft eliminates buzziness, making these bikes ideal for the long haul. The transmission shifts cleanly and the ratios are sensibly spaced for everything from low-gear, off-road chugging to overdrive-sixth-gear sport touring. Both models have chain final drive with minimal lash.
For the frame, Triumph opted for steel rather than light-but-brittle aluminum. Steel is tougher, more likely to bend than crack and easier to repair. The over-engine, twin-tubular trellis design echoes other Triumphs. Thus far in our story, the Tiger 800 and Tiger 800XC are the same; differences arise when you start bolting on chassis components, like the Showa suspension. The street-oriented Tiger 800 has a 43mm nonadjustable, male-slider fork with 7.1 inches of travel. To handle the rough stuff, the XC has a beefier 45mm nonadjustable, male-slider, 8.7-inch-travel fork made of a special high-strength alloy. The Tiger 800’s rear shock is hydraulically adjustable for preload only and has 6.7 inches of travel; the XC’s remote-reservoir shock is adjustable for preload and rebound and has 8.5 inches of travel. Rear suspension linkage on both bikes is progressive, with the rate at the end of the stroke being 30 percent higher than at the beginning. Both Tigers have well-calibrated suspension that soaks up rough pavement and delivers a smooth, composed ride. Their cartridge-style forks are tuned for firm initial damping to reduce seesawing under hard braking or acceleration, with good results. The XC felt very capable off-road in conditions that included high-speed gravel, dry creek crossings and rocky two-track.
The Tiger 800 has cast wheels (19-inch front, 17-inch rear) shod with tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Trail road-biased dual-sport tires. They can also be fitted with sensors for Triumph’s new accessory tire pressure monitoring system. The Tiger 800XC has spoked wheels (21-inch front, 17-inch rear) with Excel rims shod with tube-type Bridgestone Battle Wing dual-sport tires. The XC has also been homologated for Metzeler Karoo knobbies, which added grip and confidence during the off-road portion of our ride. The tougher, taller XC weighs more, too. Triumph claims 462 pounds ready to ride for the Tiger 800, and 473 pounds for the XC.
Both kitty cats get the same claws to keep them out of trouble: Nissin brakes, with dual 308mm floating front discs with opposed two-piston calipers and a 255mm rear disc with a single-piston caliper. The brakes offer good feel and plenty of power, but not so much as to overwhelm the bikes in slippery conditions. ABS will be available on both models for an extra $800, but we didn’t get to sample it on the preproduction bikes we rode. Off-road aficionados will be able to turn off the ABS via the setup menu on both bikes’ computers.
The Tigers have aggressive adventure styling befitting their name, with futuristic dual headlights, rally-style windscreens, minimal bodywork and standard skid plates. Both have a Transformers-esque motif with lots of sharp angles. The XC, with its front mudguard beak, looks like a complete package; the snub-nosed 800 resembles The Fly. The XC’s off-road worthiness and aesthetic is further underscored with a larger front wheel, spoked wheels, more dirt-biased tires and radiator and brush guards. Due to the longer-travel suspension of the XC, its adjustable seat height is either 33.2 or 34.0 inches; the Tiger 800, 31.9 or 32.7 inches. Both models feature motocross-style handlebars, but the XC’s are wider (34 inches vs. 31.3). The XC has taller bar risers for stand-up riding, which also provides more steering lock for tighter turns. Loosening the bolts on the bar riser clamps allows the bars to be rotated fore or aft, and the risers can be turned 180 degrees to further adjust reach.
Different suspension, wheel sizes and rear wheel position (the XC’s rear wheel sits farther back in the swingarm and its chain has two extra links) result in differing chassis geometry. The Tiger 800 has 23.7 degrees of rake, 3.4 inches of trail and a 61.2-inch wheelbase; the XC has 23.1 degrees of rake, 3.6 inches of trail and a 61.7-inch wheelbase. As its smaller-diameter front wheel, shorter wheelbase and reduced trail would suggest, the Tiger 800 is easier to negotiate through tight curves. But the XC compensates for its bigger front wheel and more relaxed geometry with a narrower front tire (90/90-ZR21 vs. 110/80-ZR19) and wider handlebars. Regardless of such differences, both Tigers are very easy and comfortable to ride. Their dished horse-saddle seats are well-padded, seating position is upright and legroom is generous (rubber inserts in the cleated pegs can be removed for more grip and legroom). Stand-up riding on the XC feels natural and the tank is easy to grip between your knees.
Both Tigers have 5-gallon fuel tanks that, according to Triumph, will take riders 250 miles between fuel stops. We’ll be the judge of that, once we get our sweaty hands on production test bikes. Accoutrements include an onboard computer, coded-key ignition immobilizer, 12V socket near the instrument panel, passenger grab handles and a rear luggage rack. Triumph’s accessory division was heavily involved in the Tigers’ development. Dozens of items are available, including hard and soft luggage, protective guards, seats, lights, TPMS and cosmetic upgrades. We tried out the hard saddlebags on the Tiger 800. Like those on the Sprint GT, they are designed to sway back and forth independently of the subframe to avoid upsetting the chassis when loads shift. The unsightly boxes, which look like Sanford & Son-era TVs, are bulky and felt cumbersome in heavy winds. Capacity is 37 liters in the left saddlebag, 25 liters in the right saddlebag (thanks to the high-mount exhaust pipe). And Triumph’s apparel division created new adventure riding gear, so the complete Triumph-branded ADV lifestyle will soon be available through your local dealer.
Do I sound kitten smitten? Perhaps. Triumph has done an admirable job with its litter of middleweight felines. As with all adventure bikes, the Tiger 800 and Tiger 800XC strike a compromise between sporting performance, touring comfort and off-road capability. All-around versatility means they do many things well, but few things better than other, more focused motorcycles. But no bike in recent memory—save the Suzuki V-Strom 650—was more fun and easy to ride from the first time I lifted the sidestand. The Tigers have swiped their sharp claws in the face of BMW’s 800cc F-series parallel twins—adventure-street F 650 GS, dual-sport F 800 GS and sport-standard F 800 R. The $9,999 Tiger 800 is $800 more than the F 650 GS, but it is rated for 21 more horsepower for a similarly equipped bike. On the other hand, the $10,999 Tiger 800XC is $400 less than the F 800 GS. And, if Triumph’s claimed wet weight is to be believed, the XC is nearly 50 pounds lighter and has a more accommodating seat height. Who will be King of the Jungle? Stay tuned for a Darwinian comparison.
2011 Triumph Tiger 800 (800XC) Specifications
Base Price: $9,999 ($10,999)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple
Bore x Stroke: 74.0 x 61.9mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Wheelbase: 61.2 in. (61.7 in.)
Rake/Trail: 23.7 degrees/3.4 in. (23.1 degrees/3.6 in.)
Seat Height: 31.9/32.7 in. (33.2/34.0 in.)
Claimed Wet Weight: 462 lbs. (473 lbs.)
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gals.
Average mpg: NA