On the eastern edge of California’s Sierra Nevada, tucked away beneath Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., is a tiny little town called Lone Pine. Lone Pine is best known as the jumping-off point for mountaineers seeking to summit Whitney, a convenient place to freshen up and grab a hot meal for hungry Pacific Coast Trail through-hikers and a playground of outstanding bouldering for rock climbers. If you’re a film buff, you might also appreciate the area’s history as a backdrop for Hollywood movies since the 1920s, especially the Westerns of the 1950s and ’60s like “How The West Was Won,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Hell Bent For Leather.” It’s not the town of Lone Pine itself that features on the big screen, however, but rather a uniquely beautiful and photogenic geological formation that lies on the western edge of town, in the shadow of the snowcapped Sierra peaks: the Alabama Hills.
Named for, of all things, a Confederate battleship, the CSS Alabama, the Alabama Hills aren’t really hills but a series of rock outcroppings and formations that jut from the scrubby desert floor. With a little imagination, you might pick shapes like an eagle’s head or a human face out of the hoodoos. And of course, for 100 years Hollywood directors have used the Alabama Hills to stand in for locations from the Wild West to the Arabian Desert to the Himalayas. Located on U.S. Route 395, the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine are a fabulous diversion on a loop through Death Valley. Riding the short, paved loop through the area is rewarding on its own, but to fully appreciate the Hills — and to see the actual filming locations — a detour onto graded dirt is required, which made the new Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro a perfect choice for this road trip.
I was smitten with the new Tiger, especially in its off-road oriented Rally Pro guise, since my initial ride in Morocco (Rider April 2020 and on ridermagazine.com), so when our tester arrived I snatched up the keys and wouldn’t let go. I’d traveled through Lone Pine once before, but had never stopped and only had a glimpse of the Hills from a distance; this time, I was looking forward to spending more time exploring and catching a famous Alabama Hills sunrise. Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t great; temperatures were in the low 100s, and I had a lot of flat, featureless desert to cross before reaching my destination. To make things more interesting, I diverted through a giant wind farm along curving, undulating Tehachapi Willow Springs Road — it was out of my way, but broke up the otherwise straight, flat, hot ride across the Antelope Valley and Mojave Desert. One word of caution: mind your p’s and q’s on this road, as the Highway Patrol seems to keep a cruiser or two on it, trolling it for speeders.
The Tiger 900 was just as pleasant as I remembered, its revamped in-line triple with T-plane crank and new firing order generating plenty of power with a new V-twin-like character. Fortunately, that character was limited to sound and feel; the enlarged 888cc engine has been fitted with a new balancer shaft and is just as smooth as the previous Tiger 800. At 476 pounds wet, it’s lighter than before (our 2018 Tiger 800 XCA weighed in at 505 pounds) and makes a bit more power and torque. On the Jett Tuning dyno, our 2020 Tiger 900 Rally Pro spun out 89.7 peak horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 59.4 lb-ft of torque at 7,300, compared to 84 horsepower at 9,900 rpm and 51.2 lb-ft of torque at 7,700 on our most recent Tiger 800 tester. For some riders, a liter-class or larger ADV tourer is the only way to go, but the Tiger 900 Rally Pro makes plenty of power for my needs and offers all the creature comforts a girl could want — including a heated seat (not that I needed it on this ride).
Speaking of which, though it’s clearly the more off-road worthy of the new Tiger 900 family, the Rally Pro handled the several-hours long slog through the desert heat like a champ. A new split radiator meant my left leg wasn’t roasted, a common complaint on the previous Tiger 800 models, and the windscreen — adjustable with one hand from the saddle — did a nice job of deflecting the worst of the blast-furnace air without buffeting. Slowing through small towns along the way, I dropped it to its lowest position to allow maximum flow through the vented panels in my Spidi riding suit. Sometimes even hot air feels good, as long as it’s moving.
Another key improvement over the previous off-road Tiger 800s are the new tubeless spoked rims — still a ready-for-anything 21-incher up front (the base model Tiger 900 and the Tiger 900 GT and GT Pro have tubeless cast wheels with a 19-inch front). While it’s taller and longer (thanks to longer-travel suspension and the larger front wheel) and has plush suspension well suited for gnarly terrain, the Rally Pro is easy to handle and flicks through corners with ease and very little drama.
I tackled some legitimately “adventurous” sections on my first ride in Morocco, but this trip was more about the scenery and history, accessed via graded, occasionally sandy and often washboard dirt roads. After a pause at the (temporarily closed, thanks to the pandemic) Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, where I had to settle for a selfie outside the locked, theater-marquee style front doors, I checked into my hotel room, dropped off some stuff to lighten my load and headed for the Hills.
In “normal” times, riders will want to grab a free map from the museum before exploring. The map highlights some of the more famous filming locations, everything from old Westerns to modern movies like “Gladiator” and “Iron Man,” along with how to access them. Since these are not normal times (or maybe it’s just the new normal), I had to do my own research on the Internet before leaving home. After a leisurely putt around the paved loop road, I returned to the turnoff for the dirt Movie Flat Road, also known simply as Movie Road, along which are the Alabama Hills’ famous arches, eerie formations and hoodoos—and, of course, Hollywood movie locations. A street bike, ridden carefully and with an eye out for surprise sand drifts and washboard, can easily handle the early section of Movie Flat Road, where almost all of the interesting waypoints are located. On the Rally Pro, it was child’s play. Standing on the pegs, right hand lightly gripping the throttle, the Tiger and I floated over the washboard and tracked confidently through the shallow sandy areas. The traction control wasn’t intrusive, but I still toggled through the various settings, including Off-Road Pro, which disables ABS and traction control entirely and uses a dedicated off-road throttle map. Not surprisingly, I was happiest with this mode on Movie Flat Road, feeling the most direct connection with the bike and any tiny wiggles it passed up to me.
I put the seat into its taller 34.2-inch position to achieve the most open knee bend for the four-plus hour highway ride, despite the fact that it put me on my toes at a stop. But another tradeoff for choosing my parking spots carefully (mind the slope!) was an ability to transition easily from sitting to standing as I meandered through the hoodoos, occasionally turning off onto a rockier, rutted jeep trail to get to a particularly interesting formation. I also appreciated the new, larger 7-inch full-color TFT display, which includes Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, GPS and/or GoPro on the GT Pro and Rally Pro. My only complaint is that the tachometer is difficult to read, but otherwise all pertinent information, including range to empty (we averaged 50.3 miles from the 5.3-gallon tank) and the tire pressure monitoring system, are easy to find and see.
The next morning, after enjoying a beautiful pink sunrise, snapping a few photos and recording some brief riding impressions on video, it was time to point my front wheel south and toward home—but not before stopping at the Alabama Hills Café and Bakery for one of their massive omelets (did I mention the hordes of hungry through-hikers that pass through town?). Feeling at least several pounds heavier than when I woke up that morning, I wondered if the Tiger would notice my big breakfast. Probably not; its preload- and rebound-damping adjustable Showa rear shock sports 9.1 inches of plush, compliant travel, and its 45mm fully adjustable Showa fork a frost-heave eating 9.4 inches. It functioned just as well as I remembered from our rollicking ride in Morocco, tuned just how I like it: on the softer side for low-speed damping and quick to respond when the pace picks up. It still feels distinctly like an ADV bike, especially when ridden back-to-back with a more street-oriented machine, but the tradeoff is not so great that I felt robbed of my ability to enjoy a twisty road.
At any rate, I suspect that a rider looking for something to challenge sportbike riders in the canyons might pass up the Tiger 900, even in GT/GT Pro form, for something sportier. But if your ideal adventure tourer can carry you and your gear comfortably through hours and hours of monotony in inclement weather, then handle the tough stuff with enough competency to allow you to enjoy the ride — and the scenery — then you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least consider the Rally Pro.
2020 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro Specs:
Base Price: $12,500
Price as Tested: $16,700 (Rally Pro)
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 61.9mm
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ throttle-by-wire, 44mm throttle bodies x 3
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.3-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Ignition: Digital inductive
Charging Output: 476 watts @ 5,000 rpm
Battery: 12V 11.2AH
Frame: Tubular steel trellis w/engine as a stressed member, cast aluminum-alloy swingarm
Wheelbase: 61.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.4 degrees/5.74 in.
Seat Height: 33.5/34.2 in.
Suspension, Front: 45mm USD fork, fully adjustable, 9.4-in. travel
Rear: Single shock w/ remote reservoir, hydraulic remote adjustable preload, 9.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm floating discs with 4-piston radial calipers & switchable ABS
Rear: Single 255mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & switchable ABS
Wheels, Front: Tubeless spoked, 2.15 x 21 in.
Rear: Tubeless spoked, 4.25 x 17 in.
Wet Weight: 476 lbs.
Load Capacity: 456 lbs.
GVWR: 932 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.1 gals. warning light on
MPG: 87 AKI min. (avg) 50.3
Estimated Range: 266.6 miles