With a bike performing well in almost every sector, Triumph’s range had just one void left to fill. Three years in the making, the Tiger 800 looks set to take the adventure market by storm…
Squinting into the low Catalan sun, my head still throbbing from last night’s brandy, the ride behind Triumph’s development rider, David Lopez, is an adventure all right. The road snakes its way into the hills; much of the smooth asphalt is baked dry by the sun, while the never-ending woodland corners shielded from the sun’s heat remain wet and slick.
Being smooth is the key here. Well, either that or backing things off a touch and hoping that David will respond by slowing down the pace to suit those of us who haven’t won Spanish supersport races. Our gaggle of journos trail along like ducklings behind him. But, then again, where’s the fun in slowing down?
Triumph’s latest addition to its already-impressive range, which now has a bike competing head-on with the best of the rest in every sector (apart from 1,000cc supersports), had to be better than everything else in its class. After a lengthy first ride, I’m inclined to argue that Triumph has achieved just that. It appears that the Tiger 800 is the result of weighing up the competition’s shortcomings and making sure the new model benefits from the mistakes of its rivals as well as Triumph’s own ingenuity. For a start, rather than simply sticking an old and proven motor in a tough new frame, the engine has been designed from the ground up to suit the bike’s dual-purpose intentions. Tractability is absolutely key to riding off-road, and the 675 unit simply wouldn’t have worked. That crisp, instant throttle response that has made the Daytona and the Street Triple so special in their respective classes works on the road and track, but off the beaten track, a little softness goes a long, long way.
With a longer stroke, the engine takes a little longer to spin up. Below 6,500rpm, there’s a usable spread of torque, which helps to give the rider a feeling of total control. Whether that’s fi ltering through traffi c at low speed or threading a path along a dry riverbed, there’s rarely a moment when the bike feels as though it could get away from me. As large trail-bikes go, the Tiger is as unthreatening as it gets.
Really neat Tiger feat
There’s another side to this new engine. Above 6,500rpm, there’s a different side to this somewhat docile feline. Get the tacho needle whanging its way round towards the red-line and the Tiger’s claws come out with an induction noise that sounds like a jet engine full of razor blades. The exhaust note, on the overrun, sounds like a set of kettle drums are taking a hammering inside the silencer. Fit the Arrow end-can for the full effect and prepare to get addicted to rapid back-shifting.
And it’s not just the engine that impresses. Recently, Triumph has built a reputation for making sweet-handling bikes. During the pre-ride technical briefing, the importance of making sure the Tiger was the best-handling bike in its class is thoroughly emphasised, leaving no doubt about Triumph’s intentions and raising our expectations. There’s always going to be compromises evident in a bike that isn’t single-mindedly focused. OK, on some of the drier, mountain switchbacks, the Tiger does get a little upset, but if I’m totally honest, the boundaries are far further away than I could have ever imagined. On the brakes, I expect the forks to dive faster than Tom Daley on amphetamines, but the controlled first part of the stroke keeps the bike in check, allowing far faster road riding than seems sensible on this kind of bike shod with trail tyres.
Earning its stripes
Forget any preconceptions you might have had about big trail-bikes because, quite frankly, the Tiger makes it all too easy to forget which pigeonhole it’s supposed to fi t in, changing direction easily, steering sweetly and offering the rider confi dence by the bucket-load thanks to a neutral feel that even Honda’s engineers would gasp at. In summary, then, the new Tiger 800 is easy to ride for the novice, offers enough performance for the experienced rider and manages to be as fun as it is practical.
As a bike journalist, I’m still trying to come up with a few negatives. But the trouble is, everything about the Tiger – from the riding position to the mirrors to the clocks, from the power delivery to the brakes to the suspension – simply does exactly what it’s supposed to. The Tiger 800 is a very important bike for Triumph. Adventure bikes are growing in popularity. Blame it on the Ewan or blame it on the Boorman; whatever the reason for this sudden rise in popularity of utilitarian motorcycles, the Tiger 800 sure can boogie.
With tougher, longer-travel suspension, handguards, sump-plate and a front wheel size to give a wider choice of pukka off-road rubber, the XC is to the Tiger 800 what the Adventure is to BMW’s benchmark R1200GSThe more expensive model, the 800XC, is taller and far more capable off-road; if you want the best of both worlds and are seriously considering a roundthe- world trip, then buy this one. If you only want to ride on the road and the occasional gravel fi re-road, then buy the less expensive 800, which handles better on road.
Off-road, the XC works surprisingly well. The riding position is spot-on for my 5ft 9ins frame and, standing up on the pegs, the balance is as close to perfect as you could reasonably expect for such a large bike. Some of the taller riders on the launch complained that they felt slightly stooped while standing up with straight legs, but, with so much adjustment, along with the availability of aftermarket bar-risers, it’s unlikely ever to be a real problem.
The extra travel of the XC’s Showa suspension is welcome off-road, progressively giving more support lower down the stroke to absorb the bigger bumps at speed, only ever bottoming under real duress. It feels controlled even when pressing on a bit, and the extra width of the XC’s bars gives ample leverage to cope with a bit of rear-wheel steering. The soft power delivery and knobbly Metzeler Karoo trail tyres mean that overwhelming the limit of rear grip and breaking traction on the hard-packed Spanish surface takes a fair bit of commitment.
Burning bright in the forest
As much as the fast fire-roads are fun, low-speed balance and control is absolutely vital off-road. The Tiger’s low centre-of-gravity and light clutch help through the tricky stuff. With no steep climbs or muddy, loose sections on our fairly unchallenging route, I’m a little disappointed not to have had the chance to push the 800XC to nearer its limit – I’m confi dent that its capable of far more than we are allowed to throw it at. Lower gearing would help the 800XC massively for those happy to sacrifi ce a claimed 130mph top speed and a little fuel economy in favour of real off-road usability. Triumph has already pre-empted this by making available a gearing kit that takes it from its stock 16/50 final drive down to 15/52, just another example of how they’re taking the Tiger and the whole adventure bike market very seriously indeed – and rightly so.
With bikes like the Daytona, Street Triple, Thunderbird and Speed Triple no longer merely making up the numbers in their respective sectors, instead competing head-on for the kudos of best-in-class, Triumph’s fi rst foray into the murky, quirky world of dual-purpose machinery had to be carefully measured to get close to the German-set benchmark. Even in this class, before long the best may be British. While only a full group test can properly reveal a true winner, it’s fair to say that Triumph has fi lled the gap in its range brilliantly. Versatility and adaptability are the key words here. Whatever your idea of an adventure, it would appear that the Tiger is more than up for it.
Having planned to use the 675cc motor, Triumph’s engineers quickly established the need for a completely new engine to suit the Tiger’s off-road intentions. Fewer revs and more torque were needed. Originally the motor was stroked to 770cc but eventually it was decided to take it out to 799cc. The new motor does share a few parts with the 675, such as the cylinder head casting, throttle bodies, cam-chain tensioner and a couple of gearbox components, but from the crankcases up it’s all-new and designed specifically for the Tiger.
Both the 800 and 800XC share this new engine. Overall it would seem that a lot of thought has gone into the new motor. Adventure bikes by their very nature get a tough time of things, not least with the amount of electrical paraphernalia that adventurous types like to fi t: heated grips, spotlights, satellite navigation systems, you name it, it gets bolted on. To cope with this Triumph has fi tted a 14Ah battery charged by a 645w generator. BMW’s F800GS generator puts out just 400w. A boring stat, perhaps, but then so is being stranded on a cold winter’s night with a flat battery…
Type: l/c DOHC 12v inline triple, 799cc
Bore x Stroke: 74 x 61.9mm
Compression ratio: 11.1:1
Fuelling: 3 x 44mm throttle bodies, EFI
Max Power: 94bhp @ 9,300rpm
Max Torque: 58ft lb @ 7,850rpm
Chassis: Tubular steel trellis, alu swinging arm
Suspension: (F) 43mm/45mm inverted, nonadjustable
with 180mm / 220mm of travel (R)
Monoshock with hydraulic preload and rebound
adjustment. 170mm / 215mm of travel
Brakes: Radial four-piston Tokico calipers, 310mm
twin discs (R) Single-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Wheels/Tyres: (F) 100/90-19, 90/90-21 (R) 150/70-17
Rake/Trail: 23.7°/86.2mm / 23.1°/91.1mm
Wheelbase: 1555mm /1568mm
(two extra links in the chain)
Fuel Capacity: 19 litres (4.18 gals)
Weight (wet): 210kg (463lbs) / 215kg (474lbs)
TRIUMPH PRODUCT MANAGER
SuperBike: During the presentation, you used the term “spreading the risk” in reference to entering a different market sector. Can you clarify exactly what you meant?
Simon Warburton: Triumph is growing and has learned from the mistakes of the old company, [ideas] that weren’t forward-thinking. We’re looking to grow and to prosper and we’ve got a stable business now. So we’re taking a long-term view – who knows what’s going to happen with motorcycling in 10 years’ time? Both legislation and fashion can reduce a sector’s viability or popularity. By broadening our range, we’re ‘spreading the risk’ and ensuring our long-term future.
SB: Combining off-road and road ergonomics is never easy. How difficult was it to achieve the correct balance?
SW: Rather than try and design the ergonomics by computer, we simply used a range of differentsized riders to not only achieve the correct riding positions, but also to make sure that nothing fouled on motocross boots. It’s attention to these kind of details that really make a difference. We spent a lot of time working on the Tiger’s ergonomics to make sure it would not only fit a lot of people, but also provide the least compromise between riding on and off road.
SB: Durability is obviously very important for a dual-purpose machine. How much endurance testing went into the Tiger?
SW: The pavé (high speed over cobbles) suspension test was doubled for the Tiger to take into account the tough life that it will endure, and the pillion and luggage tests were also extended. Essentially, we extended and broadened the parameters of typical tests to take into account the Tiger’s role.
SB: What about finish? Most off-road bikes look well worn very quickly…
SW: That did concern us, so we’ve come up with several touches to ensure the finish survives off-road use. We’ve paid attention to where boots rub, and fitted plastic guards to the frame and engine casings. We’ve fi tted a metal loop to stop any rubbing against the exhaust. The tank side-panels are unpainted and replaceable. The sump-guard comes as standard and for the real hardcore off-road rider. We’ve got a massive range of bike protection available as accessories. In terms of corrosion, we’ve recently been looking at new bolt finishes for all of our bikes, so our quality is constantly improving. I’d say we’ve put in a fair effort!