May 24, 2011
Triumph has come an awful long way since the marque was purchased by businessman John Bloor, who began producing bikes a couple of decades ago. Triumph is once again a unique and valuable brand that seems to be gaining market share just about everywhere.
Like most success stories, however, there have been challenges to overcome. When Triumph decided to take on the Japanese with a 600cc, four-cylinder supersport, it was an audacious plan that ultimately failed. But in the process, Triumph learned an awful lot. It ended up making a very competent 600cc machine, but decided it was better to exploit its history with three-cylinder engines, and the Daytona 675 was born.
The 675cc models (which eventually included a naked Street Triple) probably would have been successful even if they had been mediocre. They filled a niche that no one else competed with at the time. Nevertheless, Triumph transferred the great effort it put into the 600cc supersport into its development of the 675cc Daytona. The Daytona was a hit because it was a great bike, and it continues to beat the Japanese 600s in some of the magazine comparison tests to this day.
One of the things Triumph struggled with early on was throttle response from its fuel injected machines. Plenty of manufacturers had this problem when fuel injection replaced carburetors, but Triumph seemed particularly baffled by the transition. Ultimately, Triumph placed extra emphasis on smooth and accurate throttle response that paid great dividends. Today, its bikes tend to be among the best in this regard.
Triumph is still a relatively small manufacturer when compared with some of its Japanese competition, and this does create some advantages. It can often move more quickly in response to market conditions, and can design motorcycles based on the entrepreneurial vision of its founder and a small group of executives, without dealing with the large bureaucratic process that can be found in some of the larger corporations.
standard Tiger 800
The decision to use a version of the Daytona 675cc engine (although, with substantial modifications) in the new Tiger 800 models, including both the standard 800 and 800 XC, was brilliant. This engine was designed to be compact (particularly, narrow) and light from the start, because its home was a sport bike chassis. Triumph knew very well the category was fiercely competitive (supersports) and built an engine to succeed in that arena. The fact that a somewhat larger displacement version of that same engine now resides in the Tiger 800 means the same attributes, compact design and light weight, can be experienced by adventure touring enthusiasts.
As we tested both versions of the Tiger 800 (you can see Part One of our test here, and our report from the European press launch here), it was immediately obvious that the 800cc triple is special. This engine is fabulous, plain and simple. Throttle response is virtually perfect, and the spread of power broad and linear, while still punchy and lively. Indeed, the engine has that unique character that entertains the rider on a trip to the grocery store, just as much as it does while chasing your buddies through the canyons on a Saturday morning. It is a cliché to call this engine “grin inducing”, but there is hardly another way to describe it.
The engine is also seemingly the perfect size for many riders. It has more than adequate power for two–up touring, loaded with luggage, but is still small and light, and far more usable than some of the much larger engines. Sort of like the perfect porridge from Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
The chassis does not let down this stellar powerplant, either. We began by testing the standard Tiger 800, with the cast wheels (including the 19 inch front, as opposed to the 21 inch front found on the XC).
The ergonomics of the Tiger 800 offer a very good compromise for many riders. The seat is adjustable with two different heights, and the lower position (at roughly 31.9 inches) allows shorter riders to sample the Tiger 800 while several competitive machines are simply too tall. The trade-off is a slightly shorter distance between the seat and foot pegs, and, consequently, slightly less leg room than some of the competition (Suzuki V-Strom, for example), but the option to raise the seat adds a bit more room when needed.
The seat is comfortable and supportive, even on longer rides. It does “lock you in” to a position on the bike without much opportunity to move fore-and-aft, however. This is not so much an issue on the street, as it is in the dirt.
The engine is so smooth that the mirrors remain virtually buzz free and crystal-clear while cruising on the highway. At higher speeds, the Tiger 800 was stable and comfortable, with surprisingly adequate wind protection from the relatively small windscreen. Vibration was never an issue, through the seat, bars or pegs. When engine vibration was felt, it was generally pleasant, rather than annoying.
Highway mileage was impressive. With the onboard computer, you can essentially track real-time mileage figures, and 50 miles per gallon was possible on the highway with judicious use of the throttle (keeping the bike below 75 mph). 45 miles per gallon was easily achievable on highway tours, while we averaged roughly 38 miles per gallon in mixed riding. This offered good range from the 5 gallon gas tank.
Perhaps most surprising about the Tiger 800 was its handling in the twisties. Every one of our test riders was impressed. The Tiger 800 offers huge confidence to the rider while cornering. Thanks to its light weight and broad dirt bike-style handlebars, it changes directions very easily, but holds its line well. Despite all the ground clearance offered, we were scraping peg feelers, and even our boot heels, on occasion.
That flexible engine is a blessing while carving corners, as well. The smooth fuel injection response allows you to get on the throttle early, and a broad powerband made gear selection easy.
An important feature for many adventure touring enthusiasts is headlight output. The Tiger 800 offers some serious candlepower by way of dual, H4 headlamps. In our opinion, it is hard to beat this set up (two H4s), which provides very strong low beam and high beam light output.
standard Tiger 800
Switching to the 800XC was interesting. The primary difference is found in the wheels, tires and suspension. Although the non- adjustable fork on the standard Tiger 800 offered a good compromise setting, the 800XC offers a larger diameter fork with longer travel, and slightly stiffer valving. The shock, just like the standard 800, offers convenient, remote pre-load adjustment and rebound adjustment. The rear suspension on the XC also offers increased travel. The biggest difference was generated by the wheel/tire package, however, and the more conservative steering geometry.
The even larger 21 inch front wheel found on the XC increases that “roll-over-anything” feeling we had while riding the standard Tiger 800 with its 19 inch cast wheel. If anything, this made freeway riding even more confidence inspiring. The trade-off was the added rotating weight from the larger, heavier hoops combined with tubed tires (the standard Tiger 800 allows the mounting of tubeless tires).
Had we tested the 800XC first, we probably would not have noticed quite so much of a difference, but the lively feel we had aboard the Tiger 800 standard model was dampened somewhat on the XC. You really do notice the heavier, rotating wheels/tires in acceleration, braking and direction changes. The XC just reacts more slowly… a natural consequence of the added inertia and the steering geometry differences. The XC should provide added flexibility in the form of dirt prowess, however.
We did take the XC off-road, and the slightly longer suspension travel, larger front wheel and improved ground clearance surely offered some advantages there over the standard model. The seating position, or rather the inability to move freely and shift your body weight, worked against the 800XC off-road, however.
Both bikes benefit from an excellent transmission. Gear changes were easy and positive, and the clutch performed well. The relatively light flywheel effect, together with the clutch/transmission, made rev–matching downshifts a breeze.
standard Tiger 800
The Triumph Tiger 800 and 800XC were highly anticipated by adventure touring enthusiasts, and for good reason. Both of these bikes are great fun to ride, comfortable and practical. The unique sensations offered by the three-cylinder engine should please just about everyone. Although we preferred the standard Tiger 800, we have to point out that we tested the 800XC with similar tires, not aggressive knobbies. For the hard-core adventure rider intending to travel off-road with greater frequency, more aggressive tires would add much to the XC’s off-road ability.
Triumph offers accessories for both bikes, including luggage and an Arrow exhaust. We hope to get the Tiger 800 back to test both of these accessories, as well as others, a bit later. The Tiger 800 carries a US MSRP of $9,999 ($10,799 w/ABS), and the 800 XC is $10,999 ($11,799 w/ABS). For further details and specifications, visit Triumph’s web site here.