2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC Comparison Review

JC Hilderbrand | May 30, 2011

Triumph obviously took a good look at its competition, and fortunately for us the bar was pretty high to begin with. The Tiger 800 XC has a very similar stance to the F800GS. The XC employs a trellis chassis but with a different design. A large fuel tank is reminiscent of the Tiger 1050 and the headlights are all Triumph, but the stubby front fender, bulbous single-side exhaust, chain drive and two-sided black aluminum swingarm all replicate the BMW.

The mellow bottom end works well in the dirt  especially with the tires that are more geared for the street.
The tiger has an engine that is happy to provide smooth torque for slippery off-road conditions  or high-revving horsepower for the street.
Triumph uses a version of its iconic Triple engine to power the new Tiger 800 XC.

The primary difference between the two middleweights is the powerplant. Triumph’s three-cylinder shares the same compression ratio (12.0:1) as the BMW Twin and the dual overhead cam design uses four valves per cylinder, but that’s where the similarities stop. Bore and stroke is 74mm x 61.9mm and it cranks out a very respectable 81.6 horsepower and 49.7 lb-ft of torque. While it definitely wails more than the BMW, it’s not all top-end like an Inline-Four. Triumph engineered seamless power from low in the midrange all the way through to a 10,000 rpm redline. The torque curve is virtually flat, making near peak output for the majority of its rev range. That translates into usable drive in all situations, dirt or pavement. It runs best above 7000 rpm and is the more aggressive feeling bike of the two. We rowed gears and revved the Triple mercilessly in the twisties where the BMW took less shifting and used its robust torque. Running a gear or two lower hurts the fuel economy which is nearly 10 mpg less than the F800 (39.6 mpg).

With Bridgestone Battle Wing tires spooned on the 21-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels (standard Tiger uses a 19-inch front), the less punchy delivery of the Triple is a benefit in the dirt. Slides and drifts are more controllable and predictable. We’d love to see what the Tiger can do with a set of aggressive knobbies. Exhaust note is nowhere near as intoxicating as the BMW’s growl, in fact it can be more annoying than anything with a distracting popping coming from the exhaust on deceleration. One of our riders compared it to popcorn in the header and neither of us came to terms with it.

Where the BMW suffers front-end dive due to a soft fork and engine braking, the Tiger has issues of its own coming off and on the throttle. Fueling is very quick and the engine is responsive, but it’s difficult to smoothly transition from on the power to maintaining or coasting. It’s most noticeable when working through a sweeping corner where the throttle needs to be held steady. Instead it’s a bit jerky and this detracts from the Tiger’s sharp handling. Often we upshift in an attempt to smooth it out, but then the bike is in the wrong gear coming off the apex. Significant slop in the throttle housing compounds the problem.

Shifting from the six-speed transmission is head and shoulders better than the notchy BMW. The triumph snicks into gear without any issues. The clutch does have a long throw at the lever which made us stall fairly often in the dirt, but we got better at it as the test progressed. “The transmission shifts well and the gear ratios are spot on,” confirms our Associate Editor.

Between the surprising torque and equally shocking prowess on and off the highway  the Tiger 80 XC should be a big seller for those in-between-sized adventure riders who want a non-German machine.
Highs & Lows
  • Great top-end power
  • Smooth delivery
  • Well-rounded suspension
  • Where’s the rear brake lever?
  • Thicker through the middle
  • Basic computer system

Handling gets high marks all around with a few noteworthy comments. Wheelbase is nearly identical to the GS at 61.7 inches despite having less rake and trail (23.1 degrees, 3.58 inches). The 21-inch front wheel helps keep the front end up and the Showa fork is appropriately firm. This is a good thing off-road, but more emphasis on the front end would help sharpen the handling even further on-road. Ultimately the Tiger keeps a quick pace anywhere on the pavement and we regularly had no dust left on the edges of the Bridgestones’ contact surface.

We can argue the merits of the Twin vs. Triple for days, but suspension is one area where the Triumph convinced our testers unanimously. A 45mm inverted Showa fork has 8.7 inches of travel, slightly less than the BMW, but makes much better use of it. The sticks are non-adjustable – a cost-cutting move just like with BMW – but if we can’t mess with them then this is how they should be. Off-road the Showas handle chatter, rollers, square-faced holes and the occasional hidden rock pretty dang well for such a large machine. It could be stiffer to help with increased speeds and jumps, but then it wouldn’t have the supple feeling needed for the pavement.

“The front fork rides high and gives the familiar handling of a large dirt bike,” Dawes comments. “Kicking out the rear end is easy and can be controlled with just a slight amount of input on the footpegs and bars. For sandy section standing is required otherwise the bike wallows all over the place, mainly from having too much weight on a slippery tire. Small jumps and bumps are not a problem for the suspension, but several time I heard the kick stand slap up and down.”

The rear shock uses a linkage system and remote oil reservoir. Like the BMW it has hand-adjustable preload and can also tailor rebound. Like the front end, we were happy to leave it stock since it doesn’t hop as violently as the Beemer on G-outs and the bike stays level in the small amount of air we were comfortable getting underneath the wheels.

After riding the Tiger we were surprised to find that it weighs more than the BMW. The XC is just barely less than 500 pounds (496) with a full tank of fuel. It does hold 0.8 gallons more than the Beemer, but even with the extra fuel taken out of the equation the Tiger is still four pounds heavier. There’s no way you could have convinced our testers of that without showing them the scales. Triumph did a great job of hiding the weight, easily feeling lighter when riding at high or low speeds. The BMW seems porky even pushing the bike around a parking space. The Tiger has a fatter tank that sits up high in the traditional location while the BMW carries its fuel down low in the chassis. It’s counterintuitive, but whatever the Brits did to pull it off definitely works – the Tiger is lighter on its feet.

Yes  the Tiger XC was worth the wait.New headlights and a stubby front fender add to the aesthetics.The front end resists diving on the pavement despite dual 308mm brake rotors with twin-piston Nissin calipers.
The Tiger 800 XCimpresses with its lightweight feeling, despite that it’s heavier than the BMW. Styling and components are very similar to the F800GS, but there are certain areas like the headlight assembly that are unique to the Triumph heritage.

Hauling down from speed is the responsibility of dual 308mm front discs with dual-piston Nissin calipers. The rear unit is a single-piston caliper and 255mm disc. The XC does not come with ABS standard but the braking aid is available as a factory option. As tested, the Tiger’s brakes are impressive. They’re equally as strong as the GS’s pinchers with a bit more connected feel thanks to the stiffer suspension. Unfortunately, the rear brake pedal stinks on the Triumph as well. Instead of being helplessly low, it’s too high, which had us searching just as much as with the Beemer. It also has the case guard, but when we accidentally step on that it can have more dire consequences without ABS.

“The front brakes are strong, but have great feel even in the dirt,” says Dawes. “I never tucked the front in the dirt as the brake modulates well. The rear brake lever is garbage. It was difficult to find or feel and took way to much movement to apply pressure.”

Wind protection is virtually identical between the two. Dawes thinks the Tiger offers minutely more, and our taller test rider says the XC pushes a bit more wind onto his shoulders. Either way, they’re close. The Tiger does come with handguards which earned major points the first time we clipped a cactus. Also, the rubber grips are far better than the BMW’s. That’s not hard to do, but the Tiger’s actually serve as padding. The British bike uses the same arrow-shaped blinkers but the kickstand is different. It’s longer and has a smaller footprint, which makes it better in some situations and worse in others. The computer system is pretty basic. It has a digital trip meter, odometer, clock, gear position, speedometer, engine temp and fuel guage. The tach is a large analog dial which could be a bit smaller to allow for the digital display to grow.

Filling the large fuel tank is one of the more frustrating aspects of living with the Tiger. Metal bars are placed just inside the cap to protect the fuel pump assembly from a nozzle being jammed inside. That’s great, but if the pump has an automatic shut-off then it’s rendered useless and must be manually deactivated. Also, because the nozzle cannot be pushed into the tank it splashes all over the place unless filled very slowly. This isn’t something we learned to cope with, it became more annoying every time.

Both ends will bottom over just a small waterbar  but the 800 can be jumped slightly.
Triumph has the performance and attention to detail to make the Tiger 800 XC a top adventure touring motorcycle in only its first year of production.

The Tiger’s seat is a two-piece design and the foam is a great blend of firmness and long-range comfort. It’s adjustable from 32.2 inches to 34 inches but we never felt the need to move it from the standard position. Both testers found it superior to the BMW’s angular seat. The Tiger doesn’t have the accessories support that the BMW does, yet. Triumph offers a luggage system, gel seats, center stand, aluminum skidplate, crash bars, tank bag and auxiliary lights as OEM components, but the aftermarket is undoubtedly going to jump all over this model.

The Triumph may look like the BMW, but they certainly don’t act the same. We’re happy to find that the Tiger has a personality all its own, and it’s a darn good motorcycle. When a bike is charged with so many different aspects of riding it’s not surprising that we have some minor gripes – it can’t be perfect at everything. It’s the same for the BMW, but in only its first generation the 800 XC matches and surpasses the GS on many levels. The price difference is virtually nil when all of the upgrades are taken into account. Some personalization and the Tiger could be anyone’s ultimate adventure touring machine.

JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.