Triumph used teaser marketing to build so much hype around its new 2011 Tiger 800 XC adventure bike that it almost defeated the purpose. It was promoted so heavily, and so far in advance, it became tedious. Well, after riding the Tiger 800 XC for over 300 miles in the California desert, mountains and urban streets, we’ve quickly forgiven the British brand. Yes, the Tiger XC was worth the wait.
Unless a rider is looking for a BMW, midsize adventure bikes are hard to come by. The Germans have owned the segment in the past few years with the F800GS, and the rest of the motorcycle world has stuck with 650 machines or 1000cc beasts. These mid-size displacements have the muscle and comfort to handle long stretches of pavement much better than the smaller bikes, but also offer much less weight and increased maneuverability compared to the big bikes. It’s this blend of characteristics that makes them so desirable, and Triumph took that into consideration when building the new 800.
The Tiger Triple is happy to provide smooth torque for slippery off-road conditions, or high-revving horsepower for the street.
The UK brand is known for its inline three-cylinder engines. The Triple design blends high-performance revving with real-world usability, meaning it has nearly the top-end thrill of an Inline-Four and some of that lovable Twin torque. Not only does that make for a great street bike, but it also pays dividends in when the pavement ends with smooth, controllable power delivery. Triumph’s powerplant has the same internal bore as the 675 engine (74mm), but with a longer stroke (61.9 vs. 52.3mm). A 12.0:1 compression ratio squishes fuel inside the 799cc mill. Four valves per cylinder handle intake and exhaust duties and fuel is metered via electronic fuel injection.
“What a sweet engine,” says Associate Editor, Justin Dawes. “The power is decent at the bottom of the rev range and just gets better from there. The mellow bottom end works well in the dirt, especially with the tires that are more geared for the street. With knobs in the dirt, riding higher in the revs would be the hot ticket.”
The Tiger pulls hard all the way to a 10,000 rpm redline with peak output coming just before at 9900 (81.63 horsepower rear wheel). It’s within 10% of that peak from 7700 on up, so the Tiger 800 definitely gets revved out on the highway. Torque is dished out to the tune of 49.74 lb-ft at 7700 rpm. The true beauty is that it tops 46 lb-ft at just 3500 rpm and only drops to 43 at redline, so there are never any lulls in power. Building up a powerslide in the dirt is much easier thanks to the predictable delivery. There are no big surges or flat spots anywhere. One thing we did notice about the Triumph, which also reminds us of the 1050, is an abrupt throttle. Modulating off and on takes extreme finesse to avoid lurching, and this is most troublesome when applying steady throttle to pilot through corners.
To some ears, the three-cylinder might be more harmonious than the wail of an Inline-Four, but one audible we don’t like about the Triple is the ridiculous burble it gives off on deceleration. For half of our first day we kept looking down to see if something was rattling off the bike. The sound is annoying, and neither of our testers ever came to like it regardless of how many miles we racked up.
“Too bad,” agrees Dawes. “On decel it sounded like Orville Redenbacher was doing work in the headers.”
A little popcorn sound is a small price to pay. Triumph matches the engine with a very slick six-speed transmission. We had no trouble with the gearbox and the ratios are well spaced, including the final chain drive sprockets. The clutch lever must be pulled all the to the hand grip in order to fully disengage, which leads to a stalling tendency at low speeds or technical off-road riding. It was mostly a problem maneuvering in the dirt, but even at stop lights it would be preferable to use two fingers instead of four.
The rear section of frame looks a bit unfinshed to some testers. This brake pedal is hard to find, and often the rider hits the taller case guard causing extreme braking. The clutch requires four fingers on the lever.
Spoked wheels give the Tiger more off-road capacity and we wouldn’t hesitate to slap on knobbier tires. Even some mild treads would improve the already-impressive off-road behavior. Stock tires on our machine are the Bridgestone Battle Wing 501 front and 502 rear. The forward hoop on the XC is 21 inches compared to a 19 incher on the standard Tiger. This helps roll over larger off-road obstacles and keeps the front end of the bike higher. It also allows for more tire selection. A 17-inch rear is standard for large ADV bikes. Selectable ABS is available for the Tiger as an additional option, but our machine was the standard XC which comes without.
Topped with fuel, the Tiger weighs in at 496 pounds. Fortunately, the bike feels lighter in all situations. Tubular steel makes up the frame with the engine acting as a stressed member of the trellis design. It turns quickly on pavement and keeps the CG neutral feeling when off-road. The steering angle is a little sharper than its road-biased sibling with rake being 23.1 degrees rather than 23.7, but trail is increased to 3.58 inches. Wheelbase is a half-inch longer as well at 61.7 inches. Stability is one of the XC’s strong characteristics. Even when lightening the wheel over rises in rough pavement or hitting buried rocks on a sandy road, the Tiger holds its course without complaint.
The Tiger XC is very well-mannered in the dirt. We’d love to get a set of knobbies on this to see what it can really do.
“Handling in the dirt is amazing for such a big bike,” exclaims Dawes. “The front fork rides high and gives the familiar handling of a large dirt bike. Kicking out the rear end was easy and could be controlled with just a slight amount of input on the footpegs and bars. For sandy sections, standing is required otherwise the bike wallows all over the place.”
Fortunately, standing is comfortable on the 800. We rotated the bars forward in the clamp and that was plenty to keep even our 5’11” tester satisfied. The wide fuel tank makes it easy to lean against while heading downhill and the rubber vibration inserts pop right out of the footpegs. Seat height is adjustable from 32.3 to 34 inches and the foam is so good you won’t want to stand up.
Also aiding the cushy ride is the 45mm non-adjustable Showa fork with 8.7 inches of travel. The shock is adjustable for rebound and preload, the latter with a hand-turn knob. We like the ride quality of the shock on pavement as well. For off-road use, both ends are soft, but they are extremely predicable. Both ends will bottom over just a small waterbar, but the 800 can be jumped slightly. As for pavement, the Tiger has no worries – everything, including sunken grades and potholes are handled without trouble.
The front end resists diving on the pavement despite dual 308mm brake rotors with twin-piston Nissin calipers. Out back is a 255mm single disc both ends provide excellent feedback. However, the foot lever is pretty hard to find sometimes, which can cause the rider to search in a panic and step on the case guard.
Instrumentation on the Tiger’s controls is effective but minimal. The LCD display offers a digital speedometer, trip computer, gear position indicator and clock, with an analog tach located to the right of the multi-functional instrument pack. A windscreen diverts buffeting very well, though our taller rider noted a bit of pressure on his shoulders. Handguards droop a bit, even after we tightened them down, which worked to our advantage when splashing through creek crossings. Triumph offers crash guards and a heavy-duty skidplate as accessories. We’d definitely take the underbelly protection with the soft suspension. The XC costs an extra $1000 compared to the standard Tiger for an MSRP of $10,999 – roughly $500 less than the BMW (though with ABS would be more).
Every rider has their own tastes, and one of our testers thought the Tiger looks unfinished in the rear end with its exposed subframe rails, while the other considers it a stunning machine. A set of factory hard cases helps cover up the rear end, but one thing’s for certain, Triumph took a long, hard look at the BMW F800GS when designing its middleweight adventure bike. The two carry a very similar stance but the XC has a noticeable heritage. The new Tiger boasts flavor that harkens back to the 1050, particularly with a distinct tank area. The fuel cell holds 5.0 gallons and we averaged 39.6 mpg which equates to roughly a 200-mile range. It seems logical that we could improve the fuel economy slightly by not riding at such a high rpm, but the sporty engine begs for it. Between the surprising torque and equally shocking prowess on and off the highway, the Tiger 800 XC should be a big seller for those in-between-sized adventure riders who want a non-German machine.