2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC Comparison

MotorcycleUSA Staff | September 19, 2011

The Triumph Tiger 800 XC doesn’t belong in this test… MotorcycleUSA admits as much. We included the little Tiger in this AT comparison as a wild card entry nonetheless. As motorcycle engines continue to grow in displacement and power production, at what point does raw performance and elevated costs exceed practicality? The Adventure Touring class is a perfect segment to answer this question, as first the BMW F800GS and now the Tiger 800 present attractive middleweight entries into the AT world. We’ve already tested the pair head to head (2011 Middleweight Adventure-Touring Comparison). But can the winner of that title fight duke it out above its weight class?

Engine displacement is the most obvious hindrance keeping the Triumph from tussling with the bigger Twins. The Triumph’s Inline Triple gives up 200cc to its nearest rival – the 999cc KTM. Disparity with the air-cooled BMW is 371cc, with the liquid-cooled Yamaha and Ducati 400cc up on the underdog. That’s a displacement advantage ranging from 25-50%.

But don’t tell the little Tiger it can’t scrap with the big kids. Its three-cylinder mill revved our dyno up to 84.59 horsepower and 51.49 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers were the lowest in both categories, but not too far off the mark. Yamaha, BMW and KTM managed 90.78, 94.94 and 95.21 horsepower. That 25-50% edge in engine volume shrinks to a 7-11% gain in peak horsepower. The incomparable Ducati is the exception, its pornographic 132-horsepower peak exceeding the cc advantage with a 55.7% increase over the Trumpet!

Granted, Triumph cheated some by kitting its test bike with an Arrow accessory exhaust (powertrain modifications were against our Shootout wishes, but we gave the little guy a break…). Truth is the Arrow pipe didn’t bequeath mind-blowing power gains (unlike the Arrow-equipped cheaters we’ve dyno’d in past tests). Instead there’s a modest 2-3 horsepower gain across the rev range, those peak 84.59 ponies only three more than the stocker we tested earlier this year.

So the plucky Triple gets the Triumph within spitting distance of its larger-displacement rivals, but that dyno optimism is tempered by a 508-pound curb weight (without luggage). The Tiger’s a middleweight, but it’s still a quarter ton. And while it may look smaller, the weight advantage is a mere 18 pounds on the Multistrada and respective 30 and 32 pounds on the KTM and BMW. Only against the 97-pound-heavier Yamaha does it start to exhibit a weight savings comparable to its cc disadvantage. Its 0.166 power-to-weight ratio (sans luggage) lags slightly behind the BMW (0.176) and KTM (0.177), but ahead of the Yamaha (0.150). The Ducati, once again, registers off the charts – its 0.250 ratio closer to the Suzuki Hayabusa (0.305) than the proposed AT confederates.

But all this power data analysis doesn’t answer the bigger question: Does the 800 lack in engine performance on the road?

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Triumph has rumors of a bigger Tiger, but accourding to our riders the 800 XC is plenty of bike to handle the job.

Not according to our test riders. The Triumph placed behind only the BMW and Ducati in our Engine Performance and Engine Character categories. The Triple stands out in this two-cylinder class – steadily churning out smooth power across seemingly endless rev range. Only when ridden back to back do riders appreciate the power loss, as the Tiger delivers plenty for the street.

“Even though the Triumph is lacking outright horsepower it doesn’t correlate out on the pavement,” says AT comparison chairman JC. “The Triple builds steam so smoothly and for so long that it’s simple to hang with the bigger bikes.”

“The KTM and Triumph were a toss up in my book,” agrees Dawes. “The KTM has 200cc on the Triumph, but the little 800 Triple was able to hang with the Katoom no problem. The Triple is a blast to ride on the street and dirt, and the unique engine whine in the upper rpms is a nice payoff when hauling the mail.”

The sonorous effect of the Triple has long been an endearing Ace in the hole for Triumph. In comparison tests the Triple wins over converts by its unique character traits, of which sound is just one aspect. In shootouts with Inline Fours it feels torquey, in the company of two-cylinder powerplants it feels smooth and revvy.

“I really fell in love with the Triumph Triple,” adds Maddox. “It’s smooth, high-revving character, coupled with a high pitch whine would get my adrenalin going every time I got on.”

Not everyone gave the rose-tinted treatment to the Triumph engine. One of the AT test’s most thorough evaluators, Dave, detected a faint “dentist drill”-like high frequency vibration. And the Triumph definitely flagged on the performance tests, jockeying with the KTM for slowest quarter-mile and 0-60 stats.

The Triumph’s drivetrain ranked mid-pack. It does nothing terrible, though test riders noted it had the firmest lever pull. There were complaint that the gearing wasn’t optimal, particularly a too-tall first. The sixth gear could afford to be a taller overdrive as well.

In terms of handling it holds that the lighter Triumph bike might gain back something lost in raw power. Yet the Tiger only rated higher than the KTM in handling prowess. It acquits itself well enough, but the Triumph can’t match the stability of the Yamaha, or the sporty character of the Ducati.

“I felt least comfortable on this bike due to an uneasy, unstable feeling on turn in to paved corners,” notes Dave. “It was way too much work cornering, too many corrections.”

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Ergonomics work well on-road and in the dirt. The tank bag limits standing, but without it the Tiger 800 is more comfortable.

At lower speeds the Tiger was indeed reluctant to turn in. The problem only worsened as the odometer climbed – the heavily laden Triumph wearing down its rear tire profile faster than the other bikes.

“The Tiger would have scored higher if the rear tire hadn’t squared off so quickly,” Justin deems. “In the beginning the Triumph was right there with the best of them on the street and the dirt, but towards the end the worn tire made cornering difficult in the dirt. The back end stepped out too abruptly and it was difficult to slide controllably.”

Riders lauded the Tiger’s 45mm inverted Showa fork (it proved a deciding factor in the Triumphs win over the BMW F800GS earlier this year). Though it lacks the adjustment options found on its rivals, the settings jived with our testing cadre.

“The Triumph has the best suspension all around on these bikes, even though it isn’t adjustable like some of the others,” says JC. “Some bikes are better in one area or another, but the Triumph handles obstacles on the pavement and off-road with equal ease better than the rest.”

The dual-piston caliper Nissin front brakes rated second only to the BMW – perhaps in part because of they had to stop the least amount of weight. The rear brake pedal which bedeviled us during an earlier comparison, felt better this time around.

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
The Triumph Tiger 800’s fork is not adjustable, but the suspension is still better than some of the bigger bikes.

“It’s not that the Tiger’s brakes are second best, it’s more that they aren’t as bad of the others,” sums up Justin. The Triumph was aided most in this regard by the other bikes not excelling, and in the case of Ducati, failing us entirely.

The Tiger loses the most ground to its more powerful competitors in touring creature comforts. The Trumpet just isn’t as amenable to long-distance treks. “Worst bar, peg, seat relationship and poor standing position,” nags Dave, rattling off his Tiger complaints. “Worst windscreen with very little rider protection…”

The Tiger cockpit did feel the least accommodating for piling on the miles, and it didn’t help that we sourced the XC model, aimed more toward dirt than the street-oriented Tiger 800. But there were definitely some comfort issues with the Triumph, including, as Dave so aptly notes, the least amount of wind protection. One of the biggest bugaboos, however, was the alarming engine heat that emanated from the right side.

“The Triumph is as good as any of the others except for one fatal flaw, heat,” recalls Maddox. “It channels hot air onto your legs in a big way. Above 100 degrees it was unbearable, under 85 wasn’t bad and below 60 was kind of nice.”

While the XC may not be an optimal touring mount, it can still pull off long hauls without breaking stride. Fully-laden the Tiger 800 handled its load without ill effect – even on the freeway where it could power by on high-speed overtakes without a hiccup. This is no mean feat, as that full load included 40 pounds of luggage, a week’s worth of gear crammed into those bags, plus in some cases 200-plus pounds of test rider! Speaking of bags, we found the integrated panniers easy to operate and durable. The Triumph’s touring capabilities are bolstered further by leading fuel efficiency (44.6 MPG). The math says the Triumph should be able to wander an impressive 223 miles before running dry. This tester can personally vouch for turning the tripmeter to 209 miles.

When it came time to hit the dirt, the XC model gave the Tiger some extra chops. Only the KTM and BMW rated higher in the dirt overall. And our “dirtiest” rider praised the Tiger, holding only the KTM in higher esteem.

“The Tiger is amazing in the dirt,” lauds our Off-Road Editor, JC. “It was held back by the tank bag in our shootout (made it hard to stand up), but I’ve ridden without it and the XC can get serious. Some decent tires would put this bike even higher.”

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Low-end torque from the Triple is surprising and usable.

Maddox, who has been riding dirt bikes since the Kennedy administration, grooved on the Tiger off-road too. “I realize the other testers probably won’t agree with me on this, but I like riding 125s in the dirt and I like this motor, it’s about the fun factor for me. I like the way you can downshift hard and not be thrown into the bars like the bigger Twins. I was very impressed with the amount of low-end torque the motor makes, if you run a gear or two high in the dirt it’s very smooth and controlled.”

The Tiger did suffer for its dirt escapades, however. The top-case straps broke loose early in our trip, sending the accessory case skyward and into the dust. We blame the junky plastic connectors which are too small for such a large top case. The second instance was more troubling, however, and turned a once ardent Tiger dirt supporter into a more caustic reviewer.

“The Tiger works well in the dirt, and the motor is very tractable,” says Justin. “However, the kickstand spring rattled off on a dirt section, which almost caused a 70-mph crash when the stand came down as I floated over a rise. For almost killing me, I have no choice but to rank it last in the dirt.”

In the looks department, the Tiger fostered generally favorable reviews. The notable exception came from Justin, perhaps swayed by his near-death experience, who thought the Triumph looked like a “BMW knock-off.” JC was more kissy-faced toward the Brit, saying: “The Tiger is lean and mean. This is definitely one of my favorites. It blends the rugged looks of an adventure bike with the sex appeal of a streetfighter. The auxiliary lights add to the tough look.”

The biggest sales pitch for the Tiger is its $11,999 MSRP, two Gs less than the next thriftiest Yamaha. When asked what bike they’d purchase with their own money, the Triumph gets the nod from two out of five test riders.

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
2011 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Keep the 800 XC singing and it rewards with a long-reaching powerband that’s as playful as it is effective.

“The key word here is your cash,” says Maddox. “I love the little Triumph, I have no plans to travel more than a thousand miles from home in the near future, that combined with the low price would make it an easy choice for me. Now if someone were going to give me one of the bikes, it wouldn’t even be a contest. I’d take the Ducati, I’d sell it and buy two Triumphs!”

Even those who didn’t tab the Tiger as their personal pick admit it makes good sense crunching the dollars. “The Triumph is an amazing deal,” says JC. “For the money, it’s tough to beat. I wish it had a stronger dealer network which would make me more comfortable about going to remote places on it.”

But there’s the cost of the Tiger 800, and there’s the cost of the Tiger we tested. Base MSRP jacks up to $14,688.92 once all the accessories get added on. That’s a lot of moolah for a “bargain” bike, which dampens our enthusiasm somewhat. But most of those cush extras we could live without. The Arrow slip-on looks nice, but its $800 pricetag works out to something like $250-300 per measly horsepower. The $220 tail pack we’d definitely ditch (it nearly ditched itself), along with the constricting tank bag ($130) and mounting harness ($70). The $800 panniers are worth the cash, however, and the same goes for the $330 fog light kit, which illuminates roads at lighthouse beacon status.

Tossing the wild card Tiger 800 into mix was a fun experiment. It allowed us to make broader comparisons and enriched the scope of our conclusions. While we haven’t included the Tiger in our official AT rankings, our super-secret unofficial scoresheet places the Triumph even with the KTM and within striking distance of the Yamaha. The punchy middleweight traded blows with its stronger opponents right through the final bell, with a couple more rounds in the tank. It’s a respectable result and we think the little Tiger makes a compelling case as a real-world AT ride. 


MotorcycleUSA Staff