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Do the new CBR600F and the Tiger 800 hit the spot?

For the first time in a couple of years, I’ve found myself looking eagerly for news about two new machines.

Let’s face it, if you’re in the market for a practical, day to day ride that’s affordable, there’s not been a lot to look at since BMW launched their F800 range and Kawasaki updated the ER6. I’m sure people will be able to come up with other suggestions, but the fact I can’t think of any bikes that have really piqued my interest means that (to me at least) there’s been a dearth of anything vaguely exciting in the middleweight classes.

Honda’s CBR600F relaunches an iconic model that goes back to the jellymould of 1987. That was a competent bike, my brother had one around the time I had my FZ750 and it was lighter and darn nearly as quick. The model ran to 2006, when Honda discontinued it.

Some of Honda’s decisions over the years have puzzled me, often deleting models from the range when they are good sellers. The Honda CB400-F only had a model run of three years, despite selling like hot potatoes, and the CX500 didn’t last much longer. Maybe UK sales didn’t reflect the global picture.

Whilst a model run of 20 years shows that Honda didn’t pull the pin too quickly this time, they did flood the market with 600s and that undoubtedly slowed the rate the CBR-F slipped out of the showrooms. At the same time as the last CBR600F was on sale in 2006, they also had the race-rep CBR600RR, the 600 Hornet and the totally lack-lustre CBF600, not just in naked form but also with a half fairing.

The mystery was that the CBF was kept afloat. Maybe it sold in big number somewhere, but it certainly isn’t the UK and from what I’ve seen on my trips abroad, it isn’t Europe either. Presumably, the half-faired CBF was supposed to replace the faired Hornet that sold until 2002, but with emasculated performance and, let’s face it, ugly looks, it never sold in any quantity.

I’m sure the updated Hornet didn’t sell in the numbers that Honda hoped for either.

So, enter the new CBR600F.

I noticed that MCN’s deputy editor Ped Baker had this to say:

“The styling is great but I was expecting more than a Hornet in a party dress. I wanted the excitement of a modern sports bike but with the comfort of my CBR. It won’t be bad – but it won’t be the brilliant all-rounder CBR600Fs used to be.”

Hmm. How much more exciting than 100hp do you want?

In a way it’s ironic that the CBR-F should be based on the Hornet, given that the Hornet was originally conceived as a low cost bike using the CBR as an engine donor.

Assuming it handles reasonably well, and if Honda can keep the price competitive, they could be onto a winner. It could just be the replacement for my aging faired Hornet that I’ve been waiting for.

Whilst the Honda was a surprise to me, news of the second bike has been carefully drip-fed to the press for months, with ‘spy’ shots of the bike supposedly snapped whilst testing, and then a orchestrated campaign of snippets of news in the run up to the full launch last week.

Having recently ridden an F650GS twin, a bike with a ‘mere’ 71hp, I think that Triumph could have found a niche and models to fill it with the Tiger 800 and the Tiger 800XC.

It’s interesting to note that the bike that many think of as the definitie dual-sport, the BMW R1200GS, actually started life as an 800cc-powered machine in 1980. The 1000cc version came along six years later, and bit by bit has grown in size and weight as well as power, and BMW only came back to the 800cc platform with the parallel twin motors in the F800GS/F650GS series.Although it’s claimed that many of the parts are totally new, Triumph have taken the triple 675 motor, retained the bore of 74mm, and increased the capacity by increasing the stroke to 61.9mm, to come up with a 799cc capacity. It will be interesting to see just how much of the engine is interchangable.

So, have Triumph hit the spot with their 800 triples?

Well, they’ve certainly squared up to BMW head-on, with the Tiger 800 road-oriented to tackle the 650GS, and the 800XC more off-road capable to go head to head with the 800GS.

The only downside is that the bikes aren’t exactly light, at around 210kg (460lbs) and although this is a wet weight, including 19 litres of fuel, that’s put firmly in perspective by the original R800G/S which weighed 186kg (410lbs) wet. So much for new, light weight materials.

Nevertheless, test reports look good and although with 94hp on tap the 800 is down on power compared with the 675, it’s up on torque. Both bikes should get a move on, although Triumph themselves admit that the BMWs are more frugal on fuel.

Pricing is ball-park too. The Tiger 800 starts at £7,149 on the road, and this is a guaranteed 2011 price which includes the new, higher, VAT rate. The Tiger 800XC is £7,749. Although there seems to be more equipment available for the BMWs, these add-ons also push the current £6500 price of the cheaper ‘budget’ 650GS skywards very quickly. The BMW prices are also 2010 figures, which will probably be hiked up by annual increases as well as the higher VAT rate from next year.

Personally, I’m looking forward to testing the Tiger 800. I can’t help but think that most riders would have just as much fun on one of these as the bigger bikes from both BMW and Triumph themselves. Sure you have to shift gear more often and you can’t just twist the throttle and charge off down the road in top from any speed, but quite frankly if you want a single gear bike, buy an automatic!

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