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Triumph’s Tiger 800 – tested

Although it was launched late in 2010 and appeared in Blighty in 2011, it wasn’t until a month ago that I got the chance of an extended test ride on Triumph’s Tiger 800. The machine’s an important one for Triumph because along with its cousin, the Tiger 800XC, it allows the British company to tap into the middleweight adventure bike market.

Whilst both of the Tigers share the same frame and much of the bodywork, the XC has longer travel supension, a 21″ wire wheel up front, tubed tyres both ends, a longer wheelbase (achieved by moving the rear axle backwards in the slot and fitting a longer chain) and details such as a ‘beak’ and handguards. The more road oriented Tiger has alloy 19″ front wheel, tubeless tyres, slightly less trail and lacks the off-road cosmetics, though they are simple bolt-on extras.

The natural competition for the road-oriented Tiger is BMW’s 800cc engined F650GS and newer F700GS, bikes like Honda’s CB500X and NC700X, the 650 Versys from Kawasaki and Suzuki’s 650 VStrom, all of which feature the tall, upright seating position that makes for

ease of control on our bumpy back roads and a dominant view of our urban congestion.

Over the years I’ve ridden bikes in this class as diverse as the Transalp and Yamaha XT600 (back when they were still called trail bikes), the Africa Twin and BMW’s R100GS which were the progenitors of the adventure bike, and I owned Honda’s NX650 Dominator which was a kind of street scrambler. I always enjoyed the combination of punchy power delivery and riding position, and on the smaller machines at least, the light weight.

More recently, I’ve ridden the BMW F650GS and the NC700, so I was interested to see how the Tiger matched up in comparison with those bikes and my usual training bike which is currently an XJ6 Diversion, and it will also be interesting to see how it compares with the new Honda CB500X which may have just half the power but is also nearly £3000 cheaper and comes with ABS out of the box.

Now, I’ll stress straight away that I didn’t take the machine off-road, so I can’t comment on the dual-sport nature of the beast, just its on-road manners, but I did use if for a day of training, so put it through all the usual evolutions I perform on my own bikes.

The riding position is very relaxed and natural for my 175cm (5’9) frame, with the seat allowing for some forward and rearward shuffling. The headstock is a fair distance forward from the seat and the bars actually pull back towards the rider but in practice it’s not an issue. The handlebar mounts themselves are eccentric so by reversing them the bars can be raised and moved forwards, but the same trick on my own XJ6 didn’t really make a great deal of difference.

The two part seat has two settings at the front as standard for 810mm or 830mm seat height, and there’s an optional lower gel seat that drops seat height by a further 20mm, and with it removed there’s access to a small underseat storage compartment. Triumph claim that it makes “the Tiger 800 the most accessible adventure bike on the market”. With the seat on the high setting, I was still able to get both feet on the floor without any problem, but I’d probably drop the seat to the 810mm position for daily use. The seat’s comfortable and unlike the NC700 I rode last year, the tank didn’t force my knees out into the breeze or have my thighs banging on the frame tubes like the BMW either. Result? I got off the bike after nearly 5 hours riding almost as fresh as I got on.

The optional heated grips are operated by a button on the left bar, but it’s a bit of a Heath Robinson-looking affair, bolted rather awkardly to the grip. The warning light is none too bright in sun, either. I’m not sure if they are switched off with the ignition – I rather hope so or I can foresee some flat batteries!

Talking of the left bar’s switchgear, it’s easier to use than either the BMW or the NC700’s buttons and features the usual horn, indicators and dip/main selection, with a blanked off slot which presumably was where the on-off control for the lighting lived back in the days when we were actually allowed to make that decision for ourselves. I’m told there’s also a switch to lower the headlamp for pillion use which is a great idea. The starter is in the usual place on the right bar along with the kill switch.

The clocks are the now familiar mix of digital speedo and analogue rev counter. Both are clear enough to read for the main functions, but the clock is almost invisible. It was an hour or so till I actually spotted it, hidden up in the top left corner of the LCD display. Fortunately, the fuel guage can be seen and the digital display also features a trip meter which counts down to empty when the bike gets to the last few litres in the tank. There’s also a gear indicator and the warning lights are bright enough for daylight use.

I can’t comment on how good they are at night but one of my constant frustrations about modern bikes is the crazy way in which a twin headlight set up so often only has one light working on dip, which plunges the rider into gloom when they politely dip the lights from main beam. Fortunately the Tiger has always-on twin headlights with dip operating on both beams so they should be superior in theory to the BMW and other bikes with a single headlight like the NC. A huge 645w generator powers them and allows riders to bolt on as many electrical goodies as they like, including auxiliary lights, sat-navs, phone chargers and heated clothing.

A coded-key immobilizer prevents theft through ‘hot wiring’, and the rear rack with generous pillion grab handles also comes as standard as do bungee hooks and decent underseat storage.

Ahead of the rider is a middling sized but non-adjustable screen. Although it seemed to produce a fair amount of turbulence round my helmet, it didn’t seem to upset the bike to bike comms too much, something I had no end of trouble with on the Africa Twin many years ago. It seems to do a decent job of flowing air round the shoulders too, despite its size. But it does flex and wobble at speed, which I found very distracting for the first hour or so.

Tiger 800

One thing the bike isn’t is light. Although there is a decent fuel capacity of 19 litres, 210kg (460lbs) fuelled up there is a fair amount of mass to haul around – it’s over 20kgs heavier than the Street Triple, although about the same as BMW’s competing 800 according to the spec sheet. I forgot to zero the trip meter so my own 50mpg fuel consumption is a guess but the owner reckons on high 40s, which is well short of the published fuel efficiency figures, but I’ve noticed on runs with my buddy on his 800, I’m generally putting a couple of litres less fuel in every 150 mile fill-up. Weight doesn’t help the fuel economy but it’s not only that – the equivalent BMW 800s really are returning 65-70mpg!

Up at the front, the 43mm Showa forks are unadjustable and suffered a surprising amount of stiction – pushing down on the bars at a standstill failed to get them to move – and that did result in a choppy ride on rippled surfaces, although bigger bumps were coped with well. As the bike is nearly new and not been dropped, I did suggest to the owner that they might have been very slightly twisted in the yokes when the bike was assembled. I didn’t notice the rear shock which has to be a good sign as it’s only preload adjustable!

Braking at the sharp end features twin 308mm discs squeezed by twin-piston sliding calipers. It’s smooth and predictable though not particularly sharp which is probably a good thing on the dirt and perfectly liveable with on the road, and the optional ABS went unnoticed. It’s switchable on/off, which is a bonus if you’re thinking of taking the bike offroad. The rear is a single opposed piston caliper.

Round the bends, the bike’s agile at low speed and stable as the pace increases and can be hustled round bends with some enthusiasm, so long as the rider can deal with a tendency to run a bit wide at moderate lean angles. It’s nothing alarming but needs just a little body-lean compensation from a rider used to street bike. All-in-all, the Tiger was definitely more reassuring on the road than the BMW F650GS I rode which had a weirdly pendulum-like feel from the rear of the machine. It’s also forgiving of closing the throttle mid-turn.

The heart of the matter is the motor. The bike’s built around a 799cc inline triple. It’s not simply a long stroke version of the 675 motor. The piston crown is reworked, the transmission shafts have been moved slightly to accomodate the bigger crank throw and fitted with new primary gears and crankcases which include the swingarm mount. Shorter duration cams with short inlet / exhaust overlap combine with the increased flywheel effect from the crank and a powerful (read heavy) alternator results in an engine that isn’t so revvy as its 675 cousin.

The result is a power plant that works well up to around 8500rpm, but makes the last 1500 revs to the 10000rpm red line rather redundant – the motor runs out of puff. It’s a smooth and progressive delivery but even with a claimed 94hp and 58ft/lbs of torque, there’s nowhere the bike picks up its heels and catapults forward. Don’t misunderstand; the middle gears offer plenty of real-world acceleration but although top speed isn’t the point of bikes like this, somehow I was expecting a bit more zip at the top end. My old FZ750 had a claimed 90-something horsepower four cylinder motor, delivered just as much midrange as the Tiger, stormed up to 130 and pulled (eventually) an indicated 150 on the clock.

Oddly enough, I also stalled it several times pulling away – something the owner also commented on. The triple doesn’t seem to have quite as much torque right at the bottom end as my Diversion or the other bikes I’ve mentioned, and the low speed fuelling is also a bit snappy which makes rear brake use on the tighter turns a good idea. Once away from a standstill it’s a doddle to ride with loads of get up and go, and more than enough power to crack the national speed limit with ease.

The clutch is light (although the adjustable lever is a £25 extra!) and the gearbox is reasonably slick, though once or twice it didn’t find neutral cleanly, but it’s a far better box than the stiff and notchy one fitted to my Diversion. Six gears are probably one too many, as third and fourth are perfect for back road riding, and fifth is largely redundant. Alternatively top could be a little higher as 80-odd mph is around 6000rpm. Although the triple engine note never sounds as buzzy as a four cylinder at the same revs, it did produce enough vibration to leave my fingers tingling – whether the optional heated grips had anything to do with that I don’t know, but I didn’t feel any vibes through the seat or pegs, just the bars.

So, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned if I like the Tiger or not. The answer is because I genuinely don’t know. I certainly didn’t dislike it, but would I head down to the dealer and part with the cash to buy one?

Good question. For me, it’s not a clear winner based on the riding experience. It’s comfortable and well-built and ticks all the ‘instructor bike’ boxes as an easy to live with mount, but the Tiger didn’t produce the grin factor I was expecting. The three cylinder motor’s nice but the trade-off is weight and for a practical day’s riding the machine isn’t in my view streets ahead of my equally practical XJ6 or my 600 Hornet with their own ‘tuned for midrange’ motor.

And it’s not cheap – the optional ABS pushes the Tiger’s price up to over £8,000, nearly £2000 more than the ABS-equipped XJ6 and NC700X and into BMW territory, particulary if you start to look at the wallet-emptying range of official Triumph accessories which include numerous hard and soft luggage solutions, tyre pressure monitor sensors, adjustable touring screen, centre stand and off-road style hand guards, crash bars and a sump guard bash plate, LED lights and the high level ‘beak’ front mudguard. It’s easy-peasy to add well over £3000 to the base price of £7500, and that’s without the optional £500 Arrow silencer. The standard exhaust is stainless, by the way.

In the end, it comes down to all those irrational choices based on styling, the lure of the triple motor and the fact that Triumphs are at least notionally a home-grown product. After a month of mulling the “would I buy one” question in my mind, I still can’t give you an answer. And maybe that itself is the answer.

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