Triumph Tiger 800XC (2011) Review

Within the large displacement adventure category it created some three decades ago, BMW’s R1200GS dominance is such that it pushed would-be competitors out of the class, something Triumph knows all too well as that is exactly what happened to its own Tiger 1050. Unable to go head-to-head with the extraordinarily balanced GS, the model abandoned any off-road intentions and committed itself to The Road where its direct competition would be, well, not German.

But payback has been on Triumph’s mind ever since the Tiger 1050 “reorientation” and as soon as BMW’s F650/800GS duo was announced, work began on a bonafide British assault on the German brand.

The result is an all-new pair of Tiger 800s aimed squarely at BMW’s middleweight adventure models. The lower 800 is the off-road capable, but road-biased equivalent of the F650GS, while the taller, longer-legged 800XC is squarely aimed at the F800GS. Rarely, if ever, has any BMW so clearly found itself in another manufacturer’s cross-hairs. Triumph’s ambition seems without limits these days. In terms of quality and variety, not only is the British manufacturer now at a point where it has nothing to envy in bigger brands, but the opposite might actually be true: a situation the new Tiger 800XC I recently rode in Arizona demonstrates extremely well.

The 800XC is a true adventure bike capable of riding over very rough terrain and transitioning seamlessly from pavement to dirt. It’s also a very well-sorted travel companion that offers both long-distance comfort and solid handling. It’s one of those rare motorcycles that immediately feel right the first time you ride it. Every facet of its operation, from the release of the clutch to the steps needed to lean into a turn is accomplished not just transparently, but almost intuitively. And here may lie the most interesting aspect of the Tiger 800XC: not only is the set of qualities it offers rarely found on any bike of any class, it’s also an ensemble of characteristics very similar to what make the bigger, pricier R1200GS such a nice ride.

Unlike Munich’s F-GSs, at no point does the Tiger 800XC feel like a second-class model. On the contrary, it feels like a very desirable motorcycle, something for which its superb engine must be thanked. Triumph could have easily gone a much simpler way and used the 675cc inline-three from the Street Triple and still would have ended with an excellent machine.
But it felt 800cc was necessary to perfectly achieve the goals of a middleweight adventure motorcycle. So Triumph built a brand new motor for it. The result is admirable as you feel you’re operating a smaller version of Triumph’s mighty 1050 Triple, which is nothing less than one of motorcycling’s very best engines. Light clutch action and a six-speed tranny that goes through its gears effortlessly combine with abundant low rpm torque to make swiftly leaving from a stop easy and pleasant. Power is spread so widely you feel like there just isn’t a bad choice of gear or rpm.

Just as comfortable revving high under full throttle as it is using the torque-rich lower and mid revs, just as serene in a road environment as it is off-road, the English Triple is also generally very smooth and nothing less than a joy to listen to.Triumph’s efforts to reduce driveline lash to a minimum, and perfectly sorted injection also add to the quality of the ride—just like the somewhat high, but comfortable seat, the good wind protection, the smart suspension settings and excellent brakes with switchable ABS. If it sounds as though I liked the Tiger 800XC, it’s because I did. Very much so, actually. I didn’t spend a week on it, just a day, but I wished it was a week. I would have liked to go further on it. I would have liked to lean it into more turns, to ride it across more of that magical Arizona scenery. I would have liked to leave the road more often to explore more trails, to see much more of the three million off-road acres of the magnificent Tonto National Forest it so effortlessly allowed me to experience.It’s not just a good new bike, it’s a special motorcycle, one with a balance of power, agility, versatility, character and refinement that is unseen in this class.

Bravo Triumph!

The other Tiger 800

Unlike BMW’s F650/800GS duo, the Tiger 800s only real competition, Triumph’s bikes are powered by one and only one motor, an all-new 799cc, 94-horsepower inline-triple. While a lot of parts are shared by the models—such as the frame, the instrumentation or the body pieces—many more are proprietary to each version. Among the differences are longer wheel travel for the XC (220mm front and 215mm rear vs. 180mm and 170mm); 17-inch rear and 21-inch front spoke wheels on the XC vs. 17- and 19-inch cast wheels with tubeless tires on the 800. There’s a slightly narrower handlebar that’s also closer to the rider along with a lower seat on the 800; a monoshock with separate reservoir on the XC; and, finally handguards and a high front fender (they can be added to the 800) on the XC. In both cases, switchable ABS is offered as an option. Price for the Tiger 800 is $10,799 (ABS: $11,699) and $12,199 (ABS: $13,099) for the Tiger 800XC.