Good things come in threes. The three little pigs, the Three Stooges and the Corelli triplets back in high school. Hoo boy, that was quite a weekend … um. Never mind.
Three cylinders is a natural fit for a motorcycle – power pulses spaced 120 degrees apart make for a smooth-running engine and a triple is narrower and lighter than a similar four cylinder motor. Then there’s less spark plugs to change, less valves to adjust and so on.
I’ve always liked the triple configuration, ever since I used to race Kawasaki three-cylinder bikes back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Triumph likes the arrangement too, as evidenced by their complete lineup of threes, ranging from a couple of 675s, and a smattering of 1050cc models, the new 1215cc Explorer and just-released Trophy SE and the gargantuan 2.3 litre Rocket Three.
There’s just something about the vibes, the feel and the sound of a good-running triple that makes me want to jump up and down and wag my tail. In fact, after I rode the 675 Street Triple R a couple of years ago, I told Triumph Canada’s head honcho Chris Ellis, “If Triumph slapped a handlebar fairing and hard bags on this motorcycle, I’d have to cash in some RRSPs and buy one.”
So when I heard that Triumph was bringing out a new middleweight with wind protection, optional luggage and a slightly bigger engine, in a pre-emptive strike, I deleted my Credit Union’s number from our speed dial.
However, after putting the $14,199 Tiger 800XC through its paces, all I can say is, “Ooh, so close.”
The Street Triple is a pure road-burner with 17-inch wheels (so you can use premium rubber for track days) but Triumph went the adventure touring route with the new 800s – the Tiger 800 is decidedly more streetish while my XC press unit is aimed squarely at BMW’s all-conquering 800GS.
The 800XC comes with sturdy spoked wheels including a skinny dirt-friendly 90/90 21-incher up front, a slightly taller seat that adjusts from 845 to 865 mm, slightly larger forks and roughly 40 mm more suspension travel front and rear.
The Tiger 800, although its natural habitat is asphalt, will still survive occasional light forays into the wild brown yonder. It’s equipped with street-friendly cast alloy wheels with a 100/90 19-inch front hoop, the seat is a bit lower, adjusting from 810 to 830mm and it’s five kilos lighter than the XC, at 210kg ready to ride.
The all-new 799 cc, three-cylinder engine is a gem. It keeps the Street Triple’s 74 mm bore and gets its displacement increase by lengthening the stroke to 61.9 mm. Relatively speaking, it’s in a slightly milder state of tune than the 675 and doesn’t quite have the zip, character or visceral sex appeal of the smaller motor, although it’s still pretty good, putting out a claimed 94 horsepower and 58 lbs ft of torque.
A major pants-stirring feature of Triumph triples is the sound. The XC, although a bit stifled, still has enough of that distinctive snarl with straight cut primary gear whine to make anyone smile.
The fuel injection is well-sorted with no glitches or spikes, and there obviously isn’t a lot of crankshaft inertia as the revs build quickly and easily without being twitchy.
The cockpit is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon – or a summer. The adjustable seat is wide and flat and the bars are pretty much where I’d put them.
Some pullback on the ends would be nice as I found them a bit wide and straight across. If they just swept back an inch or so, they’d be much better but this is a personal preference and a very easy fix.
All controls are very light, the clutch is progressive and easily modulated. The transmission snicks into each gear with a short, crisp throw, and the screen fends away much of the windblast even though it’s mounted low and fairly far forward.
The tidy dash follows current Triumph protocol and has the usual fuel consumption figures (average and current), gear position indicator and other assorted data including the very useful “kilometers remaining on this tank” icon. Also, like most Triumphs, a combination of pushing tiny buttons is required when selecting what data you wish to see – a bit difficult with gloves on.
Brakes are flawless – twin front 308 mm discs are squeezed by two-piston Nissin floating calipers and ABS is standard. The rear disc is a 255 mm unit with a single-piston caliper. Two fingers are all that’s needed on the lever, feel and feedback are excellent, although under hard braking the long-travel suspension dives quite a bit.
The XC seems geared on the tall side, but that wonderful 800 triple produces 90 percent of its maximum torque at a low, low 3,500 rpm, so it’s not an issue either when getting off the line or poking around in the boonies.
Triumph obviously believes that XC owners will be doing some serious riding as a 645W alternator is standard. That’s more than enough capacity for auxiliary lights and electrical accessories including heated grips, GPS units and heated clothing with enough left over to illuminate a small South American country.
On pavement, the XC handles quite well, although the narrow 21-inch front tire reacts to every pavement squiggle, divot and tar snake. The 401 across Toronto has been under construction since the Trudeau years and the grooved pavement really makes the XC mambo. Just keep a light, relaxed touch on the bars and it’ll move around but nothing untoward will happen.
It’s also a perfect urban assault weapon as the light steering, tall seat and upright riding position allow you to squirt through tight spots and see over most cages and minivans. The supple long-travel suspension soaks up all the potholes, craters and manhole covers, almost totally insulating the rider from jolts or bumps. This, I like.
Pushing through the hard twisties, the XC starts to feel somewhat skittish at full chat, mostly due to the narrow front bun. That “rock solid” feel in long, sweeping corners just isn’t there as it tends to hunt a bit. Of course, those with sporting aspirations should really opt for the Tiger 800 as the 19-inch bun would be much better.
I hit a few gravel roads and noticed nothing scary or offensive in the handling – it tracked straight and true, and through some soft bits, the 21-inch front showed where it was most at home. Serious off-roaders will change the tires to a more aggressive tread pattern anyway.
Performance was, um, okay. I guess I was expecting the eager responsiveness of the 675 Street Triple with even more zap but somehow, it just doesn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than adequate and likely on a par with BMW’s 800GS.
The 19 liter fuel tank should give a reasonable range, as my fuel consumption averaged 5.4 to 5.9 liters per 100 km. The fuel light went on with two bars showing on the gauge, I drove another 30 km and it took 14.3 liters to fill, meaning the reserve is a generous five liters or so.
The built-in luggage rack has lots of nooks and crannies for bungees so it’s a snap to attach a tailbag or other soft luggage. And, in current fashion, Triumph has an entire catalog of factory accessories including tank bags, hard luggage and electronics.
My press unit had the factory magnetic tank bag and it held lots of necessary “stuff,” looked good and the magnets stuck like baby poop to a blanket without requiring an extra strap.
The handguards deflect a bit of the wind off your hands but aren’t a substitute for heat and seem a bit flimsy for serious off-road work.
The way Triumph connected the three header pipes on the 800s looks somewhat like a junior high school plumbing project. To my mind, it’s not aesthetically pleasing and looks cobbled together. Three headers sweeping down in front of the motor to meet in a collector looks awesome. Instead of awesome, this is just, “Aw.”
Serious adventure tourers will also not appreciate the non-folding tips on the shift and brake levers – a definite disadvantage when the going gets rough. And then there’s the welded on sub-frame and rear footpeg holders meaning that any tweak requires a complete frame change to fix.
Other than that, the XC is a really nice motorcycle, and a viable alternative to the all-conquering BMW 800GS, although with me being more a street rider, the Tiger 800 would be more to my tastes.
MSRP is $14,199 and includes ABS – in comparison, BMW’s 800GS is $12,750 and included heated grips, something the Triumph doesn’t have as standard.
So Triumph … I’m still waiting for that 675 Street Triple with some wind protection and bags.
It’d be a shame for my daughters to inherit those RRSPs – they’d only squander it on housing or food or something equally as frivolous.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC|
|MSRP||$11,999 (with ABS)|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line three-cylinder|
|Power (crank)*||94bhp/70 kW @ 9300rpm|
|Torque*||79Nm/58 ft.lbs @ 7850rpm|
|Tank Capacity||19.0 liters (5.0 US gals)|
|Carburetion||Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection|
|Final drive||O-ring chain|
|Tires, front||90/90 ZR 21|
|Tires, rear||150/70 ZR 17|
|Brakes, front||Twin 308mm floating discs, Nissin 2-piston floating calipers, (ABS model available)|
|Brakes, rear||Single 255mm disc, Nissin single piston floating caliper, (ABS model available)|
|Seat height||845mm (33.2in) – 865mm (34.0in|
|Wet weight*||215 kg (473 lbs)|
|Colours||Phantom Black, Intense Orange, Crystal White|
|Warranty||Two years, unlimited mileage|