Test: Tiger 800XC

Words and pictures by Steve Bond, unless otherwise specified

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.

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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.”

An 800 cc triple, eh? Bondo wonders if it’s enough to persuade him to part with his RRSPs.

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.

Bondo dumped his old flame, the Street Triple, thanks to lack of a decent fairing and hard bags.

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.

Mr. Bond likes that three-cylinder engine, but he’s not such a fan of the header.

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.

You’d want to put some gnarlier rubber on that 17-inch rear wheel if you were going far off-road. If you behave yourself, though, the stock tires aren’t scary in the gravel.

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.

Controls are light and the transmission is smooth, and the adjustable seat is wide and flat.

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.

The brakes are flawless, although the front end can dive quite a bit when you put on the binders.

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.

The 21-inch front wheel moves around a bit when you encounter tar snakes, potholes and the like, but keep a loose grip on the bars and everything will be fine.

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.

The perfect place to spend your time.

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 should be about the same as you could expect with BMW’s 800.

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 luggage rack should work well for users wishing to strap cargo down.

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.”

The brake pedal and shift lever have fixed tips – they won’t fold, if they get banged off a rock while adventure riding. Tut tut, Mr. Triumph, that just won’t do.

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.

All in all, the Triumph is a fine all-around motorcycle, though it may be more road-based than its competition.

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.


Gallery

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SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC
MSRP  $11,999 (with ABS)
Displacement  799 cc
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
Wheelbase  1545mm (60.8in)
Wet weight*  215 kg (473 lbs)
Colours  Phantom Black, Intense Orange, Crystal White
Warranty  Two years, unlimited mileage
* claimed

0 thoughts on “Test: Tiger 800XC”

  1. Don’t forget the ABS and Info computer on the BMW are extra cost options so it comes out more expensive when compared to the Triumph by about $600.

  2. I bought the standard Tiger this past June. The biggest issue for me was wind protection, the stock screen did little to protect. I then bought the Triumph accessory high screen which, at least at Toronto speeds, seem to do the trick. I then did a 2,500 km trip through West Virginia at the end of July, nothing like a long trip to really test your marriage. Riding at 140 kph on the Interstates proved real taxing from a wind prospective. The amount of turbulence coming into my helmet, despite ear protection, was unbearable. I got to the point that I just wanted to get back home and off the bike. Likely the Interstate isn’t its natural habitat. It did perform admirably in the mountains and back roads. The 19 inch tires with semi offroad tred never gave me any moments and I road the bike like a sportbike with no complaints. The seat never had me thinking to take a break, something that I can’t say about most bikes I have ridden. The bike is also great in the city as it feels light and is very maneuverable.

    I traded the bike today for a used Sprint 1050. The wind protection offered by the full fairing and screen suit my riding requirements much better. A trip back to West Virginia in another week will let me know if I made the right choice.

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