During my last three riding seasons in Ontario, Kawasaki’s venerable KLR650 was the best bike for me.
Ontario’s archaic speed limits of 80 km/h on two-lane roads and 100 on freeways meant the KLR could stay with traffic on Hwy. 401 quite comfortably and zap the two-lane roads with little strain. The generous dual-purpose travel and well-damped suspension swallowed up all the potholes, craters and frost heaves quite nicely, meaning my spine wasn’t driven up through the top of my head every time I went for a ride. Also, a good friend and fellow KLR owner lived close by, so we’d often take off for an afternoon and explore trails and unimproved roads everywhere between Oshawa and Bancroft.
The KLR was simply a good fit for what I wanted to do.
Eighteen months ago, my significant other and I moved to British Columbia and it’s different here. For starters, speed limits are very civilized with 100 km/h on many two-lane roads, 110 on most freeways, and several post a Euro-like 120 km/h. I always felt I was abusing the KLR at those velocities and when passing on two-lane roads, that extra 20 km/h meant there was a little less oomph available for a safe, efficient pass.
Most BC day trips are 700-km plus loops, all at an average speed of 110 – 120 km/h, and at the end of the day, it was a little fatiguing.
Off-roading is different here, too. Go off the trail in Ontario and you get a bit muddy or bug-bitten. Here, there’s a lot of mountains and canyons. Leave the trail and Lassie couldn’t find you if you were wrapped in bacon. And basically, I’m a pavement guy. I enjoyed puttering around in the dirt and was fairly competent, but I always had the feeling that any minute, I was going to ruin a perfectly good femur.
So if I wasn’t going off-road and virtually all my riding is sport-touring, it was obvious that a change in motorcycles was necessary. What was ideal before became lacking.
I made a list of features and characteristics that I wanted for my “Here And Now” motorcycle.
I wanted decent power, it had to be comfortable, handle well, have good brakes and decent wind and weather protection. It should be capable of a 600- or 700-km jaunt without requiring a chiropractor the next day. And ideally, it should have some cachet, not be a run of the mill “belly button bike,” where everyone has one.
I dismissed adventure-touring bikes because if I was going street, I was going all-in, so a 17-inch front wheel for sport rubber was mandatory. Which ruled out motorcycles like the Yamaha Tenere, BMW GS and 650 and 1000 V-Stroms (bikes that I really like) because they have 19-inch front wheels. Nobody seriously takes these things off-road anyway, so it’s purely nonsensical style over function.
Sport bikes were a no-go because I’m too old to be folded, bent and mutilated into an ass-up, wrists-down riding position for a full day, and soft luggage looks dorky when attached.
How about a nice cruiser? Not even if it came with superpowers.
I got mildly interested in a couple of ZRX1200s, and was thinking about Suzuki 1200 Bandits, first-gen FZ1s and looked at a low-mileage Honda CBF1000.
Finally, my significant other said, “At this stage of the game, shouldn’t you stop mucking about and just go and buy your dream bike?” (at least, I think she said, “mucking.”) And, bless her, she gave me the green light to spend some of the children’s inheritance.
The problem was, after riding virtually every motorcycle on the market for the last 15 years or so, I didn’t really have a “dream bike.” But looking back over some of my year-end wrap-ups, one motorcycle that consistently made the “Bikes I’d Buy With My Own Money” list was the Triumph Tiger 1050.
One morning last August, a 2008 Triumph Tiger 1050 popped up at a reputable multi-line dealer just across the Fraser River in Langley. The bike had just been taken on a trade from the original owner, all the service records were present, it only had 21,000 km and was absolutely mint. I made arrangements to bring the KLR over the next morning for an appraisal and to test ride the Tiger, and at 1 in the afternoon, I rode the Tiger home. I moved fast because the only thing that comes to those who wait is old age.
The children’s inheritance didn’t take much of a hit, and they allowed me in trade what I paid for the KLR three years ago.
Life with a Tiger
After living with the Tiger for a while and going on a few trips, I’m really glad I caught the 1050 from Hinckley. It just might be my “dream bike.”
For starters, I’m 6 foot 3 inches tall with long legs, and the Tiger is physically big — its 835mm seat height fits me just fine. It’s got really good wind and weather protection, heated grips, a comfortable, upright riding position and the factory hard bags. Mine even had aftermarket engine guards and genuine Triumph accessory colour-matched, billet multi-adjustable brake and clutch levers.
The fully-adjustable suspension has 150 mm of travel, front and rear, and is generally well sprung and adequately damped. Brakes are excellent with four-pot calipers sinking their fangs into twin 320 mm discs up front and a single 255 mm disc out back.
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. Fewer spark plugs to change means fewer valves to adjust, and so on.
The 1050 cc motor is smooth, flexible and torquey with a guttural purr that’s as sexy as Charlize Theron whispering in your ear. Of course, the power is great, especially when you figure the KLR had 43 horsepower pushing 196 kg, while the Tiger weighs 23 kg more but has 116 horses. Acceleration isn’t violent or retina-flattening — it’s more of an inexorable, increasing push that just keeps on going.
The six-speed box shifts precisely with a short, crisp throw and when going into first from neutral, there’s a little snick instead of a huge CLUNK like on some bikes. And it’s got attitude: it’s the kind of motorcycle that if it went to the bathroom, it’d deliberately leave the seat up.
So far, I’m really happy with El Tigre. Last fall, I squeezed in several day trips as well as a couple of overnighters down through Washington state, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. A pre-emptive complete service in January revealed a slight problem of pitting on the cam buckets, probably caused by improper storage (21,000 km on an 8-year-old bike means it was sitting for a while somewhere). Every Triumph expert I’ve talked to (as well as all the internet owners’ forums) indicates the issue on my bike is unheard of.
While he was at it, my tech re-mapped the EFI, set the valves, tightened and torqued every nut and bolt on the bike, greased all the pivots and installed genuine Triumph filters. And now I have a pristine, almost-brand-new 2008 Tiger that’s ready for the open road.
I’ve got lots of day trips, overnight and weekend jaunts planned, culminating in an early July road trip through Washington, Oregon, northern California and finishing up at the World Superbike round at Laguna Seca.
Two years ago, I was okay with puttering around Ontario on a KLR650, but now, happiness is a twisty BC mountain road aboard a Nuclear Orange 1050 Triumph Tiger.
Are you happy with your bike? Or not? Let us know!