Naked bikes are mostly fun if you live in the city or have access to tight, winding roads; their nakedness deters from long-distance touring, and they’re not off-road friendly. Cruisers? Well, manufacturers have figured out that they’re best parked in front of an ice cream shop, and have discretely removed the majority of those low-slung boulevard yachts from their line-ups. Supersport machines are exceptionally good at one thing: track riding. Spend some time on the road with one and your body will let you know you’ve made a poor choice for a travelling partner. Luxury tourers are almost as focused as Supersport machines, but their thing is piling on the kilometres during cross-country treks, radio blaring and cruise control set.
An adventure touring bike is nimble enough to handle the daily commute like a naked bike, and agile enough to manage twisty roads as well as a sport bike — better yet if the roads are bumpy. Heck, throw some ice in a pannier and you can carry your own ice cream. Track riding? Okay, that’s where an adventure bike is out of its element, though I’m sure a competent rider would embarrass more than a few sport-bike riding squids on a closed course, sparks flying from the serrated footpegs. Its upright riding position, roomy ergonomics, and moderate wind protection makes it almost as capable of spinning the odometer as a Gold Wing. As an added bonus, throw on a good set of off-road tires and an adventure bike will leave all of those bikes behind when the pavement ends and the going gets rough. Travel the world and there’s only one way to go: on an ADV bike.
MARRAKESH, Morocco—The 2020 Triumph Tiger 900 isn’t a refreshed version of the Tiger 800 it replaces; it’s an entirely new machine. Triumph simplified the model nomenclature this year, getting rid of the confusing XC, XR, XRx, XRt, XCx, XCa, and replacing them with the base Tiger 900, the road-oriented 900 GT, off-road-oriented 900 Rally, and high-spec Pro versions of the GT and Rally — five models in all.
Pricing starts at $14,100 for the base Tiger 900 and goes all the way up to $19,800 for the Tiger 900 Rally Pro.
The oily bits
First, the obvious: the engine. The Tiger’s inline triple has grown in displacement, from 800 cc to 888 cc via a 4-mm larger bore, now at 78 mm. Stroke remains at 61.9 mm. And that’s the smallest of the changes. There are new cams and connecting rods, revised intake ports, a new sump casting for improved ground clearance, and a new T-Plane crankshaft.
Wait, a what? A T-Plane crankshaft. Think of what Yamaha did with the R1 and its crossplane crank, and you get an idea of what Triumph has done on the Tiger. Instead of having the crankpins set 120 degrees apart like a conventional triple, which places the ignition intervals 240 degrees apart with a 1-2-3 firing order, the T-Plane crank has crankpins set 90 degrees apart, which places the ignition intervals at 180, 270 and 270 degrees, with a 1-3-2 firing order. This was done to give the bike more “character,” which I’ll get to later.
The counterbalancer had to be reconfigured to keep vibration to a minimum. Despite the changes, the engine is 2.5 kg lighter than before, and up to 5 kg has been dropped from the Tiger, depending on the model.
The engine is tilted forward by 6.8 degrees, and placed 42 mm lower in the frame; these are changes that alter weight bias and lower the centre of gravity. The air filter is apparently easier to access, something you’d take note of if you’re a current Tiger owner. A big improvement to the frame that enables serious off-roading is a move to a removable aluminum subframe and passenger footpeg hangers, items that were welded onto the Tiger 800’s frame.
The bouncy bits
The suspension is new, and there are four different setups. The base Tiger 900 has a non-adjustable 45 mm inverted fork, and a shock adjustable only for preload. The GT adds compression and rebound damping adjustability to the fork, and rebound damping to the shock. The GT Pro features the same adjustability as the GT, but the rear shock is electrically adjustable, through the instrument panel.
The Rally and Rally Pro replace the Marzocchi suspension components of those models with Showa units, with a fully adjustable 45 mm inverted fork, and a shock adjustable for rebound damping and preload. Suspension travel is also up by 60 mm on the Rally models. Wheel sizes haven’t changed, so glance at the spec box at the bottom and save me a paragraph.
The techie bits
All models but the base 900 have a new 7-inch full colour TFT screen, controlled via illuminated handlebar switches. Depending on the model, you can use the screen to select from up to six ride modes (more modes are available in the higher-spec models), adjust the suspension (GT Pro only), or custom tune the configurable Rider mode. The base model gets a 5-inch screen with simpler functions. All models have traction control and ABS, though the base model gets basic TC and ABS, and on the higher-spec models they’re lean sensitive and adjustable.
The screen is configurable for four different views in four different colour schemes, in high- or low-contrast displays. It’s also the central point of the Pro model’s Bluetooth-enabled connectivity. Using Bluetooth you can connect your smart phone, two headsets, and a compatible GoPro camera (GoPro 5 or newer). Connecting the camera allows you limited control of its functions through the handlebar switches.
Installing the free My Triumph app onto your smart phone allows you to download routes, and use your phone’s GPS to guide you (it will do this with data turned off) to a destination via turn-by-turn prompts in the TFT screen. I downloaded a beta version of the My Triumph app still under testing, and aside from a couple of development glitches, the navigation worked fine.
Heated grips are standard on all GT and Rally models, while the Pro versions of those bikes also get independently controlled heated rider and passenger seats. You’re destined to freeze if you opt for the base 900.
All models have a 12-volt accessory outlet, and all but the base model get an under-seat USB port with a watertight phone compartment. The two Pro models get a quick shifter that works up and down the gearbox, available as an option on the other models. LED lighting is standard throughout, and cruise control is standard on all but the base model.
The windscreen is also adjustable to five positions over a 50 mm range on all variants. Raising and lowering it is a snap using the provided bar — just push forward to unlock, then raise or lower.
Jeez, fire it up already!
I chose a Tiger 900 GT Pro for the first day’s back-road ride. The bike’s seat and fuel tank have been narrowed between the knees, and this despite the fuel tank having gained a litre of capacity to 20 litres. The handlebar has been moved rearward by 10 mm compared to the Tiger 800, and it is indeed a cosy, relaxed riding position.
The seat is two-position adjustable (either 810 or 830 mm), but I found no need to raise it as there is ample legroom in the lower position. For riders with a short inseam, the 900 GT (not the Pro) is available in a lowered version with reduced suspension travel (151 mm vs. 170 for the standard GT), and when combined with a low seat, drops seat height to as low as 760 mm.
Firing up the new Tiger immediately reveals its newfound T-Plane character. The most noticeable change from the new firing order is the sound of the engine. Again, if you reference the Yamaha R1’s crossplane inline-four, which sounds more like a big twin, the new Tiger no longer has an inline-triple’s steady hum, but rather a syncopated beat closer to that of a V-twin. This is especially noticeable when you listen to a bike pull away.
The power delivery is also altered, with a 10 per cent increase in peak torque, at 64 lbs.-ft. Peak power is the same as before, at 94 horsepower, but apparently there’s 12 per cent more power available throughout the midrange. This boosts power through the midrange, providing a broad, flat powerband that is forceful yet easily manageable. Of the GT Pro’s five ride modes, I selected Road, which provides smooth throttle response. Even in the most aggressive Sport mode the throttle is easily manageable, but it’s a bit tiresome in traffic.
I fiddled with the ride modes often, especially to see the difference in the suspension settings. Only the rear suspension is affected by the ride modes, and it can also be adjusted independently of the ride modes. I used that feature to bump up the four-position rear preload to the second setting, for “rider with passenger,” which raises up the rear a bit and quickens corner entry in the twisty bits, while adding a bit of cornering clearance.
Steering is well balanced and light, the bike is stable at speed, and the suspension can be adjusted over a broad range, from plush to too firm, which is good. I put the adjustment somewhere in the middle, which provided a firm enough ride for an elevated pace without wallowing or returning a harsh ride. The suspension isn’t as sophisticated as on the competing adventure bikes that feature fully adjustable electronic suspension adjustability, but it works well enough that the manual adjustability of the fork is forgivable.
The only kink in the handling was an excessive nosedive when braking hard for tighter turns. That’s a by-product of the long travel, which is what provides the excellent bump absorption, so that too is forgivable. The road-oriented Tigers are equipped with Metzeler Tourance Next tires, which provide excellent grip on pavement.
The Tiger Rally Pro in the dirt
The next day, we hit the dirt on the top-ranging Tiger 900 Rally Pro. The riding position is different, especially at the footpegs, which are mounted farther back to facilitate stand-up riding. The handlebar was also pivoted upward for the same reason.
For the day’s ride, the Rally’s OEM Bridgestone A41 tires were swapped out for knobby Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. The tire pressures were set in the low 20s psi since the ride included only a couple of paved sections. The combination of knobby tires, low pressures and a 21-inch front wheel made the Rally Pro’s handling sluggish on the pavement, but when we hit the dirt, those factors paid off. Especially since the first thing we did off-pavement was to ride onto some soft, loose sand — not the best way to shake off the early-morning grogginess.
A 21-inch front wheel is a must for serious off-road duty. Because of it, the Rally actually steers quite effectively in deep sand, as long as you don’t push the front end motocross-style into a berm, where the tire will just scrub into the sand. The paddle-like rear Pirelli also provides a good drive so it’s easy to get up onto the pegs from a stop. Oh, for the loose stuff, and actually pretty much everywhere else we rode off pavement, I selected Off-road Pro mode (only available on the Rally Pro), which shuts off ABS, but more importantly, shuts off the traction control.
The real fun begins on the hard-packed and rocky paths, sporadically peppered with random sandy curves to keep you alert. The Rally Pro can keep a fast pace without overwhelming the suspension — or the rider, since it steers and brakes with precision on dirt. It’s not enduro-bike precise like the KTM 790 Adventure R, which is just about the best off-road handling adventure bike I’ve ridden to date, but unless you’re aiming for an expert-level pace, one bike won’t outrun the other. While both Pro models have a quick shifter, it proves invaluable off-road, allowing the convenience of clutch-less gear changes when maintaining forward momentum sometimes requires them.
One really good thing Triumph has done is move to tubeless spoke wheels, which makes puncture repair easier. The Rally’s rims are made by Akront, and after hitting a big rock hard enough at speed to nearly shake my teeth loose, I can attest that these rims are nearly indestructible — the rim was entirely unblemished.
Trouble in Paradise
Now, there’s one thing Triumph needs to work on, and that’s the ride-mode selection process. There are still too many steps required to make a selection, including having to confirming your selection by pushing a separate button. And once you’re rolling, the two Off-road modes grey out on the screen and cannot be selected. Also, if you do select one of the Off-Road modes, or turn either the traction control or ABS off in Rider mode, the bike will default to Ride mode every time the ignition is switched back on.
BMW’s GS models can retain off-road mode settings after an owner plugs in a dongle under the seat. KTM’s Pro modes retain settings. Suzuki can retain ride modes — even those that turn off TC and ABS — on the V-Strom, which isn’t even that adept an off-roader. Triumph should be able to do the same, especially on the Rally Pro — it’s not the Rally Novice after all.
A final bit of highway on the Rally Pro
On the last day, we hit the highway to return to Marrakesh. I chose a Rally Pro equipped with OEM tires. While it steers a bit slower than the GT, its road handling is still good enough that it can easily keep pace on winding roads. The highway allowed me to set the cruise and enjoy the sights, and with the adjustable screen raised and the seat and grip heat on, the near single-digit temperatures we encountered on the way were easily dismissed. The windscreen does produce some helmet buffeting at highway speeds, but it wasn’t enough to prompt me to lower it.
And after three days in the saddle (well, two since I mostly stood on the pegs on the dirt), including the two-plus-hour highway drone, the seat proved supportive and comfortable.
So, which one?
The most basic Tiger 900 starts at an MSRP of $14,100, and goes up to $19,800 for the Tiger 900 Rally Pro. Of all the available Tigers, though, my preferred model would be the Tiger 900 Rally, since I would take my Tiger off road. At $17,300 it undercuts the Rally Pro by $2,500, some of which I’d use to add a couple of the Pro’s standard items, like the $324 skid plate and the $479 quick shifter.
Aside from those items, the 900 Rally has all the standard features I find useful, as well as the premium suspension with the travel I’d need to handle off-road rides. And it gives up nothing but slightly quicker steering and a lower seat height to the GT.
Key Specs: 2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT/Rally
Engine: 888 cc inline triple
Dry weight: 192-201 kg
Power: 94hp @ 8,750rpm
Torque: 64.1 lb-ft @ 7,250rpm
Rake/Trail: 24.6 degrees/ 133mm GT; 24.4 degrees/145mm Rally
Wheelbase: 1,556mm GT; 1,551mm Rally
Seat height: 810/830mm GT; 850/870mm Rally
Brakes: Front: 320mm discs, four-piston radial calipers Rear: 255mm disc, single-piston caliper
Front suspension: 45mm inverted fork; non-adjustable base; compression and rebound adjustable GT; fully adjustable Rally
Rear suspension: Single shock; preload adjustable base; preload and rebound adjustable GT and Rally
Wheels: 19 front/17 rear, cast aluminum GT; 21 front /17 rear tubeless spoke Rally
Tires: 100/90-19 front, 150/70R17 rear GT; 90/90-21front, 150/70R17 rear Rally