Wow, what a difference a motor makes! Triumph have been busy upgrading their triple line with the new 955i motor ever since it debuted in 2001, with the first lucky models to get this gruntmeister heart being the Daytona and Tiger. But that wasn't all that the Tiger gained, it also got slightly reworked and stiffer suspension, and that makes a BIG difference.
My first taste of the Tiger was back in 1999 when we took it and a BMW R1150GS on the annual Larry Fest tour in eastern Ontario. Taking it down some of the back gravel roads showed a noticeable difference between the two. Essentially where the BMW felt sure footed with excellent feedback, the Tiger would feel remote and decidedly shifty about its intentions - kinda like the George Bush of motorcycles.
Whatever the Triumph engineers did in 2001, it cured this misbehaving once and for all. The latest Tiger inspires confidence with good feedback, letting you know exactly what it is doing, and maybe more importantly, what it is going to do.
Down gravel roads, where before I would be nervously steering it around corners in as upright position as possible, I now find myself jamming on the rear brake to lock the back up momentarily then powering out, rear wheel a-spinning. Wow, it's like night and day. The odd thing is that all I can find that the engineers changed chassis-wise, was stiffer suspension!
Talking of spinning the rear wheel, that brings me nicely to that new motor.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to ride the newly 955'd Speed Triple and instantly fell in love with Triumph's latest motor development. The net result is a massive power increase of 18hp (from 87hp to 105hp), although in Tiger tune, the 955i motor is in its lowest state (the Daytona getting a massive 147hp and the others a more modest 118hp).
Although this would seem like a lot to lose, it all comes lower down, which is where you want it most for this style of bike. Besides, having recently ridden a Suzuki V-Strom, I started to appreciate that maybe there is such a thing as too much power - in gravel at least.
The Tiger's power delivery is very linear and comes on quite strong all the way from idle to the 10,000rpm rev limiter (even though the indicated redline is at 9,500 rpm). On gravel, this translates into lurid rear wheel spins at almost any rpm, with just a sharp twist of the throttle. Do this on the asphalt and you're in wheelie land ... or on your arse, watching your pride and joy spark its way down the highway, depending on your wheelie skills!
Starting up from cold has the motor spinning quite high, but there's no need to fiddle about with a fast-idle and even when still cold, the fuel injection does a very good job of providing a smooth power delivery (another improvement over the previous model). The motor is also a stressed member of the frame, but even so, there is no noticeable vibration getting through to the rider - the balance shafts within the motor doing a perfect job.
With the new motor comes the new gearbox, which I must say is just about perfect. I thought that the previous Tiger incarnation was pretty good too, although my riding companion at the time complained of notchyness and false neutrals, (but that was Larry, and he has small feet). Clutch action is also very smooth, but did prove to be a bit heavy when I was ever unfortunate to find myself stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
Overall, we were getting a fuel economy of about 16.8km/l (5.95l/100km), which means with the 24 litre fuel tank full, you can expect to go just a tad over 400km before rolling to a stop - likely in the middle of no where.
One of my biggest peeves with the previous incarnation was the lack of protection of important parts at the front of the motor. The pipes were "shielded" by a ludicrously small plastic bash plate, to the left of which was a small oil cooler, and to the right a coolant pipe. Although the bike was decidedly not happy in the dirt, if you were brave enough to give it a go, a mild mishap could have easily seen a crushed pipe, ripped off the oil cooler and left a large pool of engine coolant for good measure. I wasn't impressed.
Although the bash plate is still mounted directly to the pipes, now at least it's metal. Also gone are the exposed coolant pipe and oil cooler - the cooler now being moved up above the bash plate (just below the rad) and the pipe .. well ... not there any more. However, the cooler was still low enough clog with dirt, thrown up whenever an off-road adventure presented itself.
Talking of off-road adventures, as with the previous Tiger, we decided to test it along the same piece of the Calabogie & District Trail System (Eastern Ontario, starting just west of Clyde Forks). Although this abandoned piece of railway track was just a tad on the wet side in early spring, the "new and improved" Tiger loved it (except maybe where it got decidedly muddy). Oh, and so did I. And I think so did Cathy, my road companion on her BMW F650 ... except when she did that accelerating through the deep puddles/aquaplaning routine. But the less said about that the better.
The good ergonomics allow for long trips with relative ease. The small fairing (which I think looks like Dame Edna Everidge) does a good job at keeping the rider out of the wind and means that the upright position can be maintained in comfort (up to 140km/h anyway). This position, combined with the high ride height (adjustable 840 - 860mm), make the Tiger an excellent urban assault vehicle. You can not only see over most cars, you also have the power to get out of most jams, and if it all gets snarly, just ride off the road and on till you find a road more to your liking!
However, although the passenger pegs are quite low and the perch spacious, I did find that the rider's pegs were a tad high. Considering the size of the bike, Triumph have got to be catering for the lanky market here, so why not another inch for the gangly legs? I'm sure there's enough ground clearance to play with.
While I'm on a bit of a rant, one more thing - gauges! They're not just hideous, they're also illuminated in such a way that at dusk you can't see them at all. And the handy little time clock is hidden and recessed so that you can't even see it. Surely there must be someone in Hinckley who can design a sexy and useful set of clocks!
Although the clocks, bulbous tank and the Dame Edna fascia make the front decidedly unsexy, the arse simply oozes (sex appeal that is). The oval muffler is a nice touch (although it could do with being a tad louder), the small backrack is just sooo useful and the view when following is, well ... sexy. Gotta wonder if some design genius finished the rear end, only to experience their untimely death, and then have the lardy, loud secretary finish up the front.
And that brings us to the last thing - brakes, suspension and tires.
The front brake works very well, and with the stiffer set up, the beast no longer has the previous model's tendency to dive excessively under almost any type of front braking - my underpants were grateful. The only problem I had was a nasty squeal that developed after the dirt portion of the test, although they seemed to eventually fix themselves after some high speed asphalt riding. The rear is a good compromise between instant lock-up and nothing at all.
As I've already mentioned numerous times, the suspension is a great improvement. Although stiffer at the front, it still absorbs bumps with ease - even large 'oles on abandoned rail tracks, hidden by an unassuming puddle.
Our bike came fitted with Metzeler Tourance tires, which worked very well with the dirt section that we submitted them too, although I didn't really get enough time to really be able to push them on asphalt.
Overall, the 955i Tiger makeover has not just given the bike a much appreciated boost in power, it's made it more usable. Minor suspension modifications appear to have transformed the bike's handling. And when combined with moving the fragile bits at the front out of harms way, we finally have a Tiger that doesn't just look like it should be able to ride on the dirt roads, it can.
Although I personally still think the BMW R1150GS has the edge, I believe the Tiger can now at least claim to be in the same ballpark. Although the price difference between the two is not as significant as before, there's still a saving of $2,300.00 to be had.
It appears that the 1150GS has some serious competition at last. Now about that V-Strom ...