2011 Triumph Tiger 800

Road Test Review

We motorcyclists are a lucky lot. The source of our passion is, in most cases, inexpensive, fuel efficient, reliable and a fount of endless joy and fascination. Vintage machines, racebikes and customs may or may not fulfill any of these criteria, but street-legal motorcycles that rolled off the production line in the last decade or so are a pretty safe bet.

Unlike boats or airplanes, we don’t have to tow them on expensive trailers behind expensive trucks or pay exorbitant fees to store them behind barbed wire fences. Unlike RVs, we save time and money and have fun commuting to work or running errands with them. Unless we’re blessed (or cursed) with a burgeoning stable, they don’t take up much room in the garage. And thanks to modern engineering and manufacturing, maintenance and repairs are often minimal.

Triumph’s new-for-2011 Tiger 800 is all of these things and more. With a sub-$10,000 price tag, gas mileage as high as 50 mpg, exemplary build quality and more versatility than MacGyver with a Swiss Army knife, this middleweight adventure bike will keep you away from the poor house, gas station, repair shop and shrink’s couch. Playful as a puppy but less likely to leak on your carpet (or help you meet girls down at the local park), the Tiger 800 is a faithful companion ready for any adventure.

My first tryst with the Triumph Tiger 800 was last fall, at Triumph’s world press introduction in Spain (Rider, March 2011). I logged about 150 pavement miles on the street-oriented Tiger 800, about half of which were spent fighting strong winds on cold, wet, unfamiliar mountain roads, and nearly as many miles—with about 30 offroad—on the dual-sporty Tiger 800XC. My initial impression of both bikes was favorable, but the true measure of a motorcycle is logging more miles, weighing it fully gassed on our own scale, running it on a reliable dyno and, if possible, comparing it with a worthy competitor. We’ve done that with the Tiger 800 (see our 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS comparison), and my appreciation for its all-around practicality and high-caliber fun factor has deepened.

During the Tiger’s development, Triumph took a great engine—the Street Triple’s Daytona-derived 675cc in-line triple—and reengineered it for adventure-touring duty. It retained the overall layout, used the same cylinder head and throttle bodies and left the cylinder bore unchanged at 74.0mm. Displacement was increased to 799cc by lengthening stroke from 52.3mm to 61.9mm, and cam timing was relaxed, valve overlap was reduced and compression ratio was lowered from 12.7:1 to 11.1:1. The result is a more user-friendly powerplant that runs on regular-octane fuel. On Jett Tuning’s Dynojet dyno, the Tiger 800 churned out 83.9 horsepower at 9,900 rpm and 51.2 lb-ft of torque at 7,700 rpm. As the dyno chart shows, power is delivered in a smooth, linear fashion with no dips or irregularities. And the torque curve is remarkably flat, with over 90 percent of peak torque available between 3,700 and 9,400 rpm. With flawless fuel injection, immediate throttle response and no unwelcome buzziness, the Tiger is a real pussycat.

A rugged tubular-steel trellis frame holds the engine in place as a stressed member, and the dual-sided cast-aluminum swingarm attaches directly to the rear of the engine. Clutch pull is light and the six-speed transmission shifts well except for a slight hitch between first and second gear. Cost, complexity and weight are saved with the X-ring chain final drive. With the 5-gallon tank full, the Tiger 800 tips our scales at a respectable 481 pounds. Also respectable is the generous 478-pound load capacity—more than you’ll find on many touring bikes. The Tiger’s strong chassis, moderate curb weight, narrow tires (110/80-ZR19 front, 150/70-ZR17 rear) and wide handlebar contribute to responsive handling. With 23.7 degrees of rake and 3.4 inches of trail, steering geometry is sharp. Light pressure on the bar easily directs the 19-inch front wheel’s course, but not at the expense of stability. ZR-rated Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires provide good grip and turn-in on the street, and aired down they offer commendable bite and bump absorption offroad.

The long-travel suspension found on adventure tourers is a key aspect of their overall comfort, though it usually necessitates a tall seat height. The Tiger offers a Goldilocks happy medium, with moderate seat height (as low as 31.9 inches) and 7.1/6.7 inches of front/rear suspension travel to deal with pockmarked pavement and ferocious fire roads. Tuned for firmer damping in the initial part of the stroke to mitigate squatting and diving but adjustable only for rear spring preload, the Tiger 800’s Showa suspension performs quite well. During a spirited blast on a rutted and rocky goat path known as Goodenough Road, the Tiger 800 took the ground-pounding in stride, keeping the tires from skipping or breaking loose and doing well to prevent bottoming out. My only real complaint about the suspension is some chatter over irregular pavement when really pushing it in the twisties. The bike never got badly out of shape, but it reminded me not to ride the Tiger like a Daytona.

The Tiger is slowed down by triple-disc tranquilizer darts from Nissin. Most of the stopping power comes courtesy of twin two-piston floating calipers that squeeze 308mm floating discs in front, with the balance handled by a single one-piston floating caliper that squeezes a 255mm fixed disc. There’s quite a bit of front lever travel that creates a sense of numbness, but a deliberate squeeze gets the job done.

Our test bike was not equipped with ABS, an $800 option. On Tigers so equipped, ABS can be disabled for offroad riding or parking lot shenanigans.

Comfort is one of the Tiger 800’s real strengths. A small, nonadjustable windscreen provides decent wind protection without obstructing the view. The two-piece seat is firmly but generously padded, and the height of the rider’s seat can be easily changed from 31.9 to 32.7 inches—a welcome feature that’s become increasingly common. Naturally, the higher position better suits my 34-inch inseam. For even more legroom, I removed the rubber inserts from the footpegs which lowered my feet another half-inch. The cleated metal pegs provide more grip but less vibration damping. The rise, width and position of the tapered aluminum Neken-made motocross-style handlebar feels just right, allowing a natural reach to the grips while sitting comfortably upright. The handlebar can be rotated and offset bar risers can be reversed to position the bar higher and farther forward. The only glitch with the stock setup is that the clutch and brake cables rub on the upper part of the fairing at full-right lock, though it doesn’t affect handling. The offroad-oriented 800XC has taller bar risers, which give it more steering lock and prevents the cables from rubbing. I wished for the XC’s setup during my ride on Goodenough Road. Though the cut-outs below the sharp edges of the gas tank provided good purchase for my knees while standing up, I had to bend awkwardly to reach the handlebar and operate the hand controls.

Many Tiger 800 buyers will never take it offroad, but it was designed to accommodate those who chose to do so. The tail section has no plastic that could break in a tip-over, the tank is encased is rugged black plastic that resists damage and a standard hard-plastic skid plate protects the oil sump and header pipes. Nonetheless, with just 6.5 inches of unladen ground clearance, serious rock hopping should be avoided. Dig into Triumph’s accessory catalog and you’ll find added protection such as handguards (standard on the XC), an aluminum skid plate and guards for the engine, radiator and dual headlights. You can also add a centerstand, taller adjustable windscreen, gel rider/passenger seats, heated grips, tire pressure monitoring system and more. The Tiger 800’s oil-cooled 645-watt alternator will power a GPS, auxiliary lights and heated gear, and a 12V socket is standard. A toolkit is located under the seat, and there’s room for an accessory U-lock, tire repair kit or other essentials. Normal maintenance seems straightforward, with the bigger job of adjusting the shim-under-bucket valves only surfacing every 12,000 miles, though the owner’s manual lacks detail on common chores such as servicing the air cleaner.

All the bits and details that make up the Tiger 800’s mosaic make sense, but it helps to zoom out and shift the focus to the overall picture. As I mentioned in my earlier report, the Tiger 800 was easy to ride from the first time I let out the clutch, and its reassuring and user-friendly nature has made it a pleasure to ride in all but the most challenging conditions. Triumph has jumped into the middleweight adventure segment with a capable, versatile, fun machine that’s priced right. Should your styling or riding tastes lean toward the more rugged end of the spectrum, then consider the taller, beefier XC model. Either way, anyone would be lucky to own one.