2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCA

First Ride Review

Intense competition in the popular adventure-bike category makes life difficult for manufacturers, but the rapid advancement of the breed makes life beautiful for riders. Soon after receiving news about the 12 new Triumph Tiger adventure bikes for 2018, we were invited to a two-day ride aboard the top-spec 1,215cc three-cylinder models—one day for pavement riding, the next for some off-road work. At the end of that all-too-brief first taste, we definitely came away impressed.

During our ride in the south of Spain we spent all of our time aboard the spoke-wheel XCA, and perhaps the biggest news is its claimed 22-pound weight reduction. Following rides and comparison tests with the prior-generation Tiger Explorer 1200, some staffers voiced concerns about its top-heavy feel. In 2016 I logged about 2,000 miles on an Explorer 1200 XRT, riding from Southern California to Oregon. So I can understand those misgivings; it’s definitely not a small or light bike but my 6-foot hefty-something physique allowed me to enjoy the bike thoroughly, without any serious concerns.

This first ride with the 2018 XCA, however, definitely shows a new side: It now feels significantly lighter and more manageable. While it still has a tallish 33.7-inch seat height, that can be easily adjusted to 32.9 inches. A Low Ride Height variant of the cast-wheel XRX model (31.1/31.9 inches) can also be had at no extra cost.

Look at the unchanged valve diameters, piston and bore/stoke and you might think little has changed in the engine department, but you’d be very wrong: Triumph claims it’s made more than 100 changes to the bike. There’s a 2-horsepower increase in power via new engine mapping and Arrow carbon/titanium exhaust system to help maintain its place as the most powerful shaft-drive bike in the class, but more importantly, a host of improvements give the big Tiger a more refined, higher-quality ride experience and a more athletic, revvier engine response. Most notably, flywheel weight is down a whopping 5.5 pounds and the spring-loaded split scissor-gears at the clutch and balance shaft are gone. Now, more precise gear-tooth profiles simply eliminate more of the play between the meshing gears to eliminate lash instead of masking it. Net result: the connection between the throttle and the rear wheel feels delightfully precise. Drive lash is very minimal and combined with the excellent engine mapping, power application and on/off throttle transitions are seamless; you wouldn’t know this is a shaft-drive bike if you didn’t look down at the single-sided swingarm.

A tiny joystick mounted on the left-side controls makes navigating through ride modes and settings much easier than before, while the new backlit switchgear and adjustable 5-inch TFT instrument screen proved very visible and workable. After trying various options, I simply left it in Road mode for the majority of our day on the street.

We spent most of our time slicing up mountain roads and the Tiger 1200 works splendidly as a comfy, all-day sport/sport-touring bike. With a broad powerband, plenty of horsepower and the new quickshifter, this thing really cranks through the twisties. Flying in extra hot into tight downhill corners reminds you it’s a 600-pound machine you’re pushing around rather than a 450-pound hypersport; the dual, four-piston radial Brembo front brakes are up to the task, but you can’t ignore the laws of physics. At the same time, the semi-active suspension with top-shelf WP components front and rear are truly state-of-the art, delivering a comfortable and compliant ride while maintaining spot-on springing and damping automatically—it’s simply brilliant.

Steering feels very neutral, requiring only a medium-light amount of effort through the wide handlebar. This new bar bend adds to rider ergonomics for a seat/peg/bar combination that’s simply terrific for use while seated or standing, the perfect middle ground for this six-footer.

For our off-road day, Triumph fit the bikes with Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires, which helped tremendously for dirt-going traction, albeit at a cost in road feel and response. But who would ever think a 240-pound rider could hammer a 600-pound bike down dirt roads, sand washes and single track without bottoming the suspension all day? Not me. But the Tiger 1200 did just that and more in Off Road mode. Again, very impressive.

Overall, the Tiger 1200’s a joy to ride hard, ride all-day long, or both. The new, larger, electrically adjustable windscreen provides a big still-air pocket for the rider, and extra kudos to the seat, which is flat for easy movement, wide and superbly cushioned. We’ll have to log more miles back home but after two days of riding, this 2018 Tiger 1200 stands tall among full-on adventure bikes.