IT was 06h00. Almost 250 km of tar and dirt roads consisting of straights and bends of varying radii lay ahead of us. Standing in the garage, seemingly unfazed by the challenge, was the Tiger 800. It looked purposeful with its 21-inch spoked front wheel, crash bars, sump guard and long-travel suspension (220 mm front and 215 mm rear) courtesy of the XC specification. A fruity rumble from the aftermarket Arrow exhaust announced that the challenge had been accepted with glee.
Judging by the number of examples I’ve spotted during morning commutes, dual-purpose bikes appear to have become more popular as a source of everyday transport than road bikes (and even superbikes). This shift in buying patterns can be compared with SUVs’ prevalence over humble family sedans. When the owners of both adventure species are asked why they bought their vehicles, the answer usually involves the option of having fun on weekends in remote places.
En route to the location of the photo shoot for this test, the Triumph Tiger offered a relaxing ride. The seating position is upright, with a short reach to the wide, highly mounted handlebars. Wind protection is provided in the form of a little screen that should make long-distance cruising more bearable. This, combined with the Showa long-travel suspension, resulted in a very comfortable ride.
Soon thereafter, the tar road gave way to dirt track as I reached the plantation where the shoot took place. Although the Tiger felt light and nimble, there was no way to ignore its heft (228 kg, including fuel) when manoeuvring the bike round tight spaces. The ABS can be disabled (through a lengthy procedure) if the rider wants full control when traversing unsealed surfaces, but as the journey unfolded (I stood on the foot pegs when crossing a corrugated section), the bike started to feel a bit unsettled with the drive chain hitting its guard. A quick request to the smooth engine via my right hand was met with enthusiasm, however, and the bike settled down at higher speeds.
The end of the dirt section was followed by a long, open stretch of road where the powertrain could be exploited to the full. The six-speed gearbox is a gem thanks to a short-throw action and precise engagement that make gear shifting effortless – the 800 CX has one of the best gearboxes we’ve sampled.
Triumph, famous for its triples, opted to utilise a three-cylinder layout compared with the twins of the opposition at this capacity (read BMW F800GS). The advantage is more power and a different character. This triple has enough torque but loves to rev to the 10 000 r/min redline when required. The sound character mimics that of an inline four at low engine speeds, but soon changes to the familiar rasping triple thrum as the analogue rev needle swings round the dial. The power delivery is never intimidating, though (no power-wheelies in first), but would easily get you to the same speeds that politicians and pop stars get arrested for these days.
The last road section was a beautiful, smooth and flowing coastal road that is a haven for 600 cm3 superbikes. The Triumph again impressed with stable and predictable handling (albeit with a somewhat slow turn-in) and that engine/gearbox combination could even make superbike riders think about trading in their rides for dual-purpose machines. The braking ability comes courtesy of twin 308 mm discs and dual-piston Nissan callipers up front and a single disc at the back.
To sum up, the Tiger 800 XC does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a very capable on- and off-road motorcycle with a trump card up its sleeve: a likeable character that encourages you to go for longer rides more often. It is an adventure bike that not only lives up to its packaging, but also returned a commendable fuel figure of 6,3 litres/100 km in our hands despite a fair bit of enthusiastic riding. If you are still queuing during the morning commute while sitting alone in a tin box, ask yourself why.