Comparing the Triumph Tiger 800 and XC

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The Triumph Tiger 800 and Triumph Tiger 800 XC represent a two-pronged attack on the mid-capacity adventure touring segment. One’s a little more road-oriented, one’s a little taller and a little more ready for that round-the-world stuff. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been riding both. Do the relatively small differences actually add up in the real world?

Photos: Sean Smith

All last summer, Triumph over-hyped its new adventure tourers in a transparent attempt to curry coverage on publications like Hell For Leather. Then, when full pictures of the bikes leaked, we couldn’t help but be disappointed with something that, in pictures and on paper, appeared 99.9999 percent identical to the BMW F800GS. One squinted, one looked terribly shocked. Big whoop. But, when Kevin Ash first rode the Tiger, he brought back reports of a worthy, capable, unique motorcycle. Even that didn’t prepare us for what we found when we picked the bikes up on June 15. From the first ride it was obvious that these were surprisingly fun, all-round motorcycles that trumped the BMW on character, speed, comfort and on-road ability (we’ll take the XC off-road this weekend).

Now, let’s break down what the differences are between the 800 (white) and 800 XC (orange) and tell you what impact they have on the ride.

Bars
The XC’s bars sit .7 inches forward of the 800’s and a third of an inch higher. More noticeably, at 34 inches, the XC’s are .6 inches wider and sweep back six degrees less. Hopping between the two bikes, you do notice that extra width, but it doesn’t become particularly relevant until you’re lane splitting, when the XC is just a tad unwieldy through very tight traffic. The XC’s standard bash guards make up for that though, you can fly between mirrors confident in the knowledge that they’ll break before hitting your brake. You can also get a noticeable extra bit of height out of the XC’s bars by rotating them forwards, just enough for me (6’ 2”) to comfortably control the bike while standing up. The XC’s bars are rotated up and forward in these photos and you can see that, configured thusly, they do stretch the rider’s arms out a bit.

Seat Height
Both bikes feature an easily adustable rider seat. Two bars front and rear sit in either high or low notches and are secured by rubber straps. It takes about 30 seconds to switch between high and low. The 800 can go from a very accessible 31.9 inches to a more comfortable 32.7. The XC starts at 32.2 and goes up to 34 inches, a height which is helping me stretch my legs out down to the low pegs and easily see over most cars.

Both seats are actually some of the best I’ve experienced on a motorcycle. They’re relatively slim, meaning it’s easy to put both my feet down at a stop, but still very supportive and plush.

Rake/Trail
The 800 has 23.7 degrees of rake and 86.2mm of trail to the XC’s 23.1 degrees and 91.1mm. So the 800 is steeper and shorter. You can feel that too, its steering is perceptibly faster and more precise than the XC’s.

Wheels
Both tigers use a 17-inch rear wheel, but the 800’s is a lighter alloy item to the XC’s stronger spoked setup. At the front, the 800 attempts to maintain some image of dirt capability with a 19-inch alloy while the XC goes the whole hog with a 21-inch Excel rim.

It’s this difference, together with the rake and trail, that delivers the most obvious difference between the two bikes. Not only does the XC steer a little slower but, at very high angles of lean, its front tire will walk wide and it’s skittish over bumps while leaning too.

Front Suspension
The 800 uses a non-adjustable 43mm fork with 180mm of travel. The XC a larger diameter, non-adjustable 45mm fork with 220mm of travel. This is traditionally where we’d bitch about that lack of adjustment, but Triumph has nailed the settings on both bikes, we wouldn’t adjust them even if we could.

Because of the additional travel and because of what feels like more controlled damping on softer springs, the XC’s fork is a little plusher riding. Both deliver an astonishing level of feel that’s unprecedented in the adventure touring class. Even with the front tire on the XC walking a bit wide and wearing quasi-dirt rubber, I was still confident enough to wear it virtually to its edge. Just for perspective, I’m approximately 1,000,000 times more confident in the front end on these Tigers than I am on an ’11 R1 we’ve also been riding.

Rear Suspension
The 800 is adjustable for preload only and has 170mm of travel. the XC has 215mm of travel and adds a remote reservoir and rebound damping adjustment. We didn’t bother touching the adjuster/s on either, they’re absolutely spot on in stock form. Again, the XC is a bit plusher riding without sacrificing control or capability.

Tires
Both Tigers are wearing the kind of stupid OEM tires that aren’t terribly good off or on road. The 800’s got Pirelli Scorpion Trails and the XC is on Bridgestone Battlewings. The Battlewings have perceptibly more grip front and rear, despite sitting on that 21-inch front wheel.

The problem with tires like these is that they attempt to combine both off- and on-road capability with cheapness. That cheapness is, of course, a problem with most OEM equipment tires, which manufacturers spec to save money at the detriment of attaining the full performance motorcycles are capable of. If you plan on staying on-road, you’d be better off plunking for proper sport touring rubber, if you plan on going off-road, you’ll want something with real knobs. I’ve spent a good deal of time with the Scorpion Trails off road, so have first hand knowledge of how worthless they are there. ADVRider is full of reports calling the Battlewings “Deathwings” for the same reason.

Weight
The 800 weighs 462 pounds (wet). Due to its spoked wheels and extra gewgaws, the XC weighs 473 pounds (wet). You can’t feel the difference.

Bodywork
The XC adds bash guards and a beak, but those are optional on the 800 too. The beak makes the Tiger a little less awkward looking while the bash guards protect the levers (duh).

Price
The 800 goes for a seriously affordable $9,999 ($10,799 with the untested ABS option). The XC is $10,999 ($11,799 with ABS). For that extra grand, you get a little better suspension and the extra bodywork. Riding them back to back, that extra suspension plushness makes spending up to the XC worthwhile, it just feels that much more comfortable. Of course, there’s another reason too.

Oops
Remember my story last week about crashing in my Astars suit? That was on the Triumph Tiger 800. Rounding a relatively straight forward uphill, banked bend in 2nd gear, I felt something drag hard as I tightened my line just before the apex while trail braking. Just as that happened, the front end washed out, lowsiding me and the Tiger.

What drug was the sidestand and sidestand mount. Parts that aren’t designed to fold when they drag, like the pegs are. That means that when they do touch down, they take some of the bike’s weight, in this case that was enough to leverage the front tire off the road.

This isn’t just my ego talking either. Evidence can be seen in the heavy wear on the sidestand and sidestand mount that’s runs parallel to the bike’s normal direction of travel and wear on the plastics, left handlebar and engine case that run 90 degrees to that.

I’d started the day on the XC, keeping up with an 1198 S mounted friend and Sean on his favorite bike ever, the Moto Guzzi Norge, as we rode past Azusa to Crystal Lake. From there, I swapped to the 800 and, heading back down the mountain, I immediately started dragging its pegs.

These action shots were taken in a location that Sean chose for its isolation and nice background. There’s barely a corner there, hence the lack of lean. I was further off the side of the bike at the time of the accident than these pictures indicate, so I was removing as much lean from it as possible in an effort to keep the pegs off the ground.

It should be noted that the uphill inclination of the corner and its slight banking likely contributed some extra suspension compression that reduced ground clearance further and led to the stand touching down, but it did so with about 1cm of unworn tire left to go. Again, that wasn’t the case on the XC, who’s tires were worn to the edge front and rear and never even came close to dragging peg, let alone stand.

This photo demonstrates that lack of ground clearance. You can clearly see the sidestand and its mount hanging out in the wind under the peg. But, there’s two problems with this photo that means it fails to fully illustrate reality. One: I’m on the throttle, topping out the forks. Trail braking, I’d expect the front end to be about three inches lower. Two: the angle obviously isn’t totally front-on, this is simply the most illustrative photo we had after the fact. Still, you can see that there’s relatively little angle between peg touch and stand touch, which means there’s very little angle between hauling ass and landing on your ass. The fact that the stand drug even while the tire wasn’t fully to its edge probably remains the best indicator of the limitation.

It’s possibly worth noting that the sidestands have been photoshopped out of every stock studio photo of the Tiger Triumph provides to the press.

The XC (orange) has noticeably more clearance than the 800 (blue).

Having said all that, this issue is unlikely to affect most Tiger riders. I ride faster and lean further than most riders on sportsbikes, much less 800cc all rounder/adveture tourers. Riders looking for big lean angles and high corner speeds have other bikes to choose from in the Triumph catalog, most notably the 675cc Street Triple and Street Triple R, whose capabilities as motorcycles far exceeds my capability as a rider. It should also be noted that the taller XC has no issue with ground clearance.

So, if you want a bike that does everything and tours, the Triumph Tiger 800 will serve you flawlessly. If you want a bike that does everything and rails corners like a sportsbike, the cheaper Triumph Street Triple would be the better choice.

Tiggerific
I’ve seen the Tiger 800 compared to the BMW F650GS, which it matches more closely on price and on-road focus than it does the F800GS. That comparison is bunk for two reasons. One: the Triumph is simply a way better motorcycle. Both its engine and chassis elevate it far beyond the budget beemer. The smoothness, flexibility and power of this long-stroke triple have to be experienced to be believed. Parallel twins, schmarallel twins. Two: there’s another BMW that bears much closer comparison, the BMW F800R. Of course, the problem for BMW is that the same criticisms apply, its chassis and its engine seriously pale next to Triumph’s.

Looking at the spec sheets before I rode it, I was worried the Tiger was given a 19-inch front wheel to be adventure fashionable where a 17-inch and regular road rubber would work much better for what’s essentially a tall-rounder, not a bike that’s ever going to get really dirty. That criticism may still be applicable — there’s no doubt that a 17-inch would deliver more precise steering and more tire selection — but even so saddled, it still provides much more in the way of feedback, confidence and precision than BMW’s pricier naked roadster. The relaxed ergonomics and little windshield also make the Tiger all-day comfortable and tour-capable.

Then there’s the XC. Sean, who rode the same bike all day that we shot these photos, said I appeared slightly faster on the 800 than the XC, but it sure didn’t feel it. I’ve rarely been as confident in any stock motorcycle, much less one wearing silly tires and a 21-inch front wheel. I’ve rarely been as comfortable either, most bikes simply don’t fit my 34-inch inseam and ape arms this well. There’s faster bikes out there, sure. There’s probably better bikes for venturing into the wilderness on too. But for a practical, everyday motorcycle that doesn’t call too much attention to itself and doesn’t limit itself to any one speciality, the Triumph Tiger 800 XC is damn close to being perfect.

  • Myles

    So what do you get with the non XC vs a street triple besides less money to spend on weed, booze, and gas? $1100 is a lot of all three of those things.

    With the XC you can throw an ADV sticker on your hard bags, drop it in a ditch, forget to wash it, take a picture, and tell people you’re a serious motorcyclist. So I see the value with the XC. But the standard?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It’s a more relaxed bike than the Street Triple. Easier to ride, smoother, more comfortable, all that stuff.

    • BenP

      Also, I’d imagine the Tiger is more touring-capable than the street triple.

      No slight on the ST3, I have one myself and love it, but go ahead and try to fit hard saddlebags on the thing.

  • Ola

    Best Tiger summary I’ve seen, including any motorcycle publication or Triumph themselves. Well done.

    • slowtire

      +1 Great article!

  • Wereweazle

    Is the suspension compressed in that lead pic? For some reason it looks really squat and muscular there. Probably one of the coolest pics I’ve seen of the bike.

    I sat on one last week in the dealer and it did feel good. I’ve ridden an f800gs and wasn’t crazy enthused about it, but the Tiger just seemed like a nice bike. Well put together and definitely comfortable for taller people. I’m 6’2″.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I’m thinking it is. It does look more hunched forward and I seem to remember braking, at least lightly, there.

    • noone1569

      Hit me up next time you go to the dealer. I want to ride one of these.

      • Wereweazle

        I usually go to Commonwealth in Louisville. I do like the Indy one too though. They have BMW. :)

  • http://www.cycleworld.com/ John Burns

    Jesus God man, it’s a good thing i didn’t read this before going on that press ride the other day with those maniacs, I would’ve probably stayed home! Wonder why those Triumph test riders didn’t catch such a glaring problem?! They must not ride as hard as you guys…

    • Eric

      I believe it; I dragged the rear header on a VFR 800, damn near high siding into the opposite lane. I thought I had just tried to bite off more than I could chew until inspecting the bike post ride. Asphalt pin striping on the right fairing and two flat, abraded spots on the headers.

      (In Honda’s defense I was regularly dragging pegs on that bike. They still had lots of feeler but maybe I had just used up all of the early warning system.)

      Also, have you considered louder pipes to compensate for your micro-penis? I find them less annoying then your sarcastic comments.

      • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

        damn. from downtown!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Well, if the gigantic pile of totaled trumpets over at Mickey’s is any indicator, all you real journalists never even got to that first corner.

      • http://www.cycleworld.com/ John Burns

        True, i think we all fell over in the dirt. Come to think of it maybe the kickstand digging into topsoil is what caused my little spill? Yup, you’re probably right, wish i had thought of it first.

      • http://www.cycleworld.com/ John Burns

        Upon closer reading, i retract my earlier sarcasm. I did not realize you were riding hard enough to keep up with a Moto Guzzi Norge.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Don’t you have better things to do than troll HFL comments? Like that one article you write each month?

          • johnb

            Um, no, not really. Tho i am taking my dog for a walk now. You’ll just take down my posts anyway when it suits you, right?

            • Sean Smith

              I think Wes is having one of those days… Did you see the shot of me he posted on facebook?

        • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub sean (the roommate)

          come on now boys, we know there is really only one way to settle this…

          RACE FOR PINK SLIPS.

          • Sean Smith

            “Uh, yeah… uh, Triumph? So, like… here’s the deal. I… I lost your bike in a street race. So, um…. Sorry.” -the loser

          • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

            oooooh… nothing like a good journo feud.

            • http://www.pedalgents.com holdingfast

              this!

  • markbvt

    Great write-up. I absolutely love my XC and find it to be pretty much the perfect motorcycle for me.

    Since you didn’t get a chance to test ABS, I’ll just throw in that it’s the most seamless system I’ve experienced. I have to believe that it’s cut in once or twice under heavy emergency braking, but I haven’t felt it at all except when I purposely jammed on the rear brake on dirt just to force the issue. Even then it was smooth and not very noticeable, and did a great job of maintaining braking force. Way, way better than the ABS in my car!

  • Patrick

    It’s got to be more that a bit difficult to build a proper advent/tour bike, the balance of both has to be just right. I think the XC nails it. Bikes like the Super Tenere or the R1200GS look the part and I’m sure they tour ok, but how well do they really do off road? (by off road, I mean off road not a gravel road) They pack major motors but K-riced, if you dropped one of them you would be killing your self trying to right it with any baggage.
    Maybe it’s because I’m a Sportbike fan boy and just don’t get the Adv/tour thing. But most of these bikes don’t look like they’d do too well at either.

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    I’m a fan of the beak. The XC in these shots looks way cooler.

  • Devin

    Can a centre stand be mounted to these things? I love centre stands because you can park usualy even in crap gravel and not worry about your bike. Very nice, especially for this segment.

    Ran into that problem with the Versys because they have no frame for it to attach to.

    • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

      Yes, Triumph offers a CS for each model.

  • Von Scotch

    Drug? Seriously?

  • Pete

    I’m seriously considering trading my Thruxton in on one of these. They seem like great bikes.

  • solidaridad

    Great review! Are you going to get to check out a tiger with ABS? I’ve never ridden a bike with ABS, and I don’t have a good idea of how great, or not great it is on a bike.

    Can you check out the pillion riding? I’d like to know how this works for a longer trip on and off road. And to be honest–you’re the only source I truly trust for these types of evals. How’s that for brown nosing…
    thanks

    • Devin

      Yeah I second that. Any bike that looks like it is good for two-up, please throw a pillion on the back for us.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Pillion seat is great. Flat, long, huge handles, low pegs. Nice smooth motor helps too.

      Won’t check out ABS this time around. I’m sure it’s fine, but I’ve never felt the need for it.

  • HammSammich

    Reading this, I can’t help but be a little disappointed at the Tiger 800′s clearance problems, especially when it was supposedly intended to be better on the street than the 800XC. On the other hand, although I’m constantly dragging the pegs on my Bonneville, realistically it would probably take far better/faster riding than I am capable of to come up against the clearance limits on the Tiger. It just seems like a shame to produce what sounds to be a very capable chassis with a really nice motor, and then ruin it with something so silly and correctable.

  • johnb

    “it would probably take far better/faster riding than I am capable of to come up against the clearance limits on the Tiger.”

    that must be the key, in fact far better/faster riding than nearly anybody you can name. I checked with Steve Atlas, the guy over there at MC-USA who goes pretty good on an AMA Superbike, and he said he didn’t have any dragging issues either, even tho we hit some pretty tasty sections of pavement pretty hard over a couple of days–both tight/twisty and fast/flowing.

    Let’s hope this is an isolated incident where the HFL tester is just way above the level of the rest of us and the equipment (being able to lean the thing over that far on the crap tires he mentioned in a 2nd-gear corner is pretty awesome too), and that it won’t be a problem for most of us.

    Knock wood!

    • Peter88

      I don’t like journalists, any journalists. But you are particularly annoying. I was enjoying a nice test report and thinking how well Triumph is doing creating a wide range of motorcycles that excel in each of their niches (I don’t own a Triumph) and I run across your BS. Why don’t you take it up privately with Siler and Smith and leave us readers out of your nasty little critique?

      • Eric

        Because he won’t be able to torpedo the reputation of CW as fast otherwise . . .
        (I’m an ex-subscriber, held a subscription 3 years, bought off the shelf every month for a year before that)

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

      • johnb

        Sorry. I paid my $1.99 a while ago to read all about what’s going on at Cycle World, and thought that allowed me to Comment on other content also.

        • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

          No, stay in your other-journalist cage!

          ::pokes with taser::

          • Steve

            Man, you guys are a little sensitive on Burns I’d say. If you think he’s annoying now, you would have REALLY hated him before they stuck him on meds. I was a fan back then and it took him a while to reclaim his rep for sarcastic wit. I say encourage the “bitter little man.” Or STF-up and read the factory fanboys. PLENTY of THEM around. Peter88, if you really hate journalists, may I suggest you stick to Motorcyclist Mag.
            Steve

            • Peter88

              If I really hate journalists then I should come here! Despite my prejudices against journalists and journalism (or what passes for journalism in today’s society) I believe this site is giving me the most honest assessments. I would have prefered a direct written confrontation from Mr. johnb instead of the nasty sarcasm. I may have been defending Mr. Siler as well but I will never admit to that in court. :)

              • Steve

                Peace :) I too love this site. And I suppose I’m overly defensive of trolls, havin been branded such on occasion. I tried to discuss Prius battery fires on their site once and was torched off the internet. :)
                Steve

            • johnb

              gee thanks Steve. is kind of a defensive thinnish-skinned little tribe huh? Straight into the micro-penis insults instantly (and that guy’s mom swore it would be just between her and me). Kind of a “Lord of the Flies” vibe. I like it.

              • Steve

                Anytime. Not many entertaining assholes left in the bike scribe business.
                Steve

              • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

                If its any consolation, I just read your article on the zx9 streetfighter. Its a good read!

              • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

                My thin skin is one of my more admirable traits when it’s time to donate blood.

              • Eric

                Why not? You went straight into accusing a moto-journalist of not being able to ride.

                • Steve

                  This is almost as interesting as discussing saddlebags and crashbars and V-strom windshields and shit like that.

                • psittacid

                  Yes!! Thank you!

                • johnb

                  Here’s the subtle but critical crux you fail to observe, young Eric: I didn’t accuse him of not being able to ride, I accused him of blaming the bike for a crash that wasn’t the bike’s fault. Which is a pretty egregious offense in this “business”. In fact I didn’t even accuse him of that, I just put it out there.

                • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

                  I’ve blamed myself for plenty of crashes. This one wasn’t me.

                • Steve

                  Yeah! At least when Burns crashes he owns up,cleans out his desk and moves on like a man. :)

        • Sean Smith

          You can pretty much do as you please, but understand that people know you’re John Burns of Cycle World and if you start fights on then internet and make an ass of yourself, people will probably see that and remember it.

          • johnb

            I was happy(er) to be johnb until somebody on your site turned me into John Burns, in red letters hyperlink to cycleworld.com. God knows i have no idea how to do that. And you are right as rain about people remembering things.

            • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

              @johnb – I’m delighted to help. To change your display name and associated link, click “Profile” in the upper-left of the page, just beneath the header graphic. Make yourself at home!

    • HammSammich

      I have no first-hand experience riding the bike, but I certainly didn’t intend to feed any sarcastic trolling with my comment, so I hope this is just some good-natured ball-busting on your part…

      My point was that I am a competent rider on my Bonneville, able to ride comfortably near it’s limits. My disappointment in the Tiger is tempered by my suspicion that its limits are (hopefully) far beyond those of my Bonnie, and therefore my own capabilities.

      I can say that this wouldn’t be the first time that Triumph had issues with clearance. Equipped with the Triumph OEM Center stand, a Bonneville will grind that shortly after you hit the peg savers…definitely not safe for spirited riding in the twisties…

  • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

    Good read. I’ve been riding the crap out of our XC demo and loving it. I’ve got it all dialed in. Hoping to take it on a ride to the U.P. this wknd.

  • rvfrules

    I have a friend who rides the wheels off an FJR1300 on mountain roads without scraping anything. The secret? He hangs off the bike a bit in corners to reduce lean angle. That would probably work with the Tiger too…

  • peter

    I own an XC and I concur with everything written here. I tested an F800GS before choosing the Tiger XC. The best do-it-all motorbike I ever had the pleasure of riding. I started adventure riding recently and still I love sport touring. The Tiger XC gives me a enough of both.

  • Lou

    Having ridden the T800 road version on three extended demos….kudos to Locomotion Powersports in Suffern, NY, I am very confident in saying that, in regards to scraping the stand, “Your results may vary.” The vast majority of riders will not have this issue. Nor have I had such an issue on my Tiger1050, which I lowered 1.5″. Feel free to call me a wuss, but this, in no way, should be a big deal. The T800 is one of the most intelligently thought-out bikes I’ve seen, IMHO, in a long time. Ride an enjoy!

  • Fredrik

    Got my Tiger 800 on the 8th of April this year and have up until now ridden it for about 1500 kms.

    I’d just like to add my observation regarding the side stand clearance:

    Up until now I’ve have two rear tires on it, the OEM Pirelli and a relatively new Metzeler Tourance. I’ve worn down the chickenstrips on both of them as well as the front (which still is the OEM Pirelli) and haven’t had any issues at all with the side stand. I have scraped pegs at the track and in a few roundabouts, but never the side stand.

    I’m guessing that it, as written, might be an unfortunate combination of circumstances that contributed to the crash.

    That said: I’m gonna go down tomorrow morning before commencing my morning commute and take a look at my side stand with this particular scenario in mind.

    Thanks for the write up and making us aware of the issue (hope it didn’t cost you a shitload of cash though!).

  • Fredrik

    And when I write 1500 kms I mean 15000 kms. =)

  • cdp2a

    Bikepoint.au has also scraped the side stand on the Tiger 800, they didn’t crash though: http://www.bikepoint.com.au/reviews/2011/adventure-tourers/triumph/triumph-tiger-800-24964
    – I badly want a Tiger 800 and it seems to be the perfect bike for me, but this side stand issue really worries me.

  • cdp2a

    Europe’s largest motorcycle magazine Motorrad http://www.motorradonline.de/ (distributed in several European countries) also had problems with the scraping side stand. They consider it a flaw that they take for granted will be corrected.