The 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has spent this past summer as my instructor bike (both on-street and off-road), sport tourer and general go-to machine. After putting almost 9,000 miles on the ODO since March, I can now offer an in-depth review of this bike.
As a contributor to Motorcyclist Magazine and lead instructor at Tony’s Track Days, I have the opportunity to ride lots of different motorcycles. However, I get only a short amount of time in the saddle of these bikes.
During a on-day press launch or track session I get immediate impressions of power delivery, suspension compliance, fit and finish and ergonomics, but that’s about it. After putting 9k on the Tiger in all sorts of conditions I can share a comprehensive review.
Why the Tiger?
The Tiger is versatile! It is capable of crossing the country, commuting, scratching around at a track day and riding on some pretty gnarly dirt roads and trails. While the 800 is a Swiss army knife, it is a compromise. The Tiger is a fun street bike that can keep up with most supersport bikes in the hands of a good rider at reasonable speeds. It is also a comfortable traveler that can handle a decent load of luggage and even a passenger.
As an off-road mount, it is best suited to mostly graded fire roads, but is surprisingly capable managing rocky trails. As with all heavy ADV bikes, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re getting into. I tackled a rather steep and rocky bit of single track trail that I handle easily with my KLX250s, but was a handful on the Tiger. I made it, but it coulda been ugly if I had fallen, since I was alone with no cell service.
The Tiger encourages discovery. The Tiger expands the number of places I can ride, by a huge margin. The 800 is totally at home navigating the many unimproved roads and tight paved byways that snake through Western Massachusetts where I live. I can ride 100 miles of mostly dirt roads and stay within one hour of my house! Lucky me.
There are other machines that also fit the bill; the BMW F800GS, Kawasaki KLR, the super-sized BMW R1200 GS or the new and awesome 2016 Tiger 1200 Explorer. I chose the Tiger 800 for it’s features, lighter weight and reasonable.
Why the Roadie Version and not the XCx?
I debated getting the more off-road worthy, spoke wheeled and taller XCx. But, I opted for the Road version (XRx) because I thought the bike would be spending 90% of its time on pavement. I also knew that the XR would be more than capable of the dirty riding I planned to tackle.
Since I am spending more time off-road than I expected, I probably should have gone with the XC. The XC is perfectly capable of long street miles and more importantly, it comes with adjustable WP suspension. Also, the XC comes with many of the things I’m ending up buying for the XR anyway, including engine, sump and radiator guards. Also, the spoked wheels and the 21 inch front wheel are more off-road friendly and more durable. Although, I’m happy to not have tube tires.
Here’s a long video review of the Tiger.
Let’s break down the review into components.
I love the power characteristics of the three-cylinder motor (based on the Street Triple motor). It has a nice combination of spunk and character with just the right kind and amount of vibration that tells you you’re straddling a machine. The vibes are never annoying. As a matter of fact, the bike is surprisingly smooth…smoother than my 2012 Street Triple R.
The whistling/snarling sound of the motor is unique. While an aftermarket exhaust will decrease weight and make for a nice sonic impression, I am perfectly happy with the way the stocker looks and sounds. Besides, I’m a proponent of quiet exhausts and I have better things to spend my money on. Read about all the accessories I put on the Tiger.
The triple is a terrific street engine, but it’s not so well suited as an off-road motor. It’s a bit too RPM-needy compared to a twin, like a F800GS. While the motor is easily controllable, it doesn’t exactly plod along the way you need an off-road motor to do from time to time. I found the Explorer 1200 to be better at slow speed plodding than the 800, partly because the ample torque was always on tap, whereas the 800 needs some revs. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is the one area where a BMW might be a better choice.
The engine has given me zero trouble, and if my Striple is any indicator, it will be reliable as a stone.
As far as power delivery goes, the ride-by-wire throttle is super-light and takes some getting used to. When I first got the bike, I struggled to calibrate my right hand to keep the throttle steady. I’ve since learned to manage the sensitive throttle just fine, but I wish there was a simple way to increase throttle tube resistance.
Part of the reason the light throttle isn’t a big problem is because the fueling is very good. One of my pet peeves is snatchy fueling and this is a big reason why I rejected the FJ-09 as a contender. One area where the Tiger’s fueling falls short is when descending long hills, the fueling “hunts” while decelerating under engine braking. It’s not that bad, but it annoys me.
The Tiger comes with Traction Control (TTC) that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full TTC, whereas Off-Road mode allows more wheel slip. Sometimes even the Off-Road TC can intervene too much when climbing rocky or washboard surfaces. Thankfully you can turn it off. See more about Rider Modes below.
Clutch and Transmission
The clutch is light and progressive for easy launches and the transmission is flawless (it is sourced from the Daytona). I can launch smoothly from a stop and perform clutchless upshifts with ease. The ratios are just fine for street riding with the engine spinning around 5k in top gear at highway speeds, allowing plenty of zip when accelerating. The clutch lever is adjustable and neutral is easy to find. Not much more to say.
The twin piston Nissin brakes are nothing special. They aren’t radial mount 4 piston units found on higher end machines like the Street Triple R, so they don’t provide exceptional feel and aren’t terribly powerful, but they don’t need to be. Instead, they are well-suited for the mission of slowing a 500 pound ADV bike with predictability and control.
The Tiger comes with ABS that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full front and rear ABS, whereas Off-Road mode disables ABS at the rear wheel and allows more wheel slip in the front. I don’t fully disable ABS. I like ABS.
The front brake lever is adjustable for reach and of course you can rotate the perch on the tubular handlebar to get the right angle for your primary use. I position my lever slightly low for street riding (sitting), but it ends up being a bit too high when standing off-road.
The rear brake has decent power and control and the pedal has a step up on the inner edge to allow easy use when standing up. Just rotate your right foot inward (pigeon toe) to use the tab.
The foot pegs are positioned perfectly for sitting and standing. The peg size is broad enough for reasonable comfort and stability when standing. The rubber inserts can be removed by simply pulling them off. This helps for off-road conditions where you need the metal serrated teeth to grip into your boot soles. Getting them back on takes some fussing.
The Tiger has one strange design flaw. Surprisingly, the passenger pegs are mounted to frame brackets that are welded to the non-removable subframe. This means that a tipover or crash could break the bracket and ruin the whole frame. The Explorer 1200 has bolt-on passenger peg brackets.
The pegs are located low enough for all sensible street riding, but are a bit low for more extreme cornering. I rode the Tiger at a track day at Loudon and after a few sessions of grinding the peg feelers, I removed them.
The forks are the weak link in this bike. As I mentioned earlier, I really wish I had the adjustable WP suspension. It’s not that the non-adjustable upside down Showa forks are lousy, it’s just that I’m a bit of a suspension princess and non-compliant suspension really annoys me.
The bike manages bumpy roads and off-road surfaces just fine and is always stable, in control, and handles nicely in corners. So, what’s the problem? Well, the forks tend to jackhammer over ripples and small bumps on smooth pavement. Either the forks have a lot of static friction (Stiction) or the compression damping is too high to allow the forks to respond to these small irregularities.
Off-road, the suspension is great. It manages sharp rocks fine at a moderate pace and handles front wheel lofting, but expect serious bottoming if you plan to do any sweet jumps. At the Yankee Beemers Rally, I participated in the grass Moto-Gymkhana where the fast perimeter course included a jump and the inevitible landing. Also, the landing off the teeter totter resulted in significant seismic activity.
I mentioned ABS and TC settings above, but there are also Power Delivery (MAP) Modes to discuss. The Tiger has 4 MAP Modes: Rain, Road, Sport and Off-Road. See the pages from the Owner’s Manual on the right for details about how they differ.
To change various modes you have to reach to press the “M” button on the dash and then close the throttle and squeeze the clutch for it to take. FYI, the off-road mode will revert back to the last road mode if you turn off the key, which is why I often shut off the bike using the kill switch if I’m going to stop for a minute to, say, take a photo.
Frankly, I could do without the MAP modes. Sure, there is a slight difference between each mode, but it’s subtle. I tend to keep the bike in Road Mode most of the time, even in the rain, and the Off-road MAP seems no different than the Road MAP. The fueling on the Tiger is so well sorted that I find it unnecessary to switch to a “softer” setting.
And the “Sport” MAP is not really that much sharper than the road mode. I would not consider the base XR, because I couldn’t do without adjustable/switchable TC for off-road riding.
The Tiger features the ideal comfort package; high tubular handlebars that are adjustable for angle and height; a “Comfort” seat that is one of the best I’ve used; great legroom. Yet, I’ve never had more trouble being comfortable on a motorcycle.The thing is that I get a nasty cramp between my shoulder blades almost immediately.
I added Rox risers, rotated the bars in every conceivable way, with no improvement. It was only recently that I determined that it is my personal anatomy to blame. Not only is my hunchback posture a likely problem, but also I broke my collarbone last year which seems to have messed up my symmetry enough to cause this cramping. The cure is to stretch the pecs to regain the symmetry and strengthen my upper back. Stay tuned.
When standing, the side panels at the rear/bottom of the tank cause my knees to splay out more than I like. This causes a slight imbalance that I have to make up for with my arms and back, which is tiring after about 6 or 8 miles of rough off-road terrain. The Explorer 1200 is better because the area where the seat meets the tank is narrower.
The Tiger 800 is a tall bike. Its adjustable seat height is 33″ at its low setting and 33.8 ” at the higher setting. (a Low seat version is available with a range of 31.1″ and 31.9″). I am 5′ 9″ with a 32″ inseam and am able to touch with both feet touching.
Electronic cruise control is cool. It’s useful on highway trips and when I want to zip a vent with my right hand without stopping. However, I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s very easy to use and works perfectly, though. Pro Tip: use the rear brake to disengage the cruise control to avoid the abrupt deceleration that occurs if you twist the throttle off to shut it off.
The Adjustable Windscreen works really well for me. Some people complain that it wobbles a lot and doesn’t manage wind as well as they’d like. I have no problems at all with the stocker. The screen is moderately adjustable, but not too much, so I added an adjustable MRA Spoiler blade, which makes the stock shield more versatile.
Accessories and Luggage
The stock Metzeler Tourance Next tires are fine for most people. I did a track day on them and they stuck, but delivered very little feel. This is expected because a 90/10 tire is designed to handle the rigors of rocks and such and is typically stiff with less emphasis on pavement performance.
For the last 6,000 miles, I’ve been rocking the 50/50 Mitas E-07. I wrote a review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and allow me to go places I never thought I could. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.
How is it to Ride?
Slow speed Maneuvers
The Tiger is mostly easy to ride but is cumbersome at a standstill. Once you get the bike rolling at about 5 mph, then all is well, but as soon as you go below that speed, the bike turns into an awkward, top heavy beast. Unlike ADV bikes with a lower center of gravity, the Tiger carries it’s weight up high. The engine is mounted high to give ground clearance. Mounting the 5.3 gallon fuel tank on top of that doesn’t help. This all makes for a bike that wants to topple over at standstill. It doesn’t help that I have a top box and tankbag.
That doesn’t mean the bike can’t do tight U-turns. It absolutely can. You just have to get up to at least 3- 5 mph and keep it there. 7 mph is better. The higher speed means you have to lean the bike over more to tighten your arc without slowing down. Learn how to ride slowly by reading this article.
The Tiger is an absolute hoot on dirt roads and dual-track trails. I’ve done some bony hill climbs and rocky descents and tackled terrain I didn’t think possible on a 500+ pound motorcycle. But, the sheer size of the bike makes me a chicken when riding in sand, slimy muck and deep loose gravel. The fact is that the high weight causes the front tire to plow into the soft surface. The solution is to be on the gas. That’s why big ADV bikes tend to struggle when descending and are better at ascending where you’re on the gas.
The problem is that all that weight has inertia that will get you into trouble real quick if it starts heading in the wrong direction. A mistake on a 250 pound dirt bike can go almost unnoticed, but not with these ADV beasts.
Stay away from really mucky, loose terrain and you’ll have a blast. Oh, and be sure to ride with friends in case you get horizontal. And learn how to pick up your bike by yourself, as well. I strongly recommend you get some off-road training before venturing off road on your ADV machine.
The Tiger is a little bit dirt bike and a little bit sport bike. Even with the 50/50 tires, I can pretty much keep with any sportbike ridden by an average rider. I had a great time on Deal’s Gap and at a track day. While it has it’s limits, the bike railed through the turns with good stability and decent precision. The 19″ front wheel helps with high speed pavement stability compared with the 21″ front wheel on the XC.
The Tiger 800XRx has proven to be a terrific motorcycle that has expanded my riding immensely. I hunt for roads that I’ve always wondered where they went; roads I never would have ventured on with the Sprint. I’m happy that I own the Tiger and will always have an Adventure bike in my garage.
I did a bit of two-up riding with my wife, Caroline while in NC. We decided to spend a day doing the “Gravelhala” that mostly parallels the Cherohala Skyway. Since her z750s wasn’t a great off road bike, she jumped on the back and we took off. Overall, Caroline liked the flat, wide seat and the large grab rails. The rubber footpegs we nice, too. She really enjoyed having the top box to lean against for the bit of road riding we did together. Overall, it’s a good mount for a passenger.
Check out these posts:
- Adventure Accessories for the Triumph Tiger 800
- Product Review: TCX X-Desert Boots
- Product Review: Pirelli Trail II (Motorcyclist)
- KLX250s Upgraded and Accessorized
- Street Triple R Gets Accessorized
- Triumph Street Triple R Review
- How to Ride a Motorcycle Slowly
- #1 Reason for Motorcycle Crashes in Corners
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