There was once a time when BMW's R1200GS was the default adventure bike, and to this day nothing much has changed. But what say you want to spend less money, or don't need a 1200cc dual purpose machine? That's where motorcycles like Triumph's Tiger 800 make sense. Blessed with a 800cc triple cylinder, there's enough power and torque for all eventualities, and there are models oriented more for road (the XR) or for adventure riding (the XC).
We always liked the Triumph Tiger 800 twins, which exceed expectations, which is something that doesn't often happen. The taller all-road-ready Triumph Tiger 800 XC proved the more popular, mainly because it better conveyed the potential for off-road adventures with its larger 21-inch front wheel, and long travel suspension. Here was a motorcycle that, with a bit of luggage, looked like it might tackle a global circumnavigation at a moment's notice.
In the interim the adventure bike sector has grown considerably with many new entrants, while mimics – motorcycles that look as if they might go troppo at any moment, but can't – have also become the rage. Triumph has therefore undertaken a significant makeover of the Tiger 800 range, adding ride-by-wire functionality, the result being the engine is now 17 percent more fuel efficient, smoother, and more responsive, but not more power. Expect a touring range of roughly 450 kilometers on a full fuel tank.
There are also transmission updates, new styling cues, and added specification like switchable ABS (with off-road mode), traction control (defeatable), four engine modes (sport, rain, road, off-road), and even cruise control which is fast becoming the must-have item on motorcycles designed for long haul touring.
These items, among others, are fitted to two new upmarket models, the XCx and XRx, with minor specification differences for the pair. The taller XCx, already with a reputation as one of the most comfortable distance mounts around, gets a White Power suspension upgrade, giving it additional off-road capabilities. The company is also adding another two models, based on the above, but with extra features like seats, LED foglights, pannier rails and additional power outlets.
It's the more expensive Triumph Tiger 800 XCx we've been riding and along with the aforementioned features this version also gets handguards, auto-cancelling indicators, an aluminum sump guard and engine protection bars. There's an auxiliary 12 volt power socket on board which we were excited about using for our timing gear, but alas it was incompatible. Never mind, it's a thoughtful accessory.
The new Triumph models get no extra power per se and as a result the Triumph Tiger 800XCx produced an almost identical acceleration time but previously we had not tested emergency stopping distances. Now with ABS standard, we were stunned to achieve a best of 38.71 meters, truly amazing given the Tiger 800XCx uses such a skinny 90/90-21 front tire. The slight rearward weight bias means the back brake contributes significantly to stopping power.
At 232 kilograms wet it's as heavy as the Triumph Tiger 1050, and that's noticeable in close-quarter off-road situations, and also when manoeuvring it by hand. Being lofty it isn't easy to mount; best to swing a leg over with the sidestand down. Seat height is easily adjustable, but it's probably not really suitable for smaller persons. The riding position is roomy, open and comfy, with just a slight lean forward to the wide handlebars. Seat comfort is good too, though the shape tends to force you forward near to the fuel tank's trailing edge. Still, it's plush enough that a day ride wouldn't be out of the question.
And it is also the kind of motorcycle you might actually want to undertake day rides on. Now that the weather is reliably unreliable, it's a bonus riding motorcycles with a little weather protection. You might not think the Tiger 800XCx offers much but we rode the motorcycle through plenty of wet weather and scarcely got wet. Your knees tuck in behind the wide fuel tank and are sheltered from the weather while the screen and handguards keep most of your upper body dry as well.
But that's not the best bit. As before, the powertrain is what makes this motorcycle special, only now more so, with abundant low end and midrange authority, It pulls cleanly from such subterranean revs that we wondered whether sixth gear along was sufficient for our whole trip. Most of the time the long stroke triple cylinder engine lugged as low as 40km/h in sixth without a whimper. And its 71kW torque power is sufficient for touring, unless you're used to a 200 horsepower monster. The smoothness of the engine is something else too, the big mirrors only ever crystal clear. Pity about the engine whistle though; it's loud. The sweet exhaust note above about 5,000rpm compensates partly.
Helping enrich the three-pot experience is an updated gearbox that shifts in buttery fashion, with a lightweight clutch and lever action. The brakes aren't quite on a par with more modern radial-mount items but do the trick and both levers are adjustable, as is the White Power suspension. We raved about how comfy the original was and this is equally sumptuous, flattening lumps and bumps on conventional roads like they're not even there. The tires work well enough in the dry, but feel squirmy in the wet, while the chassis oozes in-turn stability.