In a segment of do-it-all motorcycles, the Triumph Tiger 800 seems to do everything better
Triumph's Tiger motorbike a worthy adventure tourer
I am an old man. Despite constant exercise, minimal alcohol intake and a diet so monastic it would have given a Spartan warrior a sugar craving, my bones always feel their age. Bending, whether to pick up the computer mouse I just fumbled to the floor or leaning over to a sport bike's clip-on handlebars, is not something that makes my joints happy. My mattress is especially firm, I ingest painkillers like they're Pez and, whenever I have a choice of motorcycles, I always opt for an adventure tourer.
Once a fringe segment populated mostly by BMW's then-considered-quirky GS series, adventure tourers are truly the sport utility vehicles of the two-wheeled set. Styled as if they will spend all their time slithering around in mud and bog, their actual use runs the gamut from long-distance touring with cargo area (or saddlebags in the case of bikes) stuffed to the gunwales to alternatives to pure sports machines. Indeed, the great thing about an adventure bike is that the same machine, assuming you buy a good one, can tour like a Gold Wing, scratch like a Ducati and potter around town like a scooter.
The basic ingredient that gives an adventure tourer what the French so aptly label polyvalence is the upright seating position. Climb aboard a Tiger 800, for instance, and you're sitting bolt upright, handlebar grips in a perfectly natural, comfortable position. Said handlebar is, dirt-bike-style, quite wide, so there's plenty of leverage when you're flicking back and forth on some twisty road. The footpegs are mounted relatively low, certainly compared with a sports bike, so there's none of the cramping - at least for old fogeys - associated with high, rear-positioned pegs. The seat is broad (it's also adjustable 20mm for height) so it's comfortable. And it's also flat so that, when you're trying to make miles, you can move around a bit, finding a different part of your tushie to abuse as you try to put away another full tank of petrol before the sun goes down.
And, if you're designing the perfect adventure tourer, you want a powerful engine, but one without the peakiness associated with supersports machinery. If you're Triumph, you take the best engine you produce - the 675cc triple that powers the wonderfully sporty 675R, and then stroke it by to 61.9mm. Punching it out with this 9.6mm increase in stroke rather than going the more common route of throwing in bigger pistons results in more mid-range torque, just the kind of power adventure tourers love.
Indeed, the defining characteristic of the Tiger's 799cc triple is its outsized mid-range torque. Mid-sized motorcycle engines aren't supposed to be this grunty. By 4,000rpm, it's pulling strong and does so all the way to 8,500rpm. Unlike some earlier Triumphs, the electronic fuel injection system is also perfectly calibrated, there being none of the abruptness that comes from fuelling tailored more to emissions reduction than throttle response.
Triumph's triple is also a glorious-sounding engine. Though suitably subdued on its stock exhaust system, there's a great rasp out the exhaust pipes on over-run at about 6,000rpm - a sound that's noticeably different from the common inline-four motorcycle engine. If you need stronger audio cues, Triumph offers accessory exhausts as well with, shall we say, a "fruitier" tone.
Finally, the darned thing is impossibly frugal; even hooning about at an almost-legal 140kph saw the bike averaging nearly 5.6L/100km.
As for the handling, while it is noticeably different from a traditional sport bike - the 19-inch semi-knobbly front tyre sees to that - it is less a condemnation than a choice. Combined with that wide handlebar, the Tiger (indeed, all adventure tourers) emphasises steering neutrality rather than outright grip and lean angle. It's just so easy to rifle down a twisty English lane that one doesn't miss clip-on handlebars or semi-slick tyres. By the time you've exceeded the Tiger's limits, someone with a flashing light is chasing you.
Issues with the Tiger are few. The windscreen is a too small for serious wind deflection on the motorway. Triumph does offer an optional taller screen (as well as hard saddlebags and a rear topcase for Gold Wing-like luggage capacity), but it still isn't wide enough. I suspect the aftermarket will solve this problem in short order, if it hasn't already.
The other fault - and it's one of those minor issues that can sometime turn into a big deal - is the Tiger's turning radius. So light and well-balanced does the Tiger feel that you could easily make extremely sharp turns (in parking lots, etc) were it not for the its overeager steering stops. The fork stops turning way too early and I found myself cursing, knowing that I could have easily turned around for yet another missed roundabout.
Nonetheless, the new Tiger 800 is an outstanding motorcycle and jumps to the top of my queue. People are always asking me what motorcycle I would buy were I not blessed with free motorcycles at my beck and call. You're looking at it.
Unfortunately, there is no Triumph dealer in the UAE, but the Tiger is available at Alfardan Motorcycles in Doha, Qatar, for about Dh47,500.