The Tiger is the only three-cylinder bike in its class, yet it's no wider across the lumpy bits than its major competitor, the parallel-twin BMW F800 GS.
The Tiger is the only three-cylinder bike in its class, yet it's no wider across the lumpy bits than its major competitor, the parallel-twin BMW F800 GS.
The seating position is well-nigh perfect, with the rider's weight equally balanced between seat, pegs and bars.
The seating position is well-nigh perfect, with the rider's weight equally balanced between seat, pegs and bars.
The saddle is broad, deeply padded and perfectly shaped to support the rider without putting pressure on the pelvic bones.
The saddle is broad, deeply padded and perfectly shaped to support the rider without putting pressure on the pelvic bones.

It's no secret that dual-purpose machines can be among the most comfortable long-haul bikes on the planet; the long-travel suspension and deeply-padded saddles so necessary for the dirt also make the better ones all-day comfortable on the tar.

Which has led to the invention of a whole new genre, beginning with the BMW R80GS in 1980 - the adventure tourer.

And Triumph's new Tiger 800 is definitely one of the better ones - once you're aboard. The bike I was riding was the more off-road orientated of the two derivatives, the 800XC with spoked wheels, 21” front rim and 845mm saddle height - on the lower of its two settings.

Behind the rider's perch, however, there's a slightly higher pillion squab and an even higher carrier, flanked by two very solid grab handles sticking outwards and upwards. To throw a leg over the XC you have to throw it (as the cowboys say) high, wide and handsome - but you get used to it, after you've bruised your kneecap a few times.

Once you're on the move it's astonishingly comfortable. The saddle is broad, deeply padded and perfectly shaped to support the rider without putting pressure on the pelvic bones - and there's no problem putting your feet flat on the ground because the bike's midsection is very narrow.

The seating position is well-nigh perfect; the choice of the lower (845mm) or higher (865mm) seat mountings depends on your personal geometry. Either way, the rider's weight is equally balanced between seat, pegs and bars, sitting almost upright with arms relaxed, enjoying commanding all-round visibility. It's one of the few that qualify for the accolade “all-day comfort”, and the ride from the long-travel Showa suspension, (220mm at each end) is plush almost to the point of remoteness.

My partner later complained that she was twice bucked right out of the saddle of my 650cc sports bike (which she had borrowed for the ride) on our bumpy test track while I just sat back at a steady 90km/h and admired the scenery.

The neat, quite thick screen looks pretty solid but in fact it's supported by very amateurish, floppy, rubber-mounted brackets. It's standard factory issue but looks like an aftermarket accessory and makes a very bad initial impression; I had to support the screen very carefully from behind to avoid cracking it when polishing it for the photographs.

Nevertheless, it does a fine job of keeping the wind off your chest without buffeting your head and doesn't seem to move round much even at terminal velocity.

The Tiger is the only three-cylinder bike in its class, yet it's no wider across the lumpy bits than its major competitor, the parallel-twin BMW F800 GS. The engine design owes much to its 675 sibling but is in fact nearly all new - Triumph insists the only parts carried over are the cylinder head and 44mm Keihin throttle bodies.

As on the 675, in the interests of compactness the gearbox is vertically stacked like a Yamaha R-series bike with the shift drum at the top, as far away from the lubricant supply as it can be and stay inside the casings. Yet the gearbox is superb, the lever throw very short, and changes in both directions as crisp as breaking glass. Yamaha please note, it can be done.

There was no discernable lash in the final drive, but the test bike was very new and there might be some later.

The engine suffers from a distinct flat spot just off idle (I stalled the test bike more than once before I got used to it) but pulls smoothly once above 2000rpm and will happily rumble along at 3000rpm in top gear - that's about 60km/h.

After that, the harder you rev it the better it goes; the meat of the power band is between 6000-9000rpm, peak power (70kW) at 9300 and the red line at 9800. The engine sings a typically melodious Triumph song, just like my partner's 1998 885cc Sprint, but above 6500rpm it becomes more insistent and a faint secondary vibration sets in (despite the presence of a balance shaft) as if to warn you that things are now Getting Serious.

Shifting at 9500rpm, the bike accelerates hard enough to hit 165km/h from a standing start in less than 300m but the power is never intimidating, probably because its delivery is so linear. True top speed was 195 km/h at 9550rpm with 199 showing on the digital speedometer - an error of only two percent.

Fuel consumption measured out at 7.1 litres/100km, good enough for more than 250km on a 19-litre thankful although, in typical Triumph fashion, it starts asking for a visit to the gas station long before that.

The bike is perfectly stable running flat out but the steering, although fairly slow, is very sensitive to rider input (probably due to the wide handlebars and narrow front tyre) and makes the ride a little twitchy at high speeds.

Handling, once you get used to the light steering, is easy, predictable and confidence-inspiring; I went over the ride and handling section of our standard test route faster than I have on some sports bikes. Ground clearance, of course, is to all intents and purposes unlimited.

It's also dead steady right down to walking pace - more than once I made a U-turn in a narrow street without putting my feet down - which makes it a superb commuter.

The brake callipers are old-fashioned, high-maintenance sliding units but deliver unexpectedly fierce initial bite - especially in front - followed by strong but easily modulated braking force. That's just as well, as the front tyre can be made to push if you brake too enthusiastically, too late, into tight corners.

ABS is available for an extra R5000, although the test bike didn't have it.

The “Tiger cub” (its older, 1050cc sibling is strictly a tar-only cat) is sure-footed and relaxed on gravel, plonking along at about 60km/h at 3000rpm with enough torque in hand that I didn't have to change down for gentle upslopes.

The test bike was fitted with “touring” tyres (what we used to call trials universals) so I was wary of more ambitious off-road work but some gentle green-laning near my home confirmed that the suspension is as good off-road as it is on the tar, the bike is comfortable and controllable when you're standing on the 'pegs and - like all its competitors - it's a handful in sand.

Certainly, if shod with appropriate rubber, it has the potential to be Hinckley's most adventurous adventure tourer yet.

BOTTOM LINE:

The Tiger 800XC is the quintessential go-anywhere bike - it'll take you to work all week without making you feel like a bull in a china shop and to the back of beyond at weekends in comfort and confidence.

And that's the essence of adventure touring: if you don't have confidence in your equipment - stay home.

Price: R104 500.

Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.

PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE:

Times have indeed changed: Less than 15 years ago my partner's 885cc Triumph Sprint was regarded as a big sports-tourer; now the Tiger, only 86cc smaller, 12kg lighter and with the same number of cylinders, is a midweight dual-purpose tourer.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 799cc liquid-cooled three.

Bore x stroke: 74 x 61.9mm.

Compression ratio: 12.0:1.

Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 70kW at 9300rpm.

Torque: 79Nm at 7850.

Induction: Electronic fuel-injection with three 44 Keihin single-injector throttle bodies.

Ignition: Digital inductive via electronic engine management system.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.

Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by belt.

Front Suspension: Showa 45mm inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.

Rear Suspension: Showa monoshock with piggyback reservoir adjustable for preload and rebound damping.

Front brakes: Dual 308mm disks with Nissin dual-piston floating callipers.

Rear brake: 255mm disc with Nissin single-piston floating calliper.

Front tyre: 90/90 - 21 tubeless.

Rear tyre: 150/70 - 17 tubeless.

Wheelbase: 1568mm.

Seat height: 845-865mm.

Kerb weight: 215kg.

Fuel tank: 19 litres.

Price: R104 500.

Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.