Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ride Review: 2014 Triumph Tiger 800


I mentioned recently that my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 has been in the shop as a result of a recall issue. It is still in the shop. Apparently there is a backlog in getting parts out to dealerships and I won't see my bike again until the end of the month.

I would be a lot angrier about all this if it weren't for the fact Fowlers of Bristol gave me a Triumph Tiger 800 to use in the meantime. Different from the current XR/XC model, this is the Tiger 800 that served as something of an economy model from 2010-2015. That is to say, it was less expensive and a little lower spec than the Tiger 800 XC that existed during the same time period.

And certainly there are aspects of the Tiger 800 that give it the feeling of being built to a budget (e.g., suspension). But, overall, this 799cc motorcycle is a lot more fun and thrilling than I would have imagined. My experience with its successor, the Tiger 800 XRx, had been so negative it plummeted my opinion of the entire Triumph brand. This bike, and the hundreds of miles of fun I've put on it, have gone a long way to restoring the British brand's name in my eyes.

Engine

Claiming 94 hp, the Tiger 800's star feature is its springy, powerband-tastic inline triple, which impels you to exceed the speed limit with license-threatening ease. You'll need a whole lot of straight and a healthy tailwind to push the machine past 110 mph, but getting up to 80 comes with relative ease. And staying there is effortless and surprisingly smooth –– no inline four buzzing, no V-twin thrumming.

Unfortunately, 80 mph is not the legal speed limit on motorways in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At legal speeds (70 mph), with the Tiger 800's hard-to-read tachometer hovering near 5,000 rpm, there is a kind of lurching/straining that makes you think you're in too low a gear.

It's not awful, nor is the sensation distracting enough to put you off tackling long stretches of super slab, but there's no doubt the Tiger 800 shines more brightly on country roads. Especially if those roads have curves. Moving up and down the gears is easy enough once the bike warms a little, though the transmission can be a little clunky at the start of a ride. Finding neutral is a challenge in either case.


Throttle response is smooth and makes you wistful for the days before ride-by-wire, while power delivery kicks in strong just below 4,000 rpm. It makes for a happy situation in corners, allowing for confidence in terms of throttle control. And shooting out of those corners gives the sensation of being propelled forward by a giant rubber band. It is a lot of fun, and revving is rewarded with a sharp bark of an exhaust note.

Ridden hard, the Tiger 800 starts to wheeze far sooner than I'd like, but within the boundaries of the law it is fine. And it's probably best to keep it there, since the bike's basic suspension setup discourages aggressive riding.

Ride quality and brakes

Equipped with road tires, the Tiger 800 is designed to never stray from pavement despite its offroad styling. A lot of moto-journalists like to complain about that sort of thing, but I have no problem with it. It makes for a bike that is comfortable and steady on real-world roads.

Though, in the British real world of roads that are repaired only once a century or so, I'd probably like the Tiger 800's suspension to be a little less stiff. Especially since that stiffness doesn't help as much as you'd think in corners. In the bumpy stuff of Wales I found the bike becoming unsettled amid spirited riding, and I was occasionally thrown off my line as a result. I never felt able to trust the bike enough to push as hard as I wanted through a bend.

I can't help but wonder if things wouldn't have been better if Triumph had not decided to equip the Tiger 800 with a 19-inch front tire. Perhaps handling would be more assured if the company had embraced the bike's road-only nature and done as Kawasaki has with its Versys, equipping it with a 17-inch front.

Again, though, the overall feeling of the bike is good. Perhaps it is simply a victim of its own success: the ride quality is so good you're convinced it is capable of being better.

Meanwhile, the dual front discs and single rear disc are a tad soft in an emergency stop, but perfectly fine when riding within the limitations set by other aspects of the bike. The Triumph's standard antilock braking system is unobtrusive enough  that I had to really work to set it off.


I can't find any weight figures for the pre-2015 Tiger 800, but it is noticeably lighter than my 'Strom, making it a hell of a lot easier to muscle around in my garden area. It is not as well-balanced, however, so feet do come down occasionally when crawling around parking lots, and U-turns sometimes run wide.

It is steady enough, though, to make filtering through traffic a simple task –– aided by the overall lightness of the bike and the fact its handlebars are relatively narrow compared to other adventure-styled motorcycles.

Electronics

ABS is the only bit of techno wizardry to be found on the Tiger 800. No riding modes or traction control. No slipper or assisted clutch. By and large, these things are not missed too badly. Though, there were a few instances where traction control would have been helpful.

As mentioned, the ABS is a pretty basic and most riders will never manage to set it off.

Comfort and features

Seat height on the Tiger 800 is a non-adjustable 810mm (31.8 in). That creates a situation that's just a little bit cramped for my long legs, but knee soreness only ever set in after more than 230 continuous miles. The seat itself is plenty comfortable, with enough room to shift around a little over long distances. The passenger seat, too, is comfortable and large enough to accommodate a normal-sized human being (something that can be rare with motorcycle passenger space).

The windscreen is far too small for my liking, both in height and width. My arms, some of my torso, and most of my helmet were left to the elements, so long hauls were a literal pain in the neck. If I owned a Tiger 800, my very first modification would be the addition of a Givi AirFlow windscreen.

I'd also add handguards and heated grips, two features that do not come standard. With these additions, the bike could serve as a decent long-distance machine for someone a little shorter than myself. Though, you may want to avoid particularly toasty locales because the engine puts out a surprising amount of heat on the right side. Even at 80 mph I could feel warmth on my shin.


The Tiger 800's dashboard is impossible to figure out without an owners manual (I didn't have one) and defaults to a display that shows only the estimated number of miles left until empty. An odometer is visible only at startup. I hated this aspect of the bike, especially because the fuel gauge wasn't terribly accurate.

Riding along the motorway one day, I spotted a sign telling me the next fuel stop was 9 miles away. According to the Tiger 800's fuel gauge at that point, I had enough dino juice to go another 50 miles. But when I reached the fuel stop, the gauge was indicating just 12 miles of range.

Another complaint is the absence of hazard lights. That's a tiny qualm, perhaps, but British traffic can sometimes come to a very immediate stop, and hazard lights allow me to communicate more effectively to the vehicles behind me. It seems an odd omission on a bike that has features like a gear indicator and fuel gauge.

The mirrors are decent, though inclined to move. Headlights deliver a decently bright, though not as brilliant as I would have expected considering there are two.

Practicality

There's no doubt the Tiger 800 is a solid all-rounder. It filters well through city traffic and is steady on the motorway. It's all-day comfortable while being delightful (within its limits) on twisty roads. I'm a big fan of do-all motorcycles because I don't have the funds to own more than one. My experience with this Tiger 800 has been generally positive enough that I would be willing to give its successor, the Tiger 800 XR, another chance.

Absence of a center stand makes cleaning and oiling the chain an utter pain, though. Which is frustrating in light of other features that show someone at Triumph was really thinking when they designed this bike. Replacing the headlight bulbs, for example, could not be easier. And angled valve stems aid in making sure it's easy to maintain correct tire pressure.

As my pictures show, there are plenty of bits to hook a bungee cord to, and a small luggage rack comes standard.

Fuel economy is decent. Exactly how decent is hard to say due to the fact the fuel gauge is unreliable and the dash doesn't show an odometer when riding. But I was able to travel 200 miles on a single tank at one point.


Build quality

Looking closely at this bike, I think it's fair to say that in the 6,000 miles that had been racked up before it came into my possession, the bike had never been washed, the chain had never been cleaned, and the oil had never been changed. It's a loaner bike and Fowlers and Fowlers customers haven't been exactly loving.

I put roughly 1,000 miles on the bike during its month in my possession, attempting to clean and oil the chain out of sympathy but otherwise putting no effort into its maintenance or care.

In light of all that abuse, I'd say the build quality of the Tiger 800 is really, really good. The header pipes were showing rust but everything else looked and functioned as you would expect. The bike started every time and ran well.

Verdict

I realize beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I'm simply not able to get over just how ugly the Tiger 800 is. Up close, examining every little feature, things only get worse. It is, hands down, the most aesthetically unpleasant motorcycle I have ever encountered.

That's a shame because it is otherwise a very good bike. Durable, reliable and fun, it is a far better motorcycle than I had expected. With the addition of some basic aftermarket parts it could easily serve as all the motorcycle you'd ever need.

The Three Questions:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The Tiger 800 fits into the exact same class as the Suzuki V-Strom 1000. It's a do-all, go-everywhere bike and it fits easily in my shed.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I had a lot of fun during my time with the Tiger 800 and really enjoyed the opportunity to rip it all over Wales and Southern England. The springing nature of its power delivery was particularly enjoyable.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
No. Despite my deep frustration at Suzuki for the situation that led to my having the Tiger 800, I still prefer my 'Strom. My bike doesn't wheeze at high speed, its suspension is far better, its brakes are better, the dashboard is more useful, it's more comfortable, it's better balanced, and it's better set up to tackle long distances. Additionally, it has traction control and a slipper clutch. Beyond that, though, there are certain aspects that I've simply come to prefer. I think it looks better. I like the V-twin feel and the stronger engine braking that entails. I like the snappier throttle response. And I prefer the snarl it makes under acceleration.

6 comments:

  1. Anyone spot that I finally figured out how to use my photo-editing software?

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  2. I've spotted that you take 90% of your photos of the left hand side of a bike.....

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  3. If you like the snarl, why not add an aftermarket exhaust? I had a two brothers on my weestrom, and it sounded brilliant!

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  4. Hi Chris, 
    As the owner of a 2014 Tiger 800, I would like to point out a couple of errors.

    First, the estimated miles to empty is not displayed by default, until you are down to your last gallon or so. It is easily switched back to miles traveled using the lower of the two buttons. The owner's manual can be found online for free. 

    Second, I am still waiting for you to notice the accessory plug that you complained the 2015 XRx did not have (it's right next to the ignition on both Tigers).

    Third, and most egregious, is calling it "hands down, the most aesthetically unpleasant motorcycle I have ever encountered."
    You cannot back this up, Chris. You've ridden the Explorer! And that Victory cruiser with the fairing shaped like a jockstrap! I cannot see from what angle the V-Strom looks better than the Tiger, but it doesn't bother me. Looks are not a big marketing tool for adventure bikes.

    But you see, my mule don't like people laughing. She gets the crazy idea you're laughin' at her. Now if you apologize, like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you really didn't mean it.

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    Replies
    1. It is ugly. It looks like it was designed by a committee that had been put together at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon. Sorry. I know the truth can be painful sometimes. But if you love your bike, who cares what I think?

      You're right that there is an accessory socket, but at least with the Tiger 800 I had, one needed a special plug. I couldn't plug in my GPS.

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  5. Why no Kawasaki rides or reviews? Don't have them in the UK?

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