Riding the Suzuki V-Strom 650 a few months ago, followed by a 1200-mile, 5-day tour of Yorkshire on my Street Triple R, further reinforced my belief that my perfect two-up touring/commuting motorcycle might well be found in the modern-day Adventure Tourer. I felt sure that I wanted to have the upright seating position for all-day comfort, wide bars for low-speed control and tall windshield for long-haul weather protection. Visiting my local Triumph dealer recently to get a closer look at the critically-acclaimed Explorer, I was surprised to realise that I’d completely forgotten Triumph’s own hybrid street bike: the Tiger Sport. Evolved from the more road-biased 1050 Tiger, Triumph had decided to let the Tiger 800 and Explorer handle the pseudo-off-road duties and had further focussed the 1050 into a tall, sporty road bike, fully equipped with the brand’s excellent hard luggage. Time to give it a go then…
First impressions are that I’ve seen that engine before – it’s the same 3-cylinder lump that currently powers the Speed Triple and Sprint GT. It’s a mildly revised version of the 955cc triple Triumph introduced to the world in the Daytona T595, and unfortunately its age is starting to show. I’ve been of the opinion for quite a while that the powerplant is due for retirement, and whilst the Tiger Sport is definitely a better platform to make use of it than the Sprint, by today’s standards it’s still a slow-revving, underwhelming engine.
It’s possible that I’ve been spoilt by the crisp response of the smaller 675cc engine in my Street Triple, but the Tiger feels somehow sluggish. It certainly builds speed deceptively quickly – you’ll never find yourself torn off the back, but glancing at the speedo will usually surprise you into backing off a little bit. One reason for this is that it never sounds fast – smaller engines scream, and other large-capacity engines tend to roar. This one just sort of grumbles along, even with the Arrow exhaust system fitted to my test bike.
The gearbox is another disappointment. Someone at Triumph decided to mount the gear-change lever so far inboard of the footpegs that I had to twist my foot every time I wanted to change gear. The shifter itself is heavy and clunky, and although I got used to it eventually it still felt like a machine from an earlier era. I quickly got used to what initially felt like a heavy clutch too, but switching back to my feather-light Street Triple later on showed what a difference a decade of development makes. A hydraulic clutch would have improved matters.
Restyled for the Sport with new, improved headlights, the half-fairing does the trick when it comes to keeping wind off your chest and lower arms, but my head and shoulders were exposed to an uncomfortable amount of buffeting above 60mph. My test model was fitted with the Triumph tall screen option, so either a really tall one is needed, or perhaps it’s better to give up on any hopes for true adventure-style weather protection and stick with the standard screen. Clean air is better than turbulent air any day, even in the rain.
Despite its sumptuous appearance, the seat was extremely uncomfortable, even after a short while. Something about the design (or maybe just my short, stubby arms) means you get squished right up against the tank, sitting on a very narrow piece of foam. I daresay the profile was chosen to maximise the number of riders able to touch the ground – this is, after all, quite a tall bike. It’s also a pretty damn good looking one, from most angles – the redesigned front fairing and single-sided swingarm really help the bike look premium, and the hard luggage clips right on, with no scaffolding in sight. A clever cable system allows the panniers to swing in situ, theoretically helping to stop buffeting and cornering forces on the cases from affecting the handling.
Speaking of handling, the Tiger’s…not bad. Brakes are pretty good, the same radial-mount Nissins from the Street Triple R, but stopping a more top-heavy, weightier load in this application. The extra mass blunts their effectiveness, giving a somewhat wooden feel at the lever. The same theme follows through to everything about the handling, in fact – 235kg is quite a bit for anything with the word “Sport” in the name, and the Triumph carries its mass up high. It doesn’t feel heavy in the same way that a Trophy does, and the forks turn in and hold a line well enough, but as soon as you start to up the pace the chassis begins to struggle very quickly. You can feel the frame flex and wobble underneath you, the rear seeming to hop sideways when lent over on bumpy surfaces, whittling away at your confidence. There are plenty of adjustments to make both front and back, but I lacked the time or expertise to have a go during my test.
All over the bike are hints that even Triumph knows this chassis and powertrain are due for replacement. The restyled bodywork is nice, and I’m always a fan of built-in pannier fastenings, but here they look somewhat tacked on, as though the priority was ensuring that the bike could be built with the same jigs and tooling as the old Tiger 1050. The heated grips work, but their optional dealer-fitted switch is difficult to use (middle position means off!?) and aesthetically they’re far, far worse than some aftermarket options a quarter of the price.
The switchgear is upgraded, featuring an additional set of buttons to cycle through the dashboard, which is certainly better than trying to reach the clocks when riding, but the buttons can be somewhat sluggish and unintuitive. Ironically the two-button setups next to most bike clocks are easier to figure out. Here they simply serve to show you just how bad the fuel economy on that old engine is – riding relatively gently I never even managed to reach 50mpg. For a bike purported to be a year-round do-anything tourer and commuter, that’s simply inexcusable. Even the 300kg Trophy does better, whilst making a lot more power.
All in all it probably sounds like I hated this Tiger just as much as I did the 800 I rode earlier in the year, and the reality is that’s simply not true. The 800 was a cut price imitation, whereas this is simply old metal, wrapped up in new plastic. If you’d showed it to someone ten years ago it could probably have been bike of the year, with an on-paper list of must-have features and impressive specs. ABS, single-sided swingarm, great headlights, 123bhp triple, 3-piece key-coded luggage…it’s all there.
But in 2014 it’s clear that the 1050 engine and chassis is on its last legs, and Triumph has simply slapped on updated toys, fresh paint and some luggage in an attempt to fill a gap in their line-up for middle-weight sport-tourers. What they should have done instead is put a 17″ front wheel on the 800, strip all the faux off-road nonsense and bring in the man who got 60mpg out of the Street Triple engine in to sort out the fuelling, and they’d have had a much better contender. Alternatively, stick a half-fairing and integrated luggage on the Street Triple and give us a Sprint 675. I’d buy one!
Unfortunately I find the Tiger Sport impossible to recommend over something like the Suzuki V-Strom 650 or BMW F700GS – both bikes that make less power, yet produce more fun. They’re also a lot cheaper – as tested the Tiger reaches almost to £11,000, even with Triumph’s current “free panniers” promotion. I was expecting great things from this bike. As it is, I’m not mad – I’m just disappointed.