Review: 2019 Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Triumph has given the Tiger 800 another go; I suppose it’s only fair that I do the same.

It’s safe to say that Triumph and I have had our differences over the years. My 2013 Street Triple R is the only motorcycle I’ve ever bought brand new, and the brand’s response to my textiles scuffing the paint on the tank within a few hundred miles was that it was my own fault for not paying extra for the paint protection. ‘Unimpressed’ is putting it mildly.

I paid hundreds and hundreds of pounds on maintenance to maintain the official service history during the first two years, and when I began to experience a hot-starting issue as the warranty drew to a close they refused to even investigate until I’d paid another £1,000 for the 24k service…3,000 miles early. Let’s just say I gave my dealer the finger and did the work myself.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Triumph certainly know how to make a good impression – paint and badges look fantastic.

Beyond that, I’ve reviewed a number of Triumph‘s bikes in the years since with mixed results. The Tiger Sport was heavy, thirsty and blunt, but the Trophy was a fantastic heavyweight tourer. The old Bonneville SE was a fun, old-school, well-priced roadster, but the new T120 is too heavy, too expensive, and too compromised by focusing exclusively on the sunny-Sunday rider. Finally, I found the first-generation Tiger 800 to be underwhelming at best, with lacklustre brakes and a dull, flat, and surprisingly thirsty engine.

Still, time moves on, and Triumph has been working as hard upgrading their Tiger 800 as I have upgrading my own V-Strom 650. Strange as it may sound, there are some things you can achieve with an entire engineering department, a couple of factories and hundreds of thousands of pounds that I can’t match with my meagre resources!

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Neat details abound, and never detract from the functionality of the pieces.

What’s more, contrary to the impression I may have given with the likes of my BMW R1250GS review, I’m not a complete technophobe. My disdain for the integrated electronic gadgetry increasingly infesting modern motorcycles is based on my overwhelming impression that they are primarily intended to improve manufacturer profit margins rather than the rider experience.

In some cases, they actually seem designed to fix self-inflicted problems. For example, user-selectable engine or throttle modes (too much power), electronically-adjustable suspension (too much weight), and full-colour TFT dashboards (too many of the aforementioned throttle and suspension modes). It’s little wonder that many people are favourably comparing the genuinely old-school Royal Enfield Himalayan with bikes four times the price.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Ignore the base ‘XR’ model, and you now get much-improved Brembo brakes up front.

As a result, it was with mixed feelings that I took note of the newly-updated Triumph Tiger 800 at EICMA in 2017. In showrooms last year, it demonstrated that Triumph had spent the eight years since the launch of the original 2010 model nipping and tucking, rather than completely redesigning the bike. Some changes, such as the fashionable new TFT dashboard, I regarded with suspicion. Others, such as the new LED headlights, cruise control and upgraded front brakes were very welcome indeed, and I’ve been meaning to arrange a ride ever since.

But which one would I buy, in theory? Like many of their European competitors, you cannot simply walk into a Triumph dealership and select a bike anymore; you also need to choose a trim level and then pick from a list of optional dealer-fit accessories. A lot of glowing reviews from professional journalists fail to mention that the version they enjoyed on the press launch would cost a paying customer thousands and thousands of pounds more than the advertised retail price.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Would you like an XR, XRX, XRT, XCX, or an XCA? Try saying that three times fast…

A base-model Tiger 800 XR can technically be bought for £9,200, but this is a price-point model so poorly-specced that even Triumph doesn’t expect anyone to actually buy it. Choosing the XRX version instead adds another £1,500 to the price tag, and the XRT you actually want is almost £13k with a set of crash bars fitted. Adding the obligatory three-box luggage set means you’ll be riding home with a £14,000-sized dent in your wallet. Given my well-documented history of criticising the likes of BMW and KTM for similarly inflated pricing, why would I even entertain such an expensive motorcycle?

Setting aside the substantial price tag for a moment, the fact is that, on paper, we could have a perfect V-Strom replacement on our hands here. Regardless of trim level, you get very similar weight and dimensions as the Suzuki, the same cast 19″/17″ wheel combination, good weather protection, and a comfortable, upright riding position. Assuming you ignore the bare-bones XR trim level you get higher-spec Brembo brakes on the front wheel, solving one of my main criticisms of the original bike by dramatically improving braking performance. The suspension is also of higher quality, and Triumph claim to have improved the fuel economy through internal friction reduction and throttle management.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

The only dealer-fit accessory here are the pannier racks. That makes it practically unique…

Spend enough money to get the top-of-the-range XRT model and you and your passenger are treated to heated seats, with the rider enjoying heated grips and full LED lighting. Many of the upgrades I made to my own V-Strom 650 (and would make to a new V-Strom 1000) are now standard-fit on the Triumph, with other niceties such as cruise control, back-lit switchgear, tire-pressure monitoring, self-cancelling indicators and traction-control thrown in for good measure. What the Tiger 800 lacks compared to it’s German, Austrian and Italian rivals is electronically-adjustable suspension, keyless ignition, hill-hold assist, a quick-shifter, or an electric screen. For me, at least, that means it offers everything I want, and nothing I don’t.

Of course, if you’re of the 21″/wired-wheel persuasion there’s a mirrored set of trim levels available for you with the XCX and XCA versions. You also get slightly higher bars, a skid plate and taller, softer WP suspension. Personally, I wouldn’t bother; the bigger wheels are heavier, blunting braking and handling considerably, with the only advantage being greater resistance to damage from high impacts off-road. But let’s be honest, here – if you’re taking a 230kg motorcycle out where that sort of situation is likely, then dented wheels are the least of your worries. Buy a Honda CRF250L instead.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

A 230kg motorcycle like this will never see anything more challenging than some light gravel.

Before I hit the road, I had the Triumph salesman take me through the new full-colour onboard computer; it took nearly twenty minutes. There are four riding modes, each of which can be customised with varying levels of traction control, ABS, several throttle maps and even three different dashboard layouts. While tachometer, speedometer, current gear, air temperature and time of day are ever-present, a small joystick underneath the indicator switch allows you to toggle between two trip meters, each with average and real-time fuel economy and range, coolant temperature and more. Separate buttons switch through the various heat levels for heated grips and seats, riding lights can be switched on and off, and cruise control can be enabled and adjusted in 1mph increments all the way down to 30mph.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

You’ll need tools to adjust the rear preload; would a knob really have been too much to ask?

I strongly recommend anyone buying one of these to set aside an afternoon with the owner’s manual to learn how to access all the various pieces of information, but it’s certainly true that you could simply hop on and ride the bike as-is. The default ‘Road’ engine mode, unlike on many bikes, is just fine, and the factory suspension settings are well judged across a variety of surfaces, something that can’t be said for many far more expensive systems.  The brakes are good, if not quite as sharp as a set of four-piston callipers would be, but are nonetheless a far cry from the wooden, squishy mess that most two-piston systems offer.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

I still prefer a real analogue tachometer, but I begrudgingly admit that this new dash works well.

The touring windshield fitted to the XRT is adjustable by grabbing it with one hand and then pulling it up or down, and in the highest position is almost tall enough to push turbulent air right over my helmet. A clever arrangement of winglets, designed to work in conjunction with the mirrors and handguards means that there is zero buffeting around the sides, suggesting that, at long last, we have finally have an OEM who is paying attention to something the aftermarket has been fixing for years.

Throttle response is much improved over the first-generation Tiger 800, the new ride-by-wire system smoothing out the off-idle throttle transition extremely well. Even ‘Sport’ mode is not as snatchy as the previous cable throttle, and there’s noticeably more bite to the power delivery as you climb up the rev range. One downside of a fully electronic throttle manifests itself as a slight dip below 4k rpm, as though the computers are just taking the edge off my inputs in order to satisfy noise and emissions requirements.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

It’s rare for Triumph to design an all-new engine; this one is based on the 2006 Daytona 675.

A look at a dyno chart reveals something else interesting, however: a horizontal line as soon as the output hits the 94 horsepower mark. That is the maximum allowed if you want to be able to restrict a bike for 47 horsepower A2 license holders, and the ECU is clearly holding power steady from this point on, even as the revs rise the rest of the way to the redline. It honestly looks like there’s another 5-10 horsepower waiting at the top-end for someone who’s willing to visit their local tuner and have such restrictions removed.

Beyond that, the riding experience is rather unremarkable, which can be taken as a compliment or a criticism, depending on your point of view. A snarling, roaring beast of raw fury and adrenaline the Tiger 800 is not, though there’s significantly more character than there was in previous models. Build quality on modern Triumphs is generally very impressive; fasteners are stainless steel by default and metal finishes are tough and should shrug off a salty winter with aplomb. Painted plastics still scratch like any others so it will be interesting to see how the optional matt blue paint would stand up to daily use.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

It’s far too easy to hit the little joystick when aiming for the indicators and vice versa.

Fuel economy was mid-50’s in my relatively conservative ride. My father was able to average better than that over two years on his 2012 example, and Triumph claims that significant improvements have been made since. Controls are of good quality and satisfying to use, with the possible exception of the indicator switch; the fashionable modern microswitch design means that it barely moves when you press it, much like on modern BMWs. In thick gloves, it might be hard to tell whether you hit it or not. Another odd move is that both heated seats are now adjusted via the handlebars, which means that your pillion will have to tap you on the shoulder if their bum gets cold.

Ergonomics are good, although with my short arms I’d ask my dealer to fit a set of risers to the handlebars. Lower seats are available for the short of leg, although you’d lose the heating option, and all seats have two different height settings that can be switched without tools. For the truly vertically challenged, you can even order a version of the Tiger 800 XRX with lowered suspension, although ground clearance suffers and a centre stand can no longer be fitted. I’d encourage interested parties to try the low seat first – it makes a big difference. With my 30″ inseam I actually found the standard seat in the high position to be perfectly manageable, with the added benefit of reducing the bend in my knees.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

XRT model gets heated seats as standard, and the rider’s seat can be lowered without tools.

Aesthetics? Well, adventure-tourers are never going to be the prettiest of motorcycles; upright riding positions and tall fairings/screens can make for ungainly proportions, although Triumph‘s designers have done their best to build a very angry, angular structure into the front end. The matt blue paint on my tester looked even better in person, and the metallic silver or white which are the other two options at this trim level look suitably sparkly in the sunshine.

Behind the tank, things quickly descend into a mess of scaffolding and black plastic, with the seat floating on top as though the designers just sort of gave up half-way through. What’s more, choosing your colour has no effect on any part of the rear half of the motorcycle. Still, I’ve seen worse, and there’s no denying the practicality of having so many bungee points available. I’m sure the Italians would be horrified at the focus of function over form, but I could probably learn to live with it.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

XRX & XRT models get LED lights, although you have to remember to switch them on at night.

At the end of the day, I find myself rather taken by the Triumph Tiger 800 XRT. Sure, it’s expensive – a full £2,000 more than a Suzuki V-Strom 1000, which is a closer match in terms of power, suspension and braking performance than the Japanese brand’s smaller 650. But I have to say, you do get quite a bit for your money – the materials and construction on current Triumphs simply ooze quality, whereas my own experiences have shown that Suzuki‘s motorcycles still shed their paint at the first sign of winter.

As for me? Well, I’d have to make a choice. The base-spec XR model almost achieves price parity with Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000, though with it’s more basic brakes and suspension it can’t quite match it for performance and loses much of the electronic gadgets that would make the Tiger 800 such a nice bike to live with. Where the Suzuki really wins, however, is simplicity and reliability.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

My 36,000-mile Triumph Street Triple R still looks this new, despite several salty winters.

My family and I have experienced plenty of small, irritating issues with our Triumphs in the past, whereas we’ve had zero trouble with our Suzukis and Hondas. There is still truth to the stereotype that the European manufacturers are prioritising a premium first-owner experience on the assumption that you’ll trade up within three years. My family don’t operate that way, however – we buy our bikes outright, and run them for a decade and 100,000 miles. We expect our bikes to last.

The last chinks in the Triumph‘s armour are the running costs. The official maintenance schedule dictates minor services at 6,000 miles, with prices between £300-400 for each visit. At 12,000 miles the checklist for the mechanic extensive, and includes an extremely time-consuming check of the engine’s valve clearances. Assuming everything is in spec, you can expect a bill of around £800, and it gets far worse if any of those valves actually need adjusting.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Real care has been taken on the aerodynamics, and buffeting is minimal at worst.

I suspect that most Tiger 800 owners cover more than the UK-average 4,000 miles per year, so it’s worth doing some calculations to determine jsut how expensive things could get for you before signing on the dotted line. At my rate of 25,000 miles per year, I’d be looking at paying my local dealer a hefty £2,400 annually just to maintain the warranty. I’m sure you can see why I tend to do my own servicing these days.

Like my own V-Strom 650, a new V-Strom 1000, or any of the other ~800cc road-focused Adventure-Tourers, the Tiger 800 XRT is a devastatingly effective way of crossing countries quickly. The top speed won’t make headlines, but the focus on rider comfort and compliant suspension matched with a real-world fuel range approaching 250 miles per tank means that the miles just fly by.

Cruise control takes the stress out of the motorway stretches, and the wide bars and light handling make easy work of curvier roads. By focusing on genuine, practical improvements rather than flashy but marketable gimmicks Triumph have succeeded in turning the previously disappointing Tiger 800 into a motorcycle I can wholeheartedly recommend.

I can give no higher praise.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRT

Expensive, especially once you’ve added crash bars and luggage. Still worth it, though.