Triumph Tiger 800 © Brake Magazine 2015

Rated – Triumph Tiger 800 XCx vs XRx

Triumph’s popular Tiger 800 ‘dual-sport’ range is ever-expanding with models to suit different riders with different goals in their biking lives. In fact six various specs of the 800 Tiger exist, with the “x” version of the two main lines sitting squarely as the middle spec. We tested the road biased XRx and the adventure biased XRx to find out what they’re about and how they fit the adventure bike remit.

It’s tempting, and relatively common to hear cynics get stuck in to Triumph. Famous people on the TV riding them all the time either attracts or puts people off in equal measure. It makes no difference, it’s people riding bikes and getting biking a better cred in the world. It’s good for Triumph no doubt, but it’s good for biking too.

Triumph is also pretty good at clocking what other manufacturers develop and basically saying, “we’ll have some of that.” I must admit it did strike me that way when I first rode the Triumph Tiger 800 in 2010. An old notebook reads: “isn’t this a BMW 800GS rip-off?” Well, probably. But I must also admit I wrote down; “I don’t give a damn. It’s a bike and it works. I like it.”

‘If it’s a bike and it works then I like it’ is a universal philosophy on my part but it’s also justification for any bike. It is what it is and if that bike works, then frankly who cares who does what with it, what it looks like or indeed how much it reminds you of something else. If it bothers you, and surely it does bother some people, well, I don’t care too much about that either.

At first glance the two Triumph Tiger 800s on test here could well be the same bike. In many ways they are of course: same chassis, same engine, same colour even. But there are some fundamental differences beyond the mere visual details which mark them out as distinctly different machines with different goals in life.

For a start, right from the moment you sit on the road biased XRx it feels like a different bike to its more adventurous sibling. Closer to the ground, narrower bars and a smaller screen all hit you right there and then when you first plonk in the saddle. And those are meaningful details if you’re trying to find your feet (literally and metaphorically) in this neck of the biking woods. This is a good bike to hop on and feel comfortable with whatever rung of the adventure biking ladder you’re on. That is especially true if you’ve just begun climbing the lower rungs.

I’ll fess-up and say it occurred to us quite early on when we had these bikes on test that the XRx feels very much like a rival for BMW’s F700GS rather than the 800GS models. It boils down to height, weight, footrest position, even handle bar width.

At second glance both models both look the adventure bike part, the XCx obviously fitting the bill perfectly well with all the right shapes and bolt-ons. The hand guards could well do with being a little less like a left over part from truck factory, a fact I couldn’t get out my head once I’d spotted it. Certainly they’re just a smidgeon bigger than they need to be.

The switchgear is not exactly small and neat on either bike. In fact it’s one of those areas where you look at a Triumph and feel, ever so slightly, that they didn’t quite finish the job off. It’s a detail you tend not to find with Honda, BMW, Yamaha, KTM and so on. In my experience Triumph is pretty good at building a brilliant cake and then bodging up some of the icing. It makes no difference to how the bike performs and you get used to it, just don’t look at that heated grip switch (for example) and you’ll be fine.

Another detail you may spot when giving the Tiger a once over is the rear subframe. It’s a rare thing to find an all-in-one sub and main frame but it is all one part, rather than two parts bolted together. In itself that’s no great issue but in terms of crashing and insurance it could be a bit of a landmine in waiting with insurance companies so eager to write vehicles off these days.

Paint finish on both bikes is of a high quality, both in the blue paneling and the finish of the mainframe. If metal machining and finishing is important to you the swingarm looks purposeful while the yokes and handlebar clamps make for some satisfactory viewing. Generally speaking you’re going to be pleased with the finish of your bike should you buy one of these two Tigers, you might just wonder from time to time: “why did they do that?”

When it comes to deeper ruts, turning on off-cambers or riding over things it’s just enough to make a difference.

The significant difference in feel between the two bikes prayed on my mind for much of the test – exactly what is the difference between them and how can they feel so different?

The ground clearance is an obvious difference and we measured it at 18cm on the XRx compared with 21.5cm on the XCx. Similarly footrest position is naturally just that bit lower on the R. Handlebar width is narrower by a centimeter or so too and that does make a difference to R’s feel as well. With a touch more width to your hands and arms it gives the impression at least you have more leverage on the XCx and can therefore muscle it about more. The flip-side is the XRx is more manageable because of its lowered proportions.

We had a real head scratch about why the turning circle on the XR was so much worse though. Neither has particularly good steering lock, hampered by the grey body panel each top side of the tank and the size of the cast steering lock-stop at the front of the head stock. The wheelbase was identical according to our tape measure, despite the spec sheets saying there should be 15mm difference (we figure it was down to the chain adjustment). Similarly the tyre contact patch on the ground was the same measurement.

But check out the spec sheets and the answers are clear: wheel sizes and geometry. The front wheel sizes vary (the R has 90/90-19 front compared to the XCx’s 100/90-21). Rake and trail figures differ too 23.5°/85.0mm on the XRx opposed to 22.9°/90.0mm on the XCx. Small numbers in these areas make such a difference and it really is noticeable on the R when you’re turning round in the trail or on a narrow road.

Ground clearance is very rarely an issue on adventure bikes as a rule but perhaps this is where the XRx sets itself apart as not quite enough of an adventure bike. It is incredibly easy to get the pegs down, slightly unnerving to Brake editor Llewelyn to have them more or less hit the deck on the first roundabout he circled moments after setting off.

The ‘hero blobs’ are the same length on both bikes but the R is just that bit smaller and significantly, has softer suspension, which means when you enter a corner at little more than average speed it is easy to find your inside footrest scrapping the ground.

It obviously matters off-road too, 18cm versus 21.5cm doesn’t sound much but with suspension collapsing more it’s noticeable. When it comes to deeper ruts, turning on cambers or riding over things it’s just enough to make a difference and catch just that bit more. That said the XC is not exactly a trials bike and can catch you out too, though not to the same degree. You may notice the sticky-out side stand hinge and switch are vulnerable once you start to go anywhere too tight, deeply rutted or technical and rocky. It’s something I think I’d look at protecting, changing or moving somehow if the Tiger XCx were my bike.

For the record I’d change very few details on either of these bikes if I owned one. The XCx particularly has all the things you’d basically want from an adventure bike as standard, much like the BMW 800GSA in that regard: a bigger screen, decent metal bashplate, engine bars, fat footpegs to stand on and some spotter lights for shooting rabbits and possum (possibly). It’s all more or less there depending on your preferences. Both could be helped by a better bend of bars to position your hands and arms more naturally in control when sitting or in the standing riding position, particularly the R. The R also lacks a better screen and the decent bashplate, although most items are optional extras.

In its favour though the XR is a slightly more manageable machine during day-to-day riding, just as it should be and just as Triumph intended it to be. It might seem like a daft example to use but I found it most telling while chucking the bikes sideways into a brake slide to do a U-turn on a tight, single-track trail for some of the photos on this test. Put simply I found it easier on the R than on the taller XCx with its higher weight distribution. It stands to reason when you’re feet and bum are nearer the ground and the bike is less top heavy.

It’s an important point to make because for all the ways in which the XCx is a better bike in terms of what most adventure riders will need, the R is an easier bike to manage. It’s a claimed 5kg lighter, the seat height is 30mm lower, bars 10mm narrower all of which make it feel a touch more controllable. So if you’re travelling needs aren’t extreme then arguably this is the better bike – with a few bolt-on extras.

Frankly it is a surprise to find such decent performance from a set of forks on a standard adventure bike.

The R’s downside, and where the XCx literally has the legs over its brother, is the suspension. The stock Showa kit on the XRx is fine, good by comparison to some of its rival’s standard suspension. Push too hard though and it gets too wallowy. You quickly come up against the limited amount of travel. In reality you’ll likely find you don’t really do that too often with this bike and so most the time in most situations it is simply, well, fine.

A massive plus point on the XCx though is its WP suspension. Frankly it is a surprise to find such decent performance from a set of forks on a standard adventure bike. They’re adjustable (compression and rebound on the forks, preload and rebound at the rear) supporting the bike and rider well as you brake and turn into corners. Push a little harder and they remain predictable without too much dive as well as consistent with their rebound. Which is what you expect but so often don’t get from stock bikes.

Off-road it’s the same story and is where I was most impressed. A cheeky jump up a bank with a bit of air at the top had every right to cause suspension to collapse under the load but the XC stood relatively firm and, odd as it sounds, absorbed the shock. I’m not going to suggest Marc Coma was using the same WP kit on his Dakar machine this year, the limit is obviously still there if you push too hard, but this suspension works just fine if you get a little spirited in your off-road action.

Being men, as we are on the whole here at Brake Magazine, we didn’t read any instruction manuals telling us how to work these bikes. Why would we? Well you might want to if you have any intentions of working the electronics on them. I don’t think we’re too low on Alfred Binet’s scale of intellect but it took us a long while to figure out how to get the ABS and traction modes as we’d like them in any situation. Not because we’re fussy you understand but simply because it isn’t quite as logical or straightforward to use (or see) as some of the current crop of BMW or KTM adventure bikes for example.

A moment of running around cheering when we did work it out after several days of confusingly pressing buttons like a grandad does when faced with a Satnav. Until that point it had been a tremendous test of the electronic settings across the board, literally because I did test every setting on and off-road several times over before working things out. We like to do things thoroughly round here…

The truth about the electronics package (when you’ve figured it) is it works just well by being unobtrusive most of the time. The traction control in its different ‘road’ and ‘off-road’ modes on either bikes is fine, in fact it’s helped by the smooth delivery of Triumph’s triple engine. The ABS system is less sophisticated than you’ll find on bigger capacity bikes but is certainly on par with other bikes in the middle sector of the Adv bike market, better in many cases.

The power curve begins brightly, flattens off in the mid-range (3-4000rpm) before rising again with a load of noise.

Which is to say it kinda works, particularly in off-road mode where you have no ABS at the rear and a certain amount of slip at the front. In that setting it’s offering some feel and, importantly, allows for the moments when you aren’t really locking up the front wheel, but just riding over a stone or something in the surface which causes a moment’s loss of traction. On older systems this causes the ABS to trigger and you gain yards of brake-less stopping distance you didn’t bargain for. That happens less here.

On the dirt there’s enough feel for traction to be able to control things in poor conditions, although bear in mind we fitted grippier Mitas tyres than the standard road-oriented sets (more on them below).

Speaking of things electronic the headlights are particularly distinctive in the day, especially so for oncoming traffic spotting you, but they also work well at night and the XCx’s ‘fog lamps’ are a bonus. The heated grips on the XCx didn’t get very warm, which wasn’t a major issue in early summer when we tested but for colder climates it will be. The switch, though it feels nice to use, looks like an enormous afterthought too and spoils the cockpit to a degree.

The three cylinder engine deserves some space and time to itself in this test report. Triumph do make a good engine. As a rule a Triumph feels and sounds good, no matter which model bike you’re on. In 800cc guise it is a lovely, predictable and powerful enough to use – well suited to the adventure market.

In fact both have the same three cylinder engine so if you’re looking at the R because you want a softer-edged adventure bike you won’t be disappointed or daunted by it either because neither of these two bikes could be described as fierce. Buzzy, happy-go-lucky maybe. But not fierce.

The power curve begins brightly, flattens off in the mid-range (3-4000rpm) before rising again with a load of noise at the top. To get the best out of it you have to use the revs, which is a bonus with that sound under you but with peak power up at 9250rpm (94bhp) and peak torque (58ft lb) at 7850rpm you often feel encouraged to crack on and make some noise rather than purr along.

It’s pretty good at making you feel fast as well, which is no bad thing, but the flattish middle-range of this motor ultimately means it’s less linear than I’d like. It improves with trees all around as you fly through the woods giving it a few more revs and filling the air with three cylinders howling. But it must be said it is a lot of noise for not necessarily as much performance as you think you’re getting.

That said the Triumph Tiger 800 engine isn’t all about noise and revs. The bottom end is smooth and slow-speed riding is pretty good, particularly off-road. The throttle response is smooth enough and the ride-by-wire throttle gives enough feel for grip. That flat-spot mentioned earlier can get in the way a bit once you gain confidence but if you live either above or below it life is sweet.

Fuel economy is good too, as with many modern mid-capacity bikes. 250miles there or thereabouts was our average from the 19 litre tanks. Generally they’re good to sit on for that length of time, the Triumph ‘comfort’ optional extra on the XRx felt hardly different to me if I’m honest – both are wide, grippy and offer enough support for a day in the saddle without too much of a pain in the backside. The smaller screen on the R would be my only gripe in terms of comfort.

We quite obviously cannot test bikes for thousands of miles but we hear from owners these engines are reliable. Plenty of examples of reliable 800s are acting as daily commuter bikes as much as they are travelling about the world. Not least ‘2morrow Rider’ Rhys Lawrey who’s clocked up more than 50,000miles at time of writing on his Tiger XCx. We take that as proof of this pudding.

We arranged a pairing of Mitas’s E07 for the XRx and E10 for the XCx which ramped up the off-road potential of the bikes as well as the looks. Why is a bike so instantly transformed by a good set of tyres? Because it shouts potential at you that’s why.

The Mitas E10 is a tyre we’ve spent a lot of time riding on and off-road and know it well to be a good versatile hoop, very well suited to adventure bikes of all sizes if you do a high ratio of on and off-road riding. The E07 was a new one to us and surprised us with how confident it makes you feel on dirt and asphalt straight from cold.

Generally you can say they both felt comfortable on the road but are not designed to be ragged hard on that surface – they get warm and start to move about on their carcass if you push hard. Both hold the road well but their off-road bias means you never try too hard on the road – the precise opposite as you’ll find with the OE tyres if you took them off-road. As ever it depends on where you’re riding and how much off-roading you’re doing. We’re planning on testing the Mitas tyres on a few different bikes so stayed tuned to Brake for a more detailed verdict on the E07 and E10.

Triumph is blatantly acknowledging the breadth of its customer’s needs and basically fulfilling them.

The more time I spent on the R the more I enjoyed it. I’m tall but even so, ground clearance aside, I could happily live with this bike but for a few detail changes: chiefly the XCx’s bigger screen and more solid bashplate.

As mentioned at the top of this test although in many ways they look similar, the truth is they have a very different character and it is canny of Triumph to make subtle but significant changes to alter that perception. I have a couple of friends who each own one of these bikes. One runs tours in Africa and India and he mainly rides mixed terrain with a lot of dirt thrown in. The other lives in Oxfordshire, England and rides on all types of roads but only really gets near anything like off-road when country lanes get a bit of gravel in the gutter and grass up the middle. Can you guess which one bought the XCx and which bought the XRx? It’s obvious and surely the proof of the Tiger pudding.

It might look confusing to see so many Tiger models on the Triumph books but the British manufacturer is blatantly acknowledging the breadth of its customer’s needs and fulfilling them with a different model based around the same bike.

Prices? Good question as it’ll vary depending on where in the world you’re reading this from, as well as what kind of deals you can get. The bikes we tested straight from the Triumph factory are £500 apart, the XCx being the more expensive at £9999 at UK prices but these differences are similar whatever your currency. That puts the XCx basically in the same ballpark as the BMW 800GSA while the XRx is a lot pricier than the F700GS we compared it to earlier. Like anything these days it’s all comparable across the market like loaves of bread are in the supermarket and to that end it is on par with the stock GS800 – its chief rival.

Cutting to the mustard though and the Triumph Tiger 800 XCx fits the adventure bike bill better than its road-based rival on this test. You could have guessed that we’re sure but it is a fascinating test to have ridden and written because of the way it has proved the points about needing better suspension, ground clearance and a few useful bolt-ons to make an adventure bike package work. A big plus point for me is the suspension which negates the need for any aftermarket doctoring. Straight out the box it works and that is rare.

You can go overboard with bolt-ons but Triumph has added all the right bits in the right places and made a decent, comfortable and economical mile-eater, which’ll also take you off-road very happily.

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