2013 Triumph Tiger 800XC
By David Tong
Any casual observer of the motorcycle market will note that big displacement dual sport bikes have been making sales inroads for some time now. Nearly all mainstream manufacturers offer a “mostly street, sometimes dirt” ride. One of the reasons experienced riders buy them, is because they enjoy the potential of being able to go off road exploring, much the same as they might purchase a 4WD SUV to haul the family camping.
The concept began in 1981 when BMW introduced the R80/GS and derivatives of that machine have become the firm’s #1 and #2 best sellers internationally. This is rather interesting, as that firm is well-known for aerodynamic sport and luxury touring bikes.
The British Triumph company has lately entered the melee with the Tiger 800XC. “XC” meaning “cross country,” which is apt, in that it offers some capability to travel across both interstate and goat trail. It differs from the standard Tiger in its conventional wire-spoke rims, with a 21” dirt oriented front tire, as opposed to the standard Tiger’s fitment of cast aluminum 17” radial-shod hoops.
A visit to my local Triumph dealer led me to a conversation with the owner, Rob Johnson. Putting the bike into perspective, he thinks it is probably the most versatile motorcycle he sells. At 473 pounds wet, with 94 bhp and 78 lb-ft of torque, it is narrow, nimble and equally at home on urban streets and dirt roads that wouldn’t be kind to the average street bike.
From the perspective of this long-time street bike rider, the XC is a tall mount. My 32” inseam allowed me to comfortably place both boots flat on the ground, but it is a bit of an effort to swing my leg over the rear of the saddle when mounting. In addition, the rear seat and the luggage rack behind it are several inches taller than the two-position adjustable height rider’s perch.
All Triumph motorcycles now feature computer controlled, multiport fuel injection systems with no fast idle lever on cold start-up required. Twist the key, allow the instrument cluster to go through its diagnostic run and press the starter button. It immediately settles into a quiet and smooth whir, which is also the way the motor feels when setting off and riding.
The instrument cluster is modern, in that it features a digital speedometer with an analog tachometer. Trip meter functions, digital clock and fuel gauge, along with the usual assortment of warning lights, means that it offers sufficient information.
The engine is very smooth, with only the slightest trace of triple “pulse” felt in the handgrips at any rpm. I suspect that at the end of a long day in the saddle, that your hands will like this.
The six-speed gearbox is something to behold. My experience with Hinckley Triumphs dates back to my prior ownership of a ’96 Thunderbird and while that transmission was also fairly civil, the 800XCs unit is simply fantastic. There is no audible clack, click, or anything else untoward. There is no drivetrain lash and certainly no transmission whine. I suspect that both downshifts and upshifts without using the clutch would be quite easy for the experienced rider. It is surely the nicest transmission I’ve experienced in nearly thirty years.
I rode the bike on a combination loop of city streets, gravel road and lower speed highways around Eugene, Oregon. The seat/bar/peg relationship of a big trailie is the reason these bikes are so popular amongst the high-mileage crowd. You sit nearly bolt upright, relaxing your neck, back, wrists and knees, while the abbreviated fairing and windshield provide a modicum of windblast protection that removes pressure from your chest. (Up to the base of my neck at my 5’10” height.)
In addition, sitting upright means that it is far easier to scan the streets for potential hazards, such as oil, gravel, errant drivers and head checks for lane changes. Your neck, in particular, is under no strain, unless speeds greatly exceed most speed limits.
Running it up through the gears confirms the flexibility of the long-stroke engine. One can drop into fourth, trundle along in city traffic at 35 mph and simply roll on the throttle on for passing. However, selecting third would allow for a bit more rapid progress.
I noticed that 60mph came up at 4,100rpm and, considering the 9,800rpm redline, the final gearing is fairly tall, being well under 50% of peak permissible revs. However, for dedicated road use, another tooth on the countershaft sprocket would reduce the revs and the engine would still easily pull one around, but provide a bit better highway mileage. Unlike other motorcycles these days, there is no selectable engine mapping to detune power delivery, but the Triumph’s linear power delivery doesn’t appear to need it.
The test bike came with anti-lock brakes and Pirelli Scorpion dual purpose tires. These are very much street biased and proved a bit squirrelly on 2” to 3” deep gravel near a state wildlife refuge observation park. The 21” front wheel did minimize the amount of nervousness.
Foot pegs are rubber covered, not so great for dirt use, but probably appropriate for how the bike is going to normally be used. The suspension also seemed street biased, in that the wheel motions were firmly sprung and damped, especially in compression, while a dedicated dirt bike would be tuned for more fluid upward travel.
The seat slopes forward toward the fuel tank. On a sport bike this means that your wrists are going to be screaming in short order due to weight transfer, but the 800XC provided a nice, wide, flat and comfortable perch with its aluminum handlebar.
Vibration is nearly non-existent and so is either exhaust or mechanical noise. While there is no digital gear indicator (I can remember those days), the spread of power and the lack of any sensation of stress from the rotating bits means that I found myself occasionally at highway speeds in third or fourth, rather than top gear. This is a rather pleasant sensation, actually, in that noise and harshness levels can be tiring on longer rides.
Steering effort is higher than it would be on a sport or sport touring bike and the much higher seat height made my first several turns when starting out a bit “different.” However, the tires have a carefully selected profile match and steering feel when banked in a corner was quite linear. The bike has no tendency to stand up if leaned over and counter-steering input is relaxed.
Some of the feel is simply due to the higher center of gravity, possibly higher centripetal force due to the 21” front wheel, fuel tank location and capacity, as well as my relative inexperience with this type of motorcycle.
On a brief foray off pavement, I visited the Fern Ridge wildlife viewing area in Eugene, Oregon. Several miles of loose gravel were a little disconcerting due to the size and weight of the 800XC, but also its very street biased tires. If one were to spend much time in the dirt, a suitable pair of tires should be fitted for calmer steering and increased traction.
By the end of my ride I could certainly understand the attraction of the 800XC. It offers a manageable, punchy and fuel efficient way to go riding in a variety of circumstances. Triumph offers a number of factory accessories to help the owner tailor the bike to your needs, including luggage, tank bags, heated grips, a taller windshield, crash protection bars, driving lights and a center stand. The latter, in my opinion, should be standard, for increased ease of cleaning, chain maintenance and oil change servicing.
Mostly though, it is a reasonably fun way to simply go riding. Lacking the bulk and weight of the 1,000cc plus machines makes it much less intimidating to the smaller rider who may wish to do a bit of plonking about off the tarmac. That, friends, is a whole new world compared to owning a pure street bike. Kitted out properly, including a bash plate, there is probably no reason why one couldn’t cross the country on dirt roads.
PS: My thanks to Mr. Rob Johnson, owner of Cycle Parts/Triumph of Eugene, Oregon for providing me with the test motorcycle. He is a very amiable and knowledgeable biker with decades of experience, who loves the sport with a passion.
Copyright 2013 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.