2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC | Review

Triumph Tiger

Carving through the sinuous earthen trails linking flowered meadows with sun-drenched Garnacha vineyards, I notice that the breeze is carrying my dust away from the delicate fruit, inspiring a feeling of divine interconnectedness with nature and machine.

I am convinced that time travel is possible, as I simultaneously create and reminisce over experiences in real time.

My mind is focused solely on this very moment, the Catalan countryside, the beautiful country of Spain, aboard a 2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC. Yet, the farther reaches of my consciousness are deftly aware that this reality is made up of remnants from a dream cobbled together, two decades in the making.

I first came to Spain to live and work as a fledgling college graduate from Southern California, putting my avid love for off-road racing and motorcycle adventures on hold to pursue a career in international business-a necessary decision that left an aching void in my young life.

Coming of age all over again in a foreign country, without the constant liberation of two wheels, seemed utterly unbearable at the time. The constant hum of motorbikes on the streets of Madrid below my office veranda was a constant reminder of my decision. Daydreaming was hard to avoid, as I imagined myself a modern-day Don Quixote-the motorcycle equivalent of a knight-errant, wandering the highlands of La Mancha in search of chivalrous adventures and Samaritan deeds.

Fortunately, I’m a little more lucid than the fabled and flamboyant Quixote. Rather than settling for an overworked nag christened Rocinante, I have chosen to ride upon the latest incarnation from the busy folks in the English Midlands-the all-new Triumph Tiger 800XC.

Albeit a bit less chivalrous, I set my sights on the humble objective of imbibing the Catalan cuisine, culture, and language that dominate the landscape, all the while evaluating the all-terrain capabilities and gregarious nature of the new Tiger XC.

Awakening to a gorgeous bluebird morning and a welcome respite from the previous day’s rain, I rumble toward the jagged peaks of Montserrat, an enormous sedimentary rock monolith an hour’s ride northwest of Barcelona.

According to Arthurian lore, the Benedictine monks at the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat are the loyal keepers of the Holy Grail, an artifact said to be buried deep below the sanctuary of the Virgin de Montserrat-a fitting medieval corollary to my newfound role as Quixote’s protégé.

As I accelerate onto highway slab through the congested morning traffic, the spontaneous pull of the 800cc inline triple makes short work of queued-up cars and fume-belching tractor-trailers. Astonishingly, I find myself approaching speeds that are well over triple digits, in both imperial and metric velocities, before backing down and settling into a spirited pace.

The sporty roar of the Tiger XC is undeniably fabricated with healthy doses of Triumph Speed Triple inspiration, and the on-road performance and seating position is nothing short of upright exhilaration. However, diving into corners with a 21-inch front wheel is quite a bit slower than one would expect from the 19-inch front rubber found on many other adventure motorcycles. I decide to reserve overall judgment until I can unshackle the Tiger on terra firma.

The chaos of rush hour gives way to semi-arid groves of hearty pinion pines. Before I can adjust to the climate change, my stomach reminds me that any quest for the Holy Grail without a proper almuerzo would be a foolish endeavor, so I pull off the autopista and slither my way through a set of switchbacks to a tiny cerveceria in the roadside village of Castellfollit del Boix.

Sitting in a small outdoor nook, I savor a toasty pa amb tomàquet and café cortado, and can’t help but smile as passersby are noticeably as impressed with the minimalism and rugged appearance of the Tiger XC as I am. The twin headlights feed the ocular senses first and are signature Triumph, while the obligatory beak-like front mudguard has become somewhat of an adventure bike aesthetic requirement. The steel twin tube frame is thematically true to its pedigree and offers the flexibility necessary to tackle rough terrain. Adventurers will note that steel fabrication and repair can be accomplished at primitive workshops in the most remote corners of the world.

Of course, I have had the Tiger XC fitted with a host of off-road accoutrements in preparation for the journey ahead. In addition to the standard handguards, I’ve kitted it with engine crash bars, an aluminum bash guard, auxiliary lights, Lexan headlight protection, and a tail bag for extra storage.

A lightweight titanium Arrow slip-on muffler completes the package and provides an exhaust note that growls with bravado down low yet becomes respectably compliant at the higher end of the rev range.

With a full stomach and ready for battle, I attack the twisty tarmac to put the 800XC to the test. The stability of the Tiger XC is apparent in long sweeping corners, where holding a constant lean angle is astonishingly effortless for a machine with a large diameter front wheel and a 34-inch seat height.

Entering corners on the Nissin twin-piston binders is a predictable experience, and the dual 308mm front brake rotors offer a smooth and progressive feel. In contrast, the rear brake has a much stronger initial engagement, but with precise inputs the overall braking experience is satisfactory.

The engine characteristics are perfect for extended distance adventure riding-long pulling torque allows for easy overtaking in nearly any gear, and the counterbalanced triple produces near negligible vibration through the handlebars and footrests. I jot a mental note to remove the feel-compromising rubber inserts from the footpegs at my next planned stop-the site of the mythical Holy Grail.

As the elevation increases, so does the moisture on the road, but the smooth application of power to the ground alleviates the need for the added complexity of a traction control system, and stays true to the adventure rider mantra, "Simpler is better." Aggressively pumping the bike through the turns, I find myself in a seemingly endless state of flow that was rudely interrupted by the realization that the turn-off to the Benedictine monastery was now miles behind me. My quest for the Holy Grail would have to take a backseat to a more noble cause-blasting my way through the sandy terrain and picturesque vineyards of La Vall de Sant Marc.

The tarmac evolves into a dusty cocktail of aggregate and dirt, but my eagerness for the full off-road experience will have to yield to a short spurt of patience while a few adjustments are made to the bike.

I detach the rubber inserts from the foot pegs and stow them in the tail bag while I retrieve a wrench to adjust the handlebars upward for a more comfortable stand-up riding position. The higher handlebar position necessitates that the hand controls be adjusted downward to match the increased angle of my arm where it meets the grips.

Reducing the air pressure in the tires to 22 psi front and rear, down from 36 and 42, improves traction off-road and facilitates suspension feel through added sidewall flex.

The 45mm front Showa forks have nearly nine inches of travel and are not adjustable, but the single Showa shock, controlling 8.5 inches of rear wheel travel, is equipped with hydraulically adjustable spring preload and adjustable rebound damping.

Three turns of the rear preload adjuster raises the ride height of the rear to provide a little quicker turning and stiffens the action of the shock through the first third of its travel. I reduce the rebound compression by two clicks to keep the rear suspension from packing up while riding over obstacles in quick succession.

At 473 pounds (claimed wet), the Tiger XC is a heavy off-roader, though right in the ballpark for a mid-size adventure bike. Weight distribution feels balanced fore and aft, providing a stable, planted feel through the rough undulating Jeep roads. A twist of the throttle and the front wheel lofts skyward with astonishing ease as the suspension soaks up the hits from the roots and cobbles beneath. It was finally happening-this was the experience I had been waiting for!

The spoked 21-inch front wheel is keenly in its element as I crisscross through ruts and take aggressive lines with levels of confidence rarely experienced on larger-displacement adventure motorcycles. With a light pull of the hydraulic clutch, I can quickshift the gearbox with rally-car precision as the quick-revving motor belts out a whopping 94 horsepower and healthy 58 ft/lbs of torque. This motor sets the Tiger XC apart from its parallel twin Bavarian counterpart with a higher power-to-weight ratio.

Adjustable ignition mapping is not necessary; the throttle position sensor reads the speed at which the throttle is twisted and changes the ignition advance accordingly. Revving out the engine and showering the landscape with a hail of dirt is just as viable as quick shifting and riding off idle-the power increase is nearly linear from 1500 rpm all the way through 10,000.

The excitement and tractability of the Tiger XC’s power delivery is as appreciated in loose and sandy conditions off-road as it is on questionable pavement, and hits a high note of relative flickabilty compared to any 1200cc adventure machines. Is it possible that Triumph R&D got it amazingly right the first time around the pitch? My inner dirt devil is concurring with a resounding "Yes!"

Brimming with confidence, I aim the Tiger at a rocky dry riverbed to simulate a "worst case adventure scenario." The roll-over capability of the front end is a huge advantage in crawling over large obstacles in first gear, but the fuel injection begins to cough below 1500 rpm, so it is important to cover the clutch and keep the crankshaft spinning.

Thoroughly satisfied and pleasantly surprised with the off-road performance of the Tiger 800XC, I make my way back to the pavement and air up my tires at the first gas station I happen upon. I leave the handlebar and suspension adjustments in the off-road mode, as they seem to be a reasonable compromise and I hope perhaps I’ll get another off-road opportunity before the day is out.

A little dusty and mud covered, this knight-errant is destined for a meal fit for a king, and Le Castell d’Orpí is a more than fitting spot. Housed in a centuries-old Catalan castle, I start with embotits, a plate filled with various sorts of savory sausages and sliced meats, followed by escalivada, which is similar in concept to the assorted meats, but is piled with grilled mushrooms, peppers, and a variety of squashes. The main course is a succulent salted cod, bacalao salado, which is absolutely delicious, but something is definitely missing-until I get a glass of local Grenache, or Garnacha, as it is known in Spain.

Completely content, I replay the ride over and over in my mind’s eye and cannot possibly think of how it could have been any better. I figure out that, had I gotten a flat tire, I would have liked to have a center-stand to balance the bike, rather than looking for rocks or logs to assemble a makeshift solution. Other than the hypothetical, that is the extent of my improvement ideas.

Satisfied that my dream is finally a reality, and confident in the thought that Don Quixote would approve of my Spanish exploits, I can’t help but try to scheme a way to get my hands on a Triumph Tiger 800XC stateside. Without reservation, I relish the thought of continuing my chivalrous quest in the New World. <<

RIDING STYLE – Outerwear

  • Helmet: Icon Variant Speedmetal
  • Jacket: Klim Inversion
  • Gloves: Klim PowerXross
  • Pants: Klim Traverse
  • Boots: Sidi Adventure

RIDING STYLE – Innerwear

  • Jersey: Klim Revolt Pullover
  • Undershirt and underpant: Klim Aggressor
  • Armor: Alpinestars Bionic S2 Jacket