2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa and 800 XRx Review | Touring Wales

Triumph Tiger 800 XRx review
Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa and 800 XRx Review

“Why do you want to go to Wales?” Ultimate Motorcycling President Arthur Coldwells asked us. “It’s going to rain on you, you know.”

As a London-born motorcyclist who cut his two-wheeled teeth on the British Isles, he speaks from experience.

Our original plan was to procure a couple of Triumphs to ride the Northern 500, a famous twisting road destination on the top of Scotland. However, when we looked at how far Triumph’s Hinckley headquarters is from Inverness, the closest logical starting point for the Northern 500, our hopes were dashed.

It’s easily a two-day motorway drone in each direction, and that is hardly an appealing way to spend four days riding in Britain.

Triumph Tiger 800 XRx
Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

We eyed the map and noticed plenty of squiggly lines to the west of Hinckley, along with three National Parks and city names that look like someone upset a Scrabble board. We scoped out the three national parks as must-sees, having dropped a man down on Google maps and peeked at the scenery up close.

So, Wales it would be—even after Arthur’s warning, knowing that we’re spoiled SoCal riders who stick to dirt bikes if it looks anything like rain.

After some Google Street View research, it became clear to us that Triumph’s new Tiger line offered the motorcycles best suited for our ride. With a bewildering array of Tigers, it took a bit of back-and-forth with Triumph to determine exactly which breed would work best.

Don went with the Tiger 1200 XCa, the high-water mark in the Tiger line. It has an off-road focus, thanks to wire-spoked wheels and a 19-incher up front. Kelly’s choice was the street-friendly Tiger 800 XRx with a lowered seat to accommodate her 5’ 6”, 115-pound frame.

When we arrived at the factory, the two bikes greeted us in front of the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience—a wildly successful promotional vehicle for the brand. As we had arrived a day early, we perused the museum that initially greets visitors before taking the tour of the factory.

Triumph expected just 15,000 people to participate in the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience the first year, yet the number has exceeded 50,000 already. Bookings are filled far in advance, so if it’s something that tickles your fancy, plan ahead.

Seeing the process of a Triumph being built from scratch is fascinating. If you get lucky, you’ll get in a group led by Danny, a knowledgeable guide with enthusiasm and an engaging sense of humor.

Kelly w/ the Triumph Tiger 800 XRx
Kelly w/ the Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

We had requested the lower seat on Kelly’s Tiger 800 XRx to make the bike a bit more manageable. She can ride full-on dirt bikes with 38-inch seat heights, but the 441-pound dry weight of a three-cylinder motorcycle made a lowered seat a practical option.

We were surprised when Kelly was presented with a Tiger 800 that had been given the lowered suspension factory option. Triumph had shorted the Tiger 800’s suspension by a couple of inches, dropping the seat height below 30 inches.

In conjunction with the low seat option, Kelly was able to confidently flat-foot the 800 XRx at stops—something unheard of for her on a full-size ADV machine. This did mean that the ground clearance is also reduced, so any off-pavement excursions would have to be on the smoothest of dirt roads.

To carry our array of computers, cameras, and clothing, the Tiger 1200 XCa was outfitted with roomy aluminum panniers and a cavernous top box, with the 800 XRx kept lightweight with just a top box.

The Tiger 800 XRx had a tank bag installed. However, with the lower seat option, its height was a bit intrusive, so we left it off. As we had plenty of storage space, this wasn’t a sacrifice.

We were changing accommodations nightly, and the ease of installation and removal of the XCa’s panniers was a relief. The designers at Triumph worked some magic with the panniers. They come on and off in seconds, every single time—excellent. Integrated handles make carrying easy, a good thing since our rooms were up a flight of stairs at all of our stops.

The first order of business was a transfer day from Hinckley to the Welsh border. Our maiden night was at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny, though we were going to approach it from the north rather than the east.

We avoided motorways for the most part, sticking with A roads for the 150-mile trek to Hay-on-Wye, our entry point into Wales and the northwest corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa test
Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa

The Tigers handled elevated road speeds with no problems, and were perfect for eating up some miles. While Don smugly raised the 1200 XCa’s windscreen electronically with the push of his left thumb on a joystick, Kelly had to raise her screen manually. Although we don’t recommend it, she was able to move the 800 XRx’s spring-loaded screen between it two positions while underway with just one hand.

There are quite a bit of electronics on the Tigers, and that can be a handful to manage. Fortunately, the joystick system on the two Tigers is a nice piece of human engineering. In conjunction with a Home button on the right handlebar and a Mode button on the left handlebar, it is engagingly intuitive to run through all the electronic options on the bright five-inch TFT display.

One thing missing from the Triumph Tigers’ bags of tricks is GPS. To fill this gap, we had a Sena PowerPro Mount on the left handlebar of both machines with iPhones attached. Even with the tapered aluminum bars and plenty of wires and hydraulic lines, we were able to mount the smartphone holders in a spot that allowed easy viewing and operation of the smartphone while not obstructing the TFT display.

Although we’re well aware that people used to navigate Great Britain with a map on the jacket arm or tank bag, along with some handwritten notes, we found Google Maps to be absolutely essential for our trip. Always knowing how to get where you’re going takes away a major stress point and allowed us to focus on the unfamiliar side of the road we were riding on.

Another indispensable electronic aid was the Sena 10C units we had mounted to our Arai XD4 helmets. Being able to keep in constant verbal contact is a must from a safety standpoint.

We were venturing off on roads unknown, not to mention on the ‘other side’ of the road, so a constant refrain in our Senas was “Stay left. Look right!” One never wants to have an altercation with a car, and certainly not in a foreign country. Also, being able to discuss the ride with someone as you go makes it just that much more fun.

Sena 10c rate
Sena 10c

The Sena 10C also had an integrated camera, and that meant we would be consuming battery power at a higher rate. To combat that problem, we had a pair of Sena Powerbanks that we slipped into the upper pockets of our matching Triumph Malvern jackets. We had tried Sena’s armband mounts for the Powerbanks, but found them a bit unwieldy and inconvenient at stops when we wanted to remove and don our jackets. The pockets were much more sensible.

Between the PowerPro Mounts for the smartphones and the Powerbanks for the 10C, Sena made sure we never were wanting for electricity on our daily eight-hour rides. We simply brought along a four-bay USB charger and topped the power supplies up each night.

Kelly’s Sena did decide to remind us abruptly just how essential it is on the second day. At one point it refused to turn on after being powered down, causing some serious consternation. Fortunately, a hard reset—paperclip required—returned it to life for the remainder of the ride.

While riding through the English countryside is entertaining enough, and a good way to get acclimated to the left side of the road, the real adventure started after a satisfying lunch at the friendly Swan Inn in Hereford.

We soon found ourselves in Hay-on-Wye, which is also known as The Town of Books. After a few turns through the narrow downtown streets, passing the eponymous Hay-on-Wye Booksellers that deals in antiquarian, secondhand, and, yes, even new books, we took a quick side trip across the River Wye for petrol. Fueled up, we headed south into the Brecon Beacons National Park on Forest Road, which is just west of the English border.

This is where the Triumph Tigers came into their own. The 23-miles from Hay-on-Wye to Abergavenny was the perfect way to immerse us in Wales. The road quickly loses its name, being a one-lane affair through tall hedgerows. Our speeds were very slow for the most part, as visibility was limited and an unexpected meeting with an oncoming car could be catastrophic.

Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa revioew
Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa

Fortunately, oncoming vehicles were pretty infrequent, though certainly not rare enough that we weren’t hugging the left side of what almost felt like an asphalt single-track the entire time.

These narrow country roads did have small turnouts at decent intervals, so when we encountered an opposing car, the car wouldn’t have to back up to pull over for us to get the pannier-equipped Tiger 1200 XCa past. Timing is everything.

There were open spaces, to be sure, and they were spectacular. Riding through Gospel Pass was a sheer delight, as vegetation was limited to grass. To keep the grass low, there were free-range sheep—shorn and wooly—everywhere. They happily grazed within inches of the roadway, generally unconcerned with passing vehicles, though sometimes the Tigers spooked them.

Braking is critical on these one-lane roads. The Tigers had a nice soft initial bite that made the technical riding much less fatiguing. However, when necessary, the twin discs with radially mounted Brembo calipers were there to slow us down aggressively.

We continued south to the village of Llanthony, taking short side trips on parallel roads. An attempt to locate the hamlet of Cwmyoy was unsuccessful—maybe we rode through it and didn’t notice—though the state of the road we took was worthy of adventure motorcycles with the Tigers handling conditions effortlessly.

Both Tigers were kept in the Road power modes for these tight byways. The Sport mode would have been a waste, though we wanted the additional throttle response the Sport mode has over Rain, as well as the increased traction control over the Off-Road mode.

This was the case for most of our trip, though we were still glad to have a choice. It is possible to set up a personalized riding mode, but we both found the preset options to be fully satisfactory.

Returning to civilization, we were booked into The Angel in Abergavenny for the night. A beautiful hotel on the south edge of downtown, we were disappointed when we were told at check-in that the room was being rehabbed and was not ready for guests.

Abergavenny Hotel review
Abergavenny Hotel

We were sent to the Abergavenny Hotel down the road about a quarter-mile—not as conveniently located—but given a two-bedroom, two-bath, three-story accommodation. It was wasted on us, of course, as we were only there for the night—the quarters would comfortably handle a family of four.

A walk up to High Street rewarded us with dinner at Tapas Twist. We had arrived just before closing, yet they enthusiastically welcomed us and served a wonderful variety of dishes—yes, delicious authentic Spanish food in Wales.

Sleeping in late, as is our custom, we headed back to Brecon Beacons National Park for a full day of exploration. We took on the A roads at speed, using the Sport mode and street-oriented Metzeler Tourance tires to our advantage, as well as venturing back onto the one-lane backroads.

If you are on ADV bikes, you cannot go wrong in Brecon Beacons. Every road is revelatory, with climbs into the mountains, along with beautiful lakes and the ever-present sheep. The endearingly unpronounceable Welsh names are plentiful, be they Llanspyddid or Cwmcamlais—no, those are not typos.

Although no rain was predicted for our ride—something highly unusual for Wales—we did get a few dousings up in the mountains. The windshields on both Tigers protected our iPhones from the rain as long as we kept moving, and the Rain mode gave us a sense of security. ABS and traction control are wonderful things on unfamiliar motorcycles and roads.

Our Triumph Malvern jackets, jeans, and gloves kept us absolutely dry, as did Kelly’s Tour Master Trinity Women’s Touring boots and Don’s Sidi Armada Gore Tex footwear.

As we were generally riding with temperatures in the 70s most of the trip, the Triumph Malvern Gear was on the warm side and didn’t offer much venting. The Malvern line is definitely for temperatures in the 60s all the way down to the 30s—normal Wales weather—but we were there for the warmest summer since the 1970s.

Breacon Beacons NP by Motorcycle
Brecon Beacons NP

A not-to-be-missed A road on the west side of Brecon Beacons NP is A4069. It is a legitimate two-lane road with a dashed white line down the middle, so riding fast is more practical.

We stopped for photos at Afon Clydach—a rocky creek bed with a picturesque bridge. The view was fantastic and the road hugely fun. From there, we headed up the hill to Mountain Road Viewpoint—another area with plentiful sheep and, as the name implies, stunning vistas.

From there, dropping down into Brynamman is absolutely spectacular—a fast, twisty road with outstanding sightlines. We clicked the Tigers into Sport mode and let them pounce

In Upper Brynamman, we stopped at The Derlwyn Arms for a late lunch. We wisely decided to split the Hometown Boy—a burger made with locally sourced lamb—as we had opted to try the 3-Way Garlic bread. More than fortified, we reprised our ride on A4069, this time uphill, to an unnamed single-lane side road just west of Mountain Road Viewpoint.

Between the views and the road’s easy visibility—no hedgerows or trees—it made for a fun ride. Don was feeling a bit frisky on the Triumph Tiger XCa and spontaneously went off-road just as the paved road crossed Nant Oesglyn creek.

What seemed like an easy dirt road quickly turned into a challenging rocky climb. Using the Sena communications system, Don warned Kelly to stay on the pavement—her lowered Tiger 800 XRx did not have enough ground clearance.

Don doggedly continued up the rocky two-track—he had no real choice—until it T’ed into another dirt road. There, he clicked the Tiger 1200 XCa into the Off-Road mode and worked his way back down the road without drama. Even with the street-oriented Tourance tires, the Tiger 1200 XCa handled the challenging route well.

Triumph Tiger 800 vs Tiger 1200
Brecon Beacons NP

Exiting Brecon Beacons at Ffairfach, we worked our way on A roads to Roch in southwestern Wales. We were staying at the Victoria Inn in Roch, but Don had put the wrong Victoria Inn into Google Maps. That resulted in an unexpected detour to the seaside town of Milford Haven.

Although we ran into the most traffic we had in Wales—lane splitting narrow Welsh roads on the 1200 is a bit tricky with panniers—it was still an enjoyable misdirection.

The Victoria Inn in Roch is something special. A family operation, we were warmly greeted as we rolled up by proprietor Kate Miller. Victoria Inn has just a few rooms, all with stunning views across the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to St. Brides Bay. The Inn is new, so it is spacious, spotless, and has beautiful modern bathrooms.

The Inn is alongside the Victoria Inn Brewhouse, built in the late 18th century. It now has its own microbrewery, and is an inviting place to eat and socialize—there is a seemingly endless supply of brews available.

We happened to be there for the England vs. Croatia World Cup match. Being Welsh, the support of England in the pub was lukewarm at best, though the locals were keenly interested in the game and it was fun to join in watching while we ate. Kelly’s homemade lasagna and Don’s locally caught fish and chips were perfection, as was the chocolate brownie desert with cream.

Perfect weather again greeted us for the run north to Snowdonia National Park. Before leaving the area, nearby St. David’s Cathedral—founded in AD 589—is a must-stop. From there, Fishguard awaits and a scenic run along the Atlantic Ocean. Traffic is light enough that some time can be made, and the Sport mode makes passing just that much easier.

Before entering Snowdonia National Park, we stopped at The White Lion pub in Tal-y-Bont on A487 along the Afon Ceulan creek. There, we had our only disappointing meal of the trip. The steak sandwich was a grisly piece of meat on Wonder-style white bread. On the upside, the chips were tasty. To be generous, we saw someone order a tuna salad (we think) sandwich, and it came on the same dreary white bread—it could be a local ‘delicacy’ that we didn’t appreciate.

Along the way the Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa’s fob gave us a spot of bother. The motorcycle refused to recognize it after a stop in a remote area. Powering everything down a couple of times re-established communications between the two, but we definitely had a sinking feeling for a few minutes.

We had only one day for Snowdonia National Park, but you could easily spend three or four days exploring this magical land. Along with the endless amazing roads, we lucked into the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways in Porthmadog, and the slate mountains in Glanypwll—a donut hole not actually part of the park due to its widespread mining operations.

Off-pavement in Brecon Beacons NP aboard Triumph
Off-pavement in Brecon Beacons NP

Oh, and the wonderful thing about Snowdonia, like Brecon Beacons, is that you can simply go down any road you like and have a great adventure—there are no boring roads! The two Tigers take away any worries about a narrow or rough road, as they’re off-pavement capable should the need arise. On the less demanding roads,  the upright seating the Tigers provide is the perfect platform for comfortable sightseeing. When the roads encourage a frisky throttle hand, the Tigers respond enthusiastically.

Our destination for the night was the resort town of Llandudno on the Irish Sea. Don’t ask us how to pronounce Llandudno. We had a local do it for us, and we couldn’t even figure out how to reproduce the sound he effortlessly enunciated. Local knowledge at its finest.

We went upscale for the night, staying at the seafront Imperial Hotel, where we had an ocean-view room. Parking was in a lot in the back, and the hotel happily let us park the Tigers wherever we could squeeze them in. Fortunately, it was right near a freight lift to our very roomy third-floor accommodations.

For dinner, we asked the receptionist for a dinner recommendation. She innocently pointed us toward Home Cookin’, a fair walk from the Imperial Hotel. No matter, walking through Llandudno was a joy.

When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a wait. Still, we were ushered to a table shortly, even though we were yet again arriving just before closing. The meal was amazing, with Kelly going for the locally raised slow-roasted leg of lamb and Don enjoying the prime Welsh topside of beef.

Slow-roasted leg of lamb at Home Cookin’, Llandudno
Slow-roasted leg of lamb at Home Cookin’, Llandudno

Speaking with nearby diners, they were surprised that we were seated without a reservation—Home Cookin’ is a popular Llandudno destination. We mentioned to our waitress that the receptionist at the Imperial Hotel had recommended the restaurant, which elicited a quip that the receptionist also did a shift at the restaurant.

A late night walk back to the Imperial Hotel along the pebbly North Shore Beach was the perfect topper for the evening.

We had to return the Tigers to Triumph the following day, and we had to get to Hinckley before the factory closed. After hugging the post on the North Wales Expressway, we worked our way to M6 for some high-speed touring testing. Well, that was the plan.

Being a Friday, the M6 was a nightmare. We switched over to Waze, and were alerted that we were in a 35-minute traffic jam. We were able to scoot along the shoulder here and there, but construction was the cause of much of the delay, and most of the time we just sat in traffic.

Still, there were some fast portions where we could let the Tigers roar, and they did. You can easily cruise at any speed you like up to 100 mph or so. Once the traffic dissipated, we were able to arrive at Triumph in Hinckley with time to spare.

Speaking of Hinckley, we have a couple of tips if you are there for the Triumph Factory Experience. Make sure you take a walk along the Ashby de la Zouch Canal and check out the houseboats floating by at just above walking speed. For an unforgettable meal, the off-the-beaten path Tin Hat Bar & Grill will provide you with an unforgettable dining experience.

We had two major takeaways from our trip. The first one is obvious—we needed more time. Two full days in Brecon Beacons NP is a must, and you really should schedule three or four days in Snowdonia NP. We didn’t explore Pembrokeshire Coast NP as completely as we would have liked, so a day or two there is certainly in order. However, for us, deadlines always loom.

The other lesson is that the Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa and Tiger 800 XRx adventure motorcycles were absolutely perfect. There wasn’t a moment that either of us wished we were on different motorcycles. They handle wonderfully, they are easy to ride, the comfort level is outstanding, plus the performance and flexibility make for flawless travel companions.

Arthur was right. It did rain on us in Wales. However, that was simply an experience enhancement on one of those once-in-a-lifetime rides that you can’t wait to do over.

Text and photography by Kelly Callan and Don Williams

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2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa and 800 XRx Review | Touring Wales Photo Gallery