The 2021 BMW F 900 XR and 2021 Triumph Tiger 850 Sport offer radically different solutions to the sport-touring challenge, and that’s due in no small part to their respective DNA. The BMW answers the call with road-biased equipment, such as 17-inch wheels and street-oriented chassis geometry. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as its sibling is the F 900 R naked sportbike. Meanwhile, the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport maintains much of its ADV lineage with a 19-inch front wheel, relaxed ergonomics, and touring features more conducive to long-distance riding.On paper, the BMW F 900 XR and Triumph Tiger 850 Sport appear relatively matched. That narrative quickly stops once you’ve hit the ignitions, as the two bikes begin trading blows in nearly every category, and that’s most pronounced with the powerplants.
BMW comes out of its corner with a stout 895cc parallel-twin engine flexing a claimed 99 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 67 ft-lbs of torque at 6500 rpm. The German mill features a 270-degree crank, which has become quite the in-vogue p-twin feature as of late. Along with it comes a masculine personality, picking up easily from the bottom of the rev range and delivering some low-end wallop immediately.That grunt sticks around throughout the midrange and is delivered in a satisfyingly smooth manner—there’s some charming twin-cylinder lope, spooling up with zest when asked, but never outside the grasp of the rider. As you climb into the hinterlands of the revs, power does start to wane without completely falling off like p-twins of old. The words stately and refined are certainly ever-present when watching it work through the tachometer.There’s considerably more engine braking on the twin, which allows you to plop the BMW a gear and work the throttle as needed during deceleration. As it turns out, that’s a good thing considering how stiff the gearbox is when shifting. Luckily, the clutch pull is light.Meanwhile, the Triumph Tiger 850’s 888cc triple boasts 84 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 61 ft-lbs of torque @ 6500 rpm—the same peak points as the BMW. Mechanically, the Tiger 850 Sport’s engine is identical to its Tiger 900 brethren, only differing in that it has a lower state of tune. However, you’d be mistaken to think that this has made it lose its edge.Instead, the rev-happy nature of the triple makes the Tiger downright exciting, even if it might not produce the same low-end thrust as the BMW. The Tiger 850 begins to hit its stride where the BMW tapers off, stretching its legs with more upper midrange and top-end power.In the modern era, smooth is nearly synonymous with any of the British brand’s inline-3s, so it was shocking to feel some high-frequency vibrations creep in around 6000 rpm. While the engine is certainly not as buzz-free as the BMW contender, the Triumph’s gearbox is slick and sporty in comparison. Both feature slipper clutches for any overzealous downshifting.The crucial design differences don’t stop there, folks. The BMW emphasizes the sport in sport-touring, thanks to its street-oriented features and chassis. Loaded for bear with cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels shod with excellent Michelin Road 5 GT rubber and a noticeably shorter 59.9-inch wheelbase, the BMW is at home in the twisty bits of road. The XR sends the rider far more feedback through its aluminum frame and loads of confidence when pitching into the corners.One can muscle the F 900 XR around or take a laissez-faire approach. In either case, you can trust what’s underneath you while on the edge of the tire. It is planted throughout the entry, mid, and exit of any corner.Aiding in that sure-footed nature is a non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork and linkage-free shock, featuring spring-preload and rebound damping adjustment. While the BMW’s suspenders offer slightly less travel in the front and a hair more in the rear, they provide a stiffer setup suited for aggressive riding. With that in mind, the XR is the bike you want to be on when getting on the binders into corners during a spirited canyon run, though the firmer damping can beat you up a bit over rough tarmac.The Tiger 850 Sport isn’t as steady on its feet as the XR, and we can chalk that up to its larger cast-aluminum 19-inch front wheel and narrower Michelin Anakee Adventure rubber—an odd choice for a motorcycle Triumph markets as street-oriented “Sport” with the Tiger 900s carrying the ADV mantle.Although the Tiger is comparably agile, the 19-inch wheel isn’t as confidence-inspiring when leaned over, especially when cornering through rough asphalt. Unsurprisingly, when the pavement ends, the bigger front hoop and slightly knobby tires pay off quite well, though they do have an audible drone to them.ADV heritage on the Tiger is even more apparent when looking at its long 61.1-inch wheelbase and the slightly longer-travel non-adjustable 45mm Marzocchi inverted fork. The linkage-assisted Marzocchi shock features spring-preload adjustment only, though it’s conveniently done via an easily accessible knob. Taken together, the suspension sets the tone, with the Tiger dispensing a plusher ride designed to gobble up potholes and focus on comfort. The simple fact is that the Tiger’s larger front wheel and softer suspension can’t produce the same mechanical grip that the 17-inch wheels and stiffer suspenders can offer on the Beemer.Despite its sporty inclinations, the BMW weighs in at 483 pounds with its 4.1-gallon fuel tank filled to the brim. BMW would do well to shed some weight on the XR—it’s 44 pounds heavier than its R brother. That would undoubtedly make the p-twin powerplant feel perkier. Meanwhile, the Tiger 850 Sport manages to come in at 475 pounds, despite carrying significantly more fuel in its 5.3-gallon tank. Still, the BMW is the livelier feeling of the two machines.Stark contrasts are the theme of this comparison, and that point is made clear when jumping from one machine to the other. Following its streetwise nature, the BMW F 900 XR features a neutral, upright riding position. More weight is on the front end of the chassis, which inspires sportier thoughts from the moment you take to its 32.5-inch saddle. Adding to that subtle “go fast” mentality are the higher footpegs, which accommodate far greater lean angles and add a bit more knee-bend into the mix, though not enough to compromise comfort.The rider is more exposed on the BMW, as you sit atop the motorcycle instead of inside it. Not only that, the seat itself is firm and sculpted in a way that locks the rider into one specific position. The two-position adjustable windscreen offers some reprieve from wind, although not all that much—the low position is almost completely out of the way.On the other end of the spectrum, the Tiger 850 Sport embraces touring duties. The comfy, adjustable saddle feels remarkably low, despite being marginally taller at 32.7 inches (31.9 in the low setting—not suited to our testers’ inseams). With wide handlebars at your disposal, one has all the leverage you’d ever need to usher the Tiger through the canyons, and you feel as though you’re tucked in behind the fuel tank. The rubber-mounted footpegs are nice and low, which does mean you can scrape the tarmac easier, reminding you to reel it in a bit.Where the Triumph stands out is in regards to wind protection. The svelte multi-position windscreen provides the utmost wind protection for my 5-foot 10-inch frame.Triumph takes a simple approach to its electronics, providing two riding modes—Rain and Road, along with ABS and TC. To keep costs down, the entry-level Tiger 850 Sport forgoes expensive features such as an IMU, which means you miss out on cornering ABS and lean-angle-sensitive TC. In practice, the safety features work quite well and don’t cut in prematurely. The Road fueling is precise and clean, without any hiccups to raise an offending eyebrow.Although Tiger 850 Sport’s full-color TFT display is crystal clear and stunning visually, the color choices of the UI are problematic. Everything seems to be in complementary pastel shades, and while quite attractive, it makes reading info such as the rpm gauge difficult in the daylight. A minor niggle, sure, but notable as the Street Triple 765 RS and Speed Triple 1200 RS have interfaces that are bold and bright as the Las Vegas Strip.BMW is notorious for its options and accessories, which is a conversation that extends to electronics. The BMW is equipped with two standard riding modes—Rain and Road—that alter ABS, TC, and WC accordingly in stock trim. Our test unit was equipped with Ride Modes Pro ($350) that unlocks the IMU, enabling adjustable cornering ABS, lean-angle-sensitive TC, as well as Dynamic and Dynamic Pro riding modes. Dynamic Pro allows riders to customize their settings.Putting the BMW’s systems through the paces reveals a more conservative limit. ABS intervention comes in far earlier than expected, whether in Road or Dynamic riding modes. Although, we should note that Dynamic does extend the line a bit further, and I would argue not far enough. The Road throttle map is conservative, and Dynamic kicks things up into a properly sporty state.BMW ekes out a win with the massive full-color TFT display that’s exceptionally bright, clear, and easy to read in all its various modes. BMW’s WonderWheel makes navigating the layered menu system quite a breeze.While BMW does nickel and dime its customers with accessories, there is no denying the sheer breadth of its catalog. XR owners can add niceties such as an up/down quickshifter, cruise control, heated grips, a centerstand, luggage options, semi-active shock, keyless ignition, and much more.The Tiger 850 Sport is the most economical member of the Tiger streak. As such, it is stripped down to the basics. However, options like cruise control and an up/down quickshifter aren’t available, but luggage options, heated grips, handguards, and a centerstand are available.You’ll observe that the superstructure for attaching side cases on the Tiger Sport 850 is installed. We intended to compare the two sport-tourers with bags. However, BMW didn’t have any XR bags available. However, there’s no doubt that the XR looks much better sans cases than the Tiger. We can report that the Tiger’s ADV-style cases are outstanding—easy to install, remove, and are cavernous. Watch for a touring test of the Tiger Sport 850 with its Expedition panniers filled.In a classic example of “the spec sheet doesn’t tell the whole story,” the Tiger 850 Sport flaunts top-shelf equipment like Brembo Stylema four-piston calipers clamping onto 320mm rotors. While outright stopping power is immense, the penny-pinching J.Juan radial master cylinder doesn’t do the calipers any justice and lacks feeling at its adjustable lever.On the other hand, the BMW F 900 XR manages to perform better with lower-spec Brembo four-piston calipers and an axial master cylinder grabbing 320mm rotors on a 17-inch front wheel. The outright feel is noticeably improved on the BMW, and stopping power is always there. In the rear, it’s a similar tale when speaking of the XR’s single-piston caliper and 264mm disc setup—excellent stopping power and helpful when correcting lines.The answer to which machine is suitable for you boils down to a simple question: Do you want to go fast, or do you want to go far? You can do either on both machines, but picking the right machine depends on where you’ve placed your priorities.BMW has created a motorcycle that answers the sport-touring question with a torquey p-twin engine that’s smooth and sultry, mated to a nearly unflappable chassis, and a riding position that encourages a rider to get whip through the canyons. Losing some weight might encourage a bit more excitement from the XR, but one can’t deny the rock-solid handling that 17-inch wheels and firmed-up suspension provide.In the name of athleticism, the XR sacrifices some creature comforts, and that’s where the Tiger 850 Sport cleans up. With superior wind protection, longer fuel range, and plush ride overall—the Tiger is ready to tick off the miles with glee in comfort. Sure, the 19-inch front wheel and ADV-inspired suspension aren’t the best for setting canyon PBs, but the charm of the triple-cylinder is present wherever you take it.Photography by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE
Ducati DesertX + Dale Wagler and his BMW 1250 GS Adventure (Owner Review)
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
In this week’s first segment, Senior Editor Nic de Sena take a look at the Ducati DesertX ADV bike. Powered by the same liquid-cooled V-twin motor as several other models in the Ducati range, the DesertX is another entry into the upper-middleweight class of ADV machines. The big question of course, is can the DesertX make its mark and differentiate itself from a growing field of competitors?
The second segment is the premiere of our new series of ‘Owner Reviews’. These are real-world opinions of machines owned by everyman riders. For this first one, I chat with my friend Dale Wagler. Dale is a former Marine and hard-core street- and dirt-bike rider. Dale recently acquired a new BMW 1250 GS Adventure, and he gives us his thoughts on the bike’s positives—and a few negatives too.
If you’d like to be considered for a future Owner Reviews segment on an episode of Motos & Friends, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us briefly about your bike. We’d love to hear from you!
So, from all of us here at Motos & Friends… we hope you enjoy this episode!