Those great teases in the Triumph marketing team have announced that there will be a new Triumph Tiger for 2018, releasing one of those 30 second video clips to signal the impending arrival of a new model without saying anything significant about what we can actually be riding.
All will be revealed at the unveiling in Milan next week but, in the meantime, we thought that it would be a good idea to look back at the history of the Tiger nameplate, which goes back some 80 years and could be argued is the most significant in the company’s history.
The nickname was first used in 1937, a significant year as it marked the start of a new era at the great British brand. On 25 February 1936, Triumph founder Siegfried Bettmann sold the company to Jack Sangster, who had founded Ariel Motorcycles and had a trio of talented designers in Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood at his disposal.
Turner, previously chief designer at Ariel, had convinced Sangster to buy Triumph and was appointed as the general manager. He would go on to be the company patriarch for almost three decades, steering the company through the golden era of the British motorcycle industry.
As well as being the general manager, Turner was also the chief designer and went about updating the Triumph range. The first of these new models were based on the oddly titled 2/1, 3/2 and 5/5 and were named ‘Tiger’ and would introduce a Turner policy of adding a number to designate the model’s nominal top speed in miles per hour. The initial three bike range consisted of the 250cc Tiger 70, the 350cc Tiger 80 and the 500cc Tiger 90, made at Triumph’s pre-war Coventry factory.
The Tiger nameplate was to represent the ‘standard’ Triumph throughout the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Where the Bonneville, Daytona and Thunderbird were the glamour models, the Tiger remained the bread and butter model that was popular with bikers all around the world. The T100, introduced in 1939, became a significant model for the company. With an advertised top speed of 100mph, the Tiger 100 provided a base for numerous racers both off-road and on the circuits. This model would also be famous as the bike that Bob Dylan crashed in 1966, and with which Ted Simon completed his famous round the world trip in the mid 1970s. The trip was later immortalised in his book, Jupiter’s Travels.
Tigers also introduced a whole generation to motorcycling through the Tiger Cub range. The 199cc singles were introduced in 1954 and were cheap and cheerful learner legal commuter bikes.
While the Tiger name is today linked with off-road style bikes, that hasn’t always been the case. Back in the day, manufacturers generally made a standard bike and customers modified them to suit their needs. It wasn’t uncommon for clubman riders to buy a Tiger, ride it to the racetrack, take off the number plates and go race. Off-road riders could fit high level exhausts and knobbly tyres and do a bit of weekend scrambling. The Tiger really was the most versatile bike of Triumph’s Meriden era.
The Tiger name was phased out in the mid-1970s, as the combination of technically superior Japanese bikes, increased car ownership and unprecedented levels of mismanagement and industrial action saw a dramatic decline in the whole of the British motorcycle industry. By the early 1980s, the company was on life support and leading a hand to mouth existence. Surviving with government backing and now run as a worker’s co-operative, times were tough but despite that the company was constantly trying to adapt its products to meet market needs. Seeing that BMW was having some success with its new R80 G/S, the forbearer to the modern adventure bikes of today, the company raided its parts bin to create the TR7T Tiger Trail.
Unveiled at the 1981 Paris Show, the bike had to make do with the ancient engine and frame technology that was kicking around the factory at the time, but had great contemporary styling set off with high level exhausts and quasi knobbly tyres. It would not be the saviour of the company though as, despite the government writing off the debt that it was owed, cash flow remained a problem and, by mid-1983, Triumph was no more.
Or so we thought. The rise of Triumph to once again become one of the world’s greatest motorcycle manufacturers is the stuff of legend. Building magnate John Bloor bought the rights to the company at auction in late 1983 and privately set about creating an all new motorcycle manufacturer around the iconic name.
The new company shared nothing with the one that had struggled through the 1970s and 1980s. Houses were built where the old Meriden site lay and an all-new factory was developed at Hinckley in Leicestershire. The facility was cutting edge and the bikes were clean sheet designs. The first bikes went on sale in 1991 and only one thing linked them to the past – the names. The first bikes, all based on the same modular design, were historic nameplates from the past – Daytona, Trident and Trophy.
The Tiger name was revived for 1993, when the truly gargantuan Tiger 900 was released. Like the Tiger Trail of 1981, it was a model aimed at mainland Europeans, who had embraced the whole dual sport (latterly known as adventure) concept and were buying bikes like the BMW R1100GS and Yamaha Super Teneres in great numbers. This monster bike used the same three-cylinder 885cc engine as the other models, albeit in a retuned 82bhp format, at tipped the scales at almost 250kg when the 25-litre tank was fully fuelled up.
With its 19” spoked front wheel it had off-road style, even if it was too big and heavy for serious off-roading, but it was to gain a cult following – earning the nickname of ‘Steamer’ due to the steam that would bellow from the radiator when it was ridden off road and through big puddles. This model morphed into the fuel-injected Tiger 955i that ran through to 2006, before being replaced by the Tiger 1050, which still exists today.
The Tiger 1050 marked a big departure from the 955i and followed the trend for more road-biased adventure bikes. Other than the upright riding position, the 1050 made no pretence of being an off-roader, with 17” cast wheels shod with pure road tyres and a lusty 113bhp motor, it was a sports tourer par excellence, although many Triumph fans lamented the loss of any kind of dirt track capabilities.
That was addressed in 2010, when two new Tiger 800s were introduced. Directly targeting the BMW F650GS and F800GS, the standard bike run a 19” front wheel and made a very capable daily rider, while the Tiger 800XC had spoked wheels, 21” up front, and more ground clearance for some reasonable off-road capability.
In 2011, Triumph went straight for the all-conquering BMW R1200GS and unveiled the shaft-driven 1200cc Tiger Explorer. Like the 800, the Explorer comes in standard and XC forms, with numerous variations on each platform. The Tiger 1050 Sport remains in the range as a pure sports touring option.
What’s next in the 80 year history of the Tiger will be revealed next week, although we expect updates to both the 800 and 1200cc versions as Triumph aims to continue its fight against the likes of BMW and Honda in what are the most hotly contested sectors of the modern motorcycle market.