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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 24 June 2008
Do you like your bikes big, funky and British? You do, then check out the Tiger 900 trailie from the boys at Hinckley.
It might not be the fastest thing on two wheels, or the prettiest, but it’s tough, user friendly and makes a very decent alternative to the BMW R1150GS, especially if you feel all patriotic.
With a re-worked three cylinder engine lifted from Triumph´s sportier offerings of the mid 1990s, the Tiger has a truly unique feel, in a market segment where most of the opposition is twin cylinder powered.
It had all been so deceptively easy. For the last few miles, tailing a GSX-R750 along curving A-roads, I’d been conscious of using a few more revs than before, of wind tumbling over the low screen, and of the softly-sprung bike rocking slightly in the bends. But the ride had been no sweat; the Tiger totally at home. Then I glanced down at the speedo. It was indicating over 100mph, and had presumably been doing so for much of the last ten minutes - keeping pace with the speeding Suzuki so effortlessly that I’d assumed we were travelling a good 20mph or 30mph slower.
Perhaps the wind roar and fork dive that had been starting to become annoying weren’t so unacceptable after all. As a trail bike, the Tiger makes a pretty reasonable sportster - and so it should. This latest 900 may be the most obviously different of Triumph’s range, with its big tank, desert-race styling and long-travel suspenders. But of all the big trailies it is not only the fastest and the only one with more than two cylinders.
It’s probably also the least suited of all to off-road exploration. Which is quite all right by me, and probably by most potential owners. This 900 remained on the road, and stayed shiny side up even after being booted up the back by a dozily-driven Peugeot when I braked slightly late for a roundabout.
Despite getting shunted forward quite violently, the Triumph suffered no more than a scratched number-plate. The car, to my delight, copped a shattered headlight and a dented bonnet. The Tiger’s that kind of bike: big, butch and apparently indestructible. It has been created to provide the necessary all-terrain image while retaining as much of the modular format as possible.
Many parts are shared with the Trident and other bikes, notably the steel spine frame and much of the watercooled, 12-valve 885cc engine. (Five of Triumph’s eight models are powered by the long-stroke triple.)
However, a comprehensive revamp has been necessary. A new twin-headlamp half-fairing merges with the plastic fuel tank whose new-found legality has allowed the Tiger to go on sale here earlier than expected.
Bright blue paint (red and sand are options) extends not just to the sidepanels and tailpiece, but also to engine covers and the hefty steel tubes holding an alloy bashplate. Front suspension is all new, of course, with 43mm Kayabas giving 235mm of travel up front.
The rear shock is a fully adjustable unit from the same Japanese firm, with its remote reservoir positioned high near the left side of the black-barrelled engine. There’s 200mm travel at the spoked 17-inch rear wheel, which like the 19-inch front wears one of Michelin’s tarmac-friendly T66 tubed trail radials.
Triumph don’t claim that this is an off-road bike, and the Tiger has none of the dirt-friendly folding levers and quick-release fasteners seen on some trailies. What it does have, alongside the black-faced speedo and tacho in its cockpit, is a digital clock that looks a bit like an afterthought but is no less useful for that.
So too are the hand-protectors, theoretically intended to catch flying rocks but equally adept at diverting cold air. As well as having deceitfully ’desert-racerish’ styling the triple is also suitably huge, thanks partly to a seat which at 850mm is a good 60mm higher than that of any other Triumph.
It’s heavy, too, at around 500lb fuelled-up. But once you clamber onto the beast, its soft suspension compresses so much that tall riders can put both feet flat on the ground and the bike feels barely bigger than most other Trumpets.
The Tiger certainly has the trademark triple sound and feel when you hit the button, ticking over smoothly with a similarly muted three-pot burble from the high-set silencers. The engine is not quite a Trident lump, though. Its camshafts are new, with less lift and duration. Along with airbox and carb jetting mods (the trio of 36mm CV Mikunis remain), the changes bring claimed peak power down from the Trident’s 99bhp at 9500rpm to 84bhp at 8000rpm.
Power is reduced all the way from four grand to the 8500rpm redline, although there’s an improvement at very low revs and the Tiger’s torque curve is virtually flat from 2000rpm upwards. Triumph won’t confirm as much, but the changes are presumably less to do with adding low-rev performance than with restricting the Tiger’s top whack to around 130mph to prevent the high-speed weave that afflicts many similarly styled bikes.What you feel about the new motor depends on what you compare it to. It’s smooth and torquey by any standards, but in comparison with the original triple the Tiger seems more like a friendly tabby. Okay, that’s exaggerating. But the Tiger is a little less eager to rev, although it still accelerates crisply and cruises at a ton with pleasantly relaxed ease (and commendably vibration-free mirrors).
A slight loss of top-end performance is predictable, but I’d hoped for even more bottom-end bite in return. In fact the Tiger felt barely stronger than the other triples at low revs, and was less keen than the half-faired Trident Sprint to pull stonking wheelies using just the throttle.
And while I’m moaning, the new motor’s laid-back nature meant it had even less need for all six of the ratios in Triumph’s ubiquitous modular gearbox. I won’t complain too much, though, because this is still one meaty motor. Simply winding back the throttle in top is guaranteed to send the 900 surging forward, regardless of revs.
When picking off lines of cars on a crowded A-road, for example, it’s perfect. From that high perch you can see for miles. The Tiger stomps forward instantly from below 50mph in top - and if held wide open it keeps on pulling, with no pause for breath, until you’re holding on tight at two miles per minute.
By trail bike standards that’s fast, and the good news is that Triumph’s detune works in that the Tiger chassis is well capable of coping with that speed. The wide bars showed no signs of getting into a flap even close to the max, and the 900 stayed pretty stable at all times - although with this much soft suspension travel around you’re never going to get the taut feel of a decent sportster.When on the power hard coming out of a bend and the shock compresses to let the bike rock a bit, but there’s enough damping to prevent it turning into a wobble. The Tiger cornered well on the standard settings, and winding on a few extra clicks of both compression and rebound (easily done, unlike spring preload adjustment which is dealer-only) firmed things up slightly.
There’s no such opportunity at the non-adjustable front end, which predictably makes like a base-jumper every time the reasonably pokey front-brake set-up of 276mm discs and twin-pot calipers is used in anger. Braking hard into a bend pushes the narrowish front Michelin towards its limits and uses up ground clearance. But there’s a reasonable way to go before, on right-handers, the rear brake lever digs in.
Rapid direction changes require a fair tug on the wide bars but the Tiger will hustle if it has to. Comfort is good, thanks to a combination of relaxed riding position, big seat and reasonable wind protection from the stubby screen. And the Tiger is pretty practical, too. Its 5.3 gallon tank gives a minimum 150-mile range, even when hard use brings fuel consumption down towards 30mpg (40mpg and 200 miles would be more typical).
The fuel tank’s shape hampers fitting a tank-bag, and the upswept pipes would make fitting throwovers dodgy, but at least there’s a decent-sized luggage rack. Course if you really want serious horsepower, taut handling, powerful brakes and mile-eating comfort a trail bike is not the logical choice. Triumph’s own Trident Sprint 900, to name one obvious rival that costs only £150 more than the £6299 Tiger, is better in every way apart from its lack of notional off-road ability and the absence of a clock.
For anyone harboring even vague ideas about off-road use, on the other hand, Yamaha’s Super Tenere or Honda’s revamped Africa Twin (to name but two) are slightly lighter, slightly lower and a fair bit cheaper.
The Tiger savages them with its performance on the street, though - and anyway, when did logic or off-road performance ever have much to do with buying a big trailie?
It’s hard to dispute that big, squashy posemobiles like these are fundamentally flawed, yet the irony is that they can make very capable bikes. The ones that succeed match off-road style and feel with the engine performance of a long-legged tourer. Perhaps as much by luck as by judgement, that’s just what Triumph’s modular mud-plugger does best.
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph tiger.
Engine Water-cooled DOHC 12-valve transverse triple
Claimed power (bhp) 76 x 65mm
Compression ratio 10.6:1
Transmission Six speed
Front tyre 110/80 x 19in Michelin T66
Rear tyre 150/70 x 17in Michelin T66
Front wheel 2.50 x 19in
Rear wheel 4.50 x 17in
Front suspension 43mm telescopic Kayaba
Rear suspension One Kayaba damper, adjustments for preload and rebound damping
Front brake Twin 276mm discs, twin-piston calipers
Rear brake Single 255mm disc, twin-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1560mm (61.4in)
Dry weight 209kg (460lb)
Top speed 130 mph
Fuel capacity 24 litres
Current price £7,149