2018 Triumph Tiger 800 XCa

Editor Score: 91.50%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Instruments/Controls5.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.5/10
Value 8.5/10
Overall Score91.5/100

2018 Triumph Tiger 800 XRt

Editor Score: 90.75%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Instruments/Controls5.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 8.75/10
Value 8.5/10
Overall Score90.75/100

The 2018 Triumph Tiger 800 is one of those bikes that kind of flies in the face of conventional wisdom about what makes a great Adventure Touring motorcycle, and Triumph is perennially happy to thumb its nose at the competition.

While most off-road worthy adventure touring machines make use of twin-cylinder power plants, Triumph has continued to stick with its three-cylinder engine, creating its own legacy which continues in the latest Tiger 800 and Tiger 1200 models, both of which boast significant redesigns for 2018.

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When we saw the Tiger 800 XC unveiled at EICMA last November, we started marking the days in anticipation of an invite to sample it. That invitation finally arrived, and we learned the worldwide Tiger 800 launch would take place near sunny Marrakech, Morocco, in the northwest corner of the African continent. Weather for that part of the third world is typically sunny and warm this time of year, with temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, so I gleefully packed my vented riding gear in anticipation of some frolicking in the pavement and the dirt aboard the Tiger 800 XRt and Tiger 800 XCa models that awaited me.

With completely redesigned models, Triumph has moved its Tiger 800 line forward in a big way for 2018. Shown here against the Atlas Mountains in the country of Morocco, the XRt is the top road-going model in the clan.

I should have taken one more look at the weather forecasts before I actually boarded my flight from Los Angeles to New York to what turned out to be London, Madrid and then Marrakech (after a delay in LA caused us to miss the connection out of New York). When the wheels touched down in Marrakech, a cold rain was pouring down and the nearby Atlas Mountains were covered in white stuff that looked suspiciously like snow. Worse yet, the new forecast temperatures for our ride days were low 30s.

Fortune sometimes smiles on the unprepared, however. My gear bag was lost somewhere along the flight route, which meant I had nothing other than the helmet I’d carried on the plane. Triumph saved the day(s) by loaning me some of its Goretex riding gear. The jacket was a touch too small and the pants were a touch to large, but beggars can’t be choosers. And knowing what my own “kit” contained, I was never happier to be a beggar!

With the same lower first gear ratio found on all 2018 Tiger 800 models, the Tiger 800 XCa is the most dirt-worthy Triumph since the brand’s rebirth.

Prologue

The Tiger has a long and distinguished history in Triumph’s line-up, predating even the vaunted Bonneville. The first Tiger rolled out of Triumph’s Meriden, England, factory doors in 1936, designed for competition use, and it could be argued that the Tiger can claim to be one of the first true adventure tourers, thanks to Ted Simon, who rode his Tiger T100 78,000 miles through 45 countries around the world in the 1970s, which served as the inspiration for his book, Jupiter’s Travels, one of the key ignition points for the adventure touring movement as we know it today.

2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout

The Tiger model has been a staple of modern-era, Hinckley-based Triumph since 1993, and while the ’93 and ’18 models share Triumph’s signatory triple-cylinder engine architecture and the new Tigers are light years ahead when it comes to technology, the original mission of the Tiger family remains the same: Go anywhere. Do anything. That’s probably why the Tiger has been one of the hottest-selling Triumphs of all-time, with 68,000 units sold since 2010, according to Triumph. It’s a bike that blends real performance with true character, and for 2018 Triumph engineers have labored to amplify the Tiger 800’s attributes by enhancing the torque and the growl of its triple, introducing new technology to the model, and evolving its ergonomics and styling.

Blimey, That Engine!

You wouldn’t think that the Triumph Tiger 800’s 800cc fuel-injected DOHC four-valves-per-cylinder Triple would be a great choice for off-road riding, but Triumph has refused to abandon its three-cylinder engine architecture in favor of the Adventure Touring genre’s more commonly used Twin – even if one could argue that a Bonneville-powered Adventure Tourer would be amazing, but I digress. No, the Tiger 800’s trio of 74.05mm bores and 61.9mm crankshaft stroke deliver a surprisingly torquey and linear power curve. Think of it as creamy horseradish, smooth yet spicy enough to water the eyes if you stay in the throttle all the way to its claimed peak power output, 94 horsepower at 9500 rpm (redline is around 10,250 rpm).

Triumph continues to buck the twin-cylinder trend with its smooth-revving three-cylinder engine. Its power curve is practically flawless, with seamless torque from the bottom to the top of the rev range.

Triumph engineers worked to fill in a dip in low-rpm torque, and the result is a much more linear feel from bottom to top, the Tiger growling along happily and with plenty of lunge to spare no matter where you are in the rev range. The Tiger 800’s 58 lb.-ft. of peak torque is said to occur at 8050 rpm, but without yet having a Tiger 800 on the dyno, it’s a safe wager that the silky-smooth engine pumps out at least 50 lb.-ft. most of the way along its torque curve. There isn’t a single hitch or glitch to be found anywhere in the Tiger 800’s multipoint sequential fuel injection. It just motors right along, growling happily through its new, lighter 3-into-1 exhaust system as it quickly gets the Tiger 800’s roughly 500-lbs. (fully fueled) up to speed. This is one exciting cat that’s also very easy to ride!

And that’s even if the Tiger 800 didn’t offer the convenience of numerous riding modes that deliver varying levels of throttle response—by adjusting fueling and ignition timing—along with traction control and ABS, but it does offer them. Road mode is the default map in the system, though the Tiger 800 will retain any mode you choose as long as you don’t switch off its ignition key. Switching modes is a simple matter of thumbing the mode button on the left switch gear to select your preferred mode and then pushing in the joystick at the bottom the switch housing to select it. If the Tiger 800 is in motion the computer will then ask the rider to close the throttle to complete the process and, presto! It’s that simple.

One of the Tiger’s many revisions involves relocating the Tiger 800’s cruise control to the left side switch housing. The joystick at the bottom of the housing allows the rider to toggle and set the Tiger’s various ride modes. The switches are also backlit for easier night-time operation.

Except that the Tiger 800 will not allow the rider to switch into Off-Road or Off-Road Pro mode unless the vehicle is at a complete stop. This is a safety feature as Triumph doesn’t want anyone inadvertently turning off the ABS while in motion. Off-Road mode disengages ABS at the rear brake only, while Off-Road Pro mode disengages ABS front and rear.

Road mode offers a fluid but kind of lazy throttle response, but it’s nothing compared to Rain mode, which transforms the Tiger into a turtle. That may be just the ticket on wet, slick roads, but it only took a few minutes of riding the Tiger in Rain mode to realize that its intervention is extreme. Most seasoned riders will likely prefer Sport mode, which delivers all of the Tiger’s healthy roar while retaining traction control and full ABS, just in case. Even so, I found myself mostly sticking to Off-Road mode on the XRt and Off-Road Pro mode on the XCa simply because I like to keep my options open when it comes to applying the rear brake. A user customizable mode also allows the rider to mix-and-match levels of throttle response, traction control and ABS. It’s a nice addition, although I’m not sure it’s necessary since the standard riding modes pretty much cover the gamut for conditions you’re likely to encounter on or off the road.

The Tiger 800 XCa’s WP suspension instills amazing confidence in the dirt. Action is smooth with excellent bottoming resistance.

The Tiger 800’s new shorter ratio first gear is a windfall for off-road riders, as it really helps to eliminate the need to slip the clutch to keep the big machine going in any technical terrain within the bike’s scope, which is considerable. The steeper cog doesn’t necessarily turn the Tiger into a Sherman tank, but I was surprised at just how well the knobby-equipped XCa I tested was able to claw its way up the slimy and rutted trails near the town of Amizmiz. While there is some wheel spin in Off-Road Pro mode, the Tiger’s tractable low-end power and excellent ride-by-wire throttle response make it very easy to control that spin, which allows the rider to keep moving forward when the going gets slow and slippery. I’ll reserve judgment on how well the Tiger 800 XCa performs in rocky sections, as our Morocco routes didn’t present us with any tricky ones.

The first gear ratio is less pronounced on the road, as the Tiger 800’s broad power spread helps to give it plenty of “leg” when cruising through cities, towns and villages. The rest of the gearbox feels nicely spaced, with sixth gear offering plenty of overdrive for high-speed cruising at moderate rpm. The Tiger’s clutch and shifting action are also very smooth, although I did find myself longing for the electronic shift assist found on the Tiger 1200 when riding the Tiger 800 XCa in the dirt, as the transmission fought my attempts to shift it without backing off the throttle. It was definitely a non-issue while grinding out road miles on the XRt.

Moves Like A Cat

The Tiger 800’s tubular steel trellis offers excellent feel and feedback regardless of whether your adventure rides include a lot of highway, desolate dirt sections, or anything in-between. Fitted with the shorter but wider cast-aluminum 19-inch front wheel, the Tiger 800 XRt feels planted when the going gets twisty. Steering effort is light, and its response is quick enough yet very neutral, inspiring confidence. The Tiger 800 XCa feels just as solid albeit slightly more deliberate in the corners when its spoked, 21-inch front wheel is shod with road-oriented rubber. Even then, feedback through its handlebar is still very good, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference in feel when the XCa is fitted with its optional Pirelli Scorpion Rally off-road tires, although road grip is undoubtedly compromised just a bit more than the Bridgestone Battlax tires that our road-going XCa wore.

While the Tiger 800 XRt’s suspension and wheel package are better suited for road riding, the XCa (shown here) sacrifices very little in the way of cornering precision while providing an extra measure of versatility when the pavement ends.

Yep, the Tiger 800 carries its weight well, with the XRt flowing from corner to corner in tarmac twisties and the XCa also delivering plenty of front-end bite in loose terrain. The bike is very easy to toss from side to side and also remains stable in a straight line no matter what velocity you choose. Good stuff!

Spare the Suspense

Suspension action and feel is one area where the Tiger 800 XR and XC models really part company, although both machines are very good in their intended roles. The XRt is fitted with Showa suspension components, including a 43mm upside down fork that offers rebound and compression adjustability. Out back, the XR’s Showa shock is fully adjustable for compression, rebound and preload. The more off-road oriented XCa (and XCx) get WP suspension components that are fully adjustable front and rear. In addition to different valving specs, there’s also a slight difference in travel, with XRt delivering 7.4 inches up front and 6.5 inches out back while the XC boasts 8.7 inches up front and 8.5 inches out back.

Twin 305mm discs with Brembo two-piston calipers are used on all but the base Tiger 800 XR. The binders deliver plenty of stopping power and excellent feel with the added safety of switchable ABS.

There’s also a pronounced difference in suspension action on the road. If it were a boxing match, I’d say that the WPs on the XCa win by a split decision, as the Showa-equipped XRt delivers a much smoother and cushier feel with better small bump absorption on the road. The XCa still carries the match, however, yielding just a little bit of on-road feel but making up for it at the “Pavement Ends” sign.

It was an interesting sensation, as the WPs had an initially stiff feel at the top of their stroke on the cobbly Moroccan roads that made up our ride route, yielding a less comfortable ride, but that feeling disappeared in the expansive desert dirt sections where the Tiger 800 XCa was able to settle into various bumps and ruts and absorb them with complete authority. There were more than a few high-speed encounters with perpendicular rain ruts that made me pucker as I approached them, but the WPs handled the G-outs without upsetting the Tiger chassis in the slightest. In fact, I was surprised at just how fast we could go without ever feeling as though I had bottomed the suspension at either end of the XCa.

Regardless of which way you choose to go, Triumph’s Tiger 800s offer competent, well-sorted suspension. That’s a big plus for any Adventure Touring machine.

Brakes

On all but the base Tiger 800 XR, the Tiger line is fitted with twin 305mm front discs clamped by Brembo twin-piston calipers, while the 255mm rotor out back uses a single-piston Nissin caliper. What’s impressive is just how linear and controllable the brakes feel even with the ABS disengaged. Even in the slimiest conditions, neither the front nor the rear ever hint at locking up. The brakes offer a true dirt bike feel in off-road conditions while remaining powerful enough to haul the Tiger 800 down quickly from high speeds on the pavement. Aside from the surprising off-road tractability of its three-cylinder engine, the Tiger 800’s brake package stands out among its many positive attributes.

Instruments, Lights

Triumph is especially proud of its new 5-inch TFT instrument screen and for good reason. TFT is short for Thin Film Transistor, a type of LCD in which each pixel is controlled by from one to four transistors. The TFT technology provides the best resolution available on current flat screens, and it’s also very expensive.

The Tiger 800’s 5-inch TFT instrument display boasts high and low (shown) contrast lighting options for easy viewing in varying light conditions. There’s a wealth of information available, and it can be easily configured to suit the rider’s needs.

The TFT screen on the Tiger 800 offers two different lighting modes, high-contrast and low contrast, which alternates the background from white to black, depending upon available lighting, and the adjustment is automatic, or it can be selected by the rider. There are also up to six different configurations in which the information can be displayed on the XRt and XCa, allowing the rider to select exactly how he or she would like the screen information displayed.

One other update for 2018 involves the Tiger 800’s easy-to-operate cruise control. The switches have been moved from the right switchgear to the left switchgear to reduce rider fatigue.

New DRL lighting delivers amazing illumination, and the light housing shapes enhance the Tiger 800’s sleek styling.

The one Tiger 800 update that was pretty much lost on me, although cool nevertheless, has to do with the new model’s DRL lighting, which offers the brightest available illumination for night time riding.

Take a Seat

The Tiger 800’s ergonomics are really good. The seating position is slim through the middle, and it is easy to move around in the cockpit whether in a seated or standing position; a big part of that is because the Triumph’s 5-gallon fuel tank is slim enough in the rear that it doesn’t force the rider’s legs out at the contact point. The seat is nicely contoured without dish and rise to the passenger pillion, which adds to nimble feel for such a big bike. It’s comfy, and it’s also adjustable, allowing for a 20mm drop in seat height, which helps shorter riders maintain solid contact with the ground.

While we prefer the Tiger 800 XCa (shown) for its ultimate versatility, it is the most expensive model in the Tiger 800 family. If you can do without a couple bells and whistles, the Tiger 800 XCx might be a better value.

The Tiger 800’s generous windscreen and aero deflectors also deserve kudos for keeping the chilling Moroccan wind at bay during both days of the ride. Manually adjustable to five positions, it’s easy to adjust on the fly. Triumph’s heated grips and heated seats are also welcome on cold days.

Styling

No doubt about it, the Tiger 800 is a good-looking Adventure Tourer, with sleek bodywork and distinctive headlights that deliver an aggressive look to go with its improved performance. There are a host of color choices across the Tiger model line, most of them specific to particular models.

Riding through the country of Morocco is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that was made all the better on a motorcycle as adaptable to varying conditions as the Triumph Tiger 800 is. The Triumph epitomizes adventure riding.

The Bottom Line

It doesn’t matter which model you choose, the 2018 Triumph Tiger 800 makes good on the company’s goal of producing a much-improved Adventure Tourer. Whether that adventure includes endless pavement twisties or desolate off-road sections, the Tiger is ready to make tracks.

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