2010 Triumph Tiger SE vs. 2008 Benelli Tre1130K

Triple play comparison!


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We brought Triumph’s Tiger and Benelli’s Tre1130K together for what turned out to be a closer competition than we first expected.

Both bikes are standard-style with comfy upright rider triangles, and both just skirt the notion of being adventure-touring bikes. As a matter of fact, in its early iterations the Tiger was far more gravel-road ready than it is now, as it spun a 110/80 x 19-inch spoke-wheel up front and carried fuel in a mile-eating 6.4 gallon tank. In 2007 the Tiger underwent considerable changes that narrowed its focus to being primarily a pavement player. The Tiger now rolls on 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels that allow it the choice of wearing sportbike rubber (120 up front and 180 rear) and has a smaller 5.2-gallon fuel tank. It also shed around 40 lbs and picked up a bigger engine.

Too close to call? The 2010 Triumph Tiger SE and 2008 Benelli Tre1130K are remarkably well-matched motorcycles.

Benelli’s Tre1130K is also bent toward pavement, but as we learned in a recent review, Benelli offers a Tre1130K model with big trallie-type features if you’re more inclined to venture down the dusty road. The Tre1130K Amazonas has spoke-wheels – a 19-incher up front – and off-road wave-type brake rotors. Otherwise, both Tre models are virtually identical.

We’ve reviewed the Tiger and Tre-K in detail in separate tests, so we thought the next best test was to pit them against one another, as their basic architecture is remarkably similar.

The Triumph and Benelli both toy with the idea of “adventure” touring, but are much better suited for on-road only adventures.

Both are powered by grunty in-line Triples. The Triumph displaces 1,050cc (79 x 71.4mm) and the Benelli a more oversquare 1,130cc (88 x 62mm). Both are fuel-injected and run 6-speed gearboxes. With such closely matched mills a safe bet would have them operating like two peas in a pod. However, each big Triple has distinct characteristics. The Benelli fires up and rumbles to life, emitting a racy exhaust note; the Triumph’s well-tuned engine exhales in a controlled but raspy purr. The exhaust note from either of these in-line Triples is nothing short of mechanical music to the bike lover’s ear!

Our Tre test unit was a skosh cold-blooded but warmed to operating temp after just a couple miles. The Italian engine, though just as powerful as the Brit lump, is a little less refined, as it is a bit buzzy despite employing a gear-driven counter-balancer shaft. Engine vibes seemed most noticeable through the bike’s small-ish footpegs. The Triumph on the other hand exhibits years of refinement with one buttery-smooth mill; it’s not much an embellishment to say it feels electric. Fueling is crisp and immediate on both bikes, yet the Tiger has just a hint of abruptness from closed to open throttle.

Whipping up and down canyon roads, or sailing the freeways isn’t enough of a test to tell which machine is better endowed with power. Taking them to Hypercycle for dyno time was the only way to see who had the edge. The results were so close you’d barely be able to wedge a credit card between each bike’s peak power figures. We essentially have a tie at 103 horsepower (103.0 vs. 103.1hp). If you can perceive the Tiger’s one-tenth of one horsepower advantage at peak, then we’ve got a job for you as our new human dynamometer!

Though the Benelli outpaces the Triumph for most of their similar rev range, the Tiger eventually closes the gap on the Tre-K, but does so right near peak power.

Twisting force was a different story with the Benelli testing 69.6 ft-lbs at 4,700 rpm, about 6 ft-lbs more than the Tiger’s peak torque. Though the Tiger’s torque peaks about 1,000 rpm earlier than the Benelli, at that point the Italian is still making 3 ft-lbs more than the Tiger’s 63.4 max. Nevertheless, several runs revealed what we were feeling about the Tiger. Though the Benelli is always making more power than the Triumph right up until peak, what’s impressive for the Triumph is how wonderfully linear the Brit bike’s power development is.

Each horsepower line on the Tiger dyno graph was so close it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. And its torque results lines are so flat from beginning to end, and also so close together, you could shoot a game of 8-ball on ‘em. The dyno provided hard evidence of the Triumph’s smooth, predictable power.

Also smooth and predictable are the 6-speed trannies. Still, the Tiger makes a slightly easier time of shifting with a notably lighter clutch pull than the heft required to pull in the Benelli’s lever.

The Tiger is a tame but agile beast when the lines curve.

Benelli: Past, present and future

Though the Benelli brand isn’t readily recognized by most bike enthusiasts in the U.S., the bike maker has been around since 1911. Benelli was successful at racing in the 1920s, and in 1962 was making upwards of 300 motorcycles a day according to the company website.

Then came the Japanese. Apparently the onslaught of well-made, affordable UJMs was too much for Benelli to compete against, leading to “a temporary break in production.” Benelli received CPR in 1989 (not unlike Triumph’s revival in 1990), but “the time still wasn't right for a real comeback.” Then in 1995 Andrea Merloni came swooping in to resurrect Benelli, and by 2002 the Tornado 900 Tre was launched, setting the brand back on track.

In 2005 a large Chinese interest, Group Qianjiang, purchased Benelli, but left the bike company largely intact and in its original hometown of Pesaro, Italy.

According to Ken Oleson, sales manager at Benelli America, Qianjiang has big plans for Benelli. “Benelli was making about 2,000 bikes worldwide, but the parent company, QJ of China, has invested $26 million to update and improve the factory and R&D. They are hoping to get to approx. 7-10,000 units produced annually,” he said. And to stave off fears that the Italian bikes will be coming with a “Made in China” sticker, Oleson informs us “Benelli motorcycles are completely made in Italy at the Pesaro factory, using as many Italian-made parts as they can.”

The company has already started to turn over a new production leaf. European motopublications have been reviewing Benelli’s smaller-displaced 899cc in-line Triple since 2008. Explaining why the U.S. hasn’t yet seen these new models, Oleson says the 899 series has yet to receive thumbs up from the EPA and CARB.

Despite this temporary setback for the U.S. market, Benelli is marching forward. Oleson states that in addition to the new 899s, the company is developing dirt and motard models, as well as a Twin, and additional models yet to be announced.

Although both bike makers have a very similar philosophy about engine configuration, they diverge on how to carry the power plant. Triumph uses an aluminum beam twin-spar main frame and braced aluminum swingarm. The Benelli carries its engine in an artful large-diameter steel-tube trellis-style frame matched perfectly by an equally attractive steel trellis-type swingarm.

Both instrument packages have a good mix of a centrally placed tach joined with an LCD panel. Here we can see the compactness and simplicity of the Triumph’s display. The Benelli’s instrument package is a little more robust in terms of amount of data offered in the LCD. However, neither bike’s LCD is what we’d call intuitive.

The Triumph runs a 43mm USD fully adjustable Showa fork, and a Showa shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping works out back. Having lots of tweaking points is almost always good, yet like on the 2008 Tiger we tested last year, the Tiger in this test suffered from too soft spring rates front and rear. As delivered, the bike exhibited considerable chassis pitch during throttle transitions, and more front-end dive during heavy braking than we cared for. Like on the ’08 model, we resolved the mushiness issue by adding in all but one click of spring preload on the shock, and one click from full Hard on the fork compression setting. We should also highlight that though the Trumpet fork is adjustable, it only provides 3 to 4 clicks range of adjustment.

Once all was snug on the Tiger’s suspension, the bike handle with aplomb on the curvy roads; it was stable and responsive. In our estimation the Tiger is quicker steering than the Benelli even though there’s only 8 lbs between them in claimed dry weight figures. The ABS-equipped Tiger claims 443 lbs versus the 451 lbs Benelli. The Tiger’s rather wide upright bars and sharper rake and trail (23.2 degrees and 3.45 inches vs. 25.0 degrees and 4.21 inches) combine to help it overcome the deficit of an almost 4-inch longer wheelbase (59.4 vs. 55.8 inches). However, we don’t mean to imply the Tre1130K has sluggish handling. It, too, is graced with an upright stance and wide bars that allow the rider to exploit the Tre’s agility.

The Tre-K has a menacing look, but its windscreen isn’t as substantial as the Tiger’s.  Here, too, we can see that, though roomier, the Benelli’s Givi bags cut a wider swath.

Like the Tiger, the Benelli has good and bad points in suspension. The massive 50mm USD Marzzochi fork flexes for no one, but it adjusts for no one either. Not one adjustment point is found on the big fork. The Sachs shock offers rebound damping adjustment, and the remote spring preload hand dial beats the screw-driven pre-load adjuster on the Tiger’s shock by a mile. Regardless of any suspension low points, both machines are comfortable on the Super Slab; forks and shocks eating up and buffering the rider from harsh jolts from expansion joints or broken pavement.

Stopping these steeds is the work of some excellent brakes. The Tiger sports dual radial-mount Nissin 4-pot calipers clamping down with plenty of power and easy modulation on 320mm floating rotors. The early-release 2010 SE (Special Edition) Tiger in this test comes with ABS as standard. ABS worked well, and only gave limited pulsing at the lever when it activated. The Benelli is a name-dropper in the brake department, using dual 4-piston Brembos pinching 320mm floating rotors. We were a little surprised to learn that the Brembos didn’t offer quite the level of feel that the Tiger’s Nissin calipers provided. Still, they’re Brembos, so you know they work damn well!

Ergonomically there are some small distinctions between the Brit and Italian.

The Tre-K fit my 5-foot 8-inch frame just about perfectly. Reach to the bars was close to ideal, and the narrow front portion of the seat, and shape of the 6.0-gallon tank made putting a foot down fairly easy. The Benelli’s 2-inch lower seat (30.7 vs. 32.8 inches) no doubt helped out here, too.  Not only is the Tiger’s seat taller, it’s also wider at the seat/tank junction making it that much harder to plant a foot flat. However, I never felt like I was riding a towering off-road desert sled when aboard the Tiger, so take your stature into account when assessing the above.

Also worth mentioning is what felt like a slightly longer reach to the Tiger’s bars. But that’s an easy trade-off for the Tiger’s better wind protection by way of its more substantial windshield. (Be sure to read the Benelli standalone review for my comments on its windscreen.)

As I alluded to above, this isn’t the run-of-the-mill Tiger. The 2010 Special Edition Tiger offers, most noticeably, a pair of hard panniers, special two-tone paint, hand guards and ABS, all as standard. The aspect we liked most about the hard bags was their stylish integration. So just how “special” of a jump in price will the SE Tiger take? For the sum of $13,399 the 2010 Tiger SE can be yours. Not interested in the bags, paint, ‘n’ all that, but still want the Tiger’s great performance? The standard cat runs $11,999 with the ABS option raising the price to $12,799.

Now comes the painful part. With so many similarities between the bikes you might hope the Benelli’s price is one more area of likeness. Perhaps if Benelli produced more than 2,000 bikes worldwide annually that would be the case, but unfortunately low production numbers contribute to the Benelli’s $14,799 tag (the Amazonas is $15,699). And that doesn’t include accessory Givi panniers at $586, leather Benelli tank bag at $239 and leather Benelli tank cover at $175. Eesh!

Though the *Givis are markedly more spacious, and their keyless entry feature make them all around better bags than what the Tiger uses, the fact remains that these accessories drive the Tre1130K’s cost up to $15,799. That’s a solid $2,400 more than the Tiger, and again, doesn’t include ABS.

The Tiger offers undeniable value compared to the Benelli, especially in light of engine performance and ABS as standard on the SE model. However, for the right person, the relative scarcity of Benellis makes them worth every penny.

If you’re the practical type, there’s no question the Triumph is the better value, especially when we consider intangibles like a significantly larger dealer network. As of now Benelli has somewhere around 20 U.S. dealers. But as I’ve said before, someone interested in a Benelli likely isn’t too concerned with outright performance domination, or MSRP for that matter.

Instead, the Benelli buyer wants what few others have, and that’s hard to put a price on. Case in point: After recently attending the 2009 USGP at Laguna Seca, seeing thousands of motorcycles, Triumph Tigers of various model years were easily spotted. I didn’t spy one modern Benelli the entire time.

* Benelli informed Motorcycle.com that the company would be migrating from Givi to SHAD hard bags. Benelli purports SHAD bags “are less expensive and work just as well as the Givis.”

Related Reading
2008 Benelli Tre1130K Review
2008 Triumph Tiger Review
2001 Triumph Tiger Review
2008 Oddball Literbikes Comparison
All Sport-Touring Reviews on Motorcycle.com
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