We’re not implying that Triumph is a vindictive company out to “get” another OEM, but with the introduction of the Tiger 800XC, it’s obvious Triumph is attempting to kick dirt in the face of its German rival. To defeat the GS at its own game is a tall order for Triumph, especially considering the Tiger’s nearly non-existent reputation for off-road performance.
With BMW’s mid-displacement adventure-touring F800GS in production since 2008, and winner of our 2009 and 2010 awards for Best On/Off-Road Motorcycle, Triumph has had plenty of time to analyze and strengthen its weaknesses in a model of its own. At first glance the only upgrade Triumph managed to impose was the addition of a third cylinder. A few days riding a combination of freeways, twisties and dirt exposed each model’s nuances, but the outcome was oftentimes obscured by similarity.
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One thing we agree on is the BMW F800GS is great adventure-touring bike, and the Triumph Tiger 800XC is as good, if not better depending on your riding preferences. In the end, though, one bike managed to outshine the other, but was it the original or its facsimile?
2011 BMW F800GS
It’s an amazing quality for any motorcycle to mask its real weight, making a rider believe it tips the scales at less than it does. The F800GS won’t fool someone into thinking it a good idea to triple-jump the GS at the local MX track, but by positioning fuel below the seat, BMW lowered the GS’s center of gravity, belying the GS’s true heft. At 455 pounds wet, the GS is only 18 pounds less than the Tiger’s wet weight of 473, but the Tiger carries its fuel up high in a traditionally located fuel tank, and that makes a noticeable difference in how it feels.
“When riding in non-paved environments you want your bike to feel as small, lightweight and controllable as possible,” says co-tester Pete Brissette. “The F800GS feels like a 250cc trail bike compared to the street-biased Tiger when riding in sandy, silty, rocky conditions. Nevertheless, the Tiger acquitted itself well when the pavement ended.”
The BMW also boasts more suspension travel, more ground clearance and smoother clutch and throttle applications. That said, it should come as no surprise that we gave the nod to the F800 as the better bike after leaving the pavement. The Triumph, however, was never far behind, its rider having to make the mental adjustments to the heavier-feeling bike before comfortably riding the pace. Nonetheless, the BMW definitely highlights the adventure aspect of its adventure-touring title.
Pete also observed that the BMW suffers less front-end dive and better brake feel despite having approximately half-an-inch more suspension travel. “The Beemer’s Brembo calipers seem to better telegraph how much more squeeze is needed than do the Triumph’s less sensitive Nissin calipers,” he says.
It should also be noted that the F800GS provides an easily accessible hand dial for adjusting shock preload whereas the Tiger requires a screwdriver.
When focusing on the touring side of the adventure-touring concept, both the BMW and Tiger are equal when it comes to wind protection and seating position. Where the BMW excels is in its observed 45-mpg average fuel economy. Besting the Triumph by 10 mpg (observed 35 mpg) gives the 800GS a 190-mile range to the Tiger’s a 175-mile range.
Another adventure-touring feature where Triumph failed to do its homework is with its luggage system. While its bags mount and dismount easily, the bulky, seemingly indestructible hardbags do not firmly secure at the bottom and flop around even when riding on moderately bumpy fireroads. The top mounting point is also weak and breaks without much provocation, as we learned during the Tiger’s press launch. Triumph recently issued a recall on the Tiger's top box, citing a missing clip does not allow the box to securely mount to the bike's rear rack. Because of this the top box could detach and potentially cause a crash.
BMW exhibits its years of refinement with its easy on/off, expandable, hard luggage system. The mounting system is tight and secure while remaining simple to mount and dismount. The expandability of the bags is an ingenious feature, providing extra storage space when needed but keeping the bike narrow when collapsed, an important feature for lane-splitting states and countries.
With years of refinements and an indisputable insight into building successful adventure-touring models, the F800GS is a formidable foe to the new Tiger.
2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC
Since its introduction in 1993, the Triumph Tiger’s purpose in life has been one of capable on-road performance and off-road daydreams. The introduction of the Tiger 1050 only strengthened this notion, if not completely eschewing all off-road intentions. With the Tiger 800XC, Triumph’s make-no-mistake-about-our-objective plagiarism of BMW’s F800GS is a bold knock at the king of adventure-touring’s front door.
The core strength of the Tiger is its three-cylinder mill. Although not purpose-built like the F800 engine, the stroked 675 motor (from the Daytona and Street Triple) is stronger and smoother when riding pavement. And because it’s nipping at the BMW’s rear wheel when riding off-road, it proves to be a competent and versatile package.
“The BMW’s throttle response is spot-on and accurate where the Tiger is less so,” says Pete. “This is more an issue when trying to negotiate technical off-road-type stuff, where modulation of the throttle at low speeds and low revs is key to expertly picking your way through challenging terrain.”
The BMW’s engine braking when riding off-road is definitely preferable to the Tiger’s comparatively non-existent engine-braking forces. However, the Triumph’s Triple produces smooth, linear power available down low for slower, off-road riding and continues to climb until redline. The BMW’s parallel-Twin is spunky but vibrates more than the Tiger’s engine. The vibration isn’t enough to numb any body parts during the trip, but on the long freeway ride home I was wishing I was on the Tiger.
Pete sums up the two engines thusly; “When we consider the majority of the miles these types of motorcycles travel are paved, the smoother, more powerful Tiger engine is the better overall choice.”
Both our test bikes came outfitted with antilock-brake systems. The BMW again shows its off-road leanings by making it easy to disable its ABS, whereas the process of turning off the Tiger’s is a matter of pushing small buttons in correct order. Not a deal breaker, but BMW knows its riders will want an easy way to kill ABS when a dirt-riding opportunity presents itself.
The narrowness of the Beemer’s seat is another off-road attribute when standing on the pegs and navigating a challenging dirt section. Standing up when riding the Tiger isn’t a problem, but its seat and riding position are preferable when you’re pounding out big-mileage days. The BMW offers a low seat (33.5 in.) and a high seat (34.6 in.), whereas the Tiger provides a height-adjustable seat (33.2 in./34 in.). The BMW’s low seat is a little higher than the Tiger’s, but its narrowness offsets this difference. However, the adjustable seat of the Tiger is plusher and was preferred during our travels.
Riders unfamiliar with BMW will notice the three buttons (left signal, right signal and cancel) BMW uses to do the job of a single, left handlebar-mounted button on most motorcycles. BMW has changed its blinker switches on certain new models, but not yet on the 800GS, which we find is a nuisance.
Our Tiger was equipped with an Arrow “Titanium Wrap” slip-on exhaust can. The $800 muffler emits a throatier note than the stock exhaust, but it’s not loud enough to be obnoxious to pedestrians. There is a downloadable update for the bike’s ECU that is included with the price of the muffler when purchased from your local dealer.
Triumph blatantly copied BMW to create the Tiger 800XC, even down to the placement of the external power outlet located next to the ignition switch. For that, BMW should be proud to be held as the benchmark for other OEMs, but when it comes to light that we preferred the Tiger to the F800, BMW might not be so happy.
Pete says it best, “In light of what I suspect is the reality that most A-T bikes see more pavement than harrowing river crossings, I’ll hedge the Triumph as the better overall package, but only by the slimmest of margins, and that is thanks primarily to its enjoyable engine. If you’re the dirtbike guy or gal looking at these nearly identical twins, then the Beemer’s few shortcomings on the street are a small sacrifice for its superior off-road capabilities.”
The BMW emphasizes the adventure in adventure-touring, as it is the better bike when it comes to more aggressive off-road riding, thus leading to more adventurous experiences. But, if our assumptions are right and either model will see more road than off-road miles, then the Tiger is the better overall package.
The Tiger retails for $11,800 with its ABS option ($11,000 without), while the $11,455 base MSRP BMW F800GS’s ABS comes as either an individual option for $900 or a package with heated handgrips and an on-board computer (gear indicator and stopwatch) for $1,445. Either way, the BMW remains slightly more expensive than the Triumph.
BMW is likely developing a new version of the F800GS to withstand this new competition from Triumph. The question is, will BMW make it even more dirt worthy or will the company upgrade its street performance and comfort to better compete with the Tiger? It’s your move BMW.
|By the Numbers|
|BMW F800GS||Triumph Tiger 800XC|
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel, 2-cylinder||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline, 3-cylinder|
|Bore & Stroke||82mm x 75.6mm||74mm x 61.9mm|
|HP (BHP or Rear Wheel)||94 bhp @ 9300 rpm (claimed)|
|Torque||58 lb-ft @ 7850 (claimed)|
|Frame||Tubular steel space frame||Tubular steel trellis|
|Wheelbase||62.1 in||61.7 in|
|Front Suspension||45mm upside down forks, 230mm travel||Showa 45mm upside down forks, 220mm travel|
|Rear Suspension||Monoshock, preload adjustment, 215 mm travel||Showa monoshock remote reservoir, preload adjustment, 215 mm travel|
|Front/Rear Wheels||21 in x 2.15 in/17 in x 4.25 in||21 in x 2.5 in/17 in x 4.25 in|
|Front/Rear||90/90-21 and 150/70-17||90/90-21 and 150/70-17|
|Front Brakes||Twin two-piston calipers with 300mm discs||Twin two-piston calipers with 308mm discs|
|Rear Brakes||Single caliper with 265mm disc||Single Nissin caliper with 225mm disc|
|Seat Height||33/.5 in/34.6 in||32.2 in/34.0 in|
|Wet Weight||455 lbs||473 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||4.2 gal||5.0 gal|