Three-Cylinder Sport-Adventure Comparison: Moderation in All Adventurers

John Burns
by John Burns

2015 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx vs. Yamaha FJ-09

Photos by: Evans Brasfield

In January, we deduced that the BMW R1200GS Adventure is the best big expensive adventure bike on the market. It seems like only yesterday that we concluded that the new Kawasaki Versys 650 is the best small, (less) expensive one, in our Urbane Adventurers comparison. And just before that, the new-for-2015 Yamaha FJ-09 came out on top of an adventurous pile that included a pair of bigger, more expensive motorcycles. The truth, as they say, is always somewhere in the middle, and if the FJ-09 and its 847cc Triple aren’t right on the epicenter of adventure-bike truth, they’re very close – even if the FJ does roll slightly closer to the streety side of adventuresomeness.

Battle Of The Adventures: BMW Vs. KTM + Video

How convenient, then, that Triumph has just launched its Tiger 800 XRx as a new 2015 model, a bike aimed at the streetier side of life. Triumph’s 800cc Triple-powered adventure bike has been around since its launch in 2011, and it has received a comprehensive overhaul for 2015.

The Yamaha will go where the Triumph does off-road, but the rougher the road gets – and the faster the pace – the FJ exhibits nervousness where the Tiger is all confidence.

As standard fitment, the XR and XC models receive traction control, ABS and ride-by-wire throttles. XRx and XCx models come fitted with cruise control (the first in its segment) and three riding modes which enable the rider to control throttle response, traction control and switchable ABS. Triumph claim a 17% increase in fuel economy over last year, and we observed a respectable 46 mpg during our flogging. Triumph recently introduced two other Tiger variants, the XCA and XRT, which represent the top of the Tiger 800 line with upgrades aimed at improving rider comfort for longer journeys.

The XCs lean more toward true cross-countryness, with 21-/17-inch wire-spoke wheels and adjustable WP suspenders. The XRs are focused more on street performance, with 19-/17-in. cast wheels, lower seats, and Showa suspension with less travel.

Above the XR, the XRx (the bike we’re testing!) gets many extra features: advanced Riding Modes, selectable throttle maps, cruise control, an advanced trip computer, comfort rider and passenger seats, adjustable windscreen, auto-cancelling turnsignals, centerstand, handguards, and an additional 12-volt power socket. That small x also jacks the price tag $1100 to $12,499. That’s $2,009 more than Yamaha wants for its FJ-09: Is all that stuff worth it?

Triumph XRs are the streetier versions of the 800, but the bike’s 19-inch front wheel, bash plate and high pipe all help make it a much better off-roader than the FJ-09.

Our preferred choice for this shootout with the FJ would’ve been the base model XR Tiger, which stickers at $11,399, just $909 more than the FJ. But without one available we had to go with the XRx, giving the Triumph a mighty financial handicap to overcome in our scoring. In true MotoGP analogy, like the time advantage Marc Marquez held over Valentino Rossi at Rio Hondo this year, by the end of shootout the Tiger was doing his best Rossi, looking to pass the FJ. Here’s how our race … er … shootout ended.

And So We Ride

JB says: On the way to meet the other MOrons for a stimulating ride up to Big Bear, California, the Triumph’s comfort seat (adjustable from 31.2 in. to 32.7 in) is highly comforting, as is the ride served up by its Showa suspension. It’s slightly disappointing that the only adjustment is rear preload (easily accomplished via flat-blade screwdriver if you have a firm grip), but we’re also big fans of manufacturers who get the suspension dialled-in at the factory: The XRx provides a perfectly acceptable, just-right freeway ride under my 160 pounds, with excellent ergonomics that let my delicate perineum take full advantage of said comfort seat.

It should be noted that the Tiger’s seat in its low position is a significant 1.4 inches lower than the FJ’s in its low position – an important consideration for short-legged riders. And the seat height comparison is especially noteworthy when one considers the Tiger has almost 2 inches more suspension travel.

The adjustable windshield is really just barely adjustable and a PITA unless you have a 10mm wrench handy, but it’s nice and non-blustery for 5’8” me in its lower position. Handguards are awesome not just on chilly days but for greatly increased peace of mind when heading off pavement: they prevent the bummer that is having to ride back down the rocky mountain road with a busted-off front brake lever, dirt-packed throttle and dislocated pinkie. And then there’s the magic button: electronic Cruise Control. To me, that alone is worth the $1100 premium Triumph gets for the XRx and greatly extends any bike’s range – along with its 5.0-gallon tank and Triumph’s claim of 17%-greater fuel efficiency.

Burns prefers the FJ’s gauges (left), but Roderick likes the Tiger’s instrument cluster. There’s a lot more going on with the Triumph, but the Tiger also offers a wider diversity of electronic selections – learning their operations was also a steeper learning curve than was the FJ’s simpler operations.

The FJ-09 has most of the important stuff too, including A, Standard and B throttle modes, handguards and a centerstand – but no cruise control, which is a drag since its switchgear and instrumentation look a lot like they came from the big FJR1300, which does have CC. The FJ also doesn’t quite have the level of creature comfort that the Triumph does: Its seat isn’t so plush/supportive, but is adjustable from 33.3 to 33.9 in., and the FJ’s footpegs are more rearward than the Triumph’s. The FJ rotates its rider forward a few degrees into a more aggressive riding position. Still, if you hadn’t just climbed off the Triumph, you’d love the FJ.

Sport Mode

We were highly impressed with the FJ’s sporting chops last time it beat up on the Japanese liter adventurers. Rolling along on its sportbike-issue 17-inch radial tires and Kayaba suspension (5.4 inches/5.1 in. travel F/R), the only thing keeping it from being a “sportbike,” really, is its height: Fast transitions from left to right take a fraction of a second longer.

If sport-touring, with emphasis on sport, is your thing, the FJ is nothing if not a more comfortable, better suspended FZ-09 with a larger fuel tank and availability of optional hard-luggage. The FJ is lighter and can turn quicker than the Tiger on paved roads.

Other than that, Yamaha’s excellent 106-hp Triple has found a good home in the FJ. In “A” mode (aggressive!), the torquey thing leaps out of the blocks while its flattish handlebar pulls you into a near-supermoto riding position that makes you feel fairly infallible (the FJ, too, comes with handguards). All’s not perfect, though, as the FJ’s throttle, especially in “A” mode, feels twitchy compared to the Tiger’s smoother throttle response. We used Standard mode most of the time because it’s smoother and provides similar engine response, but the Tiger’s EFI/throttle is something for the FJ to aspire to.

The differences between the two Triples are felt in each engine’s willingness to rev. The Tiger’s Triple, with its heavier flywheel, doesn’t feel quite as snappy as the FJ’s on the pavement, but in the dirt the Tiger’s power is more manageable via throttle control where the FJ demands more clutch manipulation to keep things smooth.

The Yamaha FJ-09 uses its 48cc displacement superiority to marginally out-grunt the Tiger at low and middle revs, then pull away after 6500 rpm to an eventual 17-horse peak advantage and a greater rev limit.

We’ve already mentioned the Tiger’s cruise control, but in addition to it, the electronics on the Tiger are far more sophisticated than those on the FJ. For example, the Tiger’s Off-Road mode retains less-aggressive front-wheel ABS while disengaging ABS for the rear wheel, and allows for more rear slippage with the TC. The Tiger’s “Rider” mode allows you to mix and match electronic influences to meet your personal standards – another function lacking on the FJ.

+ Highs

  • Sophisticated electronics (cruise control!)
  • Comfy seat and ergos
  • Better all-rounder

– Sighs

  • Toolless windscreen adjustment still requires tools
  • Optional hard bags and mounting brackets cost $1k
  • Slightly heavier, but still heavier

In the braking department both bikes exhibit perfectly acceptable amounts of braking power and feedback, with the FJ producing slightly more initial bite than the Tiger. Both bikes come standard with ABS. The Triumph’s ABS can be set for “Road,” Off-Road” and “Off,” while the FJ has only “On” and “Off” settings.

The FJ’s fairing/windscreen provides decent protection, and I have no complaints about adverse wind buffeting, but wind noise is abnormally loud for some reason. The Triumph’s protection is more than adequate with no excessive noise or wind buffeting. The Tiger’s windscreen has thumb knobs to adjust its position, but the 10mm acorn nuts inside the screen turn too, requiring a wrench to adjust the screen.

+ Highs

  • Almost a sportbike
  • Very affordably priced
  • If only the FZ-09 had suspension that worked this well

– Sighs

  • Not really an off-roader
  • No cruise control
  • “A” mode remains a little twitchy

At the end of the day, these 800cc Triples really do represent a happy medium. About 100 hp seems like just enough, especially if more power means more weight: 500 pounds is still a lot when the asphalt turns to rocky dirt, but still much easier to pick up than a 570-pound Triumph Explorer or, God forbid, BMW’s 603-lb GSA.

When the numbers were tallied, the ScoreCard reflected how John and I felt about the two bikes. Both of us can justify spending the extra cash on the XRx and that bike won our subjective scoring: 88.3% for the Triumph vs 86.4% for the Yamaha. However, it was the objective scores keeping the FJ in front of Tiger at the end of the race.

Burns and Roderick give new meaning to the word “thrifty,” but both are willing to spend the extra money it takes to purchase the Triumph and the electronic creatures comforts and better off-road performance that money buys. That’s saying a lot, even though the FJ officially wins the bout on our ScoreCard.

Even substituting in the base XR’s lower price didn’t put the Tiger into first place; the on-paper performance advantage of the FJ coupled with its $900 lesser price tag being too much for even the base-model Tiger to overcome. You’d then have to factor in the lesser electronics package of the base model XR, meaning its scores in that category would also be lower.

In that light, we’re forced to give the win to the Yamaha FJ. So, no fairytale ending to this shootout for the Triumph. In more of a professional boxing type of split-decision – one in which we may not agree with the outcome, but we’re stuck with anyway – the Yamaha FJ-09 just simply cannot be overcome this time around.

Three-Cylinder Sport-Adventure Comparison Scorecard
CategoryTriumph Tiger 800 XRxYamaha FJ-09
Quality, Fit & Finish90.0%82.5%
Cool Factor87.5%87.5%
Grin Factor87.5%86.3%
Overall Score88.0%89.1%
Three-Cylinder Sport-Adventure Comparison Specs
Triumph Tiger 800 XRxYamaha FJ-09
Engine Type800cc liquid-cooled inline Triple847c liquid-cooled Inline Three-cylinder
Bore and Stroke74.05 x 61.94mm83.0 x 60.0mm
Fuel Systemmultipoint sequential EFI; ride-by-wireEFI; ride-by-wire
IgnitionComputer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advanceElectronic
Compression Ratio12.0:111.5:1
Valve TrainDOHC; 4 valves per cylinderDOHC; 4 valves per cylinder
EmissionsEPA, CARB compliantEPA, CARB-compliant
Horsepower87.0 @ 9100 rpm104.1 @ 9900 rpm
Torque54.1 @ 770059.8 @ 8300 rpm
Transmission6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch
Final DriveChainChain
Front Suspension43mm Showa fork; 7.09 in. travel41mm fork; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in travel
Rear SuspensionShowa single shock; hydraulic spring preload adjustment; 6.7 in. travelSingle shock; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.1 in. travel
Front BrakeDual 308mm disc; 2-piston Nissin calipers, switchable ABSDual 298mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS
Rear Brake255mm disc; single-piston Nissin caliper, switchable ABS245mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS
Front Tire100/90-19120/70ZR-17
Rear Tire150/70R-17180/50ZR-17
Rake/Trail23.9° / 3.64 in.24 deg. / 3.9 in.
Wheelbase60.23 in.56.7 in.
Seat Height31.9/32.7 in. (31.1/31.9 low seat option)33.3/33.9 in.
Curb Weight497 lb.472 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.0 gal.4.8 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy46 mpg43 mpg
Available ColorsBlue, Black, WhiteRed, Matte Gray
WarrantyTwo year, unlimited-mileageOne year limited warranty
John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 54 comments
  • Steve C Steve C on May 28, 2015

    Having just test rode the Fj I came away impressed, then I rode a Tiger XCX, it just fit me, felt better, throttle was much better so if I was in the market to replace he Uly I would pony up the extra cash and go with the Triumph. Now if they only had the bottom end of my Buell…...

  • Taranis Taranis on Sep 18, 2015

    Love the Tiger but the testers should never have gone off-road on the FJ. It's not a Adventure bike, never advertised as one...