Test rides

Ride Review: 2015 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

Disappointment. If you were to ask me to sum up the Triumph Tiger 800 XRx in a single word, that would be it. There are plenty of positive words I might use in addition — “fun,” “revvy,” “light” — but ultimately this new effort from Triumph is a letdown.

Which is kind of surprising to me. And a relief.

I spent a lot of time pondering the Tiger 800 XRx when first looking into the V-Strom 1000. The two bikes have somewhat similar performance figures and price tags. The Strom delivers considerably more torque and a handful of additional horses; the XRx’s RRP price tag is £500 more.

Within the British market, however, the Triumph dominates. Triumph is the home team; whereas Suzuki’s sales strategy in the UK perhaps hasn’t been terribly wise over the past few years. It’s painted itself into a corner with too many discounts.

The XRx is one of a string of new Tiger 800 models released this year. There are so many it can be a little confusing. They are:

  • Tiger 800 XC
  • Tiger 800 XCx
  • Tiger 800 XCA
  • Tiger 800 XR
  • Tiger 800 XRx
  • Tiger 800 XRT

All six are effectively the same bike: same 800-cc inline triple, same performance specs, same bodywork, same ergonomics, etc. The differences basically come down to accessories and are so minute that most riders have to be told what they are, and most dealers get a little confused in explaining them.

The primary difference is the wheels: XC models are spoked and have a 21-inch front; XR models have alloy and a 19-inch front. The former is insinuated to be better off road, the latter intended to be kept on the pavement (yet, strangely, it comes equipped with an off-road rider mode).

The six models range in price from £8,500 to £11,000. All of them are interminably ugly.

I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder — and that I own a V-Strom 1000 is testament to the fact an ADV’s amazing do-everything usefulness can help one forget about its aesthetic deficiencies — but to my eye, Triumph’s Lego-like offerings (including the Tiger Explorer XC) are the worst. There’s just nothing about them that make me think: “I want to be seen on this thing.”

That feeling is so strong within me that when I was initially comparing the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and Triumph Tiger 800 XRx, I eventually decided not to even bother with the Triumph, to not even ask to test ride it. It’s just too ugly, too plasticky, too angular, too much like the knock-off Transformer toys my mom used to buy at Fiesta when I was a kid.

That said, there’s a dude on my road who owns a Tiger 800 of some sort and every time I see him pull a wheelie past my house I have to admit I think he looks cool.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

But now I’ve had a chance to spend some time on the Tiger 800 XRx I can say with confidence that I made the right choice in getting a V-Strom 1000. We’ll get to that in a second, though, because there’s a quite lot to love about the Triumph.

Firstly, the XRx is noticeably lighter than my Strom. Triumph claims a wet weight of 216 kg. Compare that with the 228 kg that Suzuki claims for the Strom. In old money, that’s a 27-lbs. difference, or roughly the weight equivalent of three newborn babies and a 6 pack of beer.

Unfortunately, the XRx’s weight isn’t as evenly distributed as it could be. Weight is set a little higher than on a Strom, which means the bike is more willing to tip at slow speeds. This resulted in my having to put my foot down more often than I would like. The problem was exacerbated by a slightly over-enthusiastic rear brake.

Above 10 mph, however, everything smoothed out and the bike was easy to throw into spots. Standing on the pegs feels natural and the suspension’s ability to handle potholes, speed bumps and curbs was what I would expect from this class. Which is to say: it was problem-free to the point of my not really noticing it.

At spirited motorway speeds, the bike was equally pretty stable. Not as rail-solid as my Strom but certainly leagues better than the wobblefest I experienced on the XRx’s big brother, the Tiger Explorer XC.

The XRx’s two-piece seat isn’t as large as the Strom’s but there’s still plenty of room to move around and to carry a passenger of actual human proportions. However, there was something about the angle of the seat or the material used that caused a certain level of discomfort. I found I kept slipping forward in such a way that my manly bits got squished. So, every 15 minutes or so I’d have to stand on the pegs and do a little jiggle dance to shake things free.

I had experienced a similar seat issue back when I spent a day on the Tiger Explorer XC. All in all, it’s not an awful problem, but after a few hundred miles it can get pretty annoying. Your groin’s mileage may vary.

Wind protection is decent and, as with so many things on motorcycles, there is a larger screen available at additional cost.

The dashboard on the XRx is pretty Spartan, which belies the number of whiz-bang features packed into the bike. Indeed, the bike’s electronics are amongst its biggest selling points as far as I’m concerned. Along with ABS you get two 12v sockets, self-cancelling indicators, multiple throttle maps, multiple levels of traction control, multiple rider modes and cruise control. That last one in particular is what made me spend so much time weighing the XRx against the Strom.

Additionally, the bike’s dash display offers up pretty much all the information you could ask for. Unlike the Strom it does not give you ambient temperature, but truthfully, that’s not a terribly necessary feature on a motorcycle. If you’re on a bike, you already know whether it’s hot or cold outside.

The XRx speedometer is wisely digital, which should mean that switching from mph to kmh isn’t difficult (I didn’t try), but some of the XRx’s features seem less well thought out. Both the 12v sockets are in the seat, making them difficult to use with a GPS or phone. The buttons for the cruise control are not at all clear, nor easy to reach. The method for setting traction control/rider modes/etc. is not very intuitive. And the self-cancelling indicators seem to get really confused by roundabouts (which, of course, are used for the majority of British intersections).

By and large, though, these are quirks — things that you would probably get used to as an owner. In the same way I have gotten used to my Strom’s snatchy throttle.

To that end, the XRx takes the prize for smooth power delivery. Though, part of that is because the throttle is so unresponsive. I was able to wiggle it about 5 mm in each direction without it having any effect. Initially I thought this might be due to the bike being set on some ultra-tame rider mode, but switching things up delivered the same meh results.

Still, the inline triple engine is the star of the XRx show. Some guys swoon for a triple and I suspect that for them the XRx would not disappoint. Revvy and delivering a lovely wail at high speed the engine triggers some latent hooligan instinct. This is why my neighbour does wheelies all the time and why I was randomly riding over curbs.

However, hooliganism wears thin with me quickly and by the end of my time on the XRx I had grown especially tired of how unnecessarily noisy the bike is. There’s just a whole lot of extraneous high-pitched growling, making it sound as if you are trying to compensate for something. It is especially annoying because all that bluster isn’t really representative of actual power.

Triumph claim just shy of 95 horses for the XRx but I can’t see how they came up with that figure. At high speeds the bike feels anaemic in comparison to my Strom. Around 85 mph the XRx began to wheeze and struggled to gain momentum with the throttle wide open. Meanwhile, the noise coming from the bike at that speed is calamitous.

Again, though, acoustics are a thing of personal taste. I have no doubt there are plenty of folks who would love the sound of an XRx as it fights to get up to autobahn speed.
What they won’t love, however, is the heat coming from the crank case. It radiated onto my shin and was genuinely uncomfortable. I don’t mean warmth, but genuine heat. On a day when it was 15C (59F) and when I was wearing thick riding trousers.

Something else not to love is the XRx’s gear box. I have taken to keeping notes when I go on test rides and here are the only two words I wrote under the heading for transmission, neither of them terribly polite. I can think of no other bike on which I’ve experienced more false neutrals, and at one point I got stuck in third gear.

Members of the First Church of Triumph Pentecostal will inevitably comment that I just had bad luck (they’ve made the same comment in regards to my complaints about the Tiger Explorer XC), and they may very well be right. Maybe I just had the misfortune of riding the one Tiger XRx with an awful gearbox. But the fact that I did end up riding it, and that I suspect it’s not the only one, speaks to Triumph’s unfortunate history of not getting things right the first time.

They can make some lovely motorcycles, those lads up in Hinckley, but it takes them a few tries. I think it is entirely possible for the XRx to be an awesome motorcycle, especially if you are a fan of triples, but it’s simply not there yet. As is, the bike is too ugly, too unreliable, and too expensive.

The three questions

So, with all that said, here are the three questions that I ask of every motorcycle I ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The Triumph is designed to do everything my Strom does, other than balance really well. On paper, at least, it could easily slot into my current situation.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
In the grand scheme, yes. Ignore the awful gear box and the wheezing at high speed, and this bike was a lot of fun. I enjoyed its relative lightness and the slightly hooligan spirit. That it had any problems was a surprise to me.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
Nope. Ignoring the subjective fact that I generally prefer a twin over a triple, my Suzuki beats this Triumph in terms of price, power, torque, gear box, suspension, comfort and reliability.