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New Triumph Tiger 900 Looks Good But I Have Questions

For the third time in five years Triumph overhauls its middleweight adventure platform

OK, team. We’ve had a few weeks to digest Triumph’s new Tiger 900. So what’s the collective verdict? How do we feel about Triumph’s most recent offering? I have not yet seen the thing in the flesh, let alone had a chance to ride it, but I will admit that my first impressions are of being a teency bit underwhelmed.

To jog your memory, Triumph earlier this month pulled the cover off its latest take on a midsize adventure motorcycle, a short two years after last updating the platform, which it had overhauled two years before that. Increasingly it seems the manufacturer has adopted a “We’ll fix it in post” approach to getting its bikes right: release a model, allow customers to effectively serve as test riders – identifying all the flaws and areas for improvement – release an update, repeat until BMW comes up with something else you want to copy.

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This time around, Triumph has sought to infuse a sense of heritage, connecting the 2020 Tiger 900 to the trials-focused Tigers it produced in the 1930s. Perhaps because Triumph hasn’t really tried to make this sort of link before I view it cynically. But, really, that’s unfair. In a year or so I suspect we’ll see Indian Motorcycle pulling the cover off an adventure motorcycle built on the FTR 1200 platform. Inevitably Indian’s PR teams will draw direct spiritual links between its new machine and the bike that Cannonball Baker rode across a still rather untamed United States in 1914. When they do this I won’t blink an eye, so I shouldn’t be hard on Triumph for doing something similar.

By my count, there are six variations on theTiger 900  theme: the road-focused Tiger 900, Tiger 900 GT, Tiger 900 GT Low and Tiger 900 GT Pro, as well as the off-road-focused Tiger 900 Rally and Tiger 900 Rally Pro. In slapping the word ‘Pro’ onto the name of models Triumph continues its long habit of making no effort to hide the fact its ideas come from BMW. Though I wonder if the British brand has taken things a little too far this time ’round; from a distance, the Tiger 900 looks a hell of a lot like BMW’s F-series GS models.

Triumph will tell you, however, the new look is inspired by the Tramontana Tiger 800 XC it built a few years ago to compete in the PanAfrica Rally. And, yeah, I can see that. But somehow the Tiger 900 doesn’t look as bad-ass. Not at the lower end of the price scale, at least. Maybe that’s just the curse of cast wheels; they’re easier to clean but harder to make sexy.

Beyond looks, the biggest changes are to be found in an increased capacity 888cc inline-triple engine that strangely produces the same peak horsepower (94 hp) as the outgoing Tiger 800. However, Triumph says the new bike offers up 10 percent more torque and 9 percent more power in the midrange. Again, I haven’t ridden the thing but it seems to me those increases would be negligible when it comes to the sensation of riding.

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Presumably what you will be able to feel, however, is the engine’s all-new 1,3,2 firing order, which Triumph says offers “greater character and feel.”

I’m not clever enough to be able to understand firing order beyond the fact that if you have a parallel twin with a 270-degree crank it feels a bit like a V-twin. That’s what Triumph does with the Bonneville T120. With the Tiger 900 the company is again using engineering to make one engine feel like another.

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro

“The result, says Triumph, “is a much closer association to the throttle character, sound and feel of a twin.”

This claim leads to my primary question about the Tiger 900, which I’ll get to in a moment.

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Beyond changes to the engine’s capacity and character, the Tiger 900 has received some chassis updates, including finally addressing the subframe issues that Spurgeon Dunbar has been complaining about for years. The drawback, of course, is that folks wanting to accessorize their new Tiger 900 will be stuck buying OEM parts for a bit. It generally takes a while for the aftermarket to catch up with model tweaks – especially companies you actually want to buy stuff from, like HEED. That said, Triumph says it is continuing its partnership with Givi to make luggage for the adventure line, so perhaps other nifty farkles will be available sooner than later.

Depending on how much money you have the bike is available with up to six rider modes. Some models have quickshifters, some have lean-sensitive whahoozits, some have “third-generation” TFT screens. I don’t really feel like regurgitating a press release, but if you’re keen for more specifics simply head over to Triumph’s website. The truth is, I find it hard to care about the whizzbangery of this bike because there is nothing lacking in the whizzbangery of the outgoing Tiger 800; there wasn’t much lacking in the model before the outgoing one, either. The middleweight Triumph has long been an excellent all-rounder that I was a fool not to get a few years ago instead of spending more money on its larger-capacity sibling. The smaller Tiger has been brilliant for touring, brilliant for hustling, and good enough for exploring gravel roads. I hate to sound like an old man here, but I’m not sure it needs a third update within a five-year span.

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro

And (definitely sounding like an old man now) I’m quite sure it doesn’t need the price increase that comes with this model overhaul. Triumph has not yet released full pricing for all the Tiger 900 variations but if we assume it follows the bog-standard Tiger 900’s trend of tacking £300 onto the price of its outgoing equivalent, we can assume the new Tiger 900 Rally Pro will cost £13,000. It will almost certainly cost considerably more. But at that price I would have to set aside £175 each month to be able to buy one on my 50th birthday (I am 43 years old).

Maybe it will be worth the money, though. As I say, the previous-generation Tigers have been largely excellent. Probably this generation will be, too. Probably. With this firing order tweak, however, there’s the risk that Triumph has again made the mistake it made with the outgoing Street Triple RS – tweaking it to the point it no longer possesses the character that has made it so beloved.

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I mean, maybe people buy a inline triple-powered bike because they like an inline triple. Is it really clever to be tweaking the engine to make it mimic a twin? And why even do that in the first place?

If Triumph is going to give this bike an 84-year heritage by linking it to single-cylinder Tigers from 1936 it is inherently removing the inline triple engine as an element of the Tiger DNA. It’s saying that engine configuration is not necessarily the essence of a Tiger. If that’s true, and Triumph has come to the conclusion that modern adventure bikes should be powered by engines that feel like a twin, why not just use a twin engine? Like, oh, say, the made-to-feel-like-a-V-twin parallel twin engine Triumph is already using in a bike that is effectively an adventure bike without fairing.

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro

One aspect of the Tiger 900 that I am excited about, however, is the fact Triumph has changed the position of the bike’s engine. According to the media release, moving the engine forward somewhat results is “a more optimised centre of gravity.” You know, making the bike more like a twin…

Nonetheless, a high center of gravity has long been the bane of the Tiger line-up, especially the larger 1200 models. The Tiger 1200 is simply not fun to ride on anything but road because it feels like it’s going to high-side you to oblivion every time you hit a rut. One assumes that if the Tiger 900 is being overhauled the same tricks are in store for the Tiger 1200. Though I’d like to see Triumph finally accepting that the Tiger 1200 is not an off-road motorcycle and rework the bike to wholly embrace its excellent road-going quality. Drop the off-road pretensions and deliver something to compete against the Ducati Multistrada 1260 or BMW S 1000 XR perhaps: loads of technowhizzbangery, ridiculous speed and “adventure-inspired” styling solely because that’s the style these days and the ergonomics are comfy.

Don’t Get Yourself Arrested

So, what’s your take on the Tiger 900? Has Triumph created the bike you absolutely need? Or would you rather have a new Honda Africa Twin, or BMW F 850 GS, or KTM 790 Adventure, or Ducati Multistrada 950, or even wait for the ultra sexy Husqvarna Norden 901 (to be released in 2021)? Maybe the highly praised Yamaha Tenere 700 is enough for you? Maybe stalwart is sexy and you want a V-Strom 1050. There are a hell of a lot of twin-driven middleweight adventure bikes out there; do you want a triple that pretends like it’s yet another one?