NEW TIGER 900 - A quantum leap forward in capability

It was the hi-res. seven-inch TFT screen that made the most immediate impression – it dominates. In a really positive way. For the first time ever, I had maximum information with minimum eyes off the road time. Genius. Only, I couldn’t unlock its full potential – to become a fully featured iPhone-driven navigation system – because I couldn’t pair the damn thing with my phone and the freshly minted Triumph app. 

Dealers are going to have to put some serious time into the handover of the new Triumph Tiger – the level of connectivity will be a differentiator for sure, and, throughout 2019 – and again on this sortie – I really needed a good Nav. (Inadequate) road-tester research tells me it’s not just about the Nav either – music – calls -even triggering and controlling a GoPro are all part of the entertainment suite. This functionality is a massive ‘value-add’ to what it is undoubtedly a compelling proposition. More of this later.

I know this bike. Well kind of. I toured Devon - and then commuted Goodwood for the F.O.S on various incarnations of the earlier 800, and damn good I remember it being too. Though I do remember it feeling sinewy – and very revvy – to the point where it almost detracted from its pitch as a serious heavy-hitting mile-eater. Why so? Because serious miles always, to me, equate to low rpm, tall-geared big power pulses. Whether 1200 BMW’s – 1200 Ducatis – 1650 Harleys – 1200 Triumphs – ‘big bang’ rules. Or did.

The earlier incarnation of this legendary triple always seemed more at home in race replicas or naked sports bikes, than as propulsion for an adventure tourer. It didn’t seem to have the right ‘beat’ for endless hours in the saddle. On the other hand, nor did the 2010 865 Scrambler that I bought new, and subjected to a regular 500-mile round trip, pretty much flat out. Too breathless, by half. Not so much the 800, but you did find yourself rinsing that triple, as it spun up so freely, it just didn’t seem quite ‘right’. Whatever ‘right’ means.

On that basis, its easy to see what Triumph have done with the all-new 900 engine. For a start, that 900 capacity moves it into a ‘grown up’ segment – honestly, I doubt I would ever buy anything smaller again, I like cubic capacity, it’s the old timer in me. But, primarily, the firing order, (1-3-2), is a very clever trick. It reimagines the triple both aurally and dynamically as something very different again – something that, frankly, takes a bit of getting used to. My advice is … persevere.

You won’t get on this bike and think ‘wow-what an engine’, in the way you will if you slip your leg over the new Rocket, as I did earlier this year before the World stopped turning. Be prepared in the first km to be underwhelmed by the power unit. Off idle it is very smooth, maybe fuels a little lean, (as evidenced by its reluctance to easily blip with small throttle openings when coming down the gearbox), but it’s kind of anonymous when you are picking your way out from the dealership. It doesn’t especially feel ‘big’ – either in terms of physical size – or thrust, but it does feel silky smooth, and ‘oh-so’ modern. And the fuel numbers are very good too – I caned it over 800 miles and averaged 50.8 mpg. It’s all not helped by the standard can, which is whisper quiet, albeit a nice sound as you wind the motor through the rev range. But … as you dig in, and start to use bigger throttle openings, this all-new triple wakes up, the weird firing order generates a hard-edged vibe, and the Rally Pro starts to thrust forward with serious intent. Work the new motor hard, hang on to the gears and you are North of a hundred very quickly, 125mph with ease, and 90mph cruising all day with capacity in hand. I did note on the A303, with cruise engaged, 79 MPH in sixth felt like it needed a prod down to fifth if we encountered a small incline - to be ‘kind’ to the engine. Small point, but a 900 ridden solo should shrug off the extra load. I think this is as much the fuel map/enviro compromise as anything else …

People have talked about getting numb fingers with the beat of the new 900 triple – for me the jury is out here. I get white fingers on every bike I ride from a combination of vibration and cooling temperatures – what you have here that offsets that completely, is one of the most magnificent elements of this remarkable bike – it has the best cruise control I have ever used on a motorcycle. The ability to set, tap-up and tap-down by 1mph, resume and delete intuitively, and I will take a bet with you: take a cruise-equipped Tiger 900 out on a 370 mile run, and you will never buy – or even choose to tour – a NON cruise-equipped bike again. The cruise is, potentially, the best feature you have ever used on a motorcycle. And you didn’t even know you needed one.

Why so? Well, I learned this on the cruise-equipped Tiger 1200, on last year’s test series: Fly-by-wire – or cable – throttles require A LOT of energy to hold open for seven hours in the saddle – and the right hand can never take a rest. Once you have worked out, and gained confidence in, the Tiger’s cruise – you will use it all the time. It’s safe, easy, protects your licence, and saves fatigue – off the scale. Simply put, it’s something I want on every future motorcycle. I use it all the time, in every situation. Miles more than I would’ve imagined I would. Its more useful on a bike than car. Let that sink in. Do not buy a non-cruise Tiger, you will have missed a massive trick. Yes, it’s that good. For the record, Harley, (believe it or not), had a mechanical system on a Road King I toured on years ago …

After a quick, (too quick), ‘walkaround’, I pointed the bike South. Lack of panniers fitted to this bike meant I bungeed my Givi roll bag stacked with kit onto the back-rack and pillion seat, an easy job with all the locating hangers an rails. A closer look revealed that all of these chassis parts are now bolted neatly on to the 900 Tiger – the 800 had them welded on. Much classier looking – more expense – but much more efficient if you take a fall on the new bike – much less chance that the bike will scrap its own frame. Also makes all the sense in the World if you do plan to go off-piste – and make the Tiger into your ‘great escape’ round the World ride. Nice work Triumph – and a big upgrade for ‘brand Tiger’. When I bought my 2010 Steve McQueen 865, I used to dislike looking too closely at that bike’s agricultural chassis; horrible, (remember it preceeded a succession of Ducati Monsters … ), but the 2020 900 Tiger stacks up to anything on the market in terms of build quality and finish. And the materials finish is equal to anything out there in terms of corrosion resistance – and better than my BMW GS Urban. And from a different century to my Harley …

As I settled in for the long, long ride, (typically starting a couple of hours later than planned …), I felt immediately at home in the saddle. I’m five-eleven tops – Tiger 900 Rally Pro is perfection for me, the nature of the adventure style means that at rest I am, inevitably, on the balls of my boots at the lights, but on board … ? Never ridden a more comfortable motorcycle for long distance work. The screen shifts wind blast without buffeting my helmet, (in the lowest position), bars at exactly the right span and reach, super comfortable three level heated saddle, ultra-light clutch, racing quality gear shift, (Rally Pro comes with the largely superfluous Triumph up or down quick-shifter …), beautifully crafted pegs, levers and controls – a bike you can move around on, chuck around and place with spot-perfect accuracy on – or, probably, off the road. It’s the state of the art in 2020. It is that good.

Rider modes. I used three. Last year’s road test series taught me the value of the ‘rain’ setting on the ‘Speed Twin’ – here, if anything, the execution is even more interesting. You will spend most of the time in ‘Sport’. Why? Because on the standard Bridgestones you will be cranking the Tiger over like a superbike rider – because in the dry, you have heaps of grip. The adjustable Showa suspension front and rear is sublime, it really is. ‘Road’ setting is Mercedes Benz Maybach refinement, I punted down the dual carriageways on a magic carpet ride, minimal wear on tear on both mine and the Tiger’s chassis, I would cycle to ‘Sport’ whenever I headed off on to an ‘A’ or ‘B’ road, I found myself braking into corners and deliberately picking the Rally Pro up after squaring off traffic islands, using big progressive throttle openings to squat the rear down and feed the big-bang power-pulses to the tarmac. Great fun, and fast, safe commuting. More fun than a ‘tourer’ should be. Tiger has programmable ‘Rider’ modes that I didn’t use, and ‘Off Road’ and ‘Off Road Pro’ that I steered clear of. But a word about rain.

From Plymouth up on the return journey, the weather cut up rough – after weeks of Britain’s hottest May on record. Damn. The road surfaces were especially slick after such a long dry period, all the oil, grease and rubber brought to the surface. And big spray. I got caught out in ‘Sport’ mode, and though stable, the Bridgestones now became much less convincing – I found myself on 70-80 MPH sweeping dual carriageway curves holding the controls super lightly, and trying not to alter throttle openings more than a percent or two at a time. I switched to ‘Rain’ mode, but I would still say that the Bridgestone was much less convincing than it had been the preceding five hundred or so miles in the dry. Safe enough, but the tyres that had tempted me in to serious bend sweeping, now felt a little wooden, less confidence inspiring. Fortunately, the engine, gearbox, slipper clutch and chassis ability step in here, I would use the term ‘linear’ to describe, or even ‘analogue’. The bike’s communication with the rider is exemplary, I may have experienced aquaplaning and a touch of wheelspin only once or twice on the whole 250-mile rain-soaked leg.

And the brakes, wet or dry, were/are brilliant. To me, it doesn’t get better than a radial Brembo set-up. ALL the retardation power you will ever need. Perfect master cylinder – calliper ratio, one finger stopping, and a rear brake that you can trim the chassis with, especially braking into corners. This is top quality kit. Full marks to Triumph.

So, back to the ride … I’ve done Cornwall before, many times, but never during a ‘lockdown’-ish period, It was very odd. Empty, dry, sunny roads, for the most part, my first long run of 2020, so it took a hundred miles to get my ‘chops’ together, and start riding well. And the Tiger 900 Rally Pro really flatters a half-competent rider, i.e, me. It’s a rare piece, it’s stiffer with better brakes than most sports bikes of just a couple of years back, its better equipped than any tourer you’ll likely ever have ridden – plus, allegedly it can be used off road. In honesty, I personally wouldn’t test the latter to any extreme – even with knobblies - that skinny front hoop would want to wash out, the front brakes would be too powerful, and despite the ‘big-bang’, the engine will be too revvy. Picking your way through a trail? Yes, indeed. However, on tarmac, it’s immensely stable, you can stand up on the pegs and ride it at speed, you can set the cruise control and take both hands off the bars and ride for miles – steering with your knees, (don’t ask me how I know this …), but that’s how rock-steady this platform is, its bloody brilliant to ride, simple as. If you are an experienced motorcyclist, you will be working the 900 quite hard – I knocked the Honda Africa Twin off my shopping list because I wanted 100 plus PS, the Tiger ‘only’ has 94, but it makes good use of all of them. And because Triumph lightened this bike, the 0-100 KM/H  is quicker than the earlier 800 – despite power output being similar, but I still found myself working the ultra-smooth triple hard. Problem is, riding like this is rewarded by a great feeling of ‘connection’ – the harder you ride the Rally Pro, the more stable she becomes. These really are 1st World issues, but, for me, it almost makes the excellent 1200 Tiger redundant. Why so? Well, I never had the confidence to hustle through traffic on the 1200 in the way I could on the 900, the extra ‘heft’ compromised my ability to work the bike’s ‘envelope’. When we get the 1200 version of THIS bike, I might change my mind again, IF they can keep the extra weight of the bigger installation under control. But, it maybe that the new 900 is TOO good, in which case it will make the 1200 redundant – unless you are 6’ 5” and 18 English stone in weight, or, maybe, regularly carry a pillion. Or, want a shaft …

Actually, I’m divided on the whole shaft thing. It’s cool not having to lube chains and clean lube off rear wheels, but … the shaft always has a torque reaction, and in my experience, handles downshifts whilst leaning in less well than a chain, and, well, ‘clonks’ more. But doesn’t need adjusting. On a long run like this, especially if it rains, you almost need to pack a can of chain lube. But still, chain suits the 900. And it’s lighter and more power efficient,

I prefer the 900 Rally Pro to the 1200 Tiger I tested in 2019, it’s lighter – much lighter, carries its weight lower - and with that comes filtering ability. And it has enough torque to make it it ‘feel long-legged’. Just enough. And, for me, its’ way more comfortable.

Pure’s Tiger didn’t have luggage fitted, and I wish it had. Clipping off bungees is so 1980’s – especially when these guys, (Triumph), make such high quality fitted stuff. On the return leg my Starbucks iced coffee burst in my Givi soft bag just to make the point. What a pisser. And, of course, this involved stripping the bag off the bike and emptying my boxers all over the petrol forecourt – in the rain. These are a few of my, (not), favourite things …

Anyways, the bike impressed me – mightily. Build quality for one. Park the 900 Tiger next to the 800, and you will see where the money has been spent. Detail finishing is up by 35% over the previous generation. Bolted on hangers and brackets – instead of welded – save the chassis in a low-speed ‘drop’, winglets, fairings, aluminium mouldings, direct adjustable Showa monoshock , radial Brembo’s, a full suite of active rider aids, that are completely invisible until they spring into action in milliseconds, a seat so comfortable that it puts the aftermarket gel seat industry out of business in a heartbeat. It’s all there in this new Triumph for the new World order.

I ‘got’ into Triumph in 2010. I bought a ‘Steve McQueen’ 865 Scrambler in met-metallic green. Loved it. I’m a big Steve McQueen fan, (who isn’t?), the king of cool, and a role model to me. The iconography of THAT bike, I tricked mine up, rode it hard like hell, and loved it. Despite the fact that the build quality and dynamics were adequate at best. It was PURE Triumph, in look and spirit. But, the irony is, McQueen wouldn’t of chosen it – or ANY of the heritage bikes TODAY from the collection, no indeed. McQueen would’ve chosen the Rally Pro. Because it’s the fastest REAL WORLD bike Triumph make, best handling, stopping – and with the most cutting edge kit. If you are used to a Triumph heritage twin, (like me), the Rally Pro will make it feel 100 years old.

In-fact, DON’T ride a Rally Pro any distance, if you are not going to buy one. Because, unless your bike has cruise – heated seat,(s), grips, 7 inch TFT with Bluetooth smartphone driven Nav, LED lights and spots, radial Brembos – and adjustable Showa front and rear, you will find your current bike ‘wanting’. Seriously. Especially the cruise control. After an hour ‘with’, you will genuinely question how you ever managed ‘without’. I cannot imagine buying another bike that doesn’t have cruise fitted. It’s that much of a deal breaker.

Now I own a hot rod Harley, (did), and a GS Urban – both heritage 1200’s. I’ve, up to this point, resisted buying an adventure tourer. Tempted by the gorgeous Multistrada, equally always loved the cumbersone GS Adventure, but retro style is my bag. But the Rally Pro could be the game changer. I adore having the ability in a bike to enact ‘the great escape’, and head South on a whim. This motorcycle does EVERYTHING incredibly well, some things best of all, and best ever, and has a really cool look to boot, with it’s spokes, white competition frame and classy design elements.

And, dynamically, it relegates ANYTHING heritage to the scrap bin. Yes, that’s right, makes them look stupid. The further you travel, the stupider they look. Well, actually, the heritage stuff still LOOKS cooler – it’s just that YOU won’t. The further you travel on the heritage stuff, the worse you will look – and feel.

Imagine a bike that you could ride for seven hours in the saddle, and still feel like a human.

You don’t have to imagine it any more, it’s here.

Triumph’s exceptional Tiger 900 Rally Pro.

Steve Deeks, 2020.

PS: Since I drafted this article, I had the Tiger back to make the video that accompanies the virtual launch – and rode another couple of hundred miles, including a bunch of laps both ways round the Bicester Heritage test track.

This is what I learned:

The Tiger is Triumph’s most complete bike to date. For a start, it is GENUINELY quick – on all kinds of roads – and supremely comfortable. It’s engine is utterly linear. It’s handsome looking – for an adventure bike. And it has tech that a couple of years ago would have been unobtainable – at any price.

It’s NOT a bike on which you would do track days, you could have a go, but you wouldn’t – because the very thing that gives it the best ride on the tour, also makes it unsuitable for the racetrack. Here’s why:

The 900 Tiger Rally Pro simply has too much suspension travel – even in ‘Sport’ mode, I found myself hanging off the inside of the bike to get it hard over, from just after turn-in to the apex – then out to the exit … the throttle is relatively slow action and takes a lot of winding on – again even in ‘Sport’ mode – and braking to the limit of the front tyres grip leaves the unloaded rear tyre skipping across the tarmac, with the ABS chirping, especially as you peel in, bleeding off the brake. The bike has an IMU, (Inertial Movement), control module which links the ABS and ASC very cleverly, using the slipper clutch to cushion the downshift clutch release weight transfer very effectively – especially when using the quickshifter – but here’s my only real issue; the throttle on my test bike is too slow opening off idle to facilitate downshift blipping, a small blip doesn’t produce any rpm, so your downshift is unnecessarily notchy – and this upsets the balance on the limit if it’s happening as you start to peel in. 1st World issues again, you shouldn’t be riding that hard on the road, but if I was Triumph I would remap the throttle in ‘Sport’ and speed it up – by 8-10%. Also, maybe, for the enviro-econo compromise, the Rally Pro is very lean off idle, and this causes the triple to hesitate fractionally before picking up. Either way, it’s my least favourite characteristic of what is otherwise a pretty much perfect power delivery.  Is it my favourite motorcycle engine ever? No, it’s too refined for that plaudit, and way too quiet without a pipe, but it’s certainly up there. Judged by it’s ability to move you miles fast and efficiently, it would be in the top three, it would have to be. Judged by the ‘I’m tierd, I HAVE to ride 378 miles in one hit’ metric, well, it would be in the top one.

It is that good.

Did I have any ‘moments’ on the track?

Watch the video … 

Steve Deeks June 2020

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