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Wed, 10 Jul 2019

Pure Triumph’s 21st Century Battlecruiser – Tiger 1200 XRT. The ultimate ‘Company Car’?

Cruise. Heated seat. Electric Windshield adjustment. These are a few of my favourite things.

Three items that I could never have guessed would make such a massive difference on my 150 mile hike North. These don’t even sound like bike-tech, but having used them extensively that first evening on the 1200 Tiger XRT, I cannot imagine a bike without them, going forward. Yes, really … 

I’m currently on tour, I’m the GT-R trainer for the UK, (I launched the iconic machine way back in 2008), and in 2019, it’s all about the twenty-plus ‘Performance’ dealers. I’m criss-crossing the UK spreading the, (good), news about Nissan’s record-breaking supercar – and where possible, I’m fulfilling that mission by bike. Now I have two motorcycles of my own, but nothing I own – or have ever owned, comes close to this cruise missile – Triumph’s 1200 Tiger XRT – in terms of mile-eating capacity. In this style, my favourite bikes tested to date have been various incarnations of Ducati’s excellent Multistrada and, of course, variations on BMW’s venerable GS – 1200, 1250, Adventure. Pretty good benchmarks for this test.

I’ve got a BMW myself – the RnineT- based GS/U, decent though it is as a mile-muncher, on a long haul I find myself wanting more than it’s 110 PS. More than 110PS … ? Yes. Because a good reserve of power means ‘effortless’. I toured extensively on my 68 PS 865cc Scrambler – but it was always turning over too fast, running too close to it’s maximum torque. As does the GS/U. As did the original BMW GS, the watercooled 1200 GS, the Adventure – and that is why BMW moved to the twin cam 1250, with, I think, 137 PS. Well, the Tiger aces that at 141, and, frankly, feels just about perfect to me from a power point of view. The Multi’s 160 PS constantly tempted me to ride that bit too fast – and the chassis/brake combination encouraged me to chase sports bikes. Stupidness.

This motor is not just about PS, far from it. The clever trick it plays is thus: it’s a ‘four’ for people, like me, who do not like fours. What I mean is, the SMOOTHNESS of a four, and the linear thrust of a four, with the character of a twin. Hello, and welcome Triumph’s key engine – forget the Bonneville line – I’m talking about the triple. EVERY incarnation of this motor, I’ve loved. 675, 800, 1050, 1200 – it doesn’t matter, it’s brilliant. And compact. And torquey. And revvy. And smooth. And it makes a fantastic sound – on and off the throttle. You get the picture – it’s good. Damn good. It’s good enough to be a MOTO2 engine, as little hood rats with Arrow pipes up and down the cities of Europe know – it’s an urban terrorist. And this version is stellar too, plus as I discovered, it’s pretty economical. I saw 49 MPG on my variable-speed molested 150 mile slog to Manc. Nice.

So, if we start with the engine, we can move on to the driveline. Shaft. Mmm … feels very different to the BMW shaft, and I’m guessing this is due to the different plane of the crankshaft rotation relative to the shaft’s direction of travel – it intrudes much less than the BMW’s shaft, and it’s easy to forget that the Tiger isn’t chain drive – until you notice that the rear wheel isn’t covered in chain lube. Again, nice. Kevin, DP at Pure said something about ‘Motoelastic’ (?) sorry Kev, wasn’t concentrating, – I’ll leave you, the reader, to discover what that means, but to me it meant a shaft that felt like it had minimal inertia – therefore didn’t intrude during shifting … rather like the GT-R actually – where Nissan Nismo saw fit to spend the money and go carbonfibre for the main prop. shaft. Quality choice (s).

Fantastic gearbox – apparently you can ‘clutchless shift’ – I didn’t, but found the gearbox really slick up and down, zero false neutrals, and a light and smooth clutch take-up. Both of these were exceptional, considering the power and torque of the Tiger’s 1200’s motor – much better than my 1200 BMW – and don’t even get me started on my 1200 Harley’s, (alleged), ‘clutch’  …

TFT high resolution instrumentation is standard kit on these new high specification Triumphs, and this battle cruiser has the most comprehensive set  I’ve seen yet, with handlebar switchgear that wouldn’t look out of place in an Apache A110 Tankbuster. You can do ANYTHING with it, and I mean anything. The M6 is pretty dull, I had a few hours to play with the controls, at least until my hands became too cold to fiddle, (despite the heated grips …). I congratulate Triumph here, because, amazingly, it’s pretty intuitive – even an old timer like me can work it out. By junction 18 I could do everything bar adjust the dash brightness. I assume you can – but I can’t – too f’fin complex for me. What’s that you say – read the manual … ? Oh, do behave. The keyless ignition is excellent – and functional, saves time and faff at fuel stops, and being able to arm the steering lock with a handlebar mounted button is totally practical. When I arrive at a gig/ the hotel late, tierd and fly-splattered, I want to park up and hit the sack with the minimum of fuss – the 1200 obliges

EPIC things you can do, whilst boring yourself on the M6. Let’s take LED spots, (full LED everything, actually, inertia-sensor-controlled headlamp even tips into corners when you do …), and heated grips for granted, we’ve seen them before, but cruise control … ? Yep. And it works BRILLIANTLY. Think it’s overkill … ? Think again. Why would you want to hold pressure on a throttle for three hours – especially when you have to keep it exactly constant, i.e, during the many 50 MPH contraflows … ? I immediately fell in love with this feature – it’s probably more useful than the cruise control in my car, and here the execution is excellent – both setting and releasing. Roll off the throttle – brake – it’s off. Tap the button … ? Resume. Tap up, tap down – plus or minus one mph. Perfect. You’ll be using this like a ‘pro’ within 20 miles.

Heated seat? Oh my God. Deep joy. You are reading the ramblings of a man with a heated gillet, gloves and neck warmer. The only reason I don’t have electric EVERYTHING is a) cost and b) the capacity of my alternator – so if you offer to heat my seat … ? I’m onboard for ever. And, heated pillion seat. No problem. Pillion seat switch looks like an after thought – which it isn’t. But it looks like it is. Two stage heat – same as the grips. This is truly wonderful. If a heated seat is good in a car – it is exceptional on a motorcycle. I’ll miss this feature so much when I give the bike back. Don’t think it’s not useful in summer either – it was 14/15 degrees all the way up the M6 – but the wind-chill factor at 90 MPH means I was shivering by the end of the run. Or, I would’ve been if it wasn’t for the …

Electrically adjustable screen – adjusts ‘on the fly’. This is the final part of the ‘Clipper Class’ jigsaw for me – fully down it still offers incredible buffeting protection – in-fact this is my preferred position for vision and cornering, but, remarkably I put it fully up for the last thirty miles, and, no question, I was warmer. The way it does it, is pure engineering class. As well as being warmer, it reduces the buffeting on your helmet. I only did three hours in the saddle at one hit – in my experience based on the Triumph America I tested for Pure in 2017, a full screen really comes into its own after four or five hours.

Every motorcycle has something you like less, or would change – this one is no exception – and it is here that I have a confession to make – I’ve taken a Pure Triumph 1200 to Manchester before – maybe five/six years ago – and it didn’t end well. For ME. It fell over on me, very slowly and totally damage free - unmarked, but I lost my balance, engine off, parked, and to save the bike, I let it slowly come to rest ON TOP of me. After which I realised that, if I wanted to have any kind of future life, I would need to lift the bike back up. I’m guessing that bike weighed in at around 250KG fuelled – and it ripped a muscle in my back that has never quite recovered. I rode on at that point, but I had lost confidence in the bikes ‘chuckability’ in traffic – or rather, my ability to manhandle it. I’ll always remember the moment because I was lost in the pedestrianised ‘Corn Exchange’ part of the city on the hottest night of the year, at close to midnight, stopped, looking at my phone GPS trying to find my elusive hotel – watched by an audience of wine drinking students – none of whom came to help after my impromptu street theatre. Little Mancunian wretches …

Scroll forward to 2019, a totally different, lighter, and better balanced 1200, but it is a tall bike, with a high centre of gravity – especially fully fuelled. And here is my only issue with the Tiger – I could do with being a couple of inches of taller to dominate the motorcycle. At 5’ 11” this big cat doesn’t see me as the alpha male here, and that’s an issue. If this was my motorcycle, I would definitely be lowering the seat height, looking for a combination of lower centre of gravity and feet flat on the deck confidence. Why … ? Because as a business tool, I have to be able to filter like a crazy man, I would use this bike IN PLACE OF a car, it’s that good. But my BMW – or even the 800 Tiger – for me – is more of a traffic jam buster. On the 1200, I found myself sometimes queing behind cars – I’m less likely to slice through the gap. I’ve anylysed this – the bike’s narrow enough, the engine fuels impeccably off idle. The ONLY reason I’m not tearing through the gaps is where the 1200 carries it’s weight – including that of the rider – it’s relatively high up. I’m damn certain that given a little time, I would have this sorted, after all this Tiger sports absolute top quality suspension. Enter …

White Power. You remember when I tested the Scrambler 1200 XE, (you don’t – read the test!),  I raved about the ride quality, grip and handling of the Ohlins – Triumph have done it again here; WP. Just like the GT-R’s Bilstien Damptronic and ESUS unit that I am working with, the Tiger’s WP samples many times per second, and you know it when you ride it – it’s svelte in the extreme, it adjusts for rider weight, pillion, luggage – plus you can tailor it on board whilst you ride – from comfort through to sport. Class.

And, then again, there’s ‘Rider Modes’ – lots of them – five to be exact – 6 if you elect for the ‘Off-Road’ Tiger. These have to be selected whilst at rest, they tune not only dampers, but throttle speed, ABS, traction control – infact you can radically alter the basic character of the bike – again – exactly like GT-R. This is very familiar territory to me – but a GT-R is £84k – exceptional value in the World of GT Supercars, granted, but I can have the Triumph XRT for £16.3k. It starts to look like very good ‘Tech’ – for mini-money. And, like Godzilla, it works, incredibly well.

And, by the way, that £16.3k gets you the Arrow pipe included. I would definitely strip out the baffle, (-if you can … ?), the ‘standard’  Tigress is way too quiet for me, but there’s a theme here, my hearing’s shot. Years of racing, helicoptering, playing in a band have taken it’s toll – the standard 1200 XRT makes a very seductive guttural howl, but it’s pretty muted. The upside of which is, you will be travelling damn quickly across the continent, without drawing unwanted attention to yourself. In the real World – apart from waking up dozey car drivers - result.

On my return down the M6, I decided to try an experiment. With the cruise control set, I rode for miles and miles hands off the bars. Now don’t get me wrong, I was ready to grab them at any time, but I had a suspicion that the Tiger would be ROCK STEADY, and so it proved. Literally, I could steer the bike, change lanes with a nudge of my knee – like a really well schooled thoroughbred. Now I’m not suggesting you should ride hands-off – insurance companies and the boys from the federation may not approve – but I am saying that this bike is so stable, so well balanced that you will only need the lightest inputs on the control. In short, she will not wear you out on long runs. Remember, if you don’t want to, you don’t even have to use the clutch.

On the final morning with the Tiger, devoid of luggage, I set the riding mode to ‘Sport’, and fired it back to Pure with some pace. The baseline set-up of the motorcycle sharpened, and I would’ve heeled it over even more, but for the high centre of gravity. As I handed her back I got the biggest revelation of the whole three days. Upon telling Kevin about my reservations with the centre of mass of the bike, he immediately produced a lower seat option. Bonkers – within two minutes Dom. had lowered the seat of the Tiger by 20 mm, I could put both feet flat on the deck, and my one criticism of the Tiger had been addressed. £200 including the heat! This one has to be a no-brainer – if you are less than six foot, don’t even think twice, drop that low seat on. I am certain that it would’ve transformed the traffic experience for me – and, probably, made the screen, (even), more effective.

The Tiger is rock steady and stable through mid-speed corners – I found myself disinclined to move around the seat and hang off it in the way I do with my own motorcycles, but I think this is just a lack of familiarity with the chassis – it’s complex. My Harley is simple, crude, it doesn’t handle, but I know exactly what it will do in all situations. The Tiger is not that easy to read – you will have to work at this bike, invest time. I’m just scratching the surface at the point that I am writing this. But let’s be clear – that was the same with the Multistrada with Skyhook, or, even, the BMW 1250. The Tiger’s the Millenium Falcon – Han or Chew-y can just jump in and fly it, but you can’t, its complex.

Which is the better bike … ? Honestly, in my time I loved all three of these exceptional motorcycles. Just like the GT-R in the supercar arena, however, I can say one thing with clarity – the Tiger is the best value. It’s standard kit is immense, it’s comfort level ‘executive’ – safety is cutting edge. And as a business tool, it’s a weapon. In 2019, this brand listen to it’s customers – and the products it is producing now are far better quality than they were, even five years ago, when I bought new. More expensive, sure, but just like the GT-R – you don’t have to ADD anything.

Well, maybe if you are a short-arse like me, (I never realised I was – until now …), a £200 lowered seat. But that is it. Spend your money instead on ferry tickets to the Riviera … 

If you’ve never tried a Tiger 1200, give it a go. If you’ve got serious distance to travel, it could be the best thing you’ve ever sat astride. 

And I’m not joking.

Click here to view the Tiger 1200 XRt