Versatility is in vogue in today's motorcycling world, particularly among mature riders who like to do big mileage in comfort, without letting their sportsbike riding buddies put a gap on them in the twisty bits. Hence the rise of the adventure sports tourer, and bikes like the Triumph Tiger Sport, which can commute, tour and attack corners well enough to earn respect in pretty much any company. We spent two adrenaline-fueled days putting nearly 1,000 km on these bikes at the Australian launch, and found that a host of major engine and electronics upgrades have given the new Tigers a totally unexpected injection of class.
I think we can all agree at this point; adventure sports bikes are the new sports tourers. Practical, all-round fun machines with the power and handling to mix it with just about any sportsbike on a crazy-fast ride out in the hills, as well as the slow-speed manners to bash out a commute and the comfort factor to keep you fresh over a long week or two in the saddle.
Triumph's Tiger Sport 1050 represents Britain in a class that also includes the Kawasaki Versys 1000, Suzuki V-Strom 1000, Honda's VFR1200X Crosstourer, and maybe Yamaha's FJ09 Tracer. That's not to mention more exotic Euro bikes like the Ducati Multistrada and BMW S1000XR, which earn their vastly higher price tags by tacking on pretty serious performance gains.
That's a seriously impressive group of bikes to run with. So even though the outgoing model was only three years old, Triumph has given the Tiger a pretty significant upgrade for 2016, centered around the engine.
I'll admit the Australian press launch was a slightly scary prospect for me. The last time I reviewed a Triumph (the Speed Triple R, back in 2012) I smashed my piggybank and went and bought it. I then stopped testing motorbikes altogether for about a year and a half, because I figured I'd found the best one and there just wasn't any point any more.
What's more, I'm nearly 40, which means I'm perilously close to falling into the target market for one of these adventure sport machines. I had an eerie feeling that I was being stitched up.
The 1050cc inline triple engine that powers the new Tiger Sport looks fairly similar to the old one, apart from a classy new black finish that's actually impregnated into the metal rather than painted on. On the spec sheet it doesn't appear to offer a massive performance leap from the old one – only one more horsepower at 126, and two more Newton-meters of torque at 106 (78 lb-ft) – so I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to feel.
I was wrong. Vastly wrong. In search of Euro IV compliance, as well as extra refinement and versatility, there have been more than 100 changes to the engine alone, and they add up to make it a totally different beast. Seriously, I found myself looking down and checking the tank logo to make sure this thing came out of the same factory that made the old one.
First thing to leap out at me is the fly-by-wire throttle. Where the old bikes needed a firm hand, the new ones no longer pull a steel cable to open up a set of throttle butterflies. So the throttle tube is feather-light to turn – you can rev it with a single finger, and the response from the engine is absolutely instantaneous. At a standstill this digital beast revs quicker than my brain can process. It makes the old engine feel like it's fighting through treacle instead of oil.
Then there's the clutch, a new torque-assist design that uses ramps, levers, mirrors and trap doors to give you a 48 percent lighter clutch pull while still stuffing the clutch plates together with enough force to harness more than a liter's worth of torque. The feeling's almost unnatural when you let the clutch out – there's the slightest shudder from deep within the bike as the thing engages, but that's about all you can feel. It's like, "oh! I… Guess we're moving, then."
Gearboxes haven't been Triumph's forte, I think it's fair to say. My 2014 bike clicks into first with a fair clunk and you can really feel the cogs slotting into place as you work your way up. The new box is Suzuki-smooth, slick and quiet. The whole thing is a quantum leap forward in refinement and a huge surprise for anyone who thinks they know what a big Triumph triple feels like. Gone is the gruff edge, this thing is chardonnay smooth.
Suitably shocked, we roll out with a small group of journos on a 900-kilometer (560-mi), two-day jaunt through West and South Gippsland. It's the middle of a chilling Melbourne winter, but we luck up with a couple of days of sunshine to enjoy the Tiger in a broad range of conditions.
Through the city, it proves an able commuter. While the bikes with big ol' panniers on the back struggle to split lanes, the rest sail through traffic with ease. Low speed handling is fantastic for a 218-kg (481-lb) bike (that's dry) with an 830 mm (32.7-in) high seat, and it's nicely balanced for u-turns and tight squeezes.
Later on the first morning, we're working our way through tight, wet, cold twisty roads. In these conditions, I'm thankful for the Continental ABS system, which seems to have its head screwed on pretty well, and doesn't give me any surprises. Likewise, another benefit of the ride-by-wire throttle is that Triumph has been able to stick multiple engine mappings and traction control in, and as we pick our way around slippery, mossy corners littered with wet bark, I've got plenty of chances to get those systems operating.
Wet and filthy twisties aren't what I'd describe as good fun, but they're certainly easier on a bike that holds your hand a bit. And the uptake from the throttle is so beautifully smooth that I don't feel the need to go into rain mode.
After lunch, things dry out and we get a chance to throw the Tiger Sport into some corners. Riding on Pirelli Angel sport touring tires, these things prove to be impressively light on their feet, taking surprisingly little effort to throw from side to side. Actually, look, they take very little effort to do pretty much anything. I can't remember anything that's more relaxing to ride fast on a twisty road.
Peak power might not have risen much, but the engine's been built to give a broader spread of torque across the tacho. In practice, if you're riding at a decent pace you can be lazy with the gearbox and still have plenty of drive on corner exits. If you want to get indecent, the party starts at about 7,000 rpm and you'll need an active left foot to keep things spinning for maximum acceleration. That's where I kept it when I was chasing the quick lads.
On stock settings, the Showa front and rear suspension isn't far off, delivering a good mix of comfort and confidence. The front end's a bit hard on these bumpy roads, though, so over the course of the launch everyone in the group ends up winding the compression down to one click from the bottom. This makes things noticeably smoother, but the forks start to bottom out when you're braking over hard bumps or landing wheelies. Adding some oil to the forks to reduce the air gap is a cheap fix that should put an end to that. As the heaviest rider in the group, I found the back end felt a bit bouncy over big mid-corner dips. Two clicks of extra rebound damping sorted that out. In general, I was happy with the suspension.
Later in the afternoon, the roads opened out into fast sweepers through lonely countryside and we spent several hours at high speeds. The bike cared not a whit, it was born for such treatment and kept on giving with a minimum of fuss.
A good opportunity to comment on the aeros, then. The Tiger Sport wears a broad front screen with an extra pair of clear diffusers at the sides. At legal speeds, this creates a nice little bubble of stillness that takes all wind pressure off your chest and shoulders and makes a comfy ride even more comfy.
It left me feeling physically fresh after a 500-km (310-mi) day. Airflow over the top is pretty smooth, but made for a fair bit of wind noise. Enough, in my lid at least, to pretty much obliterate the sound of the exhaust until the top third of the rev range – and my bike had an Arrow exhaust fitted.
At high speeds, you don't hear the engine at all. It's just a rush of roaring wind and a magic carpet sensation of acceleration. The engine's so smooth that there's very little vibration to go by either. You need to glance at the tacho to work out when to shift, or just wait until you stop going faster and shift then. It might be something to do with how far back the exhaust exits, because the bike sounds great from the outside. I think it's definitely worth investigating a shorty pipe on this one.
On the highway, you can give your right wrist a break using the cruise control system, which works beautifully. One small niggle I'd have with it, though, is that you need to engage it with your right thumb. That's hard to do while maintaining a constant speed on that feather-light throttle. Like, try hitting your starter button while you're holding a steady throttle. Maybe it's my choice of gloves, but I'd like those buttons to move over to the left switchblock.
Something else this bike needs is a dedicated traction control button. It's a Triumph, idiots like me are gonna want to wheelie it, and idiots like my buddy Trevor over at MCnews will want to powerslide the back end out on gravel, leaf mush and wet bridges too. As it is, you've got to hit a seven-button combination to turn traction control off every time you start the bike, and you can't do it on the move.
Here's my nightmare scenario: an eager, star-struck kid on the sidewalk makes the universal "give us a wheelie" hand signal as you approach. What are you gonna do, pull over and fiddle with the menus, or give an apologetic shrug as you roll impotently by? Either way, that child will be devastated by your lack of coolness, and you will burn with shame. I refuse to let that happen to me.
Mind you, you can go too far with dedicated buttons, as evidenced by the advanced case of 'button pox' on the BMW S1000XR, which gives you no less than 18 control inputs for your left thumb. Not even joking. There's a balance to be found here.
Efficiency-wise it's another big step forward, with the company claiming an 8 percent reduction in fuel consumption. We roundly abused these bikes for two straight days, and none of us saw north of 6.1 liters per 100 km (38.6 mpg). With a full 20-liter (5.28 gal) tank, I'd be very confident striking out for a 400 km (~250-mi) freeway cruise. And in terms of emissions, this new engine platform puts Triumph well out in front of Euro IV emissions standards that look set to hit other manufacturers hard in 2017.
The Tiger Sport 1050 is priced to compete with the Japanese bikes rather than its European neighbours. In Australia, it's AU$17,150 (approx US$13,000), or UK£10,300 in the UK. It seems Triumph America has no plans to bring the bike over to the US, which I imagine will cause some disappointment.
To get to that competitive price point, a couple of things are left off that I'd expect to be standard. Heated grips and a center stand, for starters, are optional extras (mind you, you can add them on without coming near the price of the other Euro bikes). The Sachs rear shock doesn't offer compression adjustment either – not that I found myself wanting it, mind you, and it does have a nifty preload adjuster you can use a screwdriver or a socket on instead of a c-spanner. Many a knuckle will retain its skin thanks to that adjuster.
By the end of two insanely quick days through an awesome variety of roads, the Tiger Sport's character becomes clear. And it's the polar opposite of what I'd have expected. Yes, it's fast, but it's ruthlessly fast in a confident, controlled and calculated manner. Everything, and I mean everything, is exceptionally smooth, refined, comfortable, feather-light, easy. Gone is the mongrel streak, the rough, raw, brash edge that I've associated with Triumphs for years.
I think I miss that gruff edge, like maybe I feel a little disconnected from the wild action that's going on. And I feel that way right up until the moment I get back on my 2014 Speed Triple R, which instantly feels like a fossil. Everything seems heavy, and slow and agricultural and plain old hard work, in a way that never bothered me before. The new ride-by-wire engine is clearly, demonstrably better. Goddamn it, Triumph, why must you keep ruining me?
More information: Triumph Tiger Sport