Julian Challis – Triumph Tiger 900

Julian Challis travels to morocco for the launch of the Triumph Tiger 900.

Days don’t start much better than this. As the pale morning sun rises over the crashing waves of the Atlantic, we weave our way through sand dunes to reach a beach to the south of Essaouira. Ahead of us, there are miles and miles of perfect sand and we’re armed with the all new Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro on big block Pirelli tyres. With a swift toggle on the left bar, it’s into ‘Off-road Pro’ mode and from that moment it’s just pure motorcycling joy, blasting across the soft sand and carving deep scars in the beach as we sweep left and right, spinning up the rear hoop and sending perfect arcs of roost into the Moroccan sky. At this particular moment I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be. 

Triumph could hardly have picked a better location for the worldwide launch of the new Tiger. While the whole of the UK was being lashed by Storm Ciara and the Far East was rapidly spiralling into panic over the Coronavirus, setting up twin camps in Marrakesh and the coastal resort of Essaouira some 100 miles away seemed like a thoroughly sensible plan. And just like the Scrambler 1200 launch in Portugal in 2019, the Hinkley manufacturer had pulled out all the stops, with a fleet of the top of the range bikes lined up outside the hotels, a supporting staff of engineers, project leaders, guide riders, photographers, video makers and even James Bond stunt riders in attendance to give the best possible introduction to the new bikes. 

And you can see why. While the whole of the adventure sector is in rude health, it’s the mid-range part of the market that the big manufacturers seem to be scrapping over like a pack of street dogs. And this is probably because there’s a massive market share up for grabs and, to continue the canine theme, no clear top dog. Buyers in the big bike sector might show a marked preference for the all-conquering BMW, but a step down from that whether you go Honda, KTM, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, BMW or any of the others, is truly up for grabs. Hell, even Moto Guzzi have thrown their hat into the ring, and with Husqvarna due to release an adventure bike that looks to be a game changer very soon, Triumph know that keeping the Tiger in the centre of the fight is vital.

Kick up dust

They are well placed to do that thanks to both the long history of the model and the success of the outgoing Tiger 800. While we might wax lyrical about the history and heritage of the GS, the Africa Twin or the Ténéré, these bikes are firmly in the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ category compared to the Tiger. First launched way back in 1936 as an off-road competition model, the Tiger swiftly became a big seller in the brief period before the war, the success continuing into the Tiger Cub in 1957 and eventually to the Tiger 100 in 1973. And it’s perhaps this model that can be identified as the first true adventure bike, thanks to Ted Simon’s incredible four years spent riding round the world on the bike. 

But the back story of the current Tiger begins in 1993 with the first of the Hinkley Tigers, the new owner’s perhaps unexpectedly successful foray into the then nascent adventure sector. The original bike was a 900, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the first smaller, sexier 800 hit the showrooms, getting a redesign some four years later and again in 2018, selling over 85,000 units in that 10-year period. It’s a measure of how important the mid-weight sector is to the firm’s bottom line that the new bike comes a mere two years later, not to mention a certain pleasing circularity to the Tiger story that the bike is back to the capacity that it started some 27 years ago.

Enjoying this off road malarky 

Our first chance to ride the new bikes comes on a decidedly chilly morning in Marrakesh, having listened to the company’s extensive presentation the evening before. There are six new variants for the bike – the base model Tiger with a separate low seat version, the adventure touring slanted GT and GT Pro, and finally, the off-road focussed Rally and Rally Pro. Although there was a shorty version of the stock Tiger in the presentation room, outside the hotel it’s only the top spec GT Pro and Rally Pro that are going to be ridden here in Morocco. And of the two, it’s the Rally Pro that look by far the best, with its new angry face, tall stance, gold Showa forks and that killer white subframe contrasting with the racing green – sorry ‘Matt Khaki’ – bodywork.The GT Pro may be in the excitingly named but not that stunning ‘Korosi Red’, but next to its off-road sibling, it’s not cutting it for me. And, as I’ve been allocated the Rally Pro for the morning, I couldn’t be happier. I find the heated seat button, set the grips to ‘toasty’ and thumb the starter.

Crank Works 

That’s when the first and perhaps most important change in the 900 is evident. In a seemingly impossible wish list, the engineers were asked to make the new motor bigger, more powerful and more characterful, while at the same time losing weight, bulk and height compared to the 800. And against the odds, they’ve done all of that and more, producing a unique, compact and thoroughly likable motor to slot into the new Tiger with an impressive 10% more torque and more power across the range. The weight and size changes have been achieved through a combination of new pistons, conrods, camshafts, engine casings and by casting the cylinder liners together in a process that, in a somewhat politically incorrect way, is called Siamese casting. But the biggest change is to introduce a ‘T plane’ crankshaft, which alters the firing order from the previous one, two, three format to a one, three, two order and, thanks to the T layout of the crank, introduces a bigger interval between cylinder three and two firing. is may sound complicated, but the end result is that, particularly at low revs, the triple cylinder motor feels, sounds and performs far more like a twin. And that may be no coincidence when all the Tiger’s competitors have two not three cylinders … 

And as we set out into the cool air and busy roads of Saturday morning traffic in Marrakesh, the work of the team back at Hinkley is both evident and immensely enjoyable. The motor spins up instantly with a flick of the ride-by-wire throttle, and the resultant rasp from the new motor and big end can feels and sounds wonderful. The top spec bikes have a quick shifter as stock and snicking up through the buttery smooth gearbox without touching the slipper assist clutch is effortless, blurring the urban landscape whenever required. While Triumph were a bit coy about the subject, during development the new 900 was thoroughly benchmarked against the most obvious competition – the F800 and Africa Twin – and the new Tiger proved to be faster in both a straight 0-60 and a rolling 6th gear acceleration. Of course, since then both the BMW and the Honda have also been upgraded, but the 900 does feel livelier and more urgent than both, thanks to the punch from that three-cylinder package that now manages to combine the characteristics of both a twin and a triple. 

The rally pro also performs well on the road

As we leave the city behind, the roads straighten out to take us south to Oumnass and on to towards Lalla Takerkoust, a stunningly beautiful area with its vast lake framed by the distant Atlas mountain. The Tiger is continuing to impress with its limpet-like road holding despite the tall stance and leggy suspension. Triumph have gone with a twin approach to the two models, speccing Marzocchi kit for the Tiger, GT and GT Pro with the Pro getting electronic control to the rear shock. The Rally and Rally Pro get identical Showa units with 45mm USD cartridges forks with manual adjustment for preload, rebound and compression damping and a linkage activated Showa rear shock with manual preload and rebound damping. It’s a sensible split to make, giving a more than adequate 170mm travel for the more road-based models and huge 240mm front and 230mm rear on the Rally bikes – evidently enough to leap over even the most evil Bond villain’s traps, although maybe not with this particular pilot. 

Screen Test 

After about 40 miles and with the early chill now a distant memory, we stop for a much-needed coffee at the dusty little town of Amizmiz. While the cafe owner struggles to swiftly produce a dozen coffees on his aging Gaggia, I take a while to familiarise myself with the new dashboard, rather than try to learn it on the road. Although the control cluster on the left switchgear is largely unchanged from the 800, for all but the entry level bike which only gets a 5” screen, the TFT display has been supersized with a class-leading 7” jumbotron nestling behind the rather clunkily adjustable screen. The display is wonderfully clear, customisable and well-considered, giving you easily accessible information and relatively intuitive ways to swap between the different options. 

Triumph have also built in connectivity to both Google and GoPro so you can navigate, take images and run your own sound track at the flick of a switch once your phone is suitably paired. As we’re on the top specification bikes, we’ve also got six riding modes to chose from – Road, Sport, Rain, Off-road, Off-road Pro and the endlessly adjustable Rider mode. The base model gets just Road and Rain, the lesser GT lacks Rider mode and only the Rally Pro gets the full house. Each mode pre-sets the throttle response, traction control and ABS to parameters suitable for the selected mode. 

We set out again hanging a sharp right to head north towards Tizguine and having got the measure of the tech, I’m determined to try toggling between the modes. After just 100m, our route deteriorates into a 500m long stretch of roadworks with deep and very loose scalpings, where changing to the offroad setting would have been ideal. Sadly, because this mode substantially alters the ABS and traction control setting, you can’t access any of the off-road modes on the fly, meaning the best I can do is select Rain to dial back the throttle response, get on the pegs and try to stay upright. And the Rally Pro responds with pleasingly unruffled competence, taking me through the deep gravel with the minimum of fuss, even if the road going tyres are not the best for these conditions. The 900 has new bodywork, a new modular frame with a detachable rear subframe, and teamed up with the new shorter, lower mounted and more compact motor and substantial narrower seat and central frame section, the bike feels easy and well balanced to move around despite the larger 20 litre capacity fuel tank (up from 19 litres) 

SPECS AT A GLANCE: Tiger Rally Pro

PRICE: £13,100
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder

CAPACITY:888cc

OUTPUT: 93.9 bhp (70 kW) @ 8,750 rpm

TORUE: 87 Nm @ 7,250 rpm

SUSPENSION: Front; Showa 45mm upside down forks, manual preload, rebound damping and compression damping adjustment, 240mm travel. Rear; Showa rear suspension unit, manual preload and rebound damping adjustment, 230mm wheel travel

BRAKES: Front; Twin 320mm floating discs, Brembo Stylema 4 piston Monobloc calipers. Radial front master cylinder, Optimised Cornering ABS. Rear; Brembo single piston sliding caliper

WEIGHT: 201kg (dry)
TANK CAPACITY:
20 litres
SEAT HEIGHT:
850 – 970 mm

Once out on clear roads again, we continue on through the arid landscape, swooping through lazy curves for mile after mile of surprisingly good tarmac, spoiled only by the occasional errant goat, where the massive new Brembo Stylema brakes and massive 320mm twin drilled discs and 255mm rear disc haul the bike to safety with almost eye-watering efficiency. Once going again, the 21”/17” side-spoked tubeless wheels, as opposed to the cast wheels of the road Tiger and the GT versions, cope well with even the most spirited of riding, an aspect no doubt helped by the steadying hand of the optimised cornering ABS and cornering traction control that comes as standard on all but the budget model. The level of control exercised by the IMU is matched to the chosen riding mode, although if you want to be particularly Luddite about all this tech, then you can choose ‘Rider’ mode and retain at least some of the control yourself. 

What the tech can’t get around is the annoying position of the mode switch relative to the selector toggle that leaves you almost constantly and inadvertently switching on the indicators rather than selecting the correct mode. At least the cruise control is slightly easier to operate. 

Swap Shop 

We stop for lunch at a rather anodyne service station next to the road. Suitably refreshed it’s time to swap bikes and spend some time on the GT Pro. Straight away the feel of the bike is different, with its much lower seat height (810mm to 830mm as compared to 850mm to 870mm) on the Rally, the rolled back bars and lower Marzocchi suspension, you feel more ‘in’ the bike than ‘on’ it. The GT Pro has electronically adjustable rear suspension, so with single rider and a medium hard ride and sport mode selected, I’m off again, heading away from the main highway and towards the rolling green hills on the horizon. The different geometry gives an entirely different riding experience, far closer to a onventional tourer, which must be exactly what the Triumph designers had intended. It’s no stretch to imagine loading up the panniers and top box and heading off round the world with your significant other installed behind, happily controlling their seat temperature with the convenient under seat switch. 

The new engine is livelier and more urgent

There’s a slightly wider 110/90 front tyre on the Tiger and GT versions which gives a tad more corner stability too, meaning that the GT can be hustled along with ease. And that proves exactly what is required as we take a right turn off the N8 and onto the R214 towards Tamazirte. The dust and sand either side of the tarmac is replaced with almond orchards and olive groves, and the sweeping curves replaced with winding roads and tight hairpins. And the Tiger is loving it, dropping easily into the bends and powering out to that wonderful new triple soundtrack, the suspension soaking even the hardest hits while the ABS and traction control technology takes care of the road holding, a comforting addition when there appears to be a thin strip of gravel on the exit of just about every turn. There’s also challenges from the local wildlife, as a cast of donkeys, dogs, cats, cows, goats, camels and even a tortoise decide to dive out in front of the Tiger. OK so I maybe had a tad more reaction time with the tortoise.

SPECS AT A GLANCE: Tiger Rally Pro

PRICE: £13,100
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder

CAPACITY:888cc

OUTPUT: 93.9 bhp (70kW) @ 8,750 rpm

TORQUE: 87 Nm @ 7,250 rpm

SUSPENSION:Front; Marzocchi 45mm upside down forks, manual rebound and compression damping adjustment, 180mm travel. Rear; Marzocchi rear suspension unit, electronically adjustable preload and rebound damping, 170mm wheel travel

BRAKES: Front; Twin 320mm floating discs, Brembo Stylema 4 piston Monobloc calipers. Radial front master cylinder, Optimised Cornering ABS. Rear; Single 255mm disc. Brembo single piston sliding caliper. Optimised cornering ABS

WEIGHT: 198kg (dry)
TANK CAPACITY:
20 litres
SEAT HEIGHT:
810 – 830 mm

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We eventually leave the twisties behinds and pick up the N1 and head north towards the beautiful coastal town of Essaouira, a popular stopover for tourists with fantastic beaches, big waves and long-haired surf dudes. An hour or so of swift riding on straighter faster roads does highlight the fact that the new firing order adds a bit of a buzzing vibration to the bars at 5,000 rpm and above, so if you’re continental touring at consistent distances at 80mph then it’s certainly something you will notice. As the sun sinks towards the distant horizon, we arrive at a stunning resort hotel overlooking the azure sea, and after a long day in the saddle, a cool bottle of Casablanca beer is the perfect end to a pretty perfect day. 

Dirty beast 

The next morning it’s time for some off-road malarkey, and as a confirmed dirt lover, I can’t wait. There’s a line of Tiger Rally Pros kitted with Pirelli Scorpion Rally hoops and the tech team have even gone to the trouble of rolling the bars forward, dropping the levers, raising the gear shift and flipping the rear brake pedal so that the bike is good to go for a day on the trails. And from the initial joyful blasts up and down the deserted beach, it’s clear that the Rally Pro is going to be just as good off the road as it was on, if not better. The new frame and slim central profile just work so well to control the bike and chuck it about like a motocross bike – the grins on the faces of all the riders are massive and we’d all have happily spent all day on the beach. But the event team have scouted out a challenging series of loops that weave through the rocky and sandy landscape around Essaouira. The rider groups are smaller today and lead by the guys from the Triumph Adventure Experience who are doubtless appreciating a slightly drier working environment than the usual Wales. We blast our way through a fantastic selection of trails, lanes and dirt roads. 

The screen gives plenty of protection

The new engine is perfect for all of these, from trickling through the rock-strewn olive groves, to flat out hooning along those wonderful dirt roads. Even when confronted with a long rock-stepped incline that should defeat a machine of this size and weight, the Tiger blats up like a trials bike, the Showa suspension shrugging of the sharpest of steps without a murmur. If there was one gripe it would be with the small and not particularly sharp footpegs that didn’t work well with my Alpinestars Corozals. After more than six hours out on the trails, and on everything from deep sand to loose gravel, the Tiger didn’t put a single knobbly out of place. This bike is simply peachy off-road, and I’d defy anyone to disagree. 

Home time 

All too soon it’s time to head back to the hotel, and in all honesty, I’d have gladly volunteered to forgo dinner, bed and indeed the next week to continue riding this bike in this beautiful country. While I haven’t really spent much time on the 800, it’s easy to see the appeal of the triple, and how it has inspired quite such a devoted following in its 10-year history. With the new 900, Triumph had to tread a delicate balance to maintain everything the market already loves about the old bike, iron out the bits that they didn’t and produce a bike that is different enough to attract new buyers away from its competitors. And it’s clear they may have achieved just that. The entry level bike is relatively inexpensive, they’ve offered a proper low seat version, all the bikes can be A2 compliant, and there is a clear delineation between the road focussed GT bikes and the off-road Rally variants. And perhaps more importantly, they are all extremely good adventure bikes. 

Which one you choose however, now that’s a different matter. But for us there’s only one dog or perhaps more accurately one Tiger in this fight – it’s the Rally Pro in Green. Love it! 

ABR Verdict

As a commuter 

I can be particularly accurate about this as I had to weave through some insanely busy traffic on our return to Marrakesh, so I’m happy to confirm that the Tiger would make an excellent, if over-specced commuter. But don’t just use it to get to work, there’s a whole world out there. 

As a weekend tourer 

So, having spent the weekend touring Morocco on the Tiger we are ideally placed to recommend the new 900 as a weekend tourer. Whether you choose the road or off-road versions it doesn’t matter as both do the twisties and the fast stuff with ease and style. And for the soundtrack we’re going back to the 90s with a bit of Faithless. We’re not sure if God really is a DJ, but he probably does ride a Triumph . 

As an off-roader 

OK, so you can forget the stock and GT models if you want to head away from the blacktop, but armed with a Rally or better still a Rally Pro then you can take on some pretty extreme terrain and come out whooping and smiling. This bike is an offroad weapon. Of course, when it rains things will not be quite as rosy, but that’s just part of adventure biking. 

As a continental road tourer 

So, it’s a split decision on this one as although the GT would make the better road bike, the Rally Pro looks so fricking cool that we’d willingly sacrifice a bit of road holding for style. With plenty of options for luggage and aftermarket goodies, you could kit this bad boy out to explore Europe for months on end. And many will do just that. 

As an RTW overlander  

As the bike that effectively started round the world travel, this modern-day Jupiter will be a perfect companion for globe crossing travel. On balance we’d probably pick the Rally for its greater ground clearance, suspension and off-road prowess, but either model will circumnavigate our little green planet with ease. 

As a pillion carrier 

A good proportion of riders are going to buy this bike with two-up travel in mind and the 900 would do the job well. It’s probably best on the GT Pro as you can so easily tweak the settings for the additional load of two people and a bike full of luggage. And with the Bluetooth set up to your intercom, you can both enjoy a bit of Faithless together.