Just got home after more than 1000km aboard the Triumph Tiger 800 XC, and I have to report that riding the most expensive of a two-model Tiger 800 range is an excellent way to travel. With its 21-inch front wheel, more robust suspension with extra wheel travel, and better ground clearance, the XC shades the base model considerably as a bike for all New Zealand.It's ready to tackle the rough stuff that the cheaper version fears, and even if you don’t venture far from sealed roads, the extra suspension quality and ability to lean the bike over further make it a better carver of corners.For an extra $1500, the $20,490 XC is a much more complete bike than its comfy $18,990 sibling, and arguably the best bike anyone could choose for a complete tour of this fascinating country.My ride consisted of some offroad work riding northwards along the shipwreck-infested west coast of the North Island from Pouto at the northern side of the entrance to the Kaipara harbour, some gravel sections from Donnellys Crossing to the Twin Bridges road, and long periods of state highway work linked by some choice back roads. It was all Tiger Country in that the bike felt ideally suited to such a variety of surfaces, conditions, and routes. The XC is as happy to cruise congested highways as it is on roads less travelled, and its easy access to torque, centralised mass, generous steering lock, and quality suspension package make it doddle to ride off road. The more I rode the XC the more it impressed, and the more it impressed themore I began to question why anyone would settle for the more affordable version.In terms of restricting access to complete riding pleasure, opting for the non-XC model is definitely false economy.Certainly Kiwi bike buyers are already voting for the XC with their cheque books and credit cards. The Tiger 800 with extra versatility and ability is outselling the cheaper version by around three to one in our market.Offshore, sales of the two Tiger 800s are more equally distributed between the two models. There are many reasons for our favouritism towards the XC: we have some of the best opportunities for off-road adventure travel in the world, our network of gravel roads is equally enticing, and do-it-all bikes are as much in tune with the Kiwi psyche as our beloved SUVs.As with SUVs, the dynamics of so-called adventure tourers are usually compromised by their need to be versatile and ready to take on anything. The real beauty of themiddleweight Triumph is that it displays less of the compromises of the breed.Perhaps the finest example of this is the 800cc triple that powers the XC, as the choice of a multicylinder engine in a class dominated by twins is an inspired one.Lifting the 675cc inline-three from the Daytona sportsbike and stroking it out to 800cc has given the Tiger tall-rounder the tractable grunt it needs at the bottom of the rev range and a sporty kick in the upper register.That it sounds like a Porsche 911 when it gets into its stride only adds to its sporty nature.Further sportiness comes the 800 XC’s way in the methods Triumph employed to tune the XC models chassis for occasional offroad use. The rake of the forks is kept at the same quick-steering 23 degrees as the base model, while the extra stability required for rough terrain is won through a 13mm extension in the wheelbase, and the choice of a larger 21-inch front hoop instead of the 19-inch wheel of the lesser Tiger.However these changes do little to detract from the ability of the XC to carve up sealed back roads as their potential to slow down steering response is negated by the higher-riding model’s raised centre of gravity and the extra leverage to steering inputs by the XC’swider handlebars. On smooth, winding tarmac roads these bikes are virtually dynamic equals until their maximum lean angles dictate that the cheaper Tiger adopt a slower pace, for the ordinary Tiger 800 will drag its pegs earlier.When bumps enter the scene there is definitely only one Tiger 800 to be on. With an extra 40mm of travel at both wheels and stiffer, larger-diameter forks, the XC easily soaks up everything in its path.The final point in its favour is its looks. The wire-spoked wheels with their shiny black anodised aluminium rims look much more appealing than the cheaper model’s cast alloy hoops, and the bike comeswith the finishing touch of a raised front mudguard where the other looks incomplete.
AT A GLANCE Engine: 799cc liquid-cooled dohc inline triple, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 70kW (94bhp) at 9300rpm and 79Nm at 7850rpm. Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive. Frame: Steel tube trellis frame and cast alloy rear swingarm; 45mm inverted Showa front forks with 220mm of wheel travel, rear monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping adjustment with 215mm of travel. Price: $20,490. Hot: Quite possibly the best bike that anyone could select for an extended and complete tour of New Zealand. Not: Triple-cylinder engine whines annoyingly at idle; excellent ABS anti-lock brakes are a $1000 option instead of standard equipment.