Middleweight road-going adventure mega-test! We pit V-Strom 800RE vs Transalp vs Tiger 850 Sport

Of all the myriad motorbike sub-classes, the middleweight adventure sector is perhaps the most important.

With machines ranging from 700 to 900cc in capacity, and prices starting at less than £10k, and A2 licence restriction possible on most bikes, these mid-sized all-rounders appeal to a huge pool of potential buyers: new riders and experienced hands, to those on a budget, or people downsizing from large-capacity ownership.

There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers, particularly in a segment that can cement brand loyalty, so it’s little surprise to learn that competition is fierce.

2024 Suzuki V-Strom 800RE in green

Suzuki’s 2024 V-Strom 800RE is the category’s latest challenger. Already a hit in dual-purpose DE form, the RE is the Strom’s road-focused variant.

Powered by the same Suzuki GSX-8S-derived 776cc parallel twin as the DE but running a 19in front wheel rather than a 21, Dunlop D614 tyres, and tweaked ergonomics to enhance long-distance comfort and control, the RE is also £1000 cheaper than its more off-road styled stablemate.

Honda XL750 Transalp in Ross White paintwork ridden on road

At £9699 the Strom’s the same price as another relative newcomer to the class. Honda’s XL750 Transalp impressed last year with its easy nature, sweet handling, long-distance capability, and eye-catching styling that’s an unmistakable nod and a wink to the original 1980s XL600 Transalp.

Pick of the class up to now has been Triumph’s Tiger 850 Sport. Essentially a retuned Tiger 900, tweaked to become an affordable entry level A2-friendly all-rounder, the Sport offers full-sized adventure thrills and capability for £2100 less than a base Tiger 900. So even those looking at the ‘bigger’ Tiger (they’re both 888cc…) might reasonably consider the 850 Sport on account of its attractive price.

Triumph Tiger 850 Sport in blue and grey ridden on a very straight road

Despite its detuned engine and marginally lower spec, the 850 Sport doesn’t feel as if it’s been slashed down to a price simply to meet A2 licence requirements. Power has been capped at 84bhp, but in terms of grunt the 850 delivers a mere 6.1lb.ft less than the full-fat 900.

Honda Transalp XL750 specs in detail
Deals are correct at time of publication and will vary depending on individual circumstances

We have high hopes for the Honda. It’s a well-appointed package that showed well on test last year and its spec sheet makes interesting reading. Honda claim 90.5bhp and 55.3lb.ft, which puts it top of the class in terms of power and right in the ball park for torque.

But, as we learned with this engine last year when it appeared in the Honda CB750 Hornet, dyno figures tell only part of the story. Ridden in isolation the Transalp feels up for pretty much anything – just like the Hornet. But throw the new V-Strom 800DE and Tiger 850 into the mix and the Honda’s shortcomings soon become apparent.

The Honda Transalp's buzz needs to match the Hornet's really, and this lets it down against the Triumph and Suzuki

The Transalp’s low rpm drive is disappointing, particularly below 4000rpm. In fact, the Honda needs at least 8000rpm on the dial to really get into its stride. There are five riding modes to choose from, as well as traction and wheelie control, but even in the softer options such as Rain and Gravel (Standard, Sport and User being the other three) there’s still little in the way of tangible oomph at real-world revs.

Peaky delivery may work on the ‘buzzing’ Hornet, especially when you’re in the mood to boogie, but on an adventure bike the constant need to chase high rpm becomes frustrating all too quickly. As for top gear roll-ons or overtakes, forget it. If you’re not snicking down one or two cogs to pass traffic, you’re going nowhere fast.

Handling-wise the Transalp’s good; it’s a very easy bike to ride with very light controls, almost as if it’s aimed at beginners. But you have to wring the engine’s neck to get anywhere.

Suzuki V-Strom 800RE specs in detail
Deals are correct at time of publication and will vary depending on individual circumstances

Jumping off the Honda and onto the Suzuki, it’s like Hornet 750 versus GSX-8S all over again. Same engine, same result. What the Strom lacks in top-end shrill it more than makes up for in low and midrange. So much so that overtaking and off-corner drive are night and day different to the Transalp.

Overtakes on the 800RE require little more than an extra whiff of throttle, even in top. Throttle response throughout the Suzuki’s midrange is instant and complemented by the standard up/down quickshifter (an optional extra on the Transalp at £255).

The Suzuki V-Strom 800RE has a fantastic engine

“The Suzuki’s engine is great,” reckons fellow tester Jon Urry. “It’s got loads of bottom end and midrange poke, which makes it easier to ride briskly than the Honda. On the Transalp I feel sidetracked by the engine, trying to keep it on the boil, whereas the latest V-Strom just does what I want without any fuss or effort.”

The other notable thing about the Suzuki, especially in this company, is its size. Compared to the Triumph it feels like a toy.

A fine-handling toy, nonetheless. With light steering, an excellent turning circle, and a soft but enjoyable ride, the V-Strom impresses everywhere, from A-roads to city streets. It’s a bike you can jump on and click with instantly. That said, it’s not winning hearts with its looks.

This trio of middleweight adventure motorbikes are tricky to compare with one another

Switching bikes once again, we all agree that the Triumph is the superior package. It’s the best engine, certainly in terms of feel, sound, urgency of drive and its ability to deliver in any given situation. It’s got character too, something that the Transalp lacks.

Some of Triumph’s spec choices for the 850 Sport are slightly odd though. Marzocchi suspension, adjustable only for preload at the rear, makes sense; it does the job within an obvious cost restraint.

But the Brembo Stylema calipers are a strange decision. They’re superb, obviously, but they’re overkill on an entry level machine. Given the option, were there one, Nissins would be fine, freeing up budget for useful stuff like heated grips, a centrestand or panniers.

Swapping between these middleweight adventure motorbikes highlighted the difficulty in choosing just one

Not that it matters, because the Tiger 850 Sport is still the best overall package in class. Suzuki have come close with the V-Strom 800RE and Honda could be right back in the game if the Transalp gains a more adventure friendly power delivery. But for now, the Tiger’s still top cat.

Suzuki V-Strom 800RE vs Triumph Tiger 850 Sport vs Honda XL750 Transalp: The MCN Verdict

The Transalp’s got a lot going for it. Handsome styling, fine handling, effective weather protection, clever electronics, tempting price and a lightness of touch to its ride that could propel it to the top of this class.

But the awkward juxtaposition between all that and a peaky power delivery spoils what should be a great middleweight adventure bike. I just hope the V-Strom’s arrival jolts Honda into corrective action.

Triumph Tiger 850 Sport specs in detail
Deals are correct at time of publication and will vary depending on individual circumstances

Suzuki have hit the ground running with the V-Strom 800RE. Like the Honda, it’s attractively priced and comes with a few tempting luxuries like an OE quickshifter and, for a limited time, heated grips.

With its cast alloy wheels, road tyres and tarmac pretentions the RE’s lost a bit of the DE’s rugged appeal, but if you’re never going to venture onto the dirt this version of 800 V-Strom holds its own against stiff opposition.

The Tiger’s 900 roots give the 850 Sport a solid, secure feel, and despite tuning changes to catch the A2 market, its inline triple has lost none of its charm. It’s our clear winner here.

The Triumph Tiger 850 Sport is the winner here

How MCN tests bikes

Our highly experienced team of road testers grind out hundreds of miles, come rain or snow, on the UK’s pothole-ridden roads to decide which bike is best in a particular category.

Using years of riding and racing experience (on and off-road), our expert journalists are able to assess the capabilities of a machine and translate that into understandable language to help MCN’s readers make an informed buying decision. Pitching bikes against their main rivals, we aim to give a conclusive verdict on which bike is best for your needs and your budget.

Using their considerable knowledge of the motorcycling market and audience, they can put a motorcycle into context and deliver a verdict that means something to anyone considering buying a particular machine, whether it be a cutting-edge, 200bhp sportsbike, a tall adventure weapon or a low-capacity 125cc machine.

When we ride the bikes in the UK we tend to do at least one full day of riding on various different types of road and in varying conditions. Our testers will then spend another day riding the bike – with rivals – to get images and video footage for our print and online reviews.

We will also, often, weigh the bikes, speed and dyno test them to see just how accurately the manufacturer claims are in these areas to give a more empirical assessment.

Find out more about how we test bikes right here.