Triumph Tiger: the models, the rivals and the verdict

Triumph Tiger 1200 XCA

The Triumph Tiger has been around in one form or another since 1937, when the Tiger nickname was used for a range of bikes made in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc variants.

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Back then, Triumph used the top speed of the bike rather than its capacity to designate the model, so these three machines were called the Tiger 70, 80 and 90 respectively and they became the backbone of the Triumph brand, allowing it to build more glamourous models like the Bonneville, Daytona and Thunderbird right up until the 70s. All three of these names have re-surfaced over time in various guises, too.

The Tiger has a long heritage

The Triumph T100 (T for Tiger) was first introduced in 1939 and would become one of the British brand’s most important models. It could be adapted for use both on and off-road or even around a circuit and was the bike Ted Simon used in Jupiter’s Travels.

Triumph Tiger Trail

1981 Triumph Tiger Trail

In 1981, Triumph released its first large-capacity trail bike and called it the Triumph Tiger Trail. Built at the request of Triumph’s French importers in response to the BMW R80G/S it was based on the T140V Bonneville but detuned via a single carb like previous road-going Tigers. That first modern Tiger was built to a budget by a company on its last legs and was not enough to save the brand. Triumph eventually closed its doors in 1983.

Triumph Tiger 900 – 1993/98

Triumph Tiger 900 from the new Hinckley Triumph era

After being saved by businessman, John Bloor and moved from Coventry to Hinckley, the second wave of Hinckley Triumphs included a new adventure bike called the Triumph Tiger 900. This featured an 885cc triple engine that punched out a BMW R1150GS-matching 84bhp.

The 1993 Triumph Tiger also had a 24-litre tank and a good screen, which helped cement its touring credentials in a fledgling adventure bike market. It was no slouch in the corners, either - making it a great option for commuting as well as cross-continental conquering. Later versions of the 900 got a painted black swingarm and fuel injection, too.

Triumph Tiger 955i – 2001/06

Triumph Tiger 955i

Realising that the market was shifting evermore towards big, powerful trailies (what we now call adventure bikes), Triumph brought out a completely new version of the Tiger in 2001 using the engine from their Triumph Daytona 955i de-tuned to 104bhp.

Although this version of the Tiger still carried the hallmarks of an off-roader (spoked rims, bash plate and high-level exhaust) it was beginning to take more of a road-biased approach. This was even more evident in 2002 when stiffer suspension internals were introduced.

Triumph Tiger 1050 – 2006/12

Triumph Tiger 1050

The Triumph Tiger 1050 moved away from the adventure bike mould completely and became an outright tourer. The 19in front and 18in rear spoked rims made way for 17in cast replacements, the whole bike got narrower and lighter with a firm, road-friendly ride.

As the name suggests, the engine was the 1050cc lump used in the Triumph Speed Triple and what an engine it was. Even tuned down to 115bhp it still packed a punch over the previous bike and had a smooth throttle response that made it easier to live with at low speed.

Triumph Tiger 800 – 2011/onwards

Triumph Tiger 800

What bike reviewers in the 90s had been calling large/very big/enormous trail bikes had gradually morphed into the adventure bike class. This new classification of motorbike had cleaned up in the way sportsbikes had in the 90s and early 00s and roads up and down the country were soon covered in textile suited BMW R1200GS riders.

Very few owners would ever take their adventure bikes off-road, and why would they? The risk of dropping your very expensive, tall, heavy bike wasn’t outweighed by the fun you would have doing it.

BMW were having success with a cheap (for a BMW) middleweight adventure bike in the form of the F800GS, and Triumph decided to join the party. The Triumph Tiger 800 used a 799cc triple adapted from the Street Triple and came in a standard and XC variant.

The standard model had cast wheels with a 19in front, whereas the more off-road XC had spokes and a 21in front, longer travel suspension and wider bars.

The Tiger 800 XC was upgraded in 2015 and joined by a new Triumph Tiger 800 XR version to take over as the road-biased model.

Triumph Tiger 1200

Triumph Tiger Explorer XC

The Tiger 1200 Explorer was introduced in 2012 and took direct aim at the BMW R1200GS. The Explorer was faster, more powerful and better equipped than the BMW and has been a great success for Triumph.

It was too heavy for any serious off-roading, but more than capable on loose trails or green lanes. The 1215cc triple engine pumped out 135bhp and 89ftlb of torque and was a real star of the show, kept in check by a ride-by-wire throttle, cruise and traction control.

The Explorer was updated in 2016 before the Triumph Tiger 1200 XC and XR models were launched in 2018 to follow the same pattern as the Tiger 800 variants (see above).

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 models

Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro

The 900 engine replaced the 800 and was revealed in the Tiger range in 2020. You had a choice between Tiger 900 GT, GT Pro, Rally and Rally Pro

Triumph Tiger 850 Sport

Triumph Tiger 850 Sport

In 2021 the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport was introduced as a softer, cheaper version of the middleweight cat. 

Triumph Tiger Sport 660

Triumph Tiger Sport 660

And finally in 2022 Triumph launched the Tiger Sport 660, which uses the platform and engine from the super-popular Trident naked but with added practicality for long-distance riding. 

Triumph Tiger Rivals

Honda Africa Twin, Triumph Tiger, Cagiva Elefant and BMW F800GS

The Triumph Tiger was in the vanguard of a new category of motorbikes when it was launched, but there have been plenty of competitors over the years.

The obvious comparison is the ubiquitous BMW GS range but there have also been the Honda XL1000V Varadero, Ducati Multistrada, Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere, Honda Africa Twin, KTM Adventure, Suzuki V-Strom, Kawasaki Versys, Honda Transalp and Aprilia Caponord variants.