WHEN I first discovered motorcycles back in the 1970s, there was a bike genre called ‘trail bikes’. Mostly, they were road bikes with semi-knob tyres, high handlebars, funny dirt-oriented names and maybe, just maybe, a bashplate to protect the engine cases when you (inevitably) crunched them on a rock. But they handled like dogs in the dirt and they were heavy bloody things. Or so we thought.
Trail bikes evolved. They became lighter. They became more dirt-capable, mostly because they switched from being based on road bikes to being based on motocross bikes.
The modern version of road-bikes-pretending-to-be-dirt bikes are called adventure bikes. I’ve never paid much attention to adventure bikes, to be honest, mostly because I’ve never wanted one. Just like back in the day, if I want a dirt bike I’ll buy a dirt bike and if I want a road bike I’ll buy a road bike. Besides, apart from being ugly looking things, they look way too heavy to do any real adventuring.
So I was intrigued when I saw that one of Triumph’s new Tiger 1200s (there are a few variants ranging in price from just over $24k to nearly $30k) had shed 10kg from the previous model. After all, 10kg is a lot of weight to lose — or it would be if you were shedding it from a bike that was already reasonably light.
But when I took a closer look at the Tiger specification sheets, the 10kg drop took on a slightly different tone. The top-spec Tiger 1200 XCa squishes the scales at a would-Sir-like-extra-fries-with-that 248kg wet. Cripes. That’s 100kg more than my mate’s old silver-tank XL350. Even a Bengal tiger that’s just eaten a Sundarban villager only weighs in at around 250kg.
I guess the Triumph Tiger’s scale-groaning weight shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, there’s a 139-horsepower 1215cc triple cylinder engine in there, and enough high-tech wizardry to run a space shuttle.
And its Jabba The Hutt dimensions become almost forgivable when you look at the competition. BMW’s R1200GS and Ducati’s Multistrada 1200 Enduro are both even heavier than the Tiger, weighing in at a hefty 256kg and 254kg respectively, while KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure is 240kg and Honda’s Africa Twin is a more svelte 232kg.
By comparison, when I think of trail bikes from my youth, I think of mid-size singles — bikes like Honda’s XL350 and Suzuki’s TS400. The TS was a tamed-down version of the hang-on-to-your-goolies TM400 motocrosser. It seemed huge and unbelievably powerful in 1976. But its 400cc single-cylinder two stroke engine generated just 34 horsepower, which sounds pathetic today, and its wet weight of 124kg sounds like a featherweight. (A 2018 Yamaha YZ450F weighs 111kg, with no lights and such of course.)
And no, you wouldn’t climb aboard a TS400 if you were planning to ride around the world, even in 1976 and even if you were planning to ride down some lumpy gravel roads. You would more likely have climbed aboard a BMW R75/6 (50hp, 210kg).
But today you would happily climb aboard a Triumph Tiger for such a trip. And you would do so with some of the most amazing technology that money can buy, sitting right there behind a few buttons on your handlebars.
The top-spec Tiger comes with cruise control, hill hold, heated seats, heated grips, corner-clever ABS and traction control, electrically adjustable suspension (just push a button if you’re carrying a pillion), shift-assist for clutchless gear changes, adaptive cornering lighting so it can see around corners, and ride-by-wire throttle control which enables a bunch of riding modes including one very clever mode which switches off all the traction technology so you can ride it like a, er, motorbike.
It’s all very impressive stuff. And if I was heading off for a ride across the planet I’d look seriously at such a beast.
But you wouldn’t get me on one in the Australian bush and, for home-based day-to-day riding, I’ll stick to my guns. Give me a road bike for the road and a dirt bike for the dirt.
And maybe one of those old trail bikes, just for old times’ sake.
TRIUMPH TIGER 1200 XCA SPECIFICATIONS
1976 SUZUKI TS400 Apache
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