The rev-happy triple carves a quicker, more enjoyable swath through the dreaded Wednesday-morning commute. It’s perfectly content to meander along on a whiff of throttle, or lunge out of trouble with a big handful. Despite carrying 7 lbs. more than the GS, the XC feels lighter on its feet around town. It shifts gears with less effort. Above 5000 rpm, every handful of throttle stirs up satisfying acceleration, accompanied by rising four-part harmonies from an increasingly insistent hornet squadron. Though it pulls as dutifully as the twin down low, the triple is much more responsive anywhere on the tach face, happily digesting regular 87-octane unleaded instead of the pricier 89-octane mid-grade BMW recommends. To its credit, the GS is capable of wringing 50-plus miles from every gallon when you’re feeling economical.
That’s enough to go 200 miles between fuel stops, assuming your gluteal pain threshold is calibrated for 3 hours on a narrow, scantily upholstered seat that can induce monkey-butt in 59 minutes. There’s not much in the way of passing power at 70 mph in sixth, and wearisome high-frequency vibes begin to intrude at 75. The rider is carried higher and farther forward, so there’s less room for long arms between the handlebar and seat. Concise inseam? Opt for the optional “low” version. Over in the plus column, the GS’s trip computer lets you toggle through a broader selection of relevant data on its LCD panel without squinting or steering with one hand. Wind protection is marginal on both bikes, and the BMW’s windscreen is a notch below that. Heated handgrips—part of our 800’s Standard Package, along with ABS and that nifty trip computer—are second only to hot coffee on cold mornings, but they’re not so hot without handguards, which will add another $165 to the bottom line. Meanwhile, the Triumph is a comfortable enough place to spend a day or three. Noticeably smoother between 70 and 75 mph despite spinning 500 rpm faster, the counterbalanced triple can be nearly as stingy with the petrol, and its relatively luxurious, height-adjustable seat only starts to wear thin after the second or third tank.
Roll off into your favorite tangle of bends and the Tiger takes charge. Armed with a broader band of convincing acceleration from 6000 rpm to the 10K redline and quicker, more accurate steering, it snaps in and out of the most diabolically technical corners in less time with less effort. While its engine is busy winning all those little corner-to-corner sprints, the Triumph’s chassis remains calm and composed, even at a pace that has its Bridgestone Battle Wing tires struggling for grip. The BMW can match that pace as long as you’re willing to work for it. Just keep the tach needle in its happy place between 7000 and 8500 rpm and bully a longer, lazier chassis that kneels on its squishy fork every time you squeeze the front brake.
The order changes once you delve into one of those less-traveled ribbons of dirt or crumbling blacktop. Then, things get a little more … interesting. Despite significant advances in motorcycle engineering and brochure writing, the 500-lb. dirtbike is still an awkward oxymoron. Either bike will go further and faster on more technical terrain once shod with suitable off-road rubber. As delivered, both of our mid-sized adventurers were happier on some mix of rough pavement and 4x4-friendly trails, but the BMW was more capable where Jeep Wranglers fear to tread.
Carrying fuel in a molded plastic tank under the seat makes the GS feel narrower between your knees and lighter than it really is. This is a good thing. Dry-sump engine architecture helps put 9.6 inches of daylight between vulnerable bits and heartless terrain vs. the Tiger’s 8.1 inches; that could be the difference between gliding over that next rock/log/rut and bashing into it. The German bike’s suspension copes with genuinely evil terrain a bit better, and its incremental power delivery helps that rear Pirelli get a grip in the slipperier stuff. But as good as it is in the middle of nowhere, the BMW always manages to paint the ride an apathetic shade of beige everywhere else.