The Tiger feels huge at first, especially with a full tank of gas. Burn a gallon or so and it shrinks a half-size. Quicker steering counteracts most of that top-heavy feel. An obliging triple that makes 96 percent of peak torque at 2900 rpm takes care of the rest. On top of that, there’s more room to move around, which means you’re more likely to be standing up on the pegs as God and Gaston Rahier intended when another evil crevasse tries to inhale the front wheel. For those who’d rather stand anyway, a crafty adjustable clamp moves the handlebar 8.5mm higher and 18mm forward for dirt use. That hair-trigger clutch is either aggravating or powerful motivation to carry just a little more speed up the next shale-infested climb. It’s also one more reason to like the GS if you figure pavement is just a quicker way of getting to the dirt without tie-downs and a pickup truck.
For everybody else, choosing between these two comes down to that stuff that pulls you out of bed ahead of the alarm on a Saturday morning faster than a whiff of Starbucks Gold Coast Blend. The same stuff that makes you ride to work in the rain when there’s a perfectly good car in the garage. Psychopharmacologists call it dopamine. We call it fun. Triumph’s new Tiger 800 XC serves up more of that deliciously addictive stuff on just about any surface than the BMW F800GS. The fact that it’s a little faster, a lot more comfortable and conspicuously less expensive seals the deal. So if you’re looking for something to reconnoiter the oft-overlooked roads that can paint a big, goofy smile on your face, ride the Tiger.
The Tiger’s engine rides closer to the ground, helping it flick quicker into paved corners
Essentially a stroked version of the Street Triple 675, the Tiger mill is more energetic o
The Triumph’s instruments are less intuitive than those on the BMW, but an adjustable rise
Off the Record
Age: Forty-Thirteen Weight: 16 stone
Height: 5’15” Inseam: 35 in.
Though the BMW R1200GS may be my favorite motorcycle of all time, I usually recuse myself from any discussion of its little brother by citing our irreconcilable differences. Less, in this case, is exactly that.
After surviving roughly 37.5 near-death experiences on ye olde liter-sized Triumph Tiger, I had my doubts about the allegedly more dirt-worthy 800. Not anymore.
This one only tried to hurt me once, and that was because my right hand wrote an 80-horsepower check the rear Pirelli couldn’t cash. The fact that Triumph’s 494-lb. mallet didn’t drive me into the ground like an XXL tent peg says more about what it does right than anything else.
I’ve ridden the Tiger with proper off-road rubber. It’s still short on ground clearance and adequate undercarriage protection. But unlike the F800GS, the 800XC is fun to ride almost anywhere. Spend the grand or so you save buying British on a few off-road requisites, and who knows? This one has the potential to bump the R1200GS off the top of my list.
Off the Record
Age: 49 Weight: 215 lbs.
Height: 6’1” Inseam: 34 in.
First things first: These two adventurers are not dirtbikes! Yes, they’re smaller and lighter than an R1200GS, but they’re still twice as heavy as a proper motocrosser. You don’t know what “out of shape” means until you’ve got a 500-lb. “dual-sport” crossways on a singletrack trail, surveying the local fauna and (very sharp) flora for a soft place to land! As some dirty guy named Harry once warned: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” And those of his steed.
With those caveats in place, I like both of these bikes for different reasons. The Triumph’s three-cylinder engine has soul, and if I were in the market for a two-wheeled Range Rover, it’d be my first choice.
If I were looking for a two-wheeled Jeep, however, I’d pick the BMW. It’s no KTM Adventure, but it’s almost as capable off-road. The “little” GS may never equal its big brother’s globe-trotting capabilities or otherworldly popularity, but it’s no less worthy of the letters on its flanks. And of your attention—it definitely got mine.