Adventure bikes have become the motorcycle equivalent of sport-utility vehicles—often purchased for the image more than any actual need or intention to haul you and your gear over rough terrain to remote places. But like Jeep's Wrangler Rubicon or a Hummer H1, there are motorcycles out there that are built specifically for those determined to go the distance and stray from the smooth, paved path.
BMW's F800GS Adventure and Triumph's Tiger 800 XC are two such machines. Based on the road-biased F800GS and Tiger 800 dual-sports, the Adventure and XC receive from-the-factory treatments that emphasize their inherent off-road abilities and transform the bikes from midsize adventure-touring motorcycles to purposeful, go-anywhere machines. Since these bikes are explicitly built for off-road work, we conducted the majority of our testing in the dirt, namely the OHV roads and trails of the Angeles National Forest. Our BMW came fitted with Continental's legendary DOT-approved TKC 80 knobbies (a no-cost factory option), so we levered a set on the Triumph as well and headed for the hills for some well-deserved dusty exploration. The Triumph, incidentally, comes with street-favoring Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires.
Mission control reports ready for liftoff. Triumph’s plastic panniers have good capacity b
The Triumph's XC suffix means abuse-friendly spoke wheels instead of vulnerable cast-aluminum hoops, with a bigger 21-inch setup replacing the standard Tiger's 19-inch front wheel, plus more obstacle-conquering suspension travel—an additional 1.7 inches front and 1.8 inches rear. Somewhere on the assembly line, the XC also sprouts a beak-like front fender and wind-deflecting hand guards. The XC treatment adds just $1,000 to the bike's $10,999 base, but our testbike also came with a few choice accessories popular with owners: A pannier kit ($799.99), crash bars that wrap around the engine ($199.99), and a thick aluminum bash plate ($209.99) add cargo capacity and hazard protection, both critical aspects of a long journey over hostile terrain. Bottom line: $14,009.
BMW's Adventure package is exhaustive, but the primary draw is a larger fuel tank, a luggage rack, a taller windscreen, and a reshaped, more comfortable saddle. Our testbike has been "fully loaded," meaning it has ascended through three tiers of optional equipment packages, gaining ASC (traction control), off-road modes for both the ABS and ASC, heated grips, expanded dash functionality, a centerstand, LED fog lights, and ESA (electronic suspension adjustment). This bike, which Zack Courts rode back to Los Angeles from the press launch in Moab, Utah, is also equipped with a few items that BMW figured he'd appreciate on the 1,000-mile trip west, namely a GPS, large aluminum bash guard, and hard cases to haul his kit. Price? It's as steep as the terrain the GS-A is meant to tackle. Adventure therapy adds $2,100 to the standard GS's $11,450 base, while the equipment packages and other farkles tack on another $3,000. Total? Try $16,550.
The author, umm, “testing” the hill-climb abilities of the GS Adventure and, in the proces
A couple dozen pounds and a few thousand dollars less expensive than their extra-large R1200GS and Explorer XC siblings, the F800GS Adventure and Tiger 800 XC give up little in terms of comfort and are more manageable off-road thanks to their slightly smaller size and lesser weight. But they're far from lightweights. Carrying 6.3 gallons of mid-grade unleaded and laden with half the BMW Motorrad accessory catalog, the GS-A comes in at 558 pounds. Triumph's Tiger XC takes regular unleaded and carries 1.3 gallons less of it, contributing to a slightly lower wet weight of 542 pounds. Despite being lighter and marginally smaller in nearly every dimension, the Triumph feels like the heavier of the two, especially when the tank is full. The F800GS-A has a more compact engine and carries its substantial fuel payload in an underseat tank that doubles as the tail section, helping keep the bike's center of gravity low.
As on-road, long-distance vehicles, the Adventure and XC are almost on par with touring bikes. That massive gas tank under the BMW's seat is good for about 250 miles at highway speeds, and the GS-A is nearly comfortable enough to last that long. Its taller, flatter seat provides more legroom and more room to move around than the Triumph's scooped saddle, and that vertical plank of a windscreen, along with wider, Adventure-specific radiator shrouds, do a tremendous job of keeping the windblast off your body, shoulders, and legs. It wouldn't be a BMW without quirks, and the most evident peculiarity is in the steering, wherein initial turn-in is heavy and then the bike falls into the corner. The Triumph's steering is slightly heavier but totally consistent from vertical to full lean. As you absorb that information, bear in mind that the TKC 80s can strongly influence handling. Some bikes don't mind; some have a fairly radical behavior change from their normal street tires.
The GS-A uses the same engine platform as the F800GT tested elsewhere in this issue, but cam timing, fueling, and exhaust plumbing have been tuned to increase low-end torque and improve tractability off-road. The parallel twin turns fuel into forward motion with industrial efficiency, performing its task as unexcitingly as the battery beneath the faux tank cover. From idle up to the power peak at 8,250 rpm, the only change in conduct is a buzz in the bars that arrives as the tach needle sweeps past 6,000 rpm.
Free revving and fun loving, the Tiger’s long-stroke triple is a terrific street-oriented
Triumph's triple—a long-stroke, 799cc variation of the company's previous-generation 675cc mill—sounds fantastic and revs more readily than the GS-A's engine, making it more exciting anywhere you're able to roll the throttle open quickly. The Tiger lunges forward with more vigor and always seems to have power in reserve thanks to a higher 9,800-rpm redline and stronger top-end performance. Meanwhile, the Beemer takes its time getting up to speed and requires a little more real estate to perform a pass. That appetite for revs and a smaller gas tank mean slightly less range for the Tiger—about 175 miles the way we rode it. Knobby tires and giant hard cases surely put a dent in both bikes' efficiency.
Triumph built quite a bit of adjustability into the Tiger: The seat has a high and a low position, the windscreen can be raised and lowered, and the handlebar towers rotate 180 degrees to move the bar up and forward. We adjusted everything to the tallest/highest/forward position, but the Triumph still couldn't match the level of comfort and weather protection offered by the nonadjustable GS. The Tiger isn't uncomfortable in any way, but it's simply not as luxurious as the GS-A.
Steer the bikes into the dirt, and the first thing you think is that you've made a huge mistake. These bikes are simply too big to do anything more than creep up a graded fire road. Take a few miles to adjust to their size—and it takes some adjustment—and you'll find that these big ADV machines are capable of flying across terrain that would slow your average 4x4 to a crawl.
Behind the plastic and the tubular steel is BMW’s widely used 798cc parallel twin, retuned
Off road, the BMW's narrower midsection, larger platform footpegs, and higher handlebar are a bonus. The bike feels tall, lean, balanced, and responsive—not unlike a G450X scaled to 200 percent. Thinner between your knees and ankles than the Tiger, the GS-A leaves more room to shift your weight around, contributing directly to better balance while plotting a course through tricky terrain. That parallel twin between your legs has little in the way of character, but as a means of propulsion, you can't fault it. Power flows forth in a perfectly linear fashion, and more available bottom-end torque and a more precise clutch make the BMW stronger on climbs and easier to ride through technical sections.
Despite its sporty persona, the triple is obedient in the dirt, though with less low-end power and an occasional hiccup off idle, it requires more focus to ride slow. And while the Triumph's freer-revving engine is more likely to break the rear tire free with a whiff of throttle, the Tiger's chassis does a superior job of keeping the rear Continental on the ground.
Both bikes roll through brake-disc-deep ruts and over softball-sized rocks with more grace than they have any right to, but when the pace picks up on a rough, ridgetop fire road, the GS-A's shock bottoms and then rebounds too quickly, causing the back end to buck and chatter. The Triumph's suspension moves through slightly less travel (8.7 inches versus 9.1 inches up front and an identical 8.5 inches in the rear) in a more controlled manner, never once bottoming and requiring only a half-turn increase in rebound damping to keep the back end under control over large hits. Neither bike offers any fork adjustment, but the Triumph has a fully adjustable shock, and the GS-A has adjustable spring preload and three ESA settings: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. ESA is convenient, but as on the F800GT the system only attends to rebound damping, and none of the prescribed settings offers enough of it. Additionally, by springing for ESA, you forfeit compression damping adjustment, something the Beemer would certainly benefit from.
ESA falls short of perfection in this application (in conjunction with Dynamic Damping Control, ESA is heaven on the R1200GS), but BMW's off-road ATC and ABS setting is a real leap forward in off-road stability technology. The mode has a more lenient traction-control setting and permits more wheel slippage on the brakes—enough in the rear to initiate turns with a small slide—but keeps the bike from getting too far out of line. The biggest advantage is during steep descents: Stand on the rear brake and let the ABS do its thing while you work the front brake with no worries of a lockup. Triumph's ABS works well, but the underlying Nissin hardware doesn't stack up to the Beemer's Brembo components, which provide a firmer lever, more power, and more consistent feel.
Disabling the Tiger's ABS requires digging through several menus via the on-dash buttons, and the system resets itself when the key is switched off. On the BMW, ASC, ESA, and the ABS/ASC ride modes (Road or Enduro) can be manipulated on the fly without taking your hands off the bars.
You can't compare these bikes without talking about their luggage, likely to be the first accessory any owner buys. All told, the BMW's all-aluminum cases cost nearly $1,200, making them 50 percent dearer than the Triumph's. But the BMW's top-loading luggage dominates on all fronts—sticky lock mechanisms and disobedient weather seals cropping up as our only complaints. They load from the top—always a plus in our book—with the lids pivoting forward or back thanks to locks that double as hinges. The boxes on both bikes are massive, with ample room for a full-face helmet in the case that doesn't have to accommodate the muffler.
The primary differences are in the cases' construction and mounting systems. Triumph's side-loading boxes are made primarily of plastic and are mounted in a way that allows some lateral movement (Triumph calls it TDLS, or Triumph Dynamic Luggage System) so as to reduce the cases' influence on the bike's handling. Off road, however, the bags flounce about like unwilling passengers, slamming violently against their mounts in a way that eventually mangled the forward mount and destroyed one of the hinges on the right case. Meanwhile, the BMW's boxes only employ plastic as corner protectors, are as rigid as a ammo boxes, and are securely, rigidly affixed to the GS-A's posterior. They're clearly designed to go the distance and endure some abuse.
Let's face it—BMW has the upper hand in the ADV segment. Triumph's Tiger 800 is an excellent do-it-all machine, and the XC treatment broadens its capabilities, but the F800GS is a better off-road platform to begin with, and BMW's exceedingly thorough Adventure package transforms it into a legitimate go-anywhere dual-sport. The Tiger XC does everything well, but the GS-A does it all better. Choose the Triumph if you want an engine with some character or can't handle the BMW's tall seat; choose the Beemer if you're hell-bent on adventure.
BMW F800GS Adventure
Triumph Tiger 800XC
||$13,550/$16,550 (as tested)
||$11,999/$14,009 (as tested)
|Bore x stroke
||82.0 x 75.6mm
||74.0 x 61.9mm
||WP 43mm fork
||Showa 45mm fork
||Sacks shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
||Showa shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
||Dual Brembo two-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
||Dual Nissin two-piston calipers, 308mm discs with ABS
||Brembo single-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
||Nissin single-piston caliper, 255mm disc with ABS
||90/90B-21 Continental TKC 80
||90/90ZR-21 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
||150/70B-17 Continental TKC 80
||150/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
|| 60.8 in.
|Weight (tank full/empty)
||70.0 bhp @ 8250 rpm
||76.2 bhp @ 9750 rpm
||48.8 lb.-ft. @ 5800 rpm
||48.8 lb.-ft. @ 7750 rpm
|Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.)
||Sandrover Matter, Racing Red
||Matte Khaki Green, Crystal White, Phantom Black
||36 mo., 36,000 mi.
||24 mo., unlimited mi.
A smoother-spinning, quicker-revving motor makes the Triumph feel faster, but the BMW puts down more horsepower and torque across the majority of the rev range, with close to a 4 bhp and 4 pounds-feet advantage at 6,000 rpm. The Beemer’s twin goes flat at 8,000, however, while the Triumph’s character-laden triple keeps revving and producing power all the way to its 9,800-rpm redline.
The ergonomic numbers are smaller than they seem. The Tiger offers more room for your upper body but falls short in terms of wind protection and legroom, and the contoured saddle inhibits seating variations. Fear no road on the BMW thanks to the more relaxed and open riding position, a more comfortable seat, ample legroom, and comprehensive wind protection.
ARI HENNING |
Road Test Editor
AGE: 28 |
HEIGHT: 5'10" |
WEIGHT: 177 lbs. |
INSEAM: 33 in.
I'm not an avid off-road rider, but every time I hit the trails I have a blast and start fantasizing about a road trip. As of late, my daydreams have seen me riding the Rockies on an F800GS Adventure—it seems my subconscious picked a favorite before I did.
I commuted on both bikes for a week before we took them into the wilderness, and initially I favored the 800 XC. The lower seat and smooth, sweet-sounding motor were more appealing. But once I'd done a few 100-mile freeway stints and motored through some sandy washes and rock gardens, it was pretty evident that the BMW was the more broadband machine.
My only issue with the GS-A is its price; as tested, it rings in at $16,510! That's just too expensive. If it were my money, I'd forego the $900 GPS setup (it's really nice, but I'm a map man anyway) and ditch the ESA to save another $645. The e-suspension is ineffective, and I'd like my compression damping adjuster back, thank you.
Bradley Adams | Sport Rider Associate Editor
AGE: 24 |
HEIGHT: 6'3" |
WEIGHT: 185 lbs. |
INSEAM: 34 in.
These bikes will tackle any type of road with more competence than their unwieldy dimensions suggest they should. But it only takes a few miles of trail riding to realize that Triumph and BMW have differing viewpoints regarding what a dual-sport should be able to do.
The Triumph feels more street biased, with just enough off-road talent to stay in the F800's mirrors. It'll tackle the same trails as the BMW, but its higher center of gravity and less tractable engine make it more of a challenge.
The F800's steering characteristics aren't as linear as I'd like, but the parallel-twin engine chugs off corners, the narrow chassis promotes aggressive riding, and the ABS and ASC provide a greater sense of security in the loose stuff. Add to that a more functional windscreen, way better brakes, and hard cases that won't come apart during your first off-road foray, and you have a dual-sport that does more than the competition.