Triumph Tiger Press Tour

Tiger by the Tail | A Triumph of Gravity Over Man

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles

The left boot took 10 minutes to squeeze on, but I wasn’t worried. Having been broken on four previous occasions, that leg sprains with magical ease. Once rebooted, riding came much easier than walking, so long as I crunched upshifts with my heel.

It’s always instructive to practice a new skill.

There are good roads, there are great roads, there are roads of titanic magnificence—and then there’s Pine Ridge Road. Think of a Malibu Grand Prix track, one-lane wide and cut into hillsides and along ridgelines, bent and hummocked like a semi-paved motocross track. PRR rides like an updated episode of “The Superbikers” on ABC’s Wide World of Sports,’ with the added relish of thousand-foot drop-offs in place of curbing. In its element here, the Tiger allowed speeds sufficient to push cooling air through our suit vents, even over the snarliest sections.

From there, we sidled down to the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, just a few feet from the Mexican border. I’ve seen the much-maligned fence between Israel and the Palestinian territories; it looks like a freeway acoustical barrier. The corrugated-steel southern face of the world’s richest nation looks like a Baghdad junkyard.

Having cleverly evaded documentation of my losing argument with gravitational suckage, I declined the last “photo-op” involving a dirt jump. My Tigger was a streetbike in cross-trainers; I now toted a virgin pair of panniers; and my ankle had barely stood up to the mini-jumps along Pine Ridge Road. It felt entirely too much like goading the gods of “Hold mah beer and watch this!”

We went road riding instead. The Tiger is all-forgiving of point-and-shoot sloppiness—especially the non-XC model. Stuff it into a bend with or without brakes, find a line (any line), and firmly squeeze her triple teat of torque to gently step out the rear. The Showa suspension may not be this year’s formula pick, but it’s four times better than top-class race tackle from even a decade ago.

The frame is stout, the brakes predictable, and that engine is a wonder. The oddest thing about it is its pink-pink-pink sound on the overrun, like FMJ slugs hitting steel. I found it as comforting as the valve tick of a properly adjusted Airhead.

History means many things to Triumph. These Tigers are no more descended from the original Tigers and their Cubs than a Speed Triple is descended from a Vetter Hurricane, and despite the obvious comparison with parallel-twin GSs, they define their own missions as uniquely as does a Rocket Three. While the XC strikes me as a slightly less dirty Gelände/Straße, its city cousin looks Ducati’s Monster 796 straight in the eye—or maybe, given that sit-up riding position, just over its head.

The standard Tiger turned out to be my favorite, quite likely because I am no Jimmy Lewis pretender (we’re not even related, AFAIK). The 200-mile seat and narrower bars are a good start on all-day comfort, and it’s no housecat in the canyons. The seat-height adjustment is almost brainless, and a decent assortment of factory farkles includes clever tankbags that swing away for refueling.

Either Tiger is less dirtbike than Beemer’s offerings, but let’s honestly acknowledge here that if you really wanted to do mostly dirt, you’d be looking at two fewer cylinders. That would make it much easier to hoist off your leg, but I’d hate to trade all that three-fer goodness for a KLR’s washing-machine motor on the highway.

Two days later, I found out I’d broken my ankle on the trail, and there you find the measure of the Tiger. It’s so natural, you can ride it with one leg—and you’ll always have an answer for the doctor’s question about when you’re finally gonna learn your lesson and quit riding.

“Not when the bikes are this good!”

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