By Zoe Cano & Sandy Caulfield
A chance meeting on the Triumph stand at the London MCN Bike Show between Hugh McClelland (from Triumph dealership Jack Lilley Ltd), adventure author Zoe Cano and biking journalist Sandy Caulfield resulted in an exciting plan for a unique ‘bike swap’ test ride. Zoe was at the show signing copies of her latest adventure book ‘Southern Escapades’ on the Triumph stand.
Hugh suggested the new Tiger would be the ideal machine for Zoe’s next riding adventure. And when it turned out Sandy – a Tiger 800 rider – had never ridden a Bonneville, it seemed like a great idea for them to swap riding experiences. Hugh invited them both down to the dealership in Ashford, Middlesex, for a chance to ride the latest versions of each other’s regular bikes.
SANDY ON THE BONNEVILLE
I like adventure bikes. I ride a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800 and I love it. It’s rugged and funky and comfortable, and I could, and do ride it all day long. I also like sports bikes. I ride a GSX-R 1000 when I need a surge of power and adrenalin.
So I make no bones about the fact that the prospect of a test ride on the Bonneville didn’t set me on fire.
But the Bonneville T100 completely took me by surprise, and by the end of the day I found, to my delight, that I actually liked it. Quite a lot in fact.
My Tiger was my first bike. As a new rider I found it tall and just a little intimidating. Time and experience have made my Tiger seem smaller and more manageable, but had I started out on a Bonneville I think that confidence would have been instant. The Bonnie is a fantastic confidence-builder. From the moment I sat astride it I felt planted and stable. Both feet were firmly flat on the ground and the low centre of gravity meant that it was easy to lift off the side stand.
Once in motion, it rumbles along contentedly like a lazy lion, so much more relaxed than the whizzy, revvy Tiger. Despite being heavier than the Tiger, the Bonnie handles well, and I was easily able to flip it this way and that around roundabouts. It felt light and manoeuvrable, and at no time did I have any sensation that I couldn’t go into the lean with total confidence. Sometimes with my Tiger, with its height and high centre of gravity, I am reluctant to chuck it about. Not so with the Bonnie, which feels secure and grounded.
My bete noire is u-turns. I hate them. I would rather ride half a mile out of my way than do one. So I was almost euphoric, during our day of riding and photographs, to find that I could put the Bonneville into a u-turn with total ease. It turns on a postage stamp and, again, I found it to be a massive confidence builder. This bike was really beginning to grow on me!
Controls-wise, the Bonneville is much less sophisticated than the Tiger. I missed my gear indicator, and the low engine note meant that I didn’t change up enough. I found the side stand difficult to locate with my heel. The indicator switch was fiddly, and a long reach with my thumb, and several times I thought I had knocked the indicators off only to find them still winking away.
I took the Bonneville on the dual carriageway to ‘see what it could do’ and it is here, if anywhere, that the Tiger wins hands down. The Bonnie makes a good-natured attempt at acceleration, but there’s no way you’re ever going to win any land-speed records on it. My Tiger, on the other hand, answers my call eagerly and never fails to deliver, meaning that I have felt totally at ease with it even on the German autobahn, where speed and acceleration are the difference between coping, and not.
It was with some sadness that I handed back my Bonneville at the end of the day. I had really warmed to it, and had found it to be a friendly beast. Its low seat height and flickability make it the ideal bike for anybody who finds tall bikes inaccessible. The 865cc engine gives it the extra oomph that may have been lacking in the older model I’d ridden before. In short, it’s a great bike. In fact it may be the only bike you’ll ever need.
ABOUT SANDY CAULFIELD
Biking journalist Sandy recently returned from a tour of Portugal on her Tiger 800. Her writing has been published in RIDE magazine and other motorcycle publications. She also owns a Suzuki GSX-R 1000.
ABOUT THE BONNEVILLE
The iconic Bonneville was destined to become an instant classic when it launched in 2003. Since then the model has gained a larger engine and fuel injection but maintains its classic retro looks. The bike tested in this feature was the 2015 Bonneville T100. Since then, the new 900cc Street Twin has been launched which will be closely followed by the Bonneville T120 , Thruxton and Thruxton R – all 1200cc models. The Bonneville range is massively popular as the starting point for customisation in the ever-growing cool cafe racer and custom scene.
Power: 68BHP @ 7,500 rpm
Torque: 68Nm @ 5,800 rpm
Fuel capacity: 16 litres
Length: / Width / Height: 2230mm x 740mm x 1100mm
ZOE ON THE TIGER XRX
When Hugh suggested I try the latest Tiger XRX I was initially less than keen. The sheer bulk of the Tiger seemed daunting and being only 5’5”, I felt sure the high seat height would be a problem, especially when I’m so familiar with the ‘feet on the ground’ Bonneville.
The Tiger does come with an adjustable seat (3 positions) and by setting it to the lowest height (840mm), my reservations disappeared and I felt my confidence returning as we set off. It’s worth noting that a lower seat option is also available which brings the overall seat height down by a further 20mm.
Once on the move, the first thing that struck me was that the apparent bulk of the Tiger seemed to just melt away. I was amazed to learn that the Tiger XRX at 216kg is noticeably lighter than the smaller Bonneville which weighs in at 230kg. And despite the Tiger’s size, the wheelbase is only a few cm longer than the Bonnie’s.
One thing which I initially struggled with is the fact that, when turning the handlebars on the Tiger, the whole cockpit area (including screen, clocks and side panels) stays pointed in the straight-ahead position. Common enough on most adventure bikes, but for someone used to the totally naked Bonneville, this did take a little mental adjustment especially at low speed. That said, by the end of our test ride I found I’d become completely familiar with it.
The overall protectiveness of the Tiger with its hand guards and screen also took some acclimatisation. But by the end of our ride, which took in town and country plus some faster dual carriageway, I found I’d become accustomed to these features – most of which are typical of this style of machine.
Despite my early concerns about handling the Tiger, once on the move I found it to be an agile and nimble machine just as happy trickling through slow-moving traffic as munching up fast A-roads. In fact it was on these faster roads that I truly appreciated the Tiger’s brisk acceleration and superb handling. With 95PS on tap compared to the Bonneville’s 68PS, it’s no surprise that the Tiger out-guns the Bonnie on the open road. The triple-cylinder engine offers a completely different power delivery to the Bonneville’s more traditional parallel twin arrangement and I quickly developed a strong respect for the bike’s capabilities.
As much as I warmed to the Tiger, I couldn’t imagine having the same emotional attachment to it as I do with my Bonneville. I love the traditional classic style of the Bonneville and enjoy its rawness and traditional riding position. Knowing I can customise it to my own taste and stamp it with my personality to create a unique bike is also hugely appealing. But that said, I can certainly appreciate the Tiger’s appeal and if I was looking for a bike to keep the Bonneville company, I would certainly be tempted by this big cat.
ABOUT ZOE CANO
Zoe is the author of best-selling ‘Bonneville Go or Bust’, charting her story of an epic 10,000km solo unsupported ride across North America on her Triumph Bonneville on the ‘roads less travelled’. Zoe recently returned from another audacious biking adventure in the Southern states of the USA, the story of which is told in her latest book ‘Southern Escapades’. Zoe will be at Jack Lilley Ashford on the afternoon of Saturday 26th march to sign copies of both books.
ABOUT THE TIGER 800 XRX
Launched in January 2015, the new Tiger 800 comes in 2 guises: the XR, which is more focused to the world of road riding, and the XC, which has a more off-road intent. Both models have high levels of standard equipment but the XRX and XCX versions feature more technology with additional equipment designed to match their purpose. Since this article was written, ‘low seat’ versions of both the XRX and XCX have been launched. At the top of the range sits the XRT and XCA models.
Key features include ride-by-wire throttle, standard fit traction control on all models and switchable ABS as standard for improved rider safety. Cruise control and 3 riding modes to control throttle maps, ABS, and traction control are fitted to XRX and XCX models.
Power: 94 BHP @ 9,250 rpm
Torque: 79Nm @ 7,850 rpm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Length: / Width / Height: 2215mm x 829mm x 1350mm
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