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Triumph Blows it With Tiger 850 Sport

Lower and slower Tiger 900 is a massive disappointment for those hoping for a new version of an iconic model

Honestly, Triumph, what the fuck is this? When I first heard that a new Tiger 850 Sport model was set to be released, I got really excited. In writing some prep material for this article based on what I thought the company would release I gave my story the working headline of “Triumph Unveils Tiger 850 Sport and I am All In.” But then the nominally British company actually pulled the cover off this pointless machine and I had to go for a walk in the rain to cheer myself up.

Fun fact about this video: the riding shots were filmed in Cardiff and on the nearby Brecon Beacons. This is, of course, where I live.

What I thought Triumph was going to present would be something along the lines of a Street Triple R (ie, the less track-focused one) with fairing and roomier ergonomics, to replace the outgoing 1050cc Tiger Sport that was last updated in 2015 (for the 2016 model year). That Tiger Sport is set to be scrapped next year in the face of Euro 5 regulations but it is, in my opinion, the best bike that Triumph offers right now. Syrupy triple, real-world fast and all-day comfortable, its only foible has always been that it’s overpriced (and a teency bit top heavy). This has become increasingly true as time has gone on and Triumph has skipped the Tiger Sport while handing out techno-blingery to all its other models.

I have been calling for Triumph to update the Tiger Sport for at least two years and I thought this Tiger 850 Sport was the answer to my prayers. Sure, I had planned to say in this article, I’d like to see a Tiger Sport built around the 147hp Speed Triple, but building on the Street Triple platform is plenty wise and, hey, who needs all that power, anyway? Certainly it’s my opinion that the BMW F 900 XR is an overall better/more useful bike than the S 1000 XR, and that the erstwhile Tiger 800 was better than the Tiger 1200*. I saw the Tiger 850 Sport of my imagination as competition for the F 900 XR and Yamaha Tracer 900. I was ready to cast aside my increasing animosity toward Triumph and embrace the Tiger 850 Sport with open arms.

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But then it turned out that the actual “new” Tiger 850 Sport is just a base model Tiger 900 – same 19-inch front wheel, same 888cc inline triple engine, same pointless “like a parallel twin but not” engine firing – that is just lower and slower. It has less ground clearance and fewer horsepower than a Tiger 900. Which leaves me with just one question: who the fuck is this for?

Triumph is quick to point out that this £9,300 motorcycle is A2 license-compliant. If you’re playing along outside the European Union (which the UK soon will be; so this bike may become even more irrelevant here in January) an A2 license is for riders aged 19-23 that limits them to machines with a power output of 47 hp or less. So, Triumph has made a short-legged Tiger for university students who are rich, impatient and strangely law abiding**. Are there really that many such customers out there?

Starting price on the 2021 Triumph Tiger 850 Sport is £9,300. You’ll have to pay more if you want handguards, a center stand, heated grips, luggage, etc.

Why has Triumph done this? Why has it besmirched the good name of the Tiger Sport?

I mean, if Triumph had decided to just let the Tiger Sport die I would have been sad but I would have at least understood. Somewhere around 2015 the brand decided it wanted to be known for sporty naked bikes, modern classics and adventure motorcycles. And you can see that over the past five years those three pillars have been Triumph’s focus, with the brand sloughing off models like the Sprint GT, Trophy SE, Thunderbird, and others that don’t quite fit in its self-created boxes (the new Rocket III being the exception).

THE KIND OF THING I WAS HOPING FOR:
2020 BMW F 900 XR – First Ride

Perhaps sport touring is not where Triumph wants to be right now. In fairness, even with the shift to adventure-style ergonomics sport-touring machines tend to be the purview of the older gentleman. And when it comes to Triumphs that older gentleman seems to be the sort who rides around in a 15-year-old Frank Thomas jacket that he has repaired with duct tape. I don’t know why Triumph draws those sort of dudes, but it just does. And if Triumph were to decide it wants to try to appeal to a different sort of clientele, well, I guess that’s fine.

But to use the Sport name here is just silly. What’s “sport” about an adventure bike with a 19-inch front wheel and less horsepower than all the other adventure bikes on your line-up? With a claimed peak output of 84 hp, the Tiger 850 Sport offers just 5 hp more oomph than the decidedly un-sporty Bonneville T120. I’m sorry to go all Trump-on-Twiiter here but: WHO IS THIS BIKE FOR? WHY HAS TRIUMPH MADE THIS?

Based on the color of the leaves, Triumph shot these photos somewhat recently – quite possibly while Wales was in its second Covid-19 lockdown. Naughty Triumph.

Yes, it looks sorta nice (but then, Benellis look nice), and I’m sure it’s fun to ride, and it’s good to know that some 22-year-old Daddy’s Girl won’t have to wait another year to get the Triumph of her dreams, but by and large I am so, so disappointed in this thing. What’s your take, though? Am I being too hard on Triumph again?

(By the way, if you do want full details on the Tiger 850 Sport, here’s a media release. I just can’t be bothered to write any of it down)


*I’ve not yet had a chance to ride the Tiger 900, so I don’t know if it’s better than the 1200. It may be, but I suspect I would prefer the 1200’s engine character. **You can’t identify an A2-compliant machine just by looking, so there’s really nothing other than moral integrity to stop a young person from buying, say, an old Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird and just telling people it’s A2 compliant.