Honda XRV 750 Africa Twin
Africa Twin vs Tiger
Freezing, wet and cold, we made our way cross country from Burford to Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cots-wolds for an assignation with snapper Stuart in driving rain. Stopping briefly at a Happy Eater to take on
board the cholesterol needed to keep the worst of the winter at bay, we bolted down our breakfasts. The light was fading fast, street lamps were glowing and it was only nine am.
Winter biking is an acquired taste. Perhaps it's an in-built feature of British motorcycling that to be classed a true biker, whatever that is, you have to ride in all weathers. Growing numbers cosset their bodies with foul day journeys to work in the car. Other hardy individuals wrap up in Rukkas and don the Derriboots to combat the worst effects of sitting still in an 80mph breeze when the temperature is hovering around zero.
Perhaps I'm some sort of pervert, but provided the waterproofs are water proof and I can see where I'm going - specs plus filthy visor plus heavy rain equals blind panic -winter biking can be a blast. In my time as a youthful despatch rider in and around the capital, winter mornings were often my best chance of boosting earnings to a respectable figure. The old lags would stay in bed, the students would claim exam fever and I would toddle around EC1, W1 and SW6 notching up the fivers.
Occasionally a long run would appear on the schedule. Back home would go the firm's CB200 Benly and out would come my ►
electric blue CB900. Now there was a bike. It didn't stop that well, felt like it had a hinge in the middle and came to a gruesome end in a side-on collision with a Saudi diplomat's Merc, the driver of which did a runner. I never received any compensation and the bike rotted to its end in a breaker's yard on the Kilburn High Road. But I digress. The point is winter riding can be enjoyable. While the first day of our photo shoot was as painful (and almost as predictable-SM) as watching Arsenal win at White Hart Lane. The second, equally as cold but with bright blue skies and sunshine over Bosworth field in Leicestershire, was life enhancing.
Aboard Triumph's Tiger life takes on a different dimension. Surely a trail-styled bike shouldn't be 130mph quick? But when you consider its motive source - a retuned three pot lump similar to that powering the Trident and Sprint, but with more low-down grunt - it gives you a clue as to where and how this bike should be ridden.
The Tiger is a bike of Herculean dimensions and if you're over say 6' 2" it's a must-see. That's not to say lesser mortals should be discouraged. Just that if your inside leg measurement isn't around 32 inches, look elsewhere. Picking up 209 kg (dry) of prone Tiger is a task and a half.
Although the most radical-looking of the bikes to have escaped the Hinckley zoo, the Tiger's clothing hides the same old steel spine frame chassis incorporating ally swinging arm and 43mm forks that has been the factory's staple almost since inception. And now that the furore is beginning to die down, it's time to look a little more critically at whether this Triumph really does offer an alternative to other dual-purpose styled bikes. Like Honda's XRV750 Africa Twin for instance, an example of which we just happen to have here.
Aah, this is more like it. While the Triumph is a definite non- starter in the off-road category for reasons we'll come to later, the Twin feels that it would at least give you a chance should you wish to venture down dusty trails or along anything that doesn't have a tarmac topping.
At its heart lies a water-cooled V-twin of 742 cc. While the lump only produces 56 bhp at 6000rpm, max torque of 36ftlbs is reached at the same revs. As a long distance plodder the Twin's engine will happily run at or around the ton for much of the day. But for those of you brave enough to take it onto the sticky stuff the gulf between first and second gear will prove a pain. While it will chug up the meanest incline, shifting up the box will lead to pretty swift progress which really leaves serious off roading on the Twin to experts only.
(Triumph's words, not mine) Tiger. Just take a look at that rear shock linkage. Clip a garden gnome on your way to the garage and you'll rue the day.
Which brings me to the question that has seemingly yet to be raised regarding Triumph and the brilliant marketeers who have plotted the firm's rise. Why are people buying machines that are little better than the UJM's of the mid-'80s (GPz900, FJ1200, CBR1000, GS1000) yet cost as much as the latest two-wheeled technology from Italy, Germany or Japan? Is it just the name? Or are we seeing a sea-change in what motivates motorcyclists of a certain age and prediliction to purchase a brand rather than a bike. Matched with a rather shortsighted concomitance on behalf of the manufacturers in following suit this is hardly a surprise. Certainly BMW have made the most of this tactic, targeting affluent, middle-aged motorcyclists on the whole as have Ducati and Harley-Davidson.
But while in the past the likes of BeeEm have been seen as the choice of the mature motorcyclist almost by dint of their solid build, plodding reliability and tank badge, so their market share is being assaulted by the Brits. Sussing that lack of ultimate performance is no hindrance if you can slot your product into a profitable area where the wallets of the over-35s roam, Triumph are in like Flynn both in Europe and, more recently, the USA.
As a styling exercise the Tiger almost works. It's high and mighty in a Tonka Toy sort of way. But has lost much of the prestige that it had in '93 when it was one of the first bikes to be sold in this country with a plastic tank. The essential crudeness of the package was something that the press alluded to previously with reference to the bash plate and rack. But rather more seriously to my mind was how the essential European appeal of such a Supermoto-styled machine was missed by a country mile. Its saving grace being the triple lump that is also, conversely, the bike's undoing.
Weighing in at 209kg (dry) the Tiger is in fact lighter than the Africa Twin (albeit only by 1kg) which carries only point two of a gallon of fuel more. You wouldn't know it from riding both bikes back to back though. The Honda carries its V-twin engine low slung with the petrol tank wrapping round the front down tubes of the double cradle chassis. The Tiger in contrast hangs its triple lump from a spine frame that does nothing to disguise the height nor weight of the engine.
You notice the difference as soon as you tip either bike into a bend. The Twin sits down, its lower centre of gravity leading to increased confidence as you attack bends with relish shortly after taking possession of the Honda. The Triumph in contrast is treated with more respect. It takes time, especially on wet roads, to gather the confidence to heel the bike over. On our ride through the Cotswolds whoever was riding the Honda seemed to pull effortlessly ahead out of greasy corners, the rider of the Triumph hanging back till the bike was almost upright before rolling on the power.
But as long as the Triumph was almost vertical there was little to stop the Tiger eating the Africa Twin alive. Although the triple is in a lower state of tune than the same lump in Trident guise - 84bhp at 5750 revs as opposed to 96bhp at 9000rpm -the high and wide riding position leaves the 130mph plus top speed potential of the Tiger as an occasional autobahn figure. Much better to revel in the retuned triple's torque which hits a maximum figure of 62 ftlbs at 6000rpm.
And it's the engine combined with the tank badge which has encouraged Born Again bikers to sell their souls to take possession of a Triumph. Start the Tiger from cold and it grumbles in the frost of a bitter morning. But it's the way it rustles and spins that hooks you into a perpetual badge-conscious awareness that engineers pray for and marketeers use to prey on the punter.
Old it may be - think GPz 900 and lop off a cylinder - but there is something about the triple even in Tiger guise that makes you want to ride and ride.
The Honda is better built, goes swiftly enough to engender mild palpitations and has a ride quality that Triumph's budget suspension componentry cannot match. But the essential dullness of its powerplant combined with its OTT looks leaves me cold in a way the Tiger never did. Sure the Tiger is a con, the off-road looks are just that, looks. Its top heavy feel and excessive dive from softly sprung forks leading to a very slow in, moderately swift out riding style. But all the while the triple chunters on in a friendly, unique style that makes you think of the Tiger as an individual mount, your bike. Not the mass produced, mass market motorcycle that without any doubt it is.
Quite how Triumph, who've only been up and running in current form for just five years can do this while Honda, who've been around for quite some time longer can't is a mystery to me. The Japanese just don't seem to be able to concoct machines that because of their idiosyncrasies sell well. Instead, these days, if one of the Big Four builds a bike with a detuned engine and distinctly, er, individual style, cf Yamaha's GTS, they get an almighty roasting from the press. If they try and jump on a bandwagon, primarily Har-ley's, and try to go the custom cruiser route they're derided and laughed at for being nothing more than copy cats who can't match the original.
The Africa Twin is a superb package. As a long distance mount only its thin seat will hinder you. It'll plod along for over 200 miles at motorway cruising speeds while the rider sits behind a fairing that, while nowhere near as good as something adorning a pukka tourer such as the ST1100, does a fair job in keeping the worst of the weather away. As an everyday proposition you can be sure that, like the majority of Honda's product, it'll start on the button rain or shine. And despite its bulk will handle the worst of city traffic as well as eat up the miles between cities.
But surely the point of owning such bikes is that they can, if pushed, tackle the extraordinary. While the Africa Twin has its heritage to thank for its off-road capability the Tiger has none. It really shouldn't be talked about as an all-rounder and it would be erroneous of me to recommend it as such.
But if the style of a bike is more important to you than its ultimate function then perhaps you should give the Tiger a chance. If, as seems likely, the industry continues its policy of targeting returnee bikers while ignoring the younger, grassroots element, bikes such as the Tiger are likely to become more, not less prevalent. Despite a compromised nature it still has plenty of appeal. Personally I'm looking forward to the day the factory gets round to building a true off-roader. The Tiger, if you'll excuse the pun, is a triumph of style over content
Source Motorcycling International 1996