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Common Tread

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT and Rally first look

Dec 04, 2019

Triumph Motorcycles America introduced its 2020 Tiger 900 Rally Pro to U.S. motorcycle journalists in an event at the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon. Later that evening, they put on a gala for dealers and customers.

Triumph considers the Tiger 800, launched in 2010, a successful model. They’ve sold over 76,000 of them to date. But in the last year, KTM has introduced a new 790 Adventure R and BMW has uprated the venerable GS 800 to an 850. So it was probably time for Triumph to revise it. They went further; this is not a punched-out 800, it’s a completely new motorcycle that — on paper at least, because we did not ride it and only heard it run for a few seconds — is better in every way.

Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro
The 2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro is the top of the street-oriented Tiger line. Triumph photo.

As with its progenitor, the Tiger 900 family includes a stripped-down base model along with five higher-spec versions; three that are road-biased (including one with a lower seat height,) and two that are set up for adventure/off-road use. Mercifully, Triumph has dropped the old XR/XC nomenclature. For 2020, Tigers come in GT models for road use and Rally models for real "adventure" use.

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
The 2020 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro, the top of the adventure-bike side of the Tiger lineup. Triumph photo.

Triumph North America had intended to show us the top-spec Tiger GT Pro model, too, but the one GT Pro bike sent from England got stuck in U.S. Customs. Blame the Thanksgiving holiday, not the Deep State. As a result, the only bike I saw in the metal was the top-of-the-line ADV model.

Triumph Tiger 900 engine
Still a triple, but with a bigger bore and a surprising number of internal changes. Triumph photo.

They call them motorcycles, so let’s start with the motor

The first thing that probably caught your eye is that the 800 is now a 900. The engine is still a triple, but it’s 89 cc larger, thanks to a four mm bore increase. You might think that since the stroke remains the same at 61.9 mm, the bottom end is unchanged or at least similar, but it’s not.

The heart of any internal combustion engine is the crankshaft. In this case, Triumph calls it a "T-plane" crank, which is a new concept (at least, to me!). I wish they’d brought a crankshaft to look at, but they did at least provide a schematic.

In most inline triples, pistons rise and fall at 120-degree intervals, resulting in evenly spaced firing impulses every 240 degrees. This is an arrangement with perfect primary balance and a second-order imbalance that’s easy to cancel out with a balance shaft.

Triumph Tiger 900 crank
The new crank changes the nature of the Tiger 900 engine. Triumph photo.

The T-plane arrangement has the con-rod journals for cylinders one and three 180 degrees apart, and cylinder two is halfway in between at 90 degrees. Remember all the fuss over the Yamaha R1’s crossplane crank, when that came out? Conceptually, this is a crossplane inline-four crank, with one journal sawed off!

I presume it has some of the inertial torque advantages of a crossplane four and some traction advantages that derive from the fact that for every 720 degrees of crank rotation there are two longer pauses between power pulses.

Triumph Tiger 900 torque curve
The Triumph's torque curve is admirably flat. Triumph photo.

That theory is consistent with Triumph’s claims of improved tractability, providing the feel of a twin at low rpm and the feel of a triple at higher revs. I would love to know more about the challenges of balancing it, and whether this crank needs to be significantly heavier than the old 800’s.

Triumph Tiger 900 horsepower chart
Horsepower is increased over the old Tiger 800. Triumph photo.

Triumph claims 10 percent more peak torque, and judging from the graph they showed us, there’s 10 percent more from 3,500 rpm to 7,500 rpm, with a peak of 64 foot-pounds at 7,250 rpm. Peak horsepower is unchanged, a claimed 95 at 8,750 rpm, but the new graph suggests a significantly stronger midrange. Also, they say it produces “a more aggressive, raspy, and engaging sound track.” (It does sound kind of cool.)

Ernie Vigil rode the bike in South Africa so Triumph could shoot some promo video. He says that the new motor feels less linear, and feels more like it has a powerband, or a power hit at the top end. Nothing like that is visible on the dyno charts we were supplied but again, such a feeling may come down to the way the T-plane crank makes power and transmits it to the ground. If you’re trusting the seat-of-the-pants feel, increased traction or increased torque are hard to distinguish.

Riding the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro in Africa
Ernie Vigil can ride a big adventure bike just about anywhere. Your mileage and survival may vary. Triumph photo.

Elsewhere in the motor, Triumph lists new cams and connecting rods, but the company did not provide details on exactly how those components differ, nor were we shown any components. All the castings are new, with a revised sump for reduced oil volume. Engine covers are now magnesium. All in all, despite the increase in displacement, the motor is over five pounds lighter. It appears to be quite narrow, too, which contributes to improved ergonomics.

Triumph says the new bike has a "slip assist" clutch that reduces lever effort, and that the new clutch also allowed the company to narrow the overall engine package.

TMA’s Operations Manager, Brandon Keller, gave me the technical rundown. At one point, he mentioned that the Rally Pro has an off-road throttle map that includes an "anti-stall" feature that raises the idle level. That prompted me to ask him whether Triumph had considered a Rekluse-style clutch. He told me that the company decided that it would not be sufficiently robust or reliable, adding that he was a desert racer, and that in his experience Rekluse clutches require careful attention.

The 900s now have a pair of radiators. Splitting them allowed Triumph to position the motor about 1.5 inches further forward and 0.75 inches lower. Combined with tighter overall engine packaging, that freed up space to fit a 5.3-gallon fuel tank into a silhouette that’s slimmer than the Tiger 800’s old five-gallon tank.

Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro on the road
The 2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro is the top of the street-oriented Tiger line. Triumph photo.

There are major changes in the cycle parts, too

The wheelbase is nearly the same, but new Tiger Rally Pro’s got a 24.4-degree rake compared to the old XCA’s 23.4 degrees. The new model has about two inches more trail. (Steering geometry varies slightly between the GT and Rally models.)

Yes, Spurgeon, the rear footrest hangers are removable and the rear subframe now bolts on. So, off-road wipeouts carry less risk of serious frame damage.

The Rally models now come with Showa suspension; the old XC models ran on WP forks and shocks. They now roll on sweet Akront edge-spoked rims that allow for the use of tubeless tires — a 17-inch rear and 21-inch front, of course. The OEM tires, even on the Rally Pro, are Bridgestone Battlax street tires, but Triumph approves the use of Pirelli Scorpion tires for off-road use.

Tiger Rally front wheel
The Rally versions have spoked wheels that allow the use of tubeless tires, and the front is a 21-inch wheel. Triumph photo.

I have a 30-inch inseam. When I straddled the Rally Pro on display, I could just barely touch my balls — of my feet — to the ground. It was fine on a perfectly smooth and level floor, but I admit that I’d be intimidated by the 33.5-inch seat height any time I had to bring it to a stop on an uneven surface.

GT models come with Marzocchi forks and shocks, and roll on cast wheels, in this case a 19-inch front. I asked Keller if they’d considered fitting with GT with a 17-inch rim that would allow owners to choose from a wider range of street tires.

“There was some talk about it, but our customers wanted a 19-inch front wheel for roll-over,” he said before acknowledging something we all know. “The funny thing about adventure bikes is, everyone has visions of off-road riding, even though they may never take it off road. The 19-inch wheel allows those people to at least mentally feel like they can take it off road.”

Triumph Tiger 900 tank and key
The fuel tank's capacity is slightly larger and yes, that's a real key you see in the background. “We felt that for real adventure use, a real key is better than a fob, which can leave you stranded in some remote location,” said Triumph's Brandon Keller. Triumph photo.

The GTs are lower than the Rally models, of course. And there’s a special low-ride-height GT with a seat below 30 inches, which is a smart offering. The height reduction is accomplished by slight reductions in the amount of seat padding, suspension travel, and ground clearance. A similar package, say to bring the Rally seat height below 32 inches, would also be popular.

Tiger 900 Brembo brakes
Brembo brakes are among the quality components. Triumph photo.

All models now feature Brembo Stylema front calipers mated to a radial master cylinder. This system has a smaller fluid volume yielding improved feel, and better airflow over the pads. They grip 12.5-inch-diameter rotors up front. (The 800s had 12-inch ones.)

The rider’s footpeg position is adjustable, and the rider triangles are slightly different between the GT and Rally models, to reflect the fact that Rally models might be ridden in a standing position. Overall, depending on which Tiger 900 model you compare to its 800 cc progenitor, the new bikes are anywhere from 11 to 16 pounds lighter.

electronic controls
Rider modes and other settings, including cruise control, and managed by the buttons on the lefthand switchgear. Triumph photo.

In the 21st century, it’s all about the electrons

The new Tigers (except for that stripper base model) all have lean-angle-sensitive ABS and traction control developed in partnership with Continental. Depending on which model you’re considering, there are three ABS settings (including off), five Traction Control settings (also including off) and as many as six Ride Mode settings. Those are all configured and customized by using a joystick on the left handgrip’s switchgear.

The settings, as well as all the usual information like speed, rpm, fuel level and range, are displayed on a huge, bright TFT dash that will allow you to watch Netflix in high-definition on boring stretches of highway. (OK, you can’t watch Netflix yet, but seriously folks, that thing’s as big the first televisions.)

Tiger 900 Rally digital display
That's a big display. Triumph photo.

As I saw on the Rocket 3 launch last month, the dash can optionally pair to your smartphone, allowing you to access its GPS, as well as answer phone calls, etc. The phone can live in a waterproof compartment under the pillion seat, where there’s a USB charger.

Triumph Tiger LED lighting
LED lights all around. Triumph photo.

All the lighting is LED, of course. Note that the turn signals in supplied photos are Euro-spec. The U.S. market gets slightly larger ones. Pro models get backlit switches, which I bet is one of those things you’ll only scoff at until you’ve gotten used to it. (I remember when gear indicators came into the market, and experienced riders were all, “Who doesn’t know what gear they’re in?” That lasted about two weeks, then everyone liked that feature.)

Most models come standard with electronic cruise control. Pro models also get a Shift Assist feature that allows clutchless shifting, both up and down, once underway; it’s available as an option on lower spec machines. Last, but not least, the highest-spec bikes also come with Tire Pressure Monitoring.

There’s a 12-volt port just below the rider’s seat, too, for accessories or heated gear. Except for the budget priced base model, all Tigers now come with heated grips as standard equipment. The Pro spec bikes also come with heated seats, which are optional on standard models.

riding in the desert
Riding the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro in the desert in Africa. Triumph photo.

The eye of the beholder

The handsome white frame on the bike I saw is, it turns out, only available on the Rally models, and only comes with the "Matt Khaki" color scheme. All other variants have grey frames. The stripped-down base model comes in white only. GTs come in red, white, or black; Rally models come in the aforementioned green, white, or black. So, once again, an OEM treats its color-blind customers almost the same as it treats normally sighted ones; admirable, really.

The windscreen adjusts easily, over a pretty wide range of heights. Triumph showed us photos of quite a few accessories, including fog lights and an injection-molded headlight protector. There are side-opening panniers suitable for touring and aluminum cases that look ready for the Dempster Highway, all made for Triumph by Givi. The Rally Pro comes with crash bars that protect the engine cases; upper crash bars are optional. You can also get fork protectors and alloy radiator shields.

underseat phone storage
This is the holder for your smartphone, located under the passenger seat. Those three cylinders in that little plastic bag are three lock cylinders, shipped with every bike, so that your optional luggage can be keyed the same as your ignition. Photo by Mark Gardiner.

Want one? Pricing and availability

Triumph says that the base Tiger 900, with non-adjustable suspension and a five-inch dash, will start at $12,500. Tiger 900 GT models are priced from $14,300, while 900 Rally models start at $15,000. This works out to $500 to 600 more than last year’s corresponding Tiger XR and XC 800s. Considering the significant improvements in specification, the new ones seem like good deals.

Pricing is not yet available for top-spec Pro models, but based on the specs and previous Tiger history, I’d expect them to cost $1,500 to $2,000 more.

GT Pro and Rally Pro models will begin arriving in dealers in March, while standard GT and Rally models should arrive in April.

Around that time the Tiger will also make another debut. Along with the Scrambler 1200, it will be used in stunts in the next James Bond film, "No Time to Die," which comes out in April, Triumph announced.