Road Test: R1200GS v. CBF1000F v. Tiger 1050 review

0
By Jon Urry on Mon, 26 May 2008 - 03:05

Visordown Motorcycle News


The boundaries between bike classes are becoming more and more blurred. Over the past two decades or so we've seen niche development and marketing create sports bikes that are simply sports bikes, tourers that only tour and off-road bikes that do just that.

Lately though, it seems bike design has turned back towards wide spectrum capabilities. And the bike buying public have responded overwhelmingly. In 2006, sports bike sales aside (always a UK favourite), multi-taskers have drawn impressive sales. The BMW R1200GS has made hitherto unheard of sales figures in the adventure sports category, while Honda's new CBF1000F has taken the litre sports touring class by storm. Both have wide appeal and wide application.

And it's into this context we inject Triumph's new Tiger. The old Tiger was thought of as an adventure sports tool, so a natural competitor to the GS. But the Tiger 1050 has 17-inch wheels, so is now arguably much closer to the CBF. Has it really evolved into a sports tourer?

When you look at crossover bikes BMW's GS really is the archetypal example. Having just passed its 25th birthday the GS is a shining example of 'thinking outside the box'. The designers at BMW were clever enough to realise that riders liked the aggressive look of off-road bikes, liked the 'big bike' feel and also that a large, comfortable do-it-all machine also makes a great tourer. Over 210,000 GSs have now been made and it's bloody hard to go anywhere without running into one! You name it: Europe, America, Africa, anywhere there's a road, you will pass one of these German masterpieces going about its task in an unflustered, workman-like way.

But even though it has been a huge success BMW hasn't rested on its laurels. The GS has steadily been evolving and changing. From its early days as a more off-road orientated bike BMW has gently swayed the GS's direction far more to the open highway than the green lane. Although they don't like to admit it the latest generation R1200GS is only really an off-roader in looks. With its 2005 update, where it shed weight and gained the new 1200 engine, BMW moved the GS another step closer to the sports tourer category. If you really want to explore the wild world then the GS Adventure is always there, but for most riders the stock bike at least looks like it could take on the world, which is all that's important.

Triumph, on the other hand, has taken a far more radical step with its new Tiger. In launching this new bike Triumph has effectively held its hands up and admitted that no one really takes big trailies off-road. Which, to be brutally honest, is stating the bleedin' obvious. Why the hell would you want to take a 200-kilo bike off-road anyway? It's a bit like taking a Gold Wing on track. Yes, it can do it, but why would you want to? The addition of 17-inch wheels simply underlines the fact that the Tiger is a road bike.

But this is a brave move by the lads in Hinckley. While it is obvious that riders don't take big trailies off-road, they like to look like they can. It's the 'Charley and Ewan' effect, which itself has helped sell over 800 GS Adventures in the UK last year alone. Owners like to look like they're setting off to conquer the wild plains of the Serengeti, even if the only thing they're likely to defeat is the ticket barrier at the NCP car park. Which is why Triumph has kept the old Tiger in its range for 2007 (although cynics might say that's because they haven't sold them all...).

Then we have the Honda, which has confounded all the critics this year. On the face of it the CBF1000F is probably one of the dullest bikes of 2006. And 2007. A de-tuned Fireblade motor in a quite frankly fairly ugly bike with some muted paint options, to say the very least. But like some terrible soap opera plot this Plain Jane has surpassed all expectations, by a long way. Not only did the CBF prove to be a huge hit with the presss when launched, but more than 1000 have been sold in the UK this year. So what's its secret?

It isn't exactly rocket science. The CBF's key is that it's probably one of the easiest bikes in the world to get on with on a daily basis. Hondas always have the reputation of being user friendly, a term I personally hate, but that is exactly what the CBF is. Riding this bike requires virtually no thought whatsoever, it almost does everything for you. Unlike some bikes you don't really need to think about the engine, what gear you are in, what revs the motor is at. No, with the Honda and that Fireblade motor you simply concentrate on the throttle. It doesn't really matter where in the rev range you are, the CBF pulls with exactly the same urgency and doesn't really care if you should probably be a ratio lower or higher. It pulls from low down yet also revs to just over 10,000rpm; it's probably one of the smoothest engines out there and fits the character of the bike perfectly. Gentle, relaxed and hassle free, if a little bland.

Which isn't something that the Tiger's triple motor can be accused of. The more I get to ride the current crop of Hinckley triples the more

I appreciate the engine. There is just something so satisfying and pleasurable about it, from the beautiful three-cylinder growl to the gentle popping on the overrun and the lovely spread of power. While the Honda is wonderfully smooth it does lack a bit of inspiration and character, which the Triumph has by the bucket load. While the Tiger has the same broad spread of power as the Honda, that triple motor just has more urgency about it, which is nice. It's not revvy but seems to pick up the pace faster while still being perfectly happy to sit at constant revs on motorways.

But one thing that virtually drove me to distraction was its gearbox. Now, I've ridden a few of the new-style Tigers as well as other 1050 engined Triumphs and while the box isn't anything like as smooth as the Honda's or precise as the BMW's it usually isn't that bad. This one's was dreadful. Any fast up-changes were greeted with at least one false neutral while downshifts were stiff and generally hard work. As it turned out our bike had a bent gear lever, not our fault, honest, but when considering a Tiger also factor in a less than slick gearbox. Hopefully Triumph will get around to designing a decent one when the otherwise excellent 1050 motor is next updated.

Which is exactly what BMW did when developing the 1200 motor. Having a loyal, not to mention rather vocal, ownership BMW were more than aware of what updates the 1150 Boxer engine needed. The revised 1200 motor (actually 1170cc...) got a new gearbox, more torque and smoother power delivery, all combining to make the latest generation Boxer the best yet. Like the Honda, for no-brain riding the GS rules - it even comes with a gear indicator for the extra lazy. If you need to eat miles the GS's engine is stunning - simply bang it in top and relax. I know this for a fact, having done over 2000 miles in three days on the way to Russia on a GS. 'Workhorse' may be a rather unkind way of describing it, but that's what the BM is: slightly lethargic considering its capacity, but hassle free.

But it's not just motorway miles that are important, these bikes have to be able to handle as well. The new breed of owner doesn't just want a straight-line bike, he wants one that will provide fun at the weekend as well as beat the commute.

Which is where the new Tiger is once again very impressive. Although the most obvious update is to the wheels, in actual fact this is a completely new bike from the ground up. And in redesigning, Triumph has added a hefty dose of sportiness into the Tiger. My big complaint with big trailies has always been the tyres. I love the comfortable riding position and big bars, but hate the fact the tyres are skinny and knobbly. With the Tiger you get the best of both worlds.

On the straight bits the seat, fairing and riding position mean that hitting the 200-mile tank range is achievable, but more importantly show it a set of bends and it responds. ClichŽs about keeping up with sports bikes aside, let's just say that on the Tiger you'll be having a lot of fun. It's a big trailie with long suspension so you have to expect a slight insecurity from the front but the Tiger still handles really well, and the engine gets even more fun when pushed a bit. I'd quite happily take the Tiger on a track day and I'm certain it wouldn't embarrass itself at all - with those 'proper' sized wheels you've got the option of fitting some proper sticky rubber.

So, as you can imagine, the BMW with its trailie tyres isn't my first choice for back road fun, but it really isn't that bad, as long as it's dry. In the wet the OE knobblies are pretty horrible to ride on, but in the dry the BMW is surprisingly good. Compared to the Tiger it has a much greater feeling of stability. It turns slower and feels heavier than the Triumph but can still get around at a decent pace, just not as fast as the speeding triple. As well as the different tyres the BMW's engine also isn't nearly as happy to receive a thrashing and is far happier just gently cruising rather than being worked hard. Not a bad thing, just more the style of bike it is.

Which is why I find it hard to criticise the Honda for its lack of ground clearance. Okay, go hard on the CBF and the pegs will touch, but for this kind of bike what would you rather have, a supremely comfortable riding position or rearsets? I don't really see too many owners finding this an issue and I'm sure they will be far happier with the fact they can do at least 140 miles to reserve without a numb bum. And it's the same with the suspension. The CBF is set on the soft side, which makes it a bit wobbly in corners, but it's something you soon learn to deal with. Again, what would you rather have, a bike that will take a rider and pillion in comfort over rough roads or one that will jolt your fillings out? It's an obvious compromise.

In fact the Honda is probably the most real-world of all the bikes here, because it's pretty damn hard to find a fault with. Looks? Okay, she's no beauty, but in a strange, quirky way it's appealing. Lacking a bit of character? Well yes, but the thing is quite often the better a bike is the less memorable it is. Take the Triumph. Thinking about the Tiger

I instantly think about things that could do with being improved, the gearbox for one. With the Honda I can't really think of anything to actually fault. Is lacking charisma a fault? Probably not when it's heaving down with rain and you're sheltered behind the fairing.

And it's the same with the BMW. The R1200GS is a brilliant bike, as many, many owners will happily tell you. Riding the Adventure (which is virtually identical) for so many miles last year hammered this point home to me. They don't go wrong, run for years, don't devalue and again, when the going is tough/cold/wet the heated grips and brush guards, not to mention the screen and comfortable seat, guide you home. But again, is the riding experience that memorable?

Which is why I kept returning to the Tiger. I know that it has faults, but it's such an involving bike to ride. It has the comfort of the BMW, heated grips are optional extras - and with a £1500 price difference between it and the BMW, affordable extras - a fantastic digital display that has all the essential info including tank range, and it looks great. It will do the daily commute, kill the motorway miles and is even a fun weekend toy. In fact it does just about everything I would want, and does it with a fun factor included.

It's so easy to see why both the GS and CBF have sold so spectacularly well. Both are perfect examples of why we can now have our cake and eat it. They are both excellent with no real faults to speak of and are more than capable of turning their hand to any situation at any time. For me, though, the Tiger still edges them as the bike I'd put at the top of my cross-boundary list.

PILLION COMFORT

Pillion ability has a big influence on the sales of these bikes. It's not uncommon for potential owners to turn up at dealers with their pillion in tow. So which is the best?

First up top marks to all manufacturers as each bike actually comes with a pillion grab rail as standard, which is an obvious and simple addition.

From the back seat the GS's piliion perch is well padded and comfortable with nice low pegs, which is good, and the easily reachable rear preload adjuster means the shock can be adjusted to take account of the pillion's weight. The only real problem is that when the throttle is shut the engine braking can be quite harsh, causing banged heads.

Triumph's Tiger has been designed with pillions in mind, and it shows. The rear seat is spacious and well padded and again the preload adjuster is easily accessible. But the gearbox can make smooth riding quite hard work - not ideal for fuss free two-up riding.

Which is where the Honda again impresses. A mega smooth engine and transmission mean that this is the ultimate pillion machine. Ground clearance is hampered even more but it's still the best.

WHITHAM'S SECOND OPINION

BMW

For me it's always the same when I ride any of the GS range: once I've done a few miles to re-acquaint myself with their little idiosyncrasies and quite unique feel, I always end up enjoying the experience.

The GS felt the slowest bike of the three, even though BMW claim 100bhp for the 1170cc flat twin. But to be honest it doesn't matter, the Boxer motor is smooth, has a good chunk of torque, and is plenty quick enough for this type of bike.

The combination of the soft rear suspension and the Telelever front end makes you feel like you're floating along on a magic carpet; all but the biggest pot holes are just soaked up. This is great until you want to start pushing on, at which point the whole thing starts to become a bit discombobulated. But as long as you ride the GS the way it was meant to be ridden, it'll transport you to wherever you're going and get you there relaxed and without aches.

I don't like the electronic stuff controlling the powered ABS brakes taking 10 seconds to sort themselves out, but hey, BMW has been selling gazillions of these things.

And ya can't argue with that!

HONDA

There is no doubt the Honda is a good, practical bike. Its best feature is the motor, basically a Blade lump de-tuned from 160-odd bhp to just under 100. But because it's been set up to produce most of the power, and torque, towards the lower and middle of the rev range it still feels to go fairly well and is so smooth and tractable you can almost convince yourself you're being propelled by a big electric motor.

The riding position is standard sports tourer, and everything else about this bike - the handling, the brakes, the instrumentation - is adequate or better. And the gearbox was as silky smooth as any other Honda's.

For me though, the CBF is just too, well, sensible. If it were a drink it would be half a bitter shandy. Don't get me wrong, I couldn't really fault how it did what it did, I just think that if I pulled up outside a cafe, or any other building for that matter, on one of these,

I could walk to the door without even being tempted to turn round and look back at it. Know what I mean?

TRIUMPH

This bike was much more my cup of tea. Every major change from the old Tiger, and that's pretty much everything, is an improvement.

The new Tiger has lost a lot of its 'big trailie' look and feel. The old 19-inch front end is out in favour of a much more practical 17-inch set-up. The suspension, both back and front, is firmer giving a more sure-footed and accurate feel to the steering, but without being too harsh. It does retain its upright and wide-barred riding position - perfect on really twisty roads and in traffic, but on the faster stuff you shift a lot of air.

The engine feels as good in this bike as it does in everything else it's fitted in. In other words, enough power all the way through the range with loads of character and a great sound. The gear ratios have been spread out slightly, meaning slow speed maneuvering and clutch work are a still doddle, but you now get slightly longer legs for the faster stuff. Gear change ain't as slick as anything Japanese though.

The biggest gripe I have with the Tiger is the styling of the back end. That banana shaped seat unit curving up and up... and up. To me it looks like it's been hit in the arse by a bus. Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

SPECS - BMW

TYPE - ALL ROUNDER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2007

PRICE NEW - £9095

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1170cc

POWER - 96bhp@7000rpm

TORQUE - 78.5lb.ft@5600rpm

WEIGHT - 199kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 840mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 20L

TOP SPEED - 124.5mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 180MILES

SPECS - HONDA

TYPE - ALL ROUNDER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2007

PRICE NEW - £6299

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - 95bhp@8600rpm

TORQUE - 69lb.ft@6500rpm

WEIGHT - 220kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 795mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 19L

TOP SPEED - N/A

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 150MILES

SPECS - TRIUMPH

TYPE - ALL ROUNDER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2007

PRICE NEW - £7499

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1050cc

POWER - 110bhp@9300rpm

TORQUE - 64lb.ft@8000rpm

WEIGHT - 198kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 835mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 20L

TOP SPEED - 134.5mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - 195MILES

The boundaries between bike classes are becoming more and more blurred. Over the past two decades or so we've seen niche development and marketing create sports bikes that are simply sports bikes, tourers that only tour and off-road bikes that do just that.

Lately though, it seems bike design has turned back towards wide spectrum capabilities. And the bike buying public have responded overwhelmingly. In 2006, sports bike sales aside (always a UK favourite), multi-taskers have drawn impressive sales. The BMW R1200GS has made hitherto unheard of sales
figures in the adventure sports category, while Honda's new CBF1000F has taken the litre sports touring class by storm. Both have wide appeal and wide application.

And it's into this context we inject Triumph's new Tiger. The old Tiger was thought of as an adventure sports tool, so a natural competitor to the GS. But the Tiger 1050 has 17-inch wheels, so is now arguably much closer to the CBF. Has it really evolved into a sports tourer?

When you look at crossover bikes BMW's GS really is the archetypal example. Having just passed its 25th birthday the GS is a shining example of 'thinking outside the box'. The designers at BMW were clever enough to realise that riders liked the aggressive look of off-road bikes, liked the 'big bike' feel and also that a large, comfortable do-it-all machine also makes a great tourer. Over 210,000 GSs have now been made and it's bloody hard to go anywhere without running into one! You name it: Europe, America, Africa, anywhere there's a road, you will pass one of these German masterpieces going about its task in an unflustered, workman-like way.

But even though it has been a huge success BMW hasn't rested on its laurels. The GS has steadily been evolving and changing. From its early days as a more off-road orientated bike BMW has gently swayed the GS's direction far more to the open highway than the green lane. Although they don't like to admit it the latest generation R1200GS is only really an off-roader in looks. With its 2005 update, where it shed weight and gained the new 1200 engine, BMW moved the GS another step closer to the sports tourer category.

If you really want to explore the wild world then the GS Adventure is always there, but for most riders the stock bike at least looks like it could take on the world, which is all that's important.

Triumph, on the other hand, has taken a far more radical step with its new Tiger. In launching this new bike Triumph has effectively held its hands up and admitted that no one really takes big trailies off-road. Which, to be brutally honest, is stating the bleedin' obvious. Why the hell would you want to take a 200-kilo bike off-road anyway? It's a bit like taking a Gold Wing on track. Yes, it can do it, but why would you want to? The addition of 17-inch wheels simply underlines the fact that the Tiger is a road bike.

But this is a brave move by the lads in Hinckley. While it is obvious that riders don't take big trailies off-road, they like to look like they can. It's the 'Charley and Ewan' effect, which itself has helped sell over 800 GS Adventures in the UK last year alone. Owners like to look like they're setting off to conquer the wild plains of the Serengeti, even if the only thing they're likely to defeat is the ticket barrier at the NCP car park. Which is why Triumph has kept the old Tiger in its range for 2007 (although cynics might say that's because they haven't sold them all...).

Then we have the Honda, which has confounded all the critics this year. On the face of it the CBF1000F is probably one of the dullest bikes of 2006. And 2007. A de-tuned Fireblade motor in a quite frankly fairly ugly bike with some muted paint options, to say the very least. But like some terrible soap opera plot this Plain Jane has surpassed all expectations, by a long way. Not only did the CBF prove to be a huge hit with the presss when launched, but more than 1000 have been sold in the UK this year. So what's its secret?

It isn't exactly rocket science. The CBF's key is that it's probably one of the easiest bikes in the world to get on with on a daily basis. Hondas always have the reputation of being user friendly, a term I personally hate, but that is exactly what the CBF is. Riding this bike requires virtually no thought whatsoever, it almost does everything for you. Unlike some bikes you don't really need to think about the engine, what gear you are in, what revs the motor is at. No, with the Honda and that Fireblade motor you simply concentrate on the throttle. It doesn't really matter where in the rev range you are, the CBF pulls with exactly the same urgency and doesn't really care if you should probably be a ratio lower or higher. It pulls from low down yet also revs to just over 10,000rpm; it's probably one of the smoothest engines out there and fits the character of the bike perfectly. Gentle, relaxed and hassle free, if a little bland.

Which isn't something that the Tiger's triple motor can be accused of. The more I get to ride the current crop of Hinckley triples the more I appreciate the engine. There is just something so satisfying and
pleasurable about it, from the beautiful three-cylinder growl to the gentle popping on the overrun and the lovely spread of power. While the Honda is wonderfully smooth it does lack a bit of inspiration and character, which the Triumph has by the bucket load. While the Tiger has the same broad spread of power as the Honda, that triple motor just has more urgency about it, which is nice. It's not revvy but seems to pick up the pace faster while still being perfectly happy to sit at constant revs on motorways.

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Specs Tacular

SPECS - BMW
TYPE - ALL ROUNDER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £9095
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1170cc
POWER - 96bhp@7000rpm
TORQUE - 78.5lb.ft@5600rpm   
WEIGHT - 199kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 840mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 20L   
TOP SPEED - 124.5mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - 180MILES
SPECS - HONDA
TYPE - ALL ROUNDER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £6299
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - 95bhp@8600rpm
TORQUE - 69lb.ft@6500rpm   
WEIGHT - 220kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 795mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L   
TOP SPEED - N/A
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - 150MILES
SPECS - TRIUMPH
TYPE - ALL ROUNDER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £7499
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1050cc
POWER - 110bhp@9300rpm
TORQUE - 64lb.ft@8000rpm   
WEIGHT - 198kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 835mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 20L   
TOP SPEED - 134.5mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - 195MILES

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