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

Why let your choice of bike confine your riding experience? Expand your horizons and visit new places with the latest breed of multi-tasking bike.

Posted: 26 May 2008
by Jon Urry

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

PRICE NEW - £9095
POWER - 96bhp@7000rpm
TORQUE - 78.5lb.ft@5600rpm   
WEIGHT - 199kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 840mm   
TOP SPEED - 124.5mph   
0-60     - n/a
PRICE NEW - £6299
POWER - 95bhp@8600rpm
TORQUE - 69lb.ft@6500rpm   
WEIGHT - 220kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 795mm   
0-60     - n/a
PRICE NEW - £7499
POWER - 110bhp@9300rpm
TORQUE - 64lb.ft@8000rpm   
WEIGHT - 198kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 835mm   
TOP SPEED - 134.5mph   
0-60     - n/a

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Discuss this story

I am mistified by your comments on the Tiger gearbox, I own an 08 Tiger 1050 and a 57 reg. CBF1000abs, (wife only 5 ft tall).

I find the Tiger box to be almost as good as the Honda's, I have never found a false neutral, clutchless up-changes no problem!

Except when I have to accomodate 'er in doors' I choose the Tiger eveytime. What an engine!

Posted: 18/03/2009 at 11:11

I don't own, or aspire to, any of these bikes but were it simply a question of looks and charisma the BMW would win the day.

It's big and fugly in a way that only a bike that has been designed to perform first and look good second can. But it still attracts.

The Tiger is obviously the more modern design and looks half decent from most angles but it doesn't have the prescence of the Beemer.

The Honda is the kind of bike we all wished for 25 years ago. But it's 25 years too late. I would seriously question whether I could find it in a carpark were I to own one.

Not having ridden any of these then I can't comment on their performance or reliability. The Honda will no doubt still be running and performing dutifully for decades to come though.

Posted: 18/03/2009 at 19:15

R1200GS - Designed to perform? what about those two cylinders sticking out the side - for an off-road bike? I did green laning for 30 years and there always seemed to be lots of deep ruts - functional design? It was, no doubt, in the distant past before someone thought of water cooling.

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 10:16

The BMW 1200GS just seems like such a riduculous bike to me, in the same way that a BMW X5 is a ridiculous car.

It looks like its a great tourer, but not as good as an actual tourer. Why not lose the long travel suspension and weird tyre and see what a good tourer it is then! 

The reason is, its a great tourer which LOOKS like an off road bike. Which it isn't. You can't really go on anything other than gravel tracks on a bike this heavy.

It really is not a dual purpose bike. One benefit of it is that it can tour in comfort AND go on gravel tracks and bumpy roads (then again so can an R1!); so for touring through developing countries it IS pretty good...but not as good as a smaller version, like the F650GS or a Tenere. There really is NOTHING it is the best choice of bike for. If you really want a bike that is a decent off road bike, and a decent on-road bike, you don't want this one, because it ISN'T a decent off road bike. And I've read so many reviews that say things like 'its actually far better on the road than you would think'...what, better than I would expect from an £11k bike? Are you sure? Because for £11k, believe me I expect a lot!

You're making all these sacrifices for this supposed off road ability, which in all honesty it really doesn't have!

There's a weird compulsion amongst car and bike riders to make their vehicle look like it goes off road. Its like a BMW X5; geat car I'm sure, but would be loads better with shorter suspension and a more sensible shape. Ermmm, like a 5 series. The argument that a 4x4 'is safer' just doesn't hold; its not that its safer its just that its more dangerous for the rest of us. Its like saying mad-max style spikes on the front of your car make it 'safer'.

There's loads of very satisfied GS owners, and good luck to them. But if they asked themselves what it was they liked about the bike without using the phrase 'its got lots of character', I think they would have to admit that it's all about the McGregor image. Because if it wasn't, why not just get an R1200RT? Or an R1200 with a screen? What exactly does the GS offer over either of these, far superior, road bikes?

Posted: 19/03/2009 at 14:09

Well! you do appear to have it in for BMW, I agree with a lot you say particularly with regard to price, my own opinion is that BMW make bikes about 80% as good as the Japs, KTM and Triumph that cost at least 20% more, I am retired now but wish I had known how to do that when in business.

I bought my Tiger and CBF1000, (both new), for less than it would have cost to buy one R1200GS Adventure to the spec. I would want.

PS My son has a BMW X5

Posted: 20/03/2009 at 09:57

I wouldn't say I've got it in for BMW, I think they make some excellent bikes. The K1300 series and R1200RT are some of the best and most technologically advanced tourers money can buy, and they are in my opinion much better than any of the competition.

The F800GS and F650GS are two of the best off road/tourers you can buy. However they're still not quite as good as some of the opposition; they are good for journeys involving 90% roads with a little bit of the rough stuff, but any more than that and you'd be better with a Tenere...Dakar riders who use BMWs only really use them because they have BMW sponsorship; and they always say they are far too heavy.

The 1200GS though is just a pointless bike. If you want a tourer, get a tourer, and if you want something that can handle rough stuff then get a bike that actually can handle rough stuff, as opposed to something that just looks like it can.

They're rubbish in traffic as well, far too wide and cumbersome to filter properly.

The F800GS is the bike the 1200 should have been.

Posted: 20/03/2009 at 13:04

I like the traile type bikes, because I am quite tall and find them more comfortable than tourers, so I think they have found a niche market.  Which also brings me onto the triumph, a sports bike for tall folk, awesome, will be looking into buying one.

Posted: 06/04/2009 at 21:47

The more I ride my Tiger the better I like it, the screen is not good, I have improved mine by tilting it backwards so less air hits my helmet, bit of a Heath Robinson job mind, anyone know one that works, I am 5' 11" - 31" inside leg.

Posted: 07/04/2009 at 08:53

"They're rubbish in traffic as well, far too wide and cumbersome to filter properly."

Absolute nonsense.

I had a GS12 last year and it was the best commuter bike I've ever had. 80 miles a day Horsham to the City and back. However, I only had it for 3 months. It broke down. Twice. So I chopped it for a K1200LT. Which broke down. Twice. So I chopped it for a K1200S which was fine until I chopped it for a, er, Harley Dyna Super Custom which is no use for commuting although I did take it 2,500 miles to Italy and back via the Alps in April and it was cracking.

I also bought a Tiger in May which is everything the GS was except it's not broken down. I LOVE the Tiger. It tours, commutes and bangs along like a sports bike, goes just as well 2 up with luggage and there's zero buffetting with the touring screen. I could never get that comfy with Tobinators / extras on the GS.

Posted: 29/06/2009 at 10:43

A number of my friends have had several problems with new/nearly new BMWs, I have had 6 Hinkley Triumphs, only one minor problem on an early Trophy, I cover about 7000 mile pa and ususally keep a bike about 2 -3 years.

Just done 320 miles on my Tiger last weekend - great!

Posted: 29/06/2009 at 20:25

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