First ride: Triumph Tiger 800 XRx review

Who needs off-road daydreams when you've got a road bike this good?

NOT every adventure bike owner actually wants to take their expensive and shiny machine anywhere near a muddy trail. In fact, let's face it, most probably never get round to it.

So it makes sense to have adventure bikes with a bias toward the road, where they will spend 99% if not all of their time.

Triumph thinks so. I've just tested my second variant of the 2015 Tiger 800 in 48 hours. Yesterday it was the Triumph Tiger 800 XCx, with a 21-inch front wheel and some real off-road intent. Today it was the Triumph Tiger 800 XRx, with cast aluminium wheels instead of wire-spoke, and a smaller 19-inch front. It's basically the same machine but with some of that off-road ambition stripped away. It's moved on from unrealistic goals and decided to be the best it can on the road, where it's destined to live. It's hung up its beak, metaphorically and literally – the XCx has a beak; the XRx does not.

It's got different suspension – from Showa instead of WP – and a lower ride height. The seat height is 30mm lower, and adjustable from 830mm to 810mm.

The two machines are higher-spec versions of the XC and XR, making four Trumph Tiger 800 variants for 2015.

The base editions come with traction control and switchable ABS. The little 'x' on the higher-spec versions denotes more electronics including off-road traction control and ABS plus a choice of ignition maps and other extras.

You get cruise control, two 12-volt power sockets instead of one, self-cancelling indicators and some additional information from the digital clocks, including average and current fuel consumption.

On the XRx, you also get an adjustable screen and 'comfort' seats, plus hand-guards and a centre-stand.

I spent all-day yesterday riding a bike with the normal seat and I couldn't really tell what was so different about the 'comfort' one. They're both really comfortable.

I did notice the height though. I'm 5'9" and with the XRx's seat adjusted to the lower position I could get both feet flat on the ground, something I'm not used to on an adventure bike. Lowering the seat is a quick job involving no tools. You just slide off the rider's seat, shift some things about and put it back on.

The XCx handles well and turns easily but straight away the XRx feels quicker-steering thanks to that smaller front wheel.

The suspension is less adjustable than the XCx's. You get non-adjustable forks and pre-load adjustment only in the shock.

But it seems well set-up for its job as standard. Front and rear give touring-levels of comfort but also good enough contact with the road to chase lean angles with confidence.

The upside-down forks have less travel, 180mm instead of 220mm, and the bike is less susceptible than the XCx to forward pitch under hard braking. As a result it regains composure more quickly after letting off the front.

The brakes have a good progressive feel. I could probably cope with a bit more bite from the 308mm floating front discs and two-piston Nissin calipers, but the power is there when you squeeze.

The lower-ride height contributes to the XRx's more tarmac-tackling attitude. I enjoyed the sweeping bends of Malaga during yesterday's press launch of the XCx, and was impressed with the bike's agility. I had more fun on similar roads today riding the XRx. Good as the XCx is, it's road-focused sibling feels more purposeful through the same bends, inspiring you to push for a bit more from its Pirelli Scorpion Trail tyres.

The 800cc in-line triple - derived from the Street Triple 675 engine - likes to rev. It's nice to change frequently to stay close to the 10,000rpm red line, but it makes a highly satisfying noise anywhere from 5,000rpm up.

All the new variants of the Tiger 800 have ride-by-wire throttle for a smoother engine response, and the XRx has a forgiving reaction to sudden wrist input. Gear changes are really smooth, another improvement boasted of in Triumph press material.

Both the higher-spec 'x' models have four fuel maps – road, off-road, rain and sport. Sport makes for a slightly more aggressive throttle response but the difference is not dramatic.

Apart from being great fun on sunny, winding Spanish roads, the XRx makes a well-equipped tourer. Triumph says comfort has been improved, with the bars widened and moved forward and upward. I think I could ride it back from Malaga to the UK without complaining. The cruise control and twin power sockets would probably prove helpful. It's a shame the adjustable screen isn't a bit taller at its highest setting though. I'd get by but taller riders might crave the optional bigger screen. It could also be easier to adjust. It's a manual job of loosening, lifting and tightening at two points. Doing it on the move is out of the question.

Navigating through the menus and electronic modes on the bike's digital dash is a little baffling. No doubt an owner would soon get the hang of it, but take the self-cancelling indicators as an example. They work okay. As long as a change of direction has been involved, they know when to cancel. The challenge is activating them. To make them work you have to switch from 'manual' to 'auto-cancel' in a menu. Even someone from Triumph needed several minutes to remember how to do it.

Choosing between 'road' and 'off-road' riding modes is straight forward. The latter means off-road ABS and traction control, both allowing more slip than road mode. A further 'rider' mode lets you save your own ABS, traction control and fuel map settings, and gets you deeper into the menu maze.

It's the off-road electronics that bring me to a slight quibble with the XRx. Off-road mode is part of the package you pay extra for by getting the £9,499 XRx instead of the £8,499 XR. Both are road-biased machines, so why would you want to pay more for off-road settings? Just to keep the dream alive? Then why not get the £9,999 XCx instead? Or even the £8,999 XC, the base off-road-biased one?

I suppose you could just as easily ask: Why get an adventure bike at all if it's not going off-road? After today's ride, I can offer you an answer: to have a great all-round road bike and middleweight tourer, which is what the XRx is.

Personally though, I'd give thought to fully letting go of the Ewan and Charley dream and saving £1000 by buying the basic XR, without off-road mode.

Model tested: Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

Price: £9,499 on-the-road

Power: 95hp @ 9,250rpm

Torque: 58lbft @ 7,850rpm

Fuel economy (claimed): 65mpg

Wet weight: 216kg

Tank capacity: 19 litres

Seat height: 810-830mm (790-810mm with optional low seat)

Availability: January 2015

Colours: White, black or blue