They might be giants: Triumph Tiger & Benelli Tre K

It’s a bit like meeting a TV star for the first time, they’re never quite as big as they appear on screen. Say hello to the Triumph Tiger and Benelli Tre K. They’re both big, but which is the best?

Let’s face it, these two very similar bikes are a choice of the head, not the heart. They’ll let you cruise in wind-blast free comfort for tankfull after tankfull. They’ll commute and scratch, and your wrists and neck won’t get the same battering they’d get from an arse-up, head-down sports bike, either.

Both of these bikes will also give you an SUV-style view of the road ahead.  Sat in the outside lane of a motorway you can safely peer over four or five cars in front, giving you that comfort blanket of early-warning should anything untoward start to unfold. The upright riding position also makes it a darned sight easier to cock a proper rearward glance before lane changing or overtaking.

The riding position has other obvious benefits, too. Slow speed balance and control is amplified by the leverage from those wide bars and low footrests and the pillion gets a degree of wind protection from the rider because they’re not balanced on top, jockey-style, as absurd as most pillions look on the back of sports bikes. The roomy riding position is also more likely to suit taller, bigger riders.

But let’s face it, for 90% of our road riding, 90% of the time, we’re not chasing tenths of a second or pushing for a lap record. The practicality of everyday modern motorcycling is very different to the marketing manager’s dream. Life’s not a sun-drenched, police-free, perfectly surfaced canyon road. No. The reality is probably more like rain, darkness, diesel spills and heavy, heavy traffic. And gatsos.

That’s exactly what I meant about these two bikes being a purchase of the head. They’re both real-world practical and, we think, a pretty sexy alternative for such eminently sensible bikes.

The Tiger and the Tre K both use three-cylinder four-stroke motors with double-overhead camshafts, fuel injection and six speed boxes with wet, multi-plate clutches. There the similarities stop. In terms of personalities, they couldn’t be much more diametrically opposed.

Triumph Tiger

Trumpet Fanfare

The Triumph is silky smooth. The soulful sounding engine has masses of pick-up from down low and real bloat of torque in the mid-range. Delivery is linear, predictable and almost elastic. The Keihin ECU delivers fuel beautifully which bearing in mind how awful some of the Triumphs were just four or five years ago, is, er, a triumph.

As you accelerate away the engine’s fat torque curve invites you to bang gears at it early as you surf the mid-range torque. It makes the Triumph really easy to ride smoothly and if you often carry a totally inept passenger, this is probably the best bike on the current market to do this with. You’ll never lose them off the back of the Tiger.

It’s a shame I can’t say the same about the gear selection. Maybe I’ve been recently spoiled by Suzuki’s benchmark GSX-R1000 ’box – the Triumph gearbox needs familiarity, practice and a positive stab with a big boot to make it shift sweetly. It’s the same going down the gears as it is up ’em. The timing needs to be spot-on, the lever pressure, clutch actuation and to a certain extent, road speed and engine speed perfectly matched.

You soon get the hang and it’s really not that bad but I did miss a few cogs and there was the occasional graunch and clunk while I got the hang of it. This is not a gearbox that’s comfortable with clutchless shifts unless they’re immaculately timed and perfectly executed.

That said, you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’re constantly hopping off one bike onto another like we are. It’s not a bad gearbox, it’s just not as good as many others in the market. If I worked at Triumph I’d get busy ripping a GSX-R1000 to bits and copy every aspect of the gear clusters, shift drum and selector forks. They did it to us in the 1960s so why not? S’only fair.

Cogs aside, the Triumph has a beautifully developed, wholesome feel to it. Everything works together like a well engineered emulsion of parts. In fact, there’s a distinct whiff of Honda here, the way it just gets on and does it job, foible-free. There are no funny traits, nothing to get used to (ignoring the subject of the previous paragraphs) and nothing but sweet manners in every situation. It all adds to the high quality feel of the big Trumpet. From the finish of the fasteners and paint to the noise and feel of the engine. It all reeks of high quality.

Except the chrome handlebars. Barry, being a designer and thus obsessed with the look of everything, took an instant dislike to the handlebars. And once he’d mentioned it I couldn’t help noticing them. They look like they’re plucked from a Chinese 125. Spindly and shiny. This is easily solved with a quick call to B&C express for some fat-boy Renthalls.

The Triumph’s ace card is that saddle. If you’re going to sit on a motorbike all day this is the one to sit in. Notice ‘in’, not ‘on’.

Lands End to John o’ Groats? Take the Tiger.

Triumph Tiger 1050 Specifications

Price £8599 (ABS £9099) Top speed 135 mph (est.)
Engine 1050cc, liquid-cooled, 12 valve, triple
Bore & stroke 79.0mm x 71.4mm Compression ratio 12:1
Power 113bhp at 9400rpm Torque 74ft-lbs at 6250rpm
Front suspension Showa 43mm Telescopic forks
Adjustment Preload, rebound, compression
Rear suspension Showa Monoshock
Adjustment Preload, rebound, compression
Front brakes Four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Twin-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Dry weight 198kg (436lbs) Seat height 835mm Fuel capacity 20-litres
Colour options Jet Black, Fusion White, Blazing Orange

Benelli Tre K

Star Tre-K (she’ll no take it cap’n)

Scuppered by a lack of troops and a punishing publishing schedule the poor old Tre K languished in the Visordown underground bunker for a week or two before we got the chance to ride it.

It’s a strange but cool looking beast. Angular, fussy, oddball, interesting. The long travel suspension, bark-buster hand guards, alloy bash plate and nineteen-inch front wheel might hint at off road potential but, trust me, nothing would be further from your mind than hurling this bad boy up a green lane. Especially after paying eight grand for it.

We read a piece by Jane Armed Robbery on the Tre K in The Sun. She claimed it was a bit boring or words to that effect. This made us wonder if she’d actually even started it up, never mind ridden it. We disagree, Janey.

Press the starter on the Tre-K (but don’t give it any gas, as the sticker on the tank informs you) and it coughs into life with an instant, nasty bark. You can always rely on small volume Italian manufacturers to flaunt EU noise regulations and the Tre-K doesn’t disappoint. The racket from the tailpipe is pure race grid and you can almost sense the noise meter man’s unwanted attentions.

Blip the throttle and it impresses further. Revs rise and fall so fast it’s as if someone’s nicked the flywheels. To call the Tre-K engine responsive would be doing it down. This is engine is a race engine. Sounds like it, too. Compared to the Triumph there’s far more mechanical noise. Much more drama. Way more urgency.

It’s much the same once you’re moving but despite its willingness to rev, the torque on hand is immense. Brutal. The Tre-K will pull (hard) in a high gear from tickover. The fuelling isn’t perfect but putting the motor under this sort of loading doesn’t fluster the map. This characteristic, this low-down tractability makes it  a gas to ride when there’s little grip. A great bike to learn power-sliding on… should you fancy.

One of its fuelling foibles rears its head only at crawling pace. I’m not sure whether this is a trait of having so little flywheel effect, or just mapping, but damn, it’s easy to stall, particularly pulling away from lights. It coughs, spits back and dies – and then the blare of car horns begins.

There’s a button on the Benelli’s dash which is a lean-off facility for motorway cruising. This, effectively, is a power-robbing button to save fuel at motorway cruising speeds. We wondered whether our friendly Sun Correspondent had left this button switched on. Surely not…

Out in the open, though, the Benelli is an absolute hoot and absolutely made by that mad-ass motor. It is stupidly fast. Bonkers. It’s like a modern day TDR250 without the propensity for cold-seizures, snapped piston rings and clouds of exhaust smoke. Wheelies? It’s hard not to. The front wheel tries to smash itself into your face at every opportunity. Just brilliant.

But it’s practical, too. If that makes any sense after the previous statement. The fairing and screen (massively adjustable) does a better job than the Tiger’s of keeping the blast at bay, the bark busters keep your hands warmer and the riding position is roomier and more comfortable as a result. The tank is mahoosive as well, so post 200 mile toilet stops are a distinct possibility, especially with the greedy button disengaged.

It would be daft to criticise either the Triumph or the Benelli’s handling or brakes. On the road they share the same stability and flickability. They also give masses of feedback. Low footrests, wide bars, low saddle height – a great way to feel what your tyres are doing. Brakes? Look at the labels, check out the spec. Say no more.

The Benelli’s finish isn’t a patch on the Tiger’s, though. While the paint appears to be applied well, the quality of the plastics and the fasteners isn’t on the same planet as the stuff from Hinckley.

While both these bikes offer real world practicality and therefore naturally become a purchase of the head, not the heart, it’s the Benelli that wins my heart. Here is a soft-roader with everyday practicality and a proper sting in its tail for when the mood takes you. It’s this reason – the Jeckyll and Hyde engine – that the Benelli Tre-K wins this particular battle.

Yes, the finish isn’t as good, yes the optional hard luggage isn’t as sexy as the Triumph’s but in terms of all-round enjoyment the Benelli wins hands down. The Triumph is a beautifully made, super-practical and fun bike to ride but the Benelli just takes the concept a bit further. If you sometimes like to mix it with sports bikes on a twisty road the Benelli has the capability to blow them all into the weeds. In comfort.

Disagree with the results? Then review your Benelli Tre K and Triumph Tiger

Benelli Tre K 1130 Specifications

Price £7699 Top speed 140mph (indicated)
Engine 1130cc, liquid-cooled in line triple
Bore & stroke
88mm x 62mm Compression ratio 11.6:1
125bhp at 9000rpm Torque 84.8ft-lb at 6250rpm
Front suspension
50mm Marzocchi telescopic fork, preload, rebound adjustment
Rear suspension Extreme Technology monoshock, preload, rebound adjustment
Front brakes Four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake
Twin-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Dry weight
205kg (410lbs) Seat height 810mm Fuel capacity 23.5-litres
Colour options