Saturday, December 24, 2011

2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS by Kevin Duke,

2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Kevin Duke
Contributing Editor

A legend in the motorcycle industry, Duke Danger is known for his wheelie riding antics, excellent writing skills, appetite for press intro dinners and a propensity to wake up late. Once a fearless member of the MotoUSA team, the Canadian kid is often missed but never forgotten.

Monday, December 02, 2002        
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS

Adventure-touring To The Limits

We, perhaps like many of you, never really understood the appeal of adventure-touring motorcycles. Who in their right mind would take a nearly 600-pound bike off-roading? And climbing aboard one of those tanks is, especially for short people, like trying to ride Shaq piggyback.

Well, after nearly 5000 miles on BMW's quintessential A-T, the R1150GS, and Triumph's challenger, the Tiger 955i, we're turning into believers.

Before leaving on our adventure, Editor-in-chief Ken Hutchison and I weren't sure what we were getting into, fearing we may be disappointed.

We had some surprises in store for our preconceptions.

The Tiger was the first of the tall duo to get miles under the Metzeler Tourance dual-sport tires fitted to both bikes. Though it's not the latest evolution of Triumph's three-cylinder range, it is nonetheless blessed with that satisfying combination of torque and revvyness combined with that delicious exhaust note that makes us fans of Triples. It's a tenor rather than a soprano, and it plays a soulful tune unlike anything else on the road.

The Tiger uses an older-version cylinder head that is visually bigger than the new head on the '02-and-later Sprint series and the Speed Triple, using shim-under-bucket valve actuation. The lanky Trumpet is also fitted with a fuel-injection system that is a generation behind its brothers, though it is still fitted with an automatic fuel enrichener that makes cold starts a no-fuss affair. The three-cylinder powerplant is thoroughly enjoyable in use, with wonderfully seamless "carburetion." Its only glitch is a fuel pressure regulator that intermittently whined annoyingly.

The GS version of BMW's R1150 platform was revamped a few years ago, and the German company has refined it into an engineering masterwork befitting a Teutonic-developed machine. The 1130cc Twin makes more torque at just 3000 rpm than the Tiger does at its 5200 rpm peak, though the Triumph has a half-dozen more peak ponies it its corral on its way to a 1500 rpm higher redline at 9500 rpm.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GSOutfitted with BMW saddlebags and tank bag, the workhorse is augmented by a second tank bag strapped to the luggage rack that lies beneath the passenger seat. Slick.
The GS is loaded with features and engineering details the Tiger can't match. It boasts a seat that is height adjustable in three positions, a standard luggage rack, accessory outlet, and the best tool kit in the business that even includes a tire repair kit complete with CO2 cartridges. BMW's utterly unique (and amazingly functional) Telelever adds to the gee-whiz factor, and one look at the lovely casting of the GS's transmission case will convince you the Germans know a thing or two about engineering.

The Boxer engine, meanwhile, is a bit of an eccentric. Yes, it does want to rotate the bike when revved in neutral, as horizontally-opposed engines do. But once past that odd sensation, the engine rewards a rider with strong grunt right above idle with a flat, linear torque curve that offers decent power whenever a rider is looking for it.

Once acclimated to the inseam-stretching seat heights of these two-wheeled SUVs, we packed the hard-shell saddlebags for a trip from SoCal to Sonoma, California.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
The Tiger cuts a fairly attractive profile in black and silver, also available in orange or silver for 2003. Check out the chain slack for the reason why some riders only will consider a shaft-driven bike.
As adventure-tourers, both bikes have optional hard bags so we can carry all the crap we think we need to bring on a trip with us. Here, BMW's well-engineered System Cases are superior. Unlike the Tiger, the GS's bags are keyed to the ignition key, resulting in one less item to either scratch the bike's upper triple clamp or, worst case, lose. And although the storage capacities are nearly equal, the Triumph's bags (same as the Sprint ST) have dual latches, making opening and closing a bit more fussy. Plus, the fact that the clothes we packed in the Tiger's right saddlebag (over the muffler) ended up smelling like exhaust fumes sealed (or not) the luggage contest.

The GS, however, loses the engineering wars in the switchgear department. As eccentric as the GS's Flat-Twin is, it's nothing compared to BMW's weird turn signal arrangement. Instead of the left/right/push-to-cancel single-button switch on every other bike (except Harleys), BMW uses three buttons to perform the same task. Separate push-button switches on the left and right handlebars aren't so bad in themselves, but why BMW adds a third switch to cancel is beyond intuitive reasoning. Worse still is that the cancel switch requires lifting up your right thumb, which distracts an already-busy (with throttle and brake) hand. BMW's designer David Robb swears by this arrangement, so don't expect assimilation from the Germans anytime soon. Truth be told, a rider eventually gets used to it, but we wonder why we should have to.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Bags packed and a coastline to follow, these adventure-tourers helped us leave behind the pressures of deadlines.
Out on the open road, the GS performs better than its switchgear. Ergos are upright comfy, though the pegs are a bit high with the seat in its lowest position. Raising the supportive seat provides more legroom, but at the expense of a longer reach to the ground than 32-inch inseams can handle.

The Tiger offers a shorter reach to the ground at the expense of relatively less legroom. Its wide, flat seat feels good for the first hour, but its soft padding ends up letting down posteriors by the end of the day. Non-adjustable levers are too far from the grips unless you've got hands like Jimi Hendrix.

By the time we reached the fun-filled roller coaster that is Santa Rosa Creek Road near Cambria, we were ready to let loose. The Tiger soaked up the bumps better than the GS on the narrow, twisty road, but its handling deficiencies became obvious when ridden hard. Its high center of gravity results in slower turn-in than the GS, and it takes considerable effort to right it once leaned over. Flip-flop transitions bring out its worst. Plus, the slightly grabby brakes and soft fork springs that cause the front end to dive hard under heavy braking also don't transmit much of what's happening at the front tire when leaned over. A rear shock lacking rebound damping further hurt the Trumpet's cause on this tight road.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Fog is just part of coastal road running. Note the high-mount exhaust pipe of the Tiger (left) that intrudes on luggage space and causes fumes to permeate clothing packed inside.
The BMW, despite its formidable size, is easier to handle in the blind corners and steep drop-offs here. Its Telelever (with spring preload adjustment) virtually eliminates fork dive, leaving the front shock able to eat road imperfections. And you can lay this rig over in a hurry, as its wide handlebars and noticeably lower center of gravity work together to reduce the feeling of the bike's size.

We were greeted the next day by typical light coastal fog and a morning rain shower, but the curves of the Pacific Coast Highway were not to be denied. The GS, with its heated grips, ABS and more communicative front end, was delightful. The ample spread of power from its torquey motor made shifting optional. We were able to use third gear even with corner speeds as low as 25 mph, torquing out of corners like a 4-stroke motocross bike digging fresh knobbies into a damp golf green. The Boxer motor may not have a big top-end lunge, but it pulls cleanly from as low as 2500 rpm, then quite strong from 3000.
Wide bars make for quick steering  wide cylinders give a low center of gravity  and wide bags offer plenty of stowage room. Not so good for lane-splitting  though. Note the Telelever shock between the fork tubes. Wide bars make for quick steering, wide cylinders give a low center of gravity, and wide bags offer plenty of stowage room. Not so good for lane-splitting, though. Note the Telelever shock between the fork tubes.
The Tiger, too, has power down low, but with a healthier midrange that picks up steam the harder you rev it. Its handguards kept finger dry (as did the GS's), and the Inline-Triple, surprisingly, did a better job at keeping a rider's feet drier than the Beemer's big jugs.

While both fairings keep rain away from a rider's torso, the Triumph's wider nose is significantly more protective than that of the GS. The annoying buffeting from the BMW's fairing was reduced once we figured out that angling the windscreen back was the way to go, but we never were able to dial out the GS's propensity for being grabbed by crosswinds, dangerously so at times.

With pavement steaming as the sun burned off surface water on the blackened road, we burned our way north. Arid grasslands and rolling hills gave way to lush vegetation, with pines and oak hybrids surrounding the serpentine coastal road. A leisurely cafe latte in Big Sur fueled us for the blast through Monterey and San Francisco to our layover in near Sonoma. We arrived fairly fresh, and with the capacity of the saddlebags, we had enough wardrobe and supplies to look good (as good as we are able, anyway) for a well-deserved dinner at the end of a long day.

To find out if one bike could really do it all, we had a surprise in store for the big dirt bikes. We enrolled in Reg Pridmore's excellent CLASS riding school, in which we'd find out on the twists and hills of Sears Point Raceway how much of an adventure these adventure-tourers can handle.

With semi-knobbie tires, long-travel suspension and torque-tuned motors, there's plenty of reasons why you don't see many of this type of bike on a racetrack (duh!). But you may be surprised, as were we, at how well Rodan and Godzilla get on it. We started off in the slower group and quickly (very quickly) realized we needed to move up to the faster sessions.

The Tiger's revvier nature felt more at home with the throttle held to its stop, and its bulging midrange kept it not far from a Yamaha R1 down the straights. Rider smoothness paid dividends by not taxing the soft springs in the non-adjustable fork, and the R1 rider was dispatched during a corner entry thanks to powerful 2-pot brakes. Demoralizing for the sportbike rider, no doubt. Lean angle is plenty generous with the tall suspension, but even so we managed to get the pegs digging into the tighter corners on the track.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
With its big beak and protruding cylinders, the GS looks out of place on the racetrack. Just don't tell that to the sportbikes that fell victim to its ample ground clearance, strong corner exits and powerful brakes.
The GS acquitted itself quite well, also. Using its eminently tractable powerband for strong corner exits, the Flat-Twin doesn't lose much to the higher-revving Triple. Indeed, it has more hp and torque than the Tiger up to 6000 rpm, after which the Triumph builds a slight horsepower advantage. The well-controlled suspension kept its composure, and the Telelever allowed full use of the powerful Brembo brakes. The version of BMW's ABS on our bike was not the Integral ABS that links front and rear brakes, and this simpler iteration is much preferred, with less abrupt application and independent use of the brakes at each end. The anti-lock system was thankfully transparent in its operation, not interfering too early.

Afterwards, as we dismounted our faithful steeds outside the hotel, faces flush from a great time on the track, we posed the question of whether we would've had more fun at the track on a pure sportbike. With a few seconds of rumination, thinking about the juxtaposition of these dual-purpose bikes on a racetrack, we agreed that we probably had a better time on this long-legged duo!

Saddlebags stuffed to the gills once more (both sets are comparable in capacity), we saddled up for the return journey south. We decided to take a side route on the famous Skyline Boulevard that runs through Portola State Park. Skyline didn't meet our inflated expectations (too much traffic), but the roads a little further south through Big Basin Redwoods State Park blew us away. Highway 9 leads to Highway 238, a magical, secluded 1.5-laner that is graced by a canopy of 100-foot redwoods and 60-foot oaks. Sunlight filtered through the branches to make snowflake-like patterns on the twisty asphalt, providing a surreal canvas on which to carve up.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
The Pacific ocean reflects on the 6.3-gallon tank of the Tiger. The GS holds 5.8 gallons. Over 2000 miles, the GS averaged 34.5 mpg, while the Tiger slightly better at 38.0.
The high and wide bars on both bikes make up for conservative chassis geometry, endowing each with nimbleness that belies their size. Bumps the Triumphs's rear shock erased under acceleration were much more evident on the GS, as its Paralever (designed to counteract the rising effect of its shaft drive) objected to sharp-edged bumps much in the same way a solid-axle, leaf-spring suspended car does. Adding to the "character" of the GS is the way the chassis exhibits a flexy feeling when shifting while leaned over. Interrupting the power delivery with the clutch causes the driveshaft gears to climb over each other, subtly changing the orientation of the rear wheel. Weird.

The Tiger, meanwhile, drew criticism for its notchy shifter. The 6-speed box has short throws, but shifts on our well-worn test unit were sometimes reluctant. We also experienced the occasional false neutral on the shift from fifth to sixth gear.

2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Head to head, the GS has more refinement and features, while the Tiger counters with a more enjoyable engine and a lower entry fee.
Once the roads straightened out, we appreciated the Tiger's soft suspension that flattens bumps as clean as anything else we've sampled. It's cushy, all right, but sometimes it feels unrefined and clunky. Both bikes have a hydraulic preload adjuster on their rear shocks, but unlike the GS's knurled knob that allows simple adjustment even while riding, the Triumph's adjuster disappointingly needs a wrench to turn.

Straight-line cruising brings out the subtleties of a bike. The GS engine has more pronounced vibration, but its low-frequency vibes are less obtrusive than the higher-pitched tune of the Tiger that will result in hands feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle after a long day. GS vibes intrude above 4200 rpm, but a super-tall, overdrive sixth gear keeps revs below that level up to 85 mph.

On the Tiger, an indicated 75 mph in sixth equals to about 5000 rpm, nearly at its power surge around 6000 rpm. As such, the Triumph stomps the GS in sixth-gear roll-on contests. But in fifth gear, it's the GS (now out of overdrive) that jumps to an early lead and holds the small margin through 100 mph. And in a drag race from 20 mph (so that the variable of start-line techniques is eliminated), the Tiger pulls a small gap, but doesn't increase its advantage through "the ton." An unexpected result considering the snappier impression from the Tiger's engine.

2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Bikes that are competent during freeway running, backroad strafing, racetrack blasting or even playing on the beach - all while hauling a bunch of cargo for a few thousand miles - are rare beasts.
Our fears of being disappointed were laid to rest, as the last detour of the trip proved there is no other class of bikes we could have the same array of adventures on, and certainly not with the same level of comfort, speed and grace.

Pismo Beach is a sandy playground along the coastal waters of California, a place where ATVs and paddle-tired dirtbikes roost. While the street-oriented Tourances weren't suited to the deep sand, the 500-plus pound bikes are deceptively competent in the damp stuff at the ocean's edge. Try that on your R1 or ST1300!

So, what have we learned during this 2000-mile adventure?

Well, BMW's GS is a finely engineered machine that offers features the Tiger can't match. But these attributes come at a price, $14,500 to be exact ($12,990 without ABS).

The Triumph can't compete in its level of refinement, but you'll have a big wad of cash left over in your pocket to comfort you. The Tiger lists for $10,999 (plus $1250 for the luggage), but a local dealer told me I could take one home for just $8999.
2002 Triumph Tiger vs. BMW R1150GS
Ken uses the wide powerband of the Tiger to carve up Pismo.

So if shaft drive, anti-lock brakes and standard heated handgrips are on your must-have list, you won't be disappointed by choosing the R1150GS.

If you consider the above items nice to have but not absolutely necessary, Triumph's Tiger 955i offers better value for the money.

One last thing: If manufacturers are going to market these kinds of globe-trotting bikes, how about fitting more than one tripmeter to the instruments, please?

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