Motorcycle Classics

Off-Street Cred: 1993-1998 Triumph Tiger 900

Comparing the Triumph Tiger 900 with the other big adventure bikes of its day, theBMW R100GS and Cagiva/Ducati 900 Elefant.

Triumph Tiger 900

Years Produced: 1993-1998
Power: 85hp @ 8,000rpm
Top Speed: 130mph (period test)
Engine: 885cc (76mm x 65mm) liquid-cooled, DOHC, 12-valve triple
Transmission: Straight-cut gear primary, 6-speed, chain final drive
Weight/MPG: 455lb (dry), 38mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: &9,895 (1995)/$3,500-$8,000

It took quite a while for us on the left side of the pond to catch on to adventure bikes: it’s fair to say that the U.S. motorcycle market was about cruisers, dirt bikes and street standards until the late 1990s. Though Honda’s Africa Twin, Yamaha’s Super Tenere and BMW’s R100GS were all top sellers in continental Europe, only the Beemer ever made it to the U.S. So when the first generation 650cc Cagiva Elefant arrived in 1984, U.S. testers couldn’t get their heads around it — especially its weight: “twice that of a 250 motocrosser,” said Cycle magazine in December 1985, noting, “when 454lbs of motorcycle gets away from you, the chances of snatching it back are slim.”

But by the early 1990s, there was some indication that the U.S. market might catch on. The 1993 Triumph Tiger (shown) was aimed squarely at German and French buyers, and it wasn’t until 1995 that the Tiger made it to these shores.

The new Triumph company also had a steep hill to climb to dispel conventional Triumph lore about oil leaks, flaky electrics, marginal reliability and poor finish. Perhaps because of this, the first-generation Hinckley Triumphs were substantially overbuilt, while adopting well-proven technologies, quality components and fastidious quality control. The machines were assembled in a brand-new factory built on a green-field site with the latest machine tools and production methodology. Fortunately, Triumph owner John Bloor had deep pockets.

Though with a very different stance and styling, the Tiger was still based on Triumph’s modular motorcycle concept introduced in 1990. It used essentially the same 885cc 3-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC 12-valve engine with 6-speed transmission as the 900 Trident, Sprint, Daytona and Speed Triple, but was retuned for torque.

Carburetion was by three 36mm flat-slide Keihin CVs with digital ignition providing sparks. Compared with the 97 horsepower engine used in most of the new Triumphs, the Tiger made fewer horses at 84, but similar torque of 61lb/ft @ 6,000rpm. Significantly, torque at 3,000rpm was higher by 25%.

The motor hung from the same beefy spine frame as the other new Triumphs, with a non-adjustable Kayaba front fork giving 9 inches of travel. The swingarm was controlled by a single Kayaba spring/shock with 8 inches of travel as well as preload, compression and rebound adjustment.

Tires were 110/80 x 19 inches up front and 140/80 x 17 inches in the rear. Stopping was by dual floating 11-inch discs with 2-piston calipers at the front and a single 2-piston-caliper 10-inch disc at the rear. The result was a street missile with somewhat limited off-highway capability, mainly because of its weight and high center of gravity.

“Nine hundred cee-cees of gargly triple; 130mph, scary wheelies, and a seat as tall as your average five-year-old does not an off-roader make,” wrote British magazine Bike in 1993.

But like other adventure bikes, it excelled on twisty mountain roads with indifferent surfacing.

“The Tiger enters a stomping ground the BMW GS, Cagiva Elefant, Africa Twin and Super Tenere all jealously call their own,” wrote Bike. “Fast corners are lined up, snapped and then balanced with the throttle and body-weight.”

And the Tiger was also considerably quicker than the competition. Bike wrote that its top speed left the competition standing: “… when the likes of the GS, Super Ten and Africa Twin are coughing their lungs up at around a ton-ten.”

The only real complaint was around the “budget” suspension: the Kayaba fork was acutely under-damped and non-adjustable.

“Forks dive violently,” wrote Bike, but added, “What the squashy forks lack in adjustment, the rear Kayaba shock makes up for.”

So having pitched its adventure bike squarely at street riding, was the Tiger a bridge too far? Or the shape of things to come?

Then Ewan and Charley happened, demonstrating that it was possible to muscle a 550-pound adventure bike around the world — albeit with a film crew and support vehicles.

Suddenly, 2-wheeled supertankers had off-street cred. MC

1988-1994 BMW R100GS

Years Produced: 1988-1994
Power: 60hp @ 6,500rpm
Top Speed: 112mph
Engine: 980cc (94mm x 70.6mm) air-cooled, OHV flat twin
Transmission: 5-sped, shaft final drive
Weight/MPG: 462lb wet/48 mpg
Price then/now: $7,490/$4,000-$10,000 (1993)

Developed from another Dakar bike — Hubert Oriol and Gaston Rahier’s four-time-winning R80G/S — the production R100GS incorporated BMW’s Paralever single-sided swingarm to control torque reaction and added a non-adjustable Marzocchi fork and single Brembo front disc brake. The drivetrain was similar to other contemporary R100 models with 40mm Bing carbs (32mm in the U.S.) and Bosch electronic ignition. More offroad focused than the Tiger or Elefant, the R100GS rolled on a 90/90 x 21-inch front tire and 130/80 x 17-inch rear. Likewise, the engine was tuned for torque, with respectable grunt available from idle speed. The suspension would accommodate substantial bumps and potholes (with 9-inch travel front and 8-inch rear), yet felt plush on the street, where the GS’s handling was competent but not quick. Brakes were just OK, and marginally adequate on the heavier “Paris-Dakar” model. Fabled BMW longevity and relatively easy maintenance made the GS popular with long-distance riders, and high recorded mileage is not necessarily a negative. That said, watch for driveshaft issues and alternator problems. Tipovers can also cause cylinder head studs to pull out of the crankcase, so look for rocker cover damage. Overall, though, a durable and reliable workhorse.

1993-1997 Cagiva/Ducati 900 Elefant

Years Produced: 1993-1997
Power: 68hp @ 6,500rpm
Top Speed: 114mph (approx.)
Engine: 904cc (92mm x 68mm) air-cooled, SOHC L-twin, 2 valves/cylinder, desmodromic actuation
Transmission: 6-speed, chain final drive
Weight/MPG: 449lb/40mpg (approx.)
Price then/now: $3,000-$6,000 (1993)

Though three Tigers were entered in the 1994 Paris-Dakar-Paris race, their absence from the winners’ circle sums up their performance. The Dakar Rally that year was won by Edi Orioli riding a 900 Elefant — as he had done in 1990. In all, 900 Elefants gained nine Dakar podiums in eight years. The race-replica 1990-91 “iniezione elettronica” never came to North America: but a Ducati-badged Elefant did make the crossing in 1993.

The belt-drive SOHC “desmodue” engine was a retuned version of the 900SS motor, fed by two 38mm Mikuni CV carbs with Kokusan electronic ignition. The dry clutch drove a 6-speed transmission by helical gear. Showa USD forks controlled the 19-inch Akront spoked front wheel, with a rising-rate aluminum swingarm, a single Sachs shock and a 17-inch rear wheel. Brakes were triple 10-inch discs with Brembo Goldline calipers. The 5.8 gallon tank gave a range of 200 miles. If the Tiger was 90/10 road/trail, the Elefant was maybe 70/30. Relatively light and nimble with fine handling, decent grunt and good brakes, the E900 was let down by suspect electrics (especially the charging circuit) and a weak rear shock. Finish was also indifferent. Regular maintenance, especially valves and cam belts was a must. It was no dirt bike, but with available electrical upgrades, the E900 Elefant still makes a capable back-road canyon carver for occasional off-highway excursions.

  • Published on Feb 11, 2020
© Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved - Ogden Publications, Inc.