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ADV BikesTriumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro First Ride Review

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro First Ride Review

 The middleweight Tiger gets overhauled for 2020 with no bolt left untouched.

Published on 02.23.2020

It took Triumph nine long years to update the Tiger 800. Sure it went through three different (small) frame updates, two different suspension manufacturers, three engine management updates, three different dashboards even, but at the end of 2019 the Tiger was still a little long in the tooth (pun intended). Here we are now with an all-new Tiger ‘900’ for 2020. A bump in displacement is only the beginning though. When Triumph said “all-new” they meant it. 

Newly dubbed the Tiger 900 Rally (off-road focus) and GT (street focus), each can be had in either Standard or Pro variants. We got a chance to test the hell out of the Pro versions cause well, at a press launch everyone should be a Pro. And everyone was eager to pounce on the test fleet in Morocco to see if the new Tiger would hold up its end of the Pro title.

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally and GT
The new Tiger 900 comes in two different lines: the dirt-focused Rally with Showa suspension and tubeless spoked wheels (left), and the road-focused GT with Marzochi suspension and cast wheel (right).

First, let me say that I have been a long-time fan of the Tiger 800. I actually used it as my race bike competing in the NASA Rally, SandBlast Rally, Rally Saguney, Black River Stages, Raceway Park Sprint Rally, and the Dacre Challenge (twice). My old Tiger took a beating and still carried me to more places around the North American continent than I can count. So ever since the new 900 Rally was announced, I’ve been itching to see how it measures up.

So let’s get the big question on everyone’s mind out of the way: Is it better than the old one? Yes, the new Tiger (900) Rally Pro is better than the former Tiger (800) XCa. That’s really where the comparison should end (it won’t), but I’ll explain why. It’s not an upgrade. It’s a massive leap forward. This isn’t a refresh or just a bump in displacement with new brakes and suspension, either. It’s all-new baby! There also isn’t one thing on the outgoing 800 that is better than the incoming Rally Pro 900, except the tachometer.

New 900cc Powerplant

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally engine
The new larger capacity 900cc triple engine is tilted further forward in the frame and positioned lower for improved weight distribution. It is also 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) lighter.

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How do you define character? When thinking about the “old Tiger’s” engine, it was very distinctive but lacked personality. The old triple had a 180-Degree firing order with a secondary counterbalancer that would mimic the “missing” other cylinders of an inline-six. See, inline-six engines are naturally balanced and extremely smooth with 180 degrees between each piston’s fire order. It’s what gives Triumph’s their distinctive “triple whirl” sound. The problemo with that is an evenly spaced 1-2-3, firing order doesn’t exactly have a lot of character. Character comes from being odd, unique, or having a particular bias in one direction or the other. 

With the new Tiger 900, they’ve managed to build in a little ‘oomph’ without losing any of the company’s triple heritage. Specifically, a “270-degree-style” firing order has been developed by Triumph called the T-Plain Triple Crank Firing Order. MotoGP bikes used this style of “Big Bang” engine firing order on four-cylinder bikes, calling it a crossplain firing order. This allows the engine to produce maximum power, but it also gives a small amount of time between the firing order for the rear tire to regain traction. If this sounds like marketing hype, I can tell you firstly MotoGP engineers don’t do things for marketing hype. 

Engine updates include new camshafts for increased torque and acceleration, new NIKASIL aluminum liners allowing increased capacity and torque, a new T-Plane triple crankshaft for improved engine character, and more.

If you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time on an old Tiger 800 Triple, you’d feel the difference in character, tractability, and traction immediately. It’s like someone took the down-low grunt of a V-twin but added another cylinder in there somewhere. This allows the engine to be incredibly smooth down low and pull from as low as 2000 RPM, rather than wait for the power to kick in. The distinctive “triple whirl” can still be heard but it also has a mix of 270-degree parallel-twin soundtrack mixed in there. The new T-plane engine also wants to be ridden differently than the outgoing 800. It can be launched from a standstill without the high revs of the outgoing 800 and generally wants to be lower in the rev range at all times.

12% more horsepower in the mid-range and more power across the entire rev range up to peak power.
10% more peak torque plus torque is improved across the entire rev range.

To go with the new engine, Triumph added a revised secondary counterbalancer to help quell the unbalanced engine vibrations. Some media outlets have reported the new engine is not as smooth as the old one or that there is excessive engine vibration, but that only becomes noticeable at around 7500 RPM when you are doing well over 90 mph.The new 900cc powerplant is a significant improvement and it’s the sum of the parts to go with the bump in bore size that makes it so unique. New camshaft profiles improve torque, while NIKASIL coated aluminum piston sleeves receive new pistons and rings, carried by new connection rods for an optimized ability to catch every last horsepower during those uneven power strokes. To describe it in my own words, it feels like a parallel twin down low and goes like a trophy truck when you’ve got the Tiger 900 spun up past 7000 RPM.

An interesting update is the new oil sump casting. It’s more shallow than the old one, which decreases oil capacity slightly for an increase in the Tiger’s ground clearance and some weight savings (maintenance interval has not been affected at every 6,000 miles). It also reroutes the exhaust to the other side of the bottom of the engine and then the catalytic converter is located aft of the sump with another catalytic converter just before the exhaust canister. This is a great improvement as all three of my old Tiger’s oil pans were cracked by the catalytic converter being smashed into the bottom of the casing even with a skid plate.

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Skid Plate
A new skidplate eliminates many of the flaws found in the outgoing Tiger 800’s design.

An additional benefit of the new oil sump is relocated skid plate mounting points; gone are the rubber-mounted pucks of the 800. Skid plate mounting was a well known weak point of the old Tiger 800. New solid mounts get bolted through the oil pan into the engine case, and the front of the skid plate is mounted to the front of the engine with a sturdier bracket. The Rally Pro Skid plate still looks a little thin for my personal taste and it also doesn’t cover the catalytic converter mounted under the bike, and frankly, it should. If you want to be a Pro, act like one.

The engine certainly does act and perform like a pro, though. 10% more peak torque and 12% more horsepower in the mid-range put the Rally Pro in a new category when it comes to performance. Numbers are one way to put it into perspective, but third gear stand up power wheelies are how I like to categorize power. Even in fourth gear it’s possible to get a little roller going if you give a good  yank on the handlebars. The old Tiger wouldn’t do those with stock gearing. It’s a good way to gauge the engine performance gain by “feel” if you don’t have a stopwatch and the ole 800 handy.

All-new Triumph Tiger 900: Close up look and sound sample

• bit.ly/tig900r •The Triumph Tiger 900 will hit dealer floors soon! The new machine is completely transformed with an all-new 900cc engine, higher-spec equipment, larger tank, less weight and more. Additionally, the ‘Rally’ model receives tubeless spoked wheels and more suspension travel than its predecessor. Here's a quick close-up look at the upcoming Tiger 900 and a little taste of the engine braaaping 🔊. For more details including specs and video go to ➡️ bit.ly/tig900r

Posted by ADV Pulse on Friday, January 31, 2020
WATCH: Quick close-up look at the upcoming Tiger 900 and a little taste of the engine braaping.

Keeping the Tiger 900 engine cool seems to be pretty easy with the new split-radiator design on the new bike. Separated by a frame rail, two individual radiators handle incoming coolant one at a time. This creates a dual-pass cooling type system, which gives the coolant sufficient time to… well, cool as it must complete two journeys through radiators. The bodywork on the Tiger now has large ports to direct heated air away from the rider. One thing that was never talked about on the press launch was the bike being hot. Consider that a huge win for the Tiger 900 and its rideability. It also has a cooling fan on each radiator, which I never heard kick on during our test rides.

New T-Plane Triple Crank Firing Order.
Tiger 800 vs Tiger 900 acceleration times.

Forward momentum is important, and yes, the Rally Pro does that better than ever. The Tiger has always gotten the forward thrust done with one of the slickest gearboxes on the market. Now the Rally Pro’s six-speed transmission is linked to the rear tire via an all-new slipper/assist clutch. While the clutch pull is light, it requires a smooth engagement on the rider’s behalf. Not that it’s grabby, but if you find yourself fatigued and making hasty clutch and throttle inputs, the assist side of the slipper/assist clutch will make you want to take a second, catch your breath and start acting like a “pro” yourself. The first four gears of the transmission are reportedly the same as the outgoing 800, but fifth and sixth are said to be taller to reduce engine speeds at highway speeds.

All-Pro trim level model, Tigers, come with shift assist actuators on the shifter linkage (the rest can get the shift assist added.) Some journalists at the launch noted that they didn’t “need it or use it,” but I found it extremely useful and entertaining. Few things feel better than going from 1st to 6th, never lifting the throttle, toe-ing through the gears. It also works going the opposite way and blips the throttle for you on clutchless downshifts. Wanna feel like a boss? Go from sixth to third as you roll on the throttle for a highway pass at speed with no clutch.

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally

The shift assist is also useful in off-road situations. Picture this: you’ve blown a turn in an off-road setting in third gear, but you’ve managed to get your braking done. Instead of stalling out and tipping over or being overwhelmed by all the skidding and clinching, you simply press the shifter down, and you’re now in a gear that the motorcycle can stay running. You’re not reaching for the clutch or revving the engine, and instead, you just carry on down the trail. Who’s the pro now?

New Showa Suspension

Triumph used to deal with WP suspension for the Tiger XC’s — A company that sells, and I quote “pro components” for suspension upgrades. Unfortunately, even WP certified suspension shops were not allowed to service WP branded Triumph suspension. Instead, owners were directed back to Triumph dealerships as per Triumph’s and WP’s contract. For a lack of better words: that sucked. Because WP makes a great product and also has some really outstanding certified service centers. While most Triumph dealers can handle a fork seal replacement, they aren’t necessarily known for tuning a custom shim stack or even being able to handle a full tear down and replacement of internal suspension parts. 

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Showa Suspension

Not being able to upgrade or tune the old Tiger 800’s suspension pointed customers toward the aftermarket and left many owners uncertain as to which choice to make. Hopefully, now that Triumph has moved from WP to Showa suspension, they can support owners who want a custom setup at  Showa certified suspension tuning centers.

The Tiger 900 Rally and Rally Pro both now come with a new Showa suspension front and rear. 45mm forks are clamped onto by nicely detailed and finished triple clamps. They’re now “fully” adjustable for compression and rebound damping like the outgoing WP units but also feature external preload adjusters! Thank you Triumph for that. The forks also have 240mm of travel up from 220. Travel doesn’t mean that much though, unless the valving is appropriately tuned. 

Aggressive Testers in our group ranged from a svelte Bob Barker sized 140lbs to somewhere north of new dad bod 230lbs. I land right around 215 and have a reputation for pushing an adventure bike past its limits and ruining everything. I even once blew the fork seals out of a brand new Tiger 800 XCA in just three days while testing it at AltRider’s Taste of Dakar in Nevada. Showa built this suspension for a wide range of rider weights and styles, and they’ve done it well.

The rear shock has 230mm of travel (up from 215mm on the 800 XCa) and is hooked up to the swingarm via linkage. Adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping only. I’m feeling a bit let down that they didn’t add compression damping in this update. Even so, the Rally Pro never felt under dampened. In fact, it felt a little firm on a few g-outs in the desert terrain. So, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut because firm is better than soft and wallowy. The rear still exhibited some of the typical rear wheel lift the old 800’s had but didn’t do it nearly as much  – only on one jump and a few heavy compressions to the rear suspension.

Off-Road Performance

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Review

The Tiger has always been one of the best adventure bikes on the street, but on the dirt, it was a different story. You needed to know how to handle it… err “Ride the Tiger.” Now, with the Rally Pro, I found myself hesitant to approve the claims that it’s improved. So I tested the Rally Pro, and I tested it hard. Under what some people would consider a top-level pace, I never found the bottom of the suspension stroke except one time on a larger than average jump. Before you say, “what’s top-level pace?” Let me introduce you to our ride leader Gary “Baulless” Morgan. FIM road race license holder, ex-Euro motocross A-level racer and almost MotoGP racer. A broken leg ended his road racing career, and now at the beautiful age of 50-ish, he’s an instructor at the Triumph Adventure Riding Experience in Wales, and he’s top-notch in my mental book of “fast guys” on anything with two wheels.

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Author: Steve Kamrad
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26 thoughts on “Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro First Ride Review

  1. Nice review, Steve! I may be tempted to trade up from my old ’13. But before I do, are they sending you one of those new 1200s to try and break anytime soon?

    • Hey Lee, i have a personal 1200 scrambler xe but if it was my choice I’d have a 900. I don’t think I’ll love the 1200 tiger offroad as much as I do the 800 or 900 so go ahead and don’t wait for that day, but if you email triumph directly maybe they’ll listen to you and send me one! Big race this weekend on the scrambler. Sand blast rally

    • Yeah man. That upward force smashing a catalytic converter into the bottom. I had all sorts of pucks and rubber dampers. It was basically bigger than the oil pan. Also i was riding way too hard

      • The old skid plate was poorly designed. Loosely connected by a few bolts and every time we’d take it off-road it would bang the header, push into the oil filter and start drooping down in the rear.

  2. I’ve got a tiger 1200 now but looking to get a lighter bike to do more off-road. I’m stoked about the new tiger 900, will you give us a video review on it? How would you say the tiger 900 compares to the ktm 790 adventure?
    Your articles and videos rock Steve, keep up the good work!

    • Review video on the way but really the article will have more information in it than anything. Check my long reply below for 790 vs 900 feelings. Get a 900 you’ll thank me later

  3. Excellent article Steve! When you send the tiger guy to review the new tiger, youre sending its biggest fan and its worst critic. I wouldn’t be interested in anyone else’s opinion.

  4. Solid Review and the best one I’ve read to date. Much love to my favorite funny talking, east coast Sasquatch. There are few people who know the various iterations of the Tiger like Steve as he has properly thrashed each one he’s ridden. It’s expressly why I will never let him ride mine.

    I’m excited to get on the new Rally Pro. Maybe some time soon. My biggest gripes with my own 800XC is the stock suspension, which I’ve since modified for my weight and riding style, and the low-end power delivery when riding technical sections off-road. Like Steve said, The Tiger 800 “is” a bike you learn to ride off-road. It takes a little coaxing but can get where you need it to.

    Best quote of the article: “Character comes from being odd, unique, or having a particular bias in one direction or the other,” yup, that’s Steve for ya and all of us who think taking a big bike off-road is a good and merited idea. 🙂

    • Sam don’t ride one unless you have the money to buy one. You’ll like it that much. The motor is soooo good it leaves the 800 behind without even trying. You’d still need springs front and rear cause you’re a giant but in stock form they would work for a while.

  5. Steve is probably the best reviewer to compare the old 800 to this new 900. It now sounds like a top contender for the ‘middle weight’ crown. I have a 2020 KTM 790 Adventure R which for me is THE ‘unicorn’ bike. The rally pro offers a lot but is pricey, $3 K more than the KTM. I wonder if the Tiger 900 designers had a picture of the KTM 790 with a bull’s eye on it hung above their drafting boards?

    • Yeah the 790 is going to do a little better offroad but for me personally the Tiger would be the bike for road trips or bdr routes. The new suspension is super flowy over rocks and gravel. The motor is the king along with the transmission.

      • Hi Steve what are your personal experiences with the ktm 790 adventure R? It would be rad to see a video of you going nuts on such a bike?
        You are directly comparing it to the Tiger 900 rally pro, did you test the 790 adventure to it’s limits yet? And for touring? Just wondering. I just bought one (it’s my second bike, traded the tiger 800 xcx for it) i love it so much.
        I’m not experienced offroad and i’m about to tackle 3 levels of offroad courses etc.. but how the ktm is balanced and with the wp xplorer suspension kit i can’t imagine it to be just a little better offroad than the tiger 900. But i can imagine why the majority of the people think it’s a hideous motorcycle. I love ugly ducklings 😉 (except my gf )

        • So i have some trail time on the 790r and a bunch of miles on 790 dukes. When comparing the motors and the transmissions the tiger 900 takes the cake in a big way. I’ve also tried a 790r with 7k worth of rally spec suspension at the rally height and it’s both amazing but hard to turn in and hard to ride. The tigers suspension is only down on travel by 10mm at the front and you’d never notice that. At the end of the day high level riders start to max out adv bikes in a way that they all hit a level playing field which is weight. You can’t overcome it. So then ease of use and functionality come into play and I prefer the normal tank position of the 900 over the 790 every time. The 790 is good and has its advantages with tire choice. Would say Toby Price be faster on a 790 or a 900 with stock suspension and the same tires. It really depends on the terrain and even how he or you are feeling that day. I’ve been shocked that a honda AT feels better on gravel than a ktm 1090r does but ease of use comes into play. I don’t think a 790 would be a massive leap better than the tiger 900 at anything offroad because it all comes down to weight and rider ability. It’s like when people think the bmw gs is the easiest thing to ride at a bmw school, well sure it is because the center of gravity is low and the steering lock is infinite and the engine is hard to stall. The 790 would be a nightmare at the bmw gs trophy becausr they play bmw games at them. I’d prefer the size and shape of the tiger offroad over the 790 because the 790 has that low gas tank that could get in the way or make the bike feel larger than it really is. The new showa forks on the tiger felt better than anything else on the market when leaving the earth in wheelies or jumps and returning with a really nice plushness and they felt properly damped. Top level riders will prefer the 790 frame geometry as would I for deep sand but that’s at speeds over 70 miles per hour. I just got done racing the sand blast rally on my scrambler 1200xe and with its 2 inch over swing arm and 9.8 inches of travel front and rear it was fantastic and I don’t think I would have choose a 790 for that race except for the 18 inch rear tire choices. But the scrambler feels huge on tight single track because of its shape and again in that case I’d prefer a 900 tiger. The only thing that would make the 790 a massive leap forward is getting the spring rates and sag set properly, my scrambler in stock form has 40 to 43% sag and I’m looking for 33% so proper straight rate springs make a huge difference. After that. Training and putting gas in the bike and burning it up are what matter.

  6. I cam here ready to go all “meh” on the new one. Then I read the review. Dammit. Now I’ll be upgrading from my 2017 XCA to a 2020 Rally Pro. I have 17k wonderful miles on my 800 but that new 900 definitely sounds like it’s worth the upgrade.

      • I just got an 2018 Tiger XCA with very few miles on it.
        After this review I am a bit worried about the skid plate hehe :<

        • Best thing to do is a free spirits cat delete header and order a hepco becker skid plate with the big rubber pucks. Then use copper wire to suspend it from the crash bars if it ever rips off.

      • I’ve got a 2011 base model with cast wheels and ordered the rally pro. Doing the. TET in Albania and Montenegro in October, can’t wait. Great review and loved reading it . Problem is you got me the waiting game a tad bit harder !!!

    • Man i wish I could agree with you but after riding it, it’s super plush on big initial hits, and takes adjustments really well. The downside will be finding a good shop that can rebuild and customize a valving and spring set up if Triumph doesn’t support certified Showa suspension shops. Showa builds good suspension for Hobda and their mx and desert racing teams. So hears hoping it works out but stock it’s a nice healthy improvement over the WP units

  7. Author is a bit confused about crankshaft layouts of the 800 and 900 motors. The 800 motor has crankpins at 120 degree separation and fires every 270 degrees of revolution. It does not have good primary balance as the crankshaft ends tend to vibrate conically. The balance shaft spins at crank speed to offset this vibration somewhat. The new 900 has the crankpins in a T, sort of like a cross plane 4 cylinder with one crankpin missing. Or think of it as a 180 degree crank with a third pin stuck at 90 degrees in the middle. I don’t see much benefit to this crank layout as it will still have the primary coning vibration of the 120 degree crank. Since two of the crankpins are 180 degrees apart, it will generate some some order vibration like a 4 cylinder. Perhaps can get by with two coils instead of three. Dumb idea in my opinion.