New Motorcycle Review: Triumph Tiger 850 Sport

Powerful mid-sized triple cylinder offers sporty riding fun that can take you almost anywhere for $12,000

By Jean Turner, photos by Jean Turner and John Ryan Hebert / Triumph Motorcycles
Versatility is the core concept of the Tiger 850 Sport; it can do adventure riding, it can do touring, it can even do a little sport riding. While it’s not going to master any one of these categories, it is a “Jill” of many trades with a lot to offer the rider who wishes to sample different disciplines of riding in one beautiful do-it-all package.

Triumph is a fixture in the hugely popular adventure category, and its plan to keep things that way with a variety of offerings in its Tiger lineup. The latest addition—which consists mostly of the 900 line and big-bore 1200 range—is the all-new Triumph Tiger 850 Sport. In what Triumph calls the most “accessible” Tiger in the streak (yes, that’s what a group of tigers is called), the 850 Sport provides the entry point to the Triumph adventure category.

Adventure touring motorcycles like the Tiger 850 Sport are designed for all-day comfort and performance, both on the road and in the dirt. This amounts to a large-capacity engine and enough bodywork to protect you from the wind on the highway, while off-road elements call for an upright seating position, wide handlebars and long-travel suspension to absorb things like rocks and ruts.

While Triumph’s Tiger 900 line will appeal to the more aggressive off-road crowd, and the 1200 series offers the ultimate in power, the 850 Sport is focused on versatility and adjustability, which does make it the most accessible of the Triumph Tiger family, with a price tag of only $11,995 to boot!

Make no mistake, the 850 Sport is a powerful machine that will take your breath away with its acceleration. And though it is considered the base model of Triumph’s adventure line, the 850 Sport impresses with its refined fit and finish.
The 888cc liquid-cooled inline 3-cylinder engine offers riders plenty of torque and power whether you are navigating slower off-the-beaten pathways or eating miles on the highway. The engine character offers an easy, tractable pull at first, and then builds power into a robust, lively delivery that will leave you grinning like an idiot. (Or was that just me?)

The core of the Tiger 850 Sport’s versatility is the engine. I don’t hesitate to call the 888cc three-cylinder engine the shining point of this bike. While I won’t drone on about the 1-3-2 firing order or the meaning of the term “T-plane triple-crank,” I’ll just tell you that the motor has a personality all its own. Singles, V-twins, parallel twins each have a distinct power characteristic. As for this three-cylinder powerplant, it’s something to experience. The broad, meaty torque grips the ground with such proficiency, and accelerates with such poise, that you might not notice that you’re going 78 in a 50 mph-zone until you look down.

From a standstill, the Tiger 850 Sport launches you forward with dazzling acceleration, but not an arm-yanking punch of power that will suck the eyeballs into the back of your head. Power is robust, yet refined. And, I might add, intoxicating.

Here’s a confusing side note about the engine. The Tiger 850 Sport shares the exact same motor platform with the Triumph 900 line. They all utilize 888cc T-plane triple-crank engines—identical in terms of hardware. So why is this one called an 850 and the rest are called 900s? The reason is because Triumph has “detuned” the Tiger 850 Sport for a more accessible and manageable delivery. Well, you could have fooled me with calling it detuned. The 850 Sport might have a little less bark than its Tiger 900 counterparts, but the difference isn’t huge. On paper, we’re talking maximum torque difference of 60 versus 64 foot-pounds.

The impressive power on the street made me think the Tiger 850 Sport might be a handful in the dirt. But here again, the incredible versatility of the engine, and the sophisticated nature of the Triumph come together for a very controllable experience. Thanks to traction control and ABS, the 850 minds its manners very well off-road.

The on-board electronics do a nice job of helping adjust the power to avoid rear-wheel spin when they need to, with a very intuitive and natural feeling. You can also adjust these settings to suit your riding style or utilize the built-in ride modes: Road and Rain. Each of these settings is designed to meter the rear-wheel power and help keep the motorcycle under control in varying conditions.

Controls, along with the rider interface, are well laid out and easy to use. That little cup of espresso on the handlebar is part of the front-brake system, the dual-disc Brembo Stylema, which is absolute top-notch. Triumph definitely didn’t skimp in the stopping department.
Triumph thoughtfully equipped the left switch block with a little “M” (mode) button—simply come to a stop and press it to toggle between ride modes.
The five-inch TFT display offers a lot more adjustability of the ABS, traction control settings, and more.
Zion, Utah is the perfect testing ground for the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport. Or perhaps the Tiger 850 Sport is the perfect mount for exploring in Zion! On the winding back roads, the famous scenic highways, rocky dirt roads, or simply cruising through town looking for a bite to eat, the 850 is an absolute delight.
The Tiger 850 Sport features footrests that are adventure-style metal pegs with rubber inserts that can be removed for keeping your boots in place during off-road bumps and mud.

Once we got onto dirt roads, I searched for an off-road mode, but found out that there isn’t one. Standing on the pegs, I soon discovered this fairly uncomfortable position is not what this bike was built for. No, the Sport is better suited for the road-going adventure rider. If you plan to ride more than the occasional fire road, there are other Tigers to choose from that are more off-road capable. That said, with the ABS and traction control switched off, power is still manageable (and a lot more fun for me, as an experienced motocross rider.) Front-to-rear balance is very nice, and the long-travel suspension does an excellent job of soaking up the bumps.

The 850 Sport’s wheels and tires are better suited for the tarmac, so after logging enough miles of dirt roads in Utah to get the bike dirty, I opted to stay on the road for the rest of my time with the Tiger 850 Sport.

On the road, the Tiger 850 Sport can flex some real muscle through turns. While you’re not going to be dragging a knee like a superbike racer, you can really get grooving on the little Tiger, leaning into turns while you throttle more of that delicious triple-cylinder power to the ground. If you want to have a sporting ride, the 850 Sport will gladly oblige, and the converse is also true. Cruising through town was easy and comfortable, as was cruising through the back roads of Temecula wine country. The core of that versatility is the engine. With smooth, tractable power everywhere, the Tiger 850 Sport is just plain easy to ride whether you’re in for a sporting jaunt, or want to slow things down and enjoy the scenery.

With the versatility also comes a lot of adjustability. Along with the electronics suite and ride modes, you can also adjust the seat height and the windscreen height—both without using any tools. The seat height adjustability is especially nice. The low position lets you feel more “in” the bike, rather than on it, while the taller position was favorable to me for off-road riding. The difference is only 20mm, yet significant enough to feel.

Yes, this seat is as cushy as it looks. The contoured shape is not only comfortable, but functional as you can sit forward on the narrower portion for an easier reach to the ground, or sit further back while riding for better comfort and a relaxed riding position.
With a seat height from 31.88 inches to 32.67 inches, I was able to easily reach the ground. At 5 feet 8 inches and a 31-inch inseam here I am comfortably seated with the seat in the highest position. But the reach to the handgrips is a bit of a stretch.
A turn of this knob allows you to adjust the preload on the rear shock. This is a very handy adjustment if you plan to carry a passenger or baggage or both. The front suspension, however, is not adjustable, though I wish it was.

While the 45mm Marzocchi fork and rear shock are quite plush and comfortable, the fork is not adjustable at all. I appreciated the overall supple nature of the ride but I would have preferred a slightly stiffer front suspension. The powerful Brembo Stylema dual-disc front brake setup is a premium braking system.

Equipped with all LED lighting, getting out for an hour of “throttle therapy” after work was always a treat on the Triumph Tiger. Photo by Laurette Nicholl

What are you not getting with the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport? On the pricier Tiger lineup, along with fully-adjustable suspension and hand guards, you will find a more expansive suite of electronics that includes more ride modes and tunability. You will also find a larger TFT display—seven inches over the 850’s five-inch display. Technology that includes the integrated My Triumph connectivity system, tire-pressure monitor, heated grips, and even a heated seat are available on the upscale 900 line.

But as with the engine power, I wouldn’t have known I was on the lesser-spec machine if no one told me. The Tiger 850 Sport has nice touches like turn signal cancellation, selectable dash display options, an easy-to-navigate interface, which was even kind enough to offer me a road-ice warning once temperatures dipped below 40 degrees. Base model or not, the level of overall refinement is exceptional.

The Tiger 850 Sport is an excellent hybrid motorcycle that can span several different styles of riding, whether it’s a weekend adventure, a sporting ride through a twisty canyon, or simply cruising through town or across the state. It’s like that friend we all have (or wish for) that is down for anything. That friend that always says, “Hell yeah! Let’s do it!” That’s the friend you’ll have parked in your garage with the Triumph Tiger 850 Sport.

Specs at a Glance: Triumph Tiger 850 Sport
Engine size: 888cc
Seat height: 31.88 - 32.67 inches
Fuel capacity: 5.28 gallons
Dry weight: 423 pounds
MSRP: $11,995
Colors: Graphite Caspian Blue, Graphite Diablo Red

WRN Recommendation
Triumph managed to keep the price low and the versatility high on the Tiger 850 Sport while still offering a strong, poised motorcycle with all the refinement you’d expect from Triumph. With the $11,995 base price, consider it a blank canvas and add whatever creature comforts or performance upgrades you’ll need for whatever type of riding you plan to do. And if you’re not sure yet what type of riding you’ll be drawn to, even better!

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