Review: BMW F 850 GS versus Triumph Tiger 800 XCa

This is Team Throttle’s very first comparison test and we couldn’t have picked a more appropriate duo than the Triumph Tiger 800 XCa and the BMW F 850 GS. Because both Jean and Jan F have a past with the predecessors of these two newcomers.

In 2015 Jan F bought a Tiger 800 XCa, which now has 37,000 km. The bike did an all-road trip to the Alps, a muddy weekend in the Ardennes and a week in the Sierra Nevada.

In 2016 Jean traded his BMW F 650 GS for a second-hand 800 GS. He added about 60,000 km to the odometer, during – amongst others, of course – that same dirty Ardennes weekend and more recently during Endurofun’s Midsummer Ride.

It’s safe to say that Jan and Jean are hands-on experts. So below you can not only read a comparison between the British and the German bike, we also looked at the progress that this duo makes on their predecessors.

Pain points

Jean: “BMW could certainly make progress. Don’t get me wrong. I like my 800 GS – I find it an excellent all-rounder – but it has some points that can be improved:

– Brakes: On uneven surfaces such as cobblestones they often don’t know whether they should bite or let the ABS do its thing.
– Suspension: Too soft overall. Especially hard braking leads to dramatic front-diving.
– Sound: Not exciting at all.
– Power: Okay-ish but you feel that it’s not a recently developed engine.
– Throttle response: Slight on-off effect. Combined with the suspension it results in a rather jumpy character.”

Jan: “The splendid engine, perfect gearbox and great WP suspension make my Tiger a wonderful bike. Only the wind protection has been annoying me for three years. Turbulence galore! An aftermarket solution helped a bit, but there’s still room for improvement. The brakes can also be enhanced, they are rather spongy. Some complained that in first gear the Tiger dares to stall, especially offroad. Isn’t it, Jean?

To discover if these pain points were gone, we took both new models on a trip to Luxembourg. There we were treated to a wide range of road and weather conditions. Sun and rain, boring highway and great curves. No offroad unfortunately, because one of the manufacturers said “nein”.

BMW gave us an almost full-option 850 GS, while from Triumph we got an XCa in standard fit.

Jan: “For those who are not familiar with the Tiger 800 range: it’s divided into two lines, the street-oriented XR models and the offroad oriented XC models. Each line has a number of equipment levels, of which the XCa has the highest (and the most expensive) level. In other words: with the XCa, the option list becomes pointless.”

Traffic light sprints

Jean: “While at first sight the Tiger barely changed, BMW clearly unveiled a completely new model. The design leaves no doubt about that.”

Jan: “But let’s focus on the engine first. The 850 GS has a brand new 853 cc two-cylinder engine. With 95 hp it has ten ponies more than the 800 GS. There’s also more torque: 92 Nm at 6.250 rpm. An increase of nine compared to its predecessor, but more importantly: the Tiger 800 peaks later and less high: 79 Nm at 8.050 rpm.”

Jean: “That difference doesn’t go unnoticed. The 850 GS is a lot snappier than the 800 GS. More vivid in low revs, stronger in the middle zone and more power in the higher rev range. As a result, it feels al lot less small GS than the 800. The Tiger too seems less energetic in comparison.”

Jan: “You probably need thorough Tiger knowledge to notice it, but the Tiger 800 has a new windshield, new lights, a new dashboard and control buttons, new mirrors and a new sound. As a result, to me the new Tiger seemed like a totally different bike than my own Tiger: if you ride it, everything you see and hear is different.”

Jean: “The engine also got an update. Triumph claims that it has a more responsive power delivery. Are they telling the truth, Jan?”

Jan: “Absolutely. The engine seems to breathe more freely and revs more rapidly compared to the previous triple engine. The BMW will indeed win the traffic light sprints, but since the Tiger’s rev limiter intervenes 2,000 rpm later than the GS, the difference is probably not that big.”

Damn high

Jean: “When you park both bikes next to each other, the Tiger looks much bigger than the GS. The BMW has a slender shape, while the Triumph impresses with a higher and wider build.”

Jan: “Still, the Tiger has the lower seat. And the BMW is damn high. Our test GS was equipped with the optional rallye seat: 890 mm high. Fortunately, there are also lower choices: the comfort seat (875 mm), the standard seat (860 mm), the low seat (835 mm) and the OE suspension lowering kit (815 mm with standard seat, 790 mm with the low seat). The XCa has, like all Tigers, an adjustable seat: 840 – 860 mm. On the XR models, that’s 810 – 830 mm.”

Jean: “Nonetheless, the seat heights of the 850 GS are slightly lower than those of the 800 GS. The general seating position feels very familiar. And about that damn high: you’ll have to bend your knees in a less sharp angle. I don’t know if Jan was planning to tell it, but he installed extra footsteps on the engine guard of his own Tiger, so he can stretch his legs occasionally during long journeys.”

Jan: “Have to blame my bad knees for that.”

Wind and rain

Jean: “Personally, I prefer the seating position of the BMW, but the wind protection on the 800 GS was better: the new windshield is smaller. The one on the 750 GS is so small that it makes you wonder why they’ve taken the trouble to install one. However, according to BMW, a larger windshield and an adjustable windshield mount are currently in the pipeline.”

Jan: “The wind protection on the XCa has greatly improved. It’s better than on the BMW and better than on the previous Tiger. The new windshield is higher and you can adjust it with one hand while you ride. The combination with the extra wind deflectors works well. In the lowest position, your upper body doesn’t catch the wind and your helmet is blown dry. In the highest position, your helmet is also wind-free without having a lot of turbulence.”

“These improvements show that Triumph listens to their customers. The strengths of the bike have remained and the pain points are eliminated one by one. You’ll also notice this when braking: the Brembo calipers, combined with thicker discs, clearly result in a better deceleration.”

Jean: “The 850 GS has the same calipers, making the troublesome braking of the 800 GS a thing of the past. The on-off disease is also cured thanks to the ride-by-wire. As a standard, the BMW has two riding modes: Rain and Road. These not only have a significant influence on the throttle response, but also on the ABS and the traction control.”

Jan: “The Tiger XCa comes with six riding modes: Road, Off-road, Off-road Pro, Sport, Track and Adjustable. Here too, you’ll feel the difference on the gas handle, the ABS and the traction control.”

Jean: “If you find two riding modes of the GS not enough, you can choose the optional Riding Mode Pro. You’ll get two extra modes: Enduro and Dynamic. Mind you, the only difference between the (optional) Dynamic mode and the (standard) Road mode is that the exhaust in Dynamic pops easily when you down-shift or release the throttle. In the Road mode, these eargasms are much more difficult to provoke.”

Pops and rattles

Jean: “Fortunately, the sound of the GS doesn’t depend on those pops. The somewhat boring buzz of the 800 GS can be forgotten, the 850 sounds more like a V-twin. Raw, without becoming really loud. The roughness of the sound also looms in the character of the engine. It creates vibrations, which are more present than those on the 800 GS. You feel them in the handlebars and the footsteps, but fortunately they don’t become annoying.”

Jan: “On the preceding Tiger the typical three-cylinder intake sound ruled the soundtrack. The new Tiger has a much deeper exhaust sound, making it more prevalent. It even rattles when shifting down.”

Jean: “I found the Tiger very loud at times. Even slightly exaggerated for this type of motorcycle when riding at 50 km/h through town-centers.”

Joystick or controller ring?

Jan: “The buttons and switches on both bikes are of high quality. Especially the Tiger underwent a big improvement: on the previous XCa the controls for heating and fog lamps were literally just added, like aftermarket parts.”

Jean: “Triumph uses a 5-way joystick to navigate through the menus while the BMW has the familiar controller ring. All functions are nicely integrated in the dashboards, from the seat heating on the XCa to the ESA setting on the BMW.”

Jan: “Both the Tiger and the GS have digital dashboards. Standard on the Triumph, optional on the BMW. Triumph’s display is tiltable and has different layouts to choose from, while the BMW doesn’t offer layout choices nor tilting.”

Jean: “The Germans make up for that with smartphone connectivity: via Bluetooth, navigation instructions from your smartphone can be displayed on the dashboard, music can be selected and played via your Bluetooth connected helmet. Of course, the smartphone connectivity is an option.”

Jan: “The fuel tank under the seat was a 800 GS characteristic that’s gone on the 850. BMW wanted to bring the center of gravity forward, because a loaded 800 GS’s ass would be too heavy. The tank moved to the classic position: between seat and steering column.”

Jean: “Seems a logical move, but I have the impression that the center of gravity rose a bit. And the weight also increased. The 800 GS weighed 217 kg with full tank, the 850 GS weighs 229 kg. In any case, the 850 is less light-footed than its predecessor, while the Tiger is clearly more spontaneous in curves. Luckily you don’t have to give the BMW so much input that it becomes uncomfortable.”

Jan: “Our GS was equipped with Dynamic ESA, the optional, semi-active, electronic suspension from ZF Sachs. Switching between the Road and Dynamic setting is easy, just press a button on the handlebar. If you pick the Riding Mode Pro, you also get the Enduro setting. The Road setting was okay for long boring straight ahead stretches, but when the fun started the Dynamic setting was not dynamic enough. Sudden braking results in a serious nose-dive, as the ESA only manages the 850’s rear suspension.”

Jean: “Still, that dive is a lot less violent than on the 800 GS. But it has improved less than I hoped for. A thicker front fork oil could be a solution. And that hardly sporty rear suspension makes me curious about the behavior of the 850 GS without ESA. ”

Rubber choice

Jan: “The Tiger owes its excellent handling to the WP suspension. Provided you adjust it correctly, bumps will be smoothed out while the handling and feedback remain good. This feedback is sometimes crippled by the terribly outdated Bridgestone Battle Wing tires that Triumph still mounts as standard. A puzzling choice, Triumph mounts excellent tires on their other models.”

Jean: “BMW picks better rubber. On the the cross-spoked wheels, tubeless tires can be mounted. Our 850 GS had Bridgestone A41 tires, the successors of – indeed – the Battle Wings. Of the second generation even, the A40 was in between. The Tiger needs inner tubes, by the way.”

Jan: “I guess the choice has something to do with the homologation. In any case, I would be quick to replace the Battle Wings. Other tires transform the Tiger into a steady steering bike, both on dry and wet. I can speak from experience.”

Jean: “Also good to know: I already saw an 850 GS on Michelin Anakee 3 rubber. When I inquired at BMW, they told me the GS comes on either the A41 or the Anakee 3, depending on availability. If you have a preference, your dealer can ensure that your preferred tire is on the bike on delivery.”

Sleek, clack clack

Jan: “The Tiger’s first gear became shorter, mainly to improve offroad riding. At the same time the shorter first will please wheelie fans. A quickshifter is not on the option list but that’s no disadvantage, because shifting-up goes perfectly and very sleek, even without having to pull the clutch. The BMW on the other hand barks CLACK, CLACK, CLACK.”

Jean: “The six-speed gearbox of the GS is indeed one in the typical, brutal BMW tradition. After so many years of riding a BMW, it doesn’t surprise me, nor did I expect anything else.”

“While BMW has developed perfect quickshifters for their four and six-cylinder engines, the (up/down and optional) quickshifter for the twin still isn’t perfect. Although BMW clearly spent some time on it since I rode the RT. However, upshifting with the quickshifter still requires a short learning period. You have to know when to use it and what moments you shouldn’t. Downshifting with the quickshifter worked perfectly in all situations.”

Check, please!

Jan: “Comparing prices isn’t an easy task. The BMW F 850 GS starts from $13,195 (in the USA), which is considerably less than the $15,850 the Triumph Tiger 800 XCa starts from.”

Jean: “For that amount of money, the Tiger offers a much more extensive equipment pack than the BMW. Among other things, the adjustable windshield, the TFT display, cruise control, crash bars, aluminum skid plate, six riding modes, heated handles and seat, LED DRL and centerstand are included the XCa’s price. At BMW you’ll have to do some option list shopping.”

Jan: “A full-option 850 GS on the other hand is considerably more expensive than the XCa. But you’ll get technology that’s simply not available on the Triumph, like cornering ABS and traction control, quickshifter, semi-active suspension, emergency call system and smartphone connectivity.”

Jean: “At $12,000 there’s also a cheaper Tiger 800 on the market, the XR to be precise. But comparing the prices of both models stays a complicated matter.”

Pack up and … compare

Jan: “Allroads invite to travel, so let’s talk a bit about luggage. At BMW there’s the Vario luggage. You can make them larger or smaller very easy by shifting a retaining clip. An additional advantage is that you don’t need any mounting brackets. You simply hang the plastic panniers on the integrated pannier holders (which are an option by the way). The volume can be varied between 30 and 39 liters (left), 20 and 29 liters (right), and 25 and 35 liters (top). If you choose the littlest volume, the handlebars are still the widest part of the GS. Pretty handy during lanesplitting.”

Jean: “Triumph doesn’t offer a Vario solution. They opt for rebranded aluminum Givi cases. 37 liters for the panniers, 42 for the top case. You’ll need luggage mounts which make a Tiger with luggage pretty big-butted. Lanesplitting? Watch out. And watch your behind.”

Jan: “The aluminum cases have the advantage that you can use them as a small seat or even a table when you’re out camping. With the Vario panniers that’s fairly difficult. In addition, with straps you can fix extra items such as a small bag or a sleeping mat to the aluminum cases. Fixing some extras on top of the Vario luggage is impossible. Do you prefer aluminum luggage on the GS? That’s possible, but then you’ll need a luggage rack too, which increases the width of the bike.”

Jean: “Not unimportant for offroad enthousiasts: how offroad-ready are these models? The BMW has a small plastic skid plate and that’s it. So you better invest in a decent protection. Risers won’t hurt either, because the standard set-up makes you bent over the handlebars. The XCa leaves the factory with an aluminum skid plate, crash bars, aluminum radiator protection, hand guards and large footpegs without rubbers.”

Conclusion

Who wins the gold, who bites the dust? It’s time for the final question: which one is better, the BMW F 850 GS or the Triumph Tiger 800 XCa?

Jean: “Not an easy question, because both have pros and cons. My gut feeling prefers the GS. Not only has it improved on all points that I listed at the beginning of this article (although the suspension still can be improved), the two-cylinder engine has become so much more exciting that Triumph’s triple – which I’m normally very fond of – now appears a bit dull.”

Jan: “I don’t mind the less torquey engine of the Tiger. I still have my Street Triple RS in the garage.”

Jean: “That is the difference between you and me. You like to have one bike per type of use. A racer for track days, a naked for fun rides, an allroad to travel and an enduro to play in the mud. Rationally, the Tiger does indeed have supremacy over the GS in terms of comfort. Long trips are more pleasant on the Triumph. But I think differently: one bike for everything. And then, for me, the BMW takes the prize.”

Jan: “I really would have liked to call the GS the winner, just because it’s a completely new motorcycle. But I think it’s too rough. When will BMW finally develop a good gearbox? The hard clacks hurt my biker’s heart. A quickshifter doesn’t help in such a case. Even in Dynamic mode, I find the suspension too soft and especially the front gives little feedback despite the modern rubber on the wheels. Opposite the GS, the Tiger is an example of refinement. The engine revs with eager, shifting is silky smooth and the WP suspension communicates incredibly well. For me the clear winner is the Triumph Tiger 800 XCa. Throw on a pair of Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires immediately, those standard Battle Wings don’t honor the Tiger.”

The final word? Which bike you choose depends a lot on personal preferences. A choice that will quickly become even more difficult, because the new KTM Adventure 790 and the Yamaha T7 will soon enter the middle-class allroad segment. Exciting times ahead!

Photography: Kenny van Houttave

Pros Triumph Tiger 800 XCa

+ Thoughtfully further developed
+ Ready to travel (wind protection, heating all around)
+ WP suspension

Pros BMW F 850 GS

+ Very amusing engine
+ Nice technology (but optional): cornering ABS & traction control, quickshifter …
+ It has outgrown the 800 GS’s label of “small GS”

Cons Triumph Tiger 800 XCa

– Greatly improved compared to the previous generation, but does the general public notice?
– No “new” options such as a quickshifter or cornering technology
– Standard tires

Cons BMW F 850 GS

– Long and expense option list
– Front-diving hasn’t disappeared (but less dramatic than on the 800 GS)
– Less light-footed than the 800 GS

Tech specs Triumph Tiger 800 XCa

Engine & transmission
Type: Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder
Capacity: 800 cc
Bore: 74.05 mm
Stroke: 61.9 mm
Compression: 11.3:1
Max Power EC: 95 Hp (70 kW) @ 9,500 rpm
Max Torque EC: 58 FT-lbs (79 Nm) @ 8,050 rpm
System : Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection
Exhaust: Stainless steel 3 into 1 header system, side mounted stainless steel muffler
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Gearbox: 6-speed

Chassis

Frame: Tubular steel trellis frame
Swingarm: Twin-sided, cast aluminum alloy
Front Wheel: Spoked, 21 x 2.15 in
Rear Wheel: Spoked, 17 x 4.25 in
Front Tyre: 90/90-21
Rear Tyre: 150/70 R17
Front Suspension: WP 1.69 in (43 mm) upside down forks, with adjustable rebound and compression damping, 8.66 in (220 mm) travel
Rear Suspension: WP monoshock with remote oil reservoir, hydraulically adjustable preload, 8.46 in (215 mm) rear wheel travel
Front Brakes: Twin 12 in (305 mm) floating discs, Brembo 2-piston sliding calipers, switchable ABS
Rear Brakes: Single 10.04 in (255 mm) disc, Nissin single piston sliding caliper, switchable ABS
Instrument Display and Functions: TFT multi-functional instrument pack with digital speedometer, trip computer, digital tachometer, gear position indicator, fuel gage, service indicator, ambient temperature, clock and six rider modes (Road/Off-road/Off-Road Pro/Sport/Track/Rider-Customisable)

Dimensions & weights

Width Handlebars: 31.69 in (805 mm)
Height Without Mirror: 54.72 in (1,390 mm)
Seat Height: 0.08 – 0.12 in (840 – 860 mm)
Wheelbase: 60.83 in (1,545 mm)
Rake: 23.4 º
Trail: 3.68 in (93.5 mm)
Dry Weight: 459 Lbs.
Tank Capacity: 5 Gal.

Tech specs BMW F 850 GS

Engine

Type: Water-cooled 4-stroke in-line two-cylinder engine, four valves per cylinder, two overhead camshafts, dry sump lubrication
Bore x stroke: 84 mm x 77 mm
Capacity: 853 cc
Rated output: 70 kW (95 hp) at 8,250 rpm
Max. torque: 92 Nm at 6,250 rpm
OE output reduction: 63 Nm at 4,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 12.7 : 1
Mixture control / engine management: Electronic injection
Emission standard: Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-4

Performance / fuel consumption

Maximum speed: over 200 km/h
Consumption w.r.t WMTC for 100km: 4.1 l
Fuel type: Unleaded super, minimum octane number 95 (RON)

Electrical system

Alternator: permanent magnetic alternator 416 W (nominal power)
Battery : 12 V / 10 Ah, maintenance-free

Power transmission

Clutch: Multiple-disc wet clutch (anti hopping), mechanically operated
Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox integrated in crankcase
Drive: Endless O-ring chain with shock damping in rear wheel hub

Chassis / brakes

Frame: Bridge-type frame, steel shell construction
Front wheel location / suspension: Upside-down telescopic fork, Ø 43 mm
Rear wheel location / suspension: Cast aluminium dual swing arm, central WAD spring strut, spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable, rebound damping adjustable
Suspension travel front / rear: 204 mm / 219 mm (OE: suspension lowering kit 184 mm / 199 mm)
Wheelbase: 1,593 mm
Castor: 126 mm
Steering head angle: 62°
Wheels: Cross spoke wheels
Rim, front: 2.15 x 21″
Rim, rear: 4.25 x 17″
Tyres, front: 90/90 21
Tyres, rear: 150/70 R17
Brake, front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, Ø 305 mm, double-piston floating caliper
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, Ø 265 mm, single-piston floating caliper
ABS: BMW Motorrad ABS (disengageable)

Dimensions / weights

Length: 2,305 mm
Width (incl. mirrors): 922 mm
Height (excl. Mirrors): 1,356 mm
Seat height, unladen weight: 860 mm (OE suspension lowering kit: 815 mm, OE low seat: 835 mm, OE comfort seat: 875 mm, OA rallye seat: 890 mm)
Inner leg curve, unladen weight: 1,910 mm (OE suspension lowering kit: 1,830 mm, OE low seat: 1,870 mm, OE comfort seat: 1,950 mm, OA rallye seat: 1,980 mm)
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled 1) 229 kg
Permitted total weight: 445 kg
Payload (with standard equipment): 216 kg
Usable tank volume: 15 l
Reserve: approx. 3.5 l

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