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2011 Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Road Test

Suzuki V-Strom 650 right side beauty

Rider Magazine
June 21, 2011
Filed under Dual-Sport + Adventure Motorcycle Reviews, Suzuki Motorcycle Reviews, Triumph Motorcycle Reviews

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photography by Kevin Wing
[This 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Road Test Comparison was originally published in the June 2011 issue of Rider magazine]

Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom right side actionWhen we first tested the V-Strom 650 in 2004, and for several years thereafter, Suzuki had the middleweight, multicylinder adventure touring segment to itself. Quietly and humbly, the V-Strom (“V” for its V-twin; strom means current or river in German) developed a loyal following as a great, affordable all-around motorcycle. Such loyalty invites company. For 2009, BMW reconfigured its lineup by calling its new 800cc parallel-twin adventure model the F 650 GS and rechristening the thumper that previously held that name the G 650 GS. The F 650 GS, a bike we haven’t fully tested but one I’ve ridden extensively in the Alps, is the more street-oriented sibling of the F 800 GS dual-sport that won our Motorcycle of the Year award in 2009. And for 2011, Triumph has introduced two all-new adventure models, mimicking BMW’s strategy of offering a street-focused model, the Tiger 800, and a dual-sport model, the Tiger 800XC.

We set out to determine which is better, the long-in-the-tooth Suzuki V-Strom 650, which has changed little since our 2004 test except for the addition of ABS, the newer BMW F 650 GS or the newest Triumph Tiger 800. Unfortunately, BMW wasn’t able to provide us with an F 650 GS test unit, boiling it down to the Japanese V-twin vs. the British in-line triple.

Triumph Tiger 800 engine

The Tiger’s mill is based on the Daytona/Street Triple 675 but is stroked to 799cc and is 85 percent new. Power, sound and feel are close to ideal.

First and foremost, the Tiger 800 enjoys a 154cc displacement advantage over the V-Strom 650, which translates to 20-40 percent more horsepower and torque everywhere. On Jett Tuning’s Dynojet dyno the Tiger puts 83.9 horsepower and 51.2 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel vs. 63.5 horsepower and 41.2 lb-ft of torque for the V-Strom. The Tiger’s greater power was clearly evident as it pulled away from the V-Strom during side-by-side roll-ons and during every corner exit. Enhanced by a delightfully unique triple exhaust note, the Tiger is hands-down more exciting to accelerate. But that excitement comes at a price. Weighing just 8 pounds less than the V-Strom—most of which is accounted for by its 0.8-gallon-lower fuel capacity—the mightier Tiger burns fuel more rapidly. It averaged 38.4 mpg vs. 45.9 mpg for the V-Strom.

Suzuki V-Strom 650 engine

Adapted from the SV650 grin machine, the V-Strom’s 645cc engine makes modest power and sips gas. Lack of skid plate demands caution off road.

The fuel-sipping V-Strom chugs along steadily, accelerating more reluctantly and transmitting more engine vibration to the rider at any speed, but with the revs kept high it can be hustled through curves at a respectable pace. Both bikes have hiccup-free fuel injection and good throttle response, but on/off throttle transitions on the Tiger felt more abrupt when slowly negotiating offroad rocks and ruts.

The Triumph and Suzuki both have stout chassis. The Tiger’s tubular steel trellis frame, shared by the 800 and 800XC, is designed for the rigors of offroad duty. Likewise, the V-Strom has a cast-aluminum twin-spar frame borrowed from the larger V-Strom 1000. Both bikes have slick shifting six-speed transmissions with light clutch pulls, but the Triumph has a slight hitch between first and second that requires a deliberate shift. On- and offroad, the Triumph’s progressively tuned suspension provides a superior ride. It offers more suspension travel front and rear (7.1 and 6.7 inches, respectively) than the Suzuki (5.9 inches at both ends), better damping and greater resistance to bottoming during offroad riding. On the other hand, the Tiger is only adjustable for rear spring preload (easily done with a socket wrench), whereas the Suzuki offers preload adjustability front and rear, the latter via remote knob, and rear rebound adjustability. Braking performance is similar, both machines having triple-disc setups with dual two-piston front calipers and single one-piston rear calipers. Good but not great. ABS is standard on the Suzuki (an $800 option on the Triumph), but it cannot be disabled easily (as with most ABS bikes, raising the rear wheel off the ground and spinning it with the front wheel stationary will eventually disable the ABS until the ignition is recycled).

Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 left side action

These light-handling bikes with generous cornering clearance are an absolute delight to ride through corners of any variety: tight and slow, wide and fast, and anything in between.

With remarkably intuitive handling, the Tiger 800 and V-Strom 650 are two of the easiest motorcycles to ride, period. As soon as you saddle up they just make sense, communicating a telepathic familiarity like a favorite pair of blue jeans. As with most adventure bikes, the Tiger and V-Strom have comfortable, upright seating positions, tall bars that are an easy reach and provide plenty of steering leverage, and narrow tires that change direction effortlessly. Engine power is accessible rather than scary and braking is steady rather than grabby. Remember what I said about the V-Strom 650’s loyal following? It’s built on a solid foundation of experience, not ego. Owners want the V-Strom’s comfort, versatility, reliability, touring range and deep aftermarket support, and they appreciate not having to pay too much for it. The new-kid-on-the-block Tiger 800 offers similar potential, but only time will tell whether that potential will be realized.

The V-Strom’s instrumentation is a blast from the past: analog speedo and tach with just the basics in the center LCD display.

As adventure tourers that will spend most of their time on paved roads, the Tiger and V-Strom favor comfort over offroad-worthiness. The Triumph’s two-piece saddle is narrower, firmer and less dished than the Suzuki’s one-piece seat. Rider seat height can also be easily changed from 31.9 to 32.7 inches but it’s fixed at 32.3 inches on the V-Strom. The Tiger’s ergonomics can be further altered by adjusting handlebar position or removing half-inch-tall rubber inserts in the footpegs for more legroom. With its larger, manually adjustable windscreen (basic tools required), larger fairing and fuel tank, and taller handlebar, you sit down in the V-Strom whereas you sit on top of the Tiger, a sensation amplified by the Triumph’s higher center of gravity. Donya Carlson, our long-legged senior managing editor, gave the nod to the V-Strom in terms of passenger comfort. She preferred its wider, flatter seat, more generous legroom and seemingly better suspension compliance, though she liked the Tiger’s wider passenger grab handles.

Besides engine feel and power, what really sets the Tiger apart from the V-Strom is its newness. The V-Strom’s design has held up well over the years, but it looks dated when parked next to the Tiger, its bulbous fairing panels more fragile than the Tiger’s rugged black plastic and exposed-metal frame.

Triumph Tiger 800 instruments

Analog tach and digital speedo are complemented by a fully featured LCD display and onboard computer. Buttons should be easier to reach.

A taller profile and standard skid plate further add to the Tiger’s go-anywhere look. The V-Strom’s instrumentation is similarly old school, with the analog speedometer and tachometer supported by a central LCD display with just the basics: fuel level, temperature, dual tripmeter, odometer and clock. The Tiger’s analog tach is flanked by an LCD panel that includes all of these functions plus speed, gear position, fuel consumption, remaining range and tire pressure (optional). Also standard on the Tiger are a coded key ignition immobilizer and a 12V power socket.

When considering this imminently likable pair, I’m reminded of the apt title of Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s book about motorcycles, The Perfect Vehicle. The Triumph Tiger 800 and Suzuki V-Strom 650 are motorcycles not defined purely by their specs, though differences in horsepower, fuel economy and price are certainly important considerations. Motorcycles move us in particular ways, and these move me for different reasons. The Triumph Tiger 800 is more exciting, its look, sound and feel stimulating my lizard brain, that primitive nerve center of emotion. The Tiger is also more capable offroad—such an important consideration for me that I’d probably pony up the extra dough for an 800XC. On the other hand, the Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS is more practical. It’s cheaper, it’ll go farther on a tank of gas, it’s more comfortable for the long-haul with or without a passenger, it’s supported by a larger dealer network and the aftermarket offerings are much broader and deeper. If, as they say, we buy with our hearts and justify with our minds, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to convince myself that the Tiger 800 is the better choice.

 

Suzuki V-Strom 650 right side beauty2011 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

Base Price: $8,099

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: Suzuki

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin

Displacement: 645cc

Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm

Compression Ratio: 11.5:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Adj. Interval: 14,500 miles

Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection w/ 39mm throttle bodies x 2

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.9-qt. cap.

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic transistorized

Charging Output: 375 watts @ 5,000 rpm

Battery: 12V 10AH

Chassis

Frame: Cast-aluminum twin-spar w/ cast-aluminum swingarm

Wheelbase: 61.2 in.

Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/4.3 in.

Seat Height: 32.3 in.

Suspension, Front: 43mm stanchions, adj. for spring preload w/ 5.9-in. travel

Rear: Linked single shock, adj. for spring preload (remote) & rebound damping w/ 5.9-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual discs w/ 2-piston pin-slide calipers

Rear: Single disc w/ 1-piston caliper

Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.

Rear: Cast, 4.00 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 110/80-R19

Rear: 150/70-R17

Wet Weight: 489 lbs.

Load Capacity: 436 lbs.

GVWR: 925 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gals., last 1.1 gals. warning light on

MPG: 87 PON min. (high/avg/low) 50.6/45.9/41.8

Estimated Range: 266 miles

Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 4,500

 

Triumph Tiger 800 right side beauty2011 Triumph Tiger 800

Base Price: $9,999

Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles

Website: Triumph

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple

Displacement: 799cc

Bore x Stroke: 74.0 x 61.9mm

Compression Ratio: 11.1:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Adj. Interval: 12,000 miles

Fuel Delivery: Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 4.0-qt. cap.

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: X-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Digital inductive

Charging Output: 645 watts max.

Battery: 12V 14AH

Chassis

Frame: Tubular steel trellis w/ cast-aluminum swingarm

Wheelbase: 61.2 in.

Rake/Trail: 23.7 degrees/3.4 in.

Seat Height: 31.9/32.7 in.

Suspension, Front: 43mm Showa male-slider fork, no adj., 7.1-in. travel

Rear: Showa single shock, adj. for spring preload, 6.7-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual 308mm floating discs w/ Nissin 2-piston pin-slide calipers

Rear: Single 255mm disc w/ Nissin 1-piston pin-slide caliper

Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.

Rear: Cast, 4.25 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 110/80-ZR19

Rear: 150/70-ZR17

Wet Weight: 481 lbs.

Load Capacity: 478 lbs.

GVWR: 959 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gals., last 1.2 gals. warning light on

MPG: 87 PON min. (high/avg/low) 50.1/38.4/32.7

Estimated Range: 192 miles

Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 4,100

 

Related Articles:
2011 Triumph Tiger 800 Road Test

2011 Triumph Tiger 800 and 800XC Road Test

2008 Triumph Speed Triple Road Test

 

 

Comments

2 Responses to “2011 Triumph Tiger 800 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Road Test”

  1. Thomas Barnett on August 3rd, 2011 12:48 am

    Sorry, but this is apples and oranges. Two nice bikes, but very different.

    [Reply]

  2. Mike Loomis on May 29th, 2012 10:23 am

    Had a brand new V Strom and sold it. It was too plain for me. Had a nice ride but just didn’t put any toot in my horn.

    I am purchasing a Tiger 800 as it seems the better ride with more travel and it looks the part of an off-road warrior. Twenty more horses is a lot and should do it for me. Plus I like triumphs and the triple engine.

    [Reply]

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