BMW F800GS vs. Triumph Tiger 800XC - COMPARISON TEST

North to Alaska: Middleweight adventure in the Land of the Midnight Sun

BMW F800GS and Triumph Tiger 800XC on-road action
BMW F800GS and Triumph Tiger 800XCJeff Allen

It’s the USA’s northernmost, easternmost and westernmost state. It’s larger than Texas, California and Montana combined. Its east-west span—from its lower peninsula that extends into Canada to the outermost of the Aleutian Islands—could reach from Jacksonville, Florida, to Sacramento, California. But with only 700,000 residents, it’s one of the world’s most sparsely populated areas, and half of those people live in just one city, Anchorage. Everywhere else, moose, bear and caribou outnumber humans, and dirt roads far outnumber paved ones. Some small towns even have no road systems connecting them to other towns. Much of the state sees no darkness in summer, no daylight in winter. It’s home to North America’s tallest mountain, 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley, along with three million lakes, chains of active volcanoes and half of the world’s glaciers. It’s Alaska, a place the state’s license plates call “The Last Frontier.”

Because it is.

It's also the perfect setting for adventure riding. All of that wilderness, all of those dirt roads and trails, all of that uninhabited territory, all of that breathtaking scenery is tailor-made for adventure bikes.

riding motorcycles in the Alaska wilderness
In Alaska, isolated trails like this one don’t just go on for miles; they go on for daysJeff Allen

And what better way to experience the backcountry wonders of our 49th state than on BMW's F800GS and Triumph's brand-new Tiger 800XC? The adventure-bike segment is one of motorcycling's fastest-growing, and these two middleweights are widening the appeal of that activity to more riders. These 800s are almost as capable on-road as the biggies like the BMW R1200GS and KTM 990 Adventure but slightly more manageable off-road—not to mention thousands less expensive.

With that in mind, CW staff photographer Jeff Allen and I packed up and headed to Anchorage, anxious to enjoy a full week comparing the GS and XC in adventure-riding paradise.

We had a very limited amount of time to conduct a thorough test in unfamiliar territory, however, so we solicited some help from MotoQuest (, a worldwide motorcycle tour company based in Anchorage. MotoQuest's fun-loving owner, Phil Freeman, allowed us to tag along on a tour he was leading in that same time period; he also assigned one of his tour guides, Brenden Anders, to hang with us to help with testbike photography. Jeff Allen is a very capable off-road rider, but he obviously could not simultaneously ride and shoot action photos of both bikes together, so Anders would fill in for him when necessary.

Triumph Tiger 800XC off-road action
Alaska can present you with the entire checklist of off-road conditions including copious rocksJeff Allen

Despite the BMW being a Twin from Germany and the Triumph a Triple from Merry Olde, these two machines are remarkably similar. Their displacements and weights differ by just 1cc and 1 pound; and not only do their engines make almost the same horsepower and torque, their acceleration times (quarter-mile, as well as 0-to-30, 60, 90 and 100 mph) are essentially identical, with only a 2 mph difference in their top speeds.

For the most part, those similarities held up once we hit the road…on the way to the Canadian Yukon. Yeah, I know, this is billed as an Alaskan adventure, but MotoQuest’s route first took us northeast and across the border to spend a fun day at the annual “Dust to Dawson” adventure-bike event in rustic, isolated Dawson City.

Our ride to Dawson began in Anchorage on Route 1, a highway that terminates some 300 miles north at the village of Tok. On that mostly smooth asphalt road, the Tiger gradually emerged as a marginally better pure-street machine, even as the weather morphed from partly cloudy to overcast to steady drizzle. The Triumph’s seat is slightly cushier for droning along the open road, its three-cylinder engine a little smoother at highway speeds than the GS’s parallel-Twin, its taller windscreen more protective. And although the Triumph has quicker steering geometry (24.3 degrees/3.8 inches of trail vs. the GS’s 26/4.6), the BMW was a little more nervous at higher speeds.

BMW F800GS in a deep water crossing
BMW F800GS in one of many deep water crossingsJeff Allen

From Tok to the wee community of Chicken (pop. 7) and on to Poker Creek (pop. 2), site of the northernmost U.S./Canada land border crossing, the road offered up alternating sections of clean pavement, broken pavement, dirt, mud and deep, fresh gravel. From the border to Dawson on the Top of the World Highway, the surfaces were almost exclusively dirt, mud and gravel. And forget the drizzle of the previous day; steady rain and heavy fog stalked us all the way to Dawson, preventing us from even being aware of any interesting sights along the way.

In those wet, low-traction conditions, any meaningful performance differences between the GS and the XC were indistinguishable. The torque output of both engines hovers right around 50 foot-pounds from 3500 rpm up to 8000, so dialing the throttle open on either one in any gear was answered with comparable acceleration. They differed in sound, with the Triumph emitting a classic three-cylinder howl and the BMW the staccato thudding of a parallel-Twin, but the end result was same-same.

Both machines had been fitted with Continental TKC knobbies by The Motorcycle Shop (the actual name of the BMW/Triumph dealer in Anchorage) before we picked them up, and those tires attributed greatly to the bikes’ surprising stability and excellent grip, even on wet, loose surfaces in faster corners. In some remote sections, where Jeff and I saw our speedometers nudging 100 mph as we splashed through goo and gravel, neither bike ever did anything to accelerate our heart rates.

prying a Kawasaki KLR650 out of the mud
What does it take to pry one of MotoQuest’s Kawasaki KLR650s out of an ultra-gooey, bottomless mudhole? In this case, five people and about 15 minutes of strenuous grunting.Jeff Allen

After a beautiful, cloudless day of play in Dawson, we motored back into Alaska under a light but steady rain. We were headed for the Denali Highway, a 131-mile dirt road that runs east-west between the tiny towns of Paxson (pop. 43) and Cantwell (pop. 222). IQ Magazine rated that road sixth among the Top 10 World's Most Scenic Drives, but the low ceiling again kept most of those panoramas blocked from our view.

Our destination was the Gracious House, a B&B/campground/bar/air taxi/gas stop/tire service/welding & truck repair facility at the 82-mile mark on the Denali. The simplistic charm of this one-stop shop is the lifelong work of Butch and Carol Gratias, who’ve been operating the facility for more than 40 years.

Gracious House is a regular two-night sanctuary for MotoQuest’s Denali tours, so Butch and Carol have come to know and trust Freeman and his bands of intrepid adventurers—so much so that guests are sometimes pressed into service to help this two-person operation take care of business. Which explains why I was recruited to bartend for a few hours while Butch performed a little maintenance on the site’s huge diesel generator and Carol cleaned up the kitchen after dinner. I tried my best to keep track of it all, but I’m certain that later inventories revealed considerable discrepancies of Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam and Alaskan Amber.

motorcycles in front of the Tangle River Inn
Like so many other wayside stops in the 49th state’s wilderness, the Tangle River Inn on the remote Denali Highway can provide just about anything a weary—or adventurous—traveler might want or need.Jeff Allen

If we were looking for deciding factors in our comparison of the GS and XC, we would discover them during the next day’s ride not far from Gracious House. Freeman promised a stunning view from the top of a local mountain that could only be accessed on a trail involving two-track, single-track and even a bit of no-track, plus more than a dozen water crossings and mudholes.

On the easier parts of the trail, both the Beemer and Triumph again felt very similar, each able to cope with moderate off-road obstacles rather well. But as the ruts got ruttier, the rocks bigger, the bumps taller and the water/mud crossings deeper thanks to steadily increasing rain, the Triumph began to struggle. The XC’s fork bottomed heavily and frequently where the GS’s front end did not; the Tiger’s steering offered less feedback than the BMW’s in tighter sections; and for the first time, the BMW felt the lighter and more agile of the two, no doubt the result of its under-seat gas tank providing a lower center of gravity.

Other factors also distanced the Beemer from the Triumph. The XC’s footpegs are a little too far forward, so standing on the pegs in rough terrain is more difficult and tiring. The Tiger’s tall windscreen blocks the view of the trail just ahead when the rider is seated. Turning off both bikes’ anti-lock braking systems is a must when riding off-road, and it has to be done every time their ignitions are switched on; but while doing so on the BMW involves just one push of one large button on the left handlebar switchpod, the Triumph requires six or seven pushes of two small buttons in the correct sequence to scroll through a menu on the instrument panel’s LCD display.

Alaskan scenery
Alaska in all its majesty.Jeff Allen

Last but far from least, the plastic mounts on the XC’s saddlebags are way too fragile for adventure riding. I snapped the mounts off the left bag when I brushed a small tree so lightly that its bark was largely undisturbed. A few days later, a tip-over in a deep mudhole not only broke the right bag mounts but also snapped off a large portion of the bag’s top front corner. In both instances, we had to use straps to hold the bags in place. A few tip-overs on the BMW—a couple of them more severe than those on the Triumph—caused the bags either no damage or so little that they could be snapped back onto their brackets.

Bag problems aside, we made it to the top of the mountain only to have heavy fog prevent us from enjoying the promised view. We were even more disappointed during our ride back to Anchorage on the next and final day. We rode right past Mt. McKinley but could see no trace of that majestic, snow-capped peak, thanks again to the rain and fog.

As we approached Anchorage at the conclusion of our ride, the weather remained questionable, but the outcome of this comparison was crystal clear: As a true adventure bike, the Triumph Tiger 800XC is not quite a match for the BMW F800GS. On any kind of pavement, the Triumph holds a marginal edge, and in mild off-road riding, the outcome between these two is a toss-up. But the more difficult the off-road conditions, the brighter the BMW shines. It’s more agile, more predictable, more controllable. And in one area, at least, more durable.

BMW F800GS and Triumph Tiger 800XC
Purpose-built motorcycles, great expanses of seductive wilderness and endless ranges of snow-capped mountains: No wonder Alaska is adventure-riding heaven on Earth.Jeff Allen

Triumph has no reason to be ashamed here. For a first attempt at a true adventure bike (previous Tigers were really just streetbikes dolled up in adventure guise), the folks at Hinckley have done a bang-up job, producing a very good motorcycle that just needs a little fine-tuning of its off-road capabilities.

But when it comes to adventure riding, BMW has the right answers because it knows how to ask the right questions. As it should. The F800GS, after all, isn’t BMW’s first rodeo. The company has been in the adventure-bike business a long time—about 30 years, give or take.

It shows.

Dust to Dawson

Fun and games in the Yukon

Dawson City's downtown hotel with motorcyclist
Posing for a group photo in front of Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel is a ritual at the annual Dust to Dawson “gathering.”Jeff Allen

It’s NOT a rally!

You see that proclamation on just about every sign, every T-shirt, every bumper sticker and other mention of the annual Dust to Dawson, um, get-together. The event is instead described as “a gathering of like-minded motorcyclists.” For the vast majority of attendees, the “like” in their mindedness is for adventure riding, evidenced by the fact that 99 percent of the bikes roaming Dawson City’s dirt streets or parked next to its wooden sidewalks are BMW GSs, Kawasaki KLR650s, KTM Adventures, Suzuki V-Stroms and the occasional Ducati Multistrada. You might spot a Honda XR650L, H-D bagger or Gold Wing trike, but they’re usually lost in a 200-plus-strong sea of adventure bikes.

motorcyclist taking the ferry across the Yukon River
You don’t “ride” into this town; you have to take a no-charge ferry across the Yukon River.Jeff Allen

Dust to Dawson is the almost accidental creation of three riders—Jim Coleman, John “Cash” Register and a gentleman known only as “Fighter”—who hatched the idea over a few beers in Dawson back in 1992. Long story short, word spread, more riders gradually joined the party and before long, the ride became an event. Originally, it was called The Over The Top Hop, since Dawson sits at the east end of the Top of the World Highway. But that name didn’t fit well on a T-shirt, so the ride was rechristened Dust to Dawson, shortened even farther for logo purposes to “D2D.”

To call D2D a laid-back event would be an understatement. There are no vendors, no commercialism, no manufacturers displaying their new models, no bike shows. Riders just arrive in this historic, beautifully restored town—which was the nucleus of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897—and enjoy two days of camaraderie. One afternoon is devoted to typical biker games—poker run, slow race, weenie bite, etc.—but it’s all in good fun.

There are no rules, procedures or entry fees for attendance at D2D; you just show up. Really, there’s only one thing you need to know: It’s NOT a rally!

BMW F800GS off-road action
BMW F800GSJeff Allen
List price $14,007 (as tested)
Warranty 36 mo./unlimited mileage
Engine liquid-cooled, four-stroke parallel-Twin
Bore & stroke 82.0 x 75.6mm
Displacement 798cc
Compression ratio 12.0:1
Valve train dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals 12,000 mi.
Induction (2) 46mm throttle bodies
Electric power 400w
Weight: Tank empty 463 lb.
Weight: Tank full 489 lb.
Fuel capacity 4.2 gal.
Wheelbase 62.3 in.
Rake/trail 26°/4.6 in.
Seat height 34.9 in.
GVWR 997 lb.
Load capacity (tank full) 488 lb.
Claimed wheel travel 9.0 in.
Adjustments none
Claimed wheel travel 8.5 in.
Adjustments rebound damping, spring preload
Front 90/90-21 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear 150/70-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
1/4 mile 12.15 sec. @ 108.18 mph
0-30 mph 1.5 sec.
0-60 mph 3.9 sec.
0-90 mph 8.1 sec.
0-100 mph 10.7 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 40-60 mph 4.1 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 60-80 mph 4.8 sec.
Measured top speed 122 mph
Horsepower 76.9 @ 8320 rpm
Torque 54.5 ft.-lb. @ 5770 rpm
High/low/average 48/39/43 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve 181 mi.
From 30 mph 33 ft.
From 60 mph 127 ft.
Triumph Tiger 800XC off-road action
Triumph Tiger 800XCJeff Allen
List price $14,029 (as tested)
Warranty 24 mo./unlimited mileage
Engine liquid-cooled, four-stroke inline-Triple
Bore & stroke 74.0 x 61.9mm
Displacement 799cc
Compression ratio 11.1:1
Valve train dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
Valve adjust intervals 12,000 mi.
Induction (3) 44mm throttle bodies
Electric power 645w
Weight: Tank empty 464 lb.
Weight: Tank full 496 lb.
Fuel capacity 5.0 gal.
Wheelbase 61.0 in.
Rake/trail 24.3°/3.8 in.
Seat height 33.7 in.
GVWR 966 lb.
Load capacity (tank full) 470 lb.
Claimed wheel travel 8.7 in.
Adjustments none
Claimed wheel travel 8.5 in.
Adjustments rebound damping,spring preload
Front 90/90-21 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rear 150/70-17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
1/4 mile 12.14 sec. @ 107.49 mph
0-30 mph 1.5 sec.
0-60 mph 3.8 sec.
0-90 mph 8.2 sec.
0-100 mph 10.8 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 40-60 mph 3.8 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 60-80 mph 4.6 sec.
Measured top speed 120 mph
Horsepower 82.3 @ 9160 rpm
Torque 51.4 ft.-lb. @ 7750 rpm
High/low/average 41/35/37 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve 185 mi. |
From 30 mph 33 ft.
From 60 mph 137 ft.
curious squirrel surveys the land
A curious squirrel investigates strange mechanical noises he may never before have heardJeff Allen
Giant muffins and delicious apple cobbler
Giant muffins, delicious apple cobbler and a dry haven from the relentless rain were welcome offerings at the Chicken RoadhouseJeff Allen
Chicken Roadhouse interior environment
The Chicken Roadhouse is about 40 miles from the Canadian borderJeff Allen
sign post with traveling distances
Signpost up ahead...Jeff Allen