T5 Tiger burning bright, hooligan tool or lump'o'shite?
Well, I've now put about 2,500 miles under the wheels of the previously barely sullied (it had just 600 miles on it when they delivered it) Laguna Tiger demonstrator, and so as my extended and unexpected long term T5 Tiger test-ride draws towards a close, I guess it's time to record my thoughts...
I've ridden one of these bizarre contraptions before, of course - but only briefly. I borrowed it from Rosners one day while they serviced my ST (without, it should be noted, blowing it up) and had great fun pedalling it through 20 miles or so of the urban jungle, and even enjoying bouncing over the speed-bumps that infest the back-roads of Beckenham. At the time I remember wondering what it would be like to live with. Thus, when I was reading the service manager from Laguna his fortune and explaining that no, I didn't fancy a ZR-7 as a long-term loan bike thank you, I suggested a Tiger as a suitable replacement almost without thinking.
This example, in a rather subdued Blue colour, was left on my front garden path while I was out. I'd forgotten how bloody tall these things are - I can get my feet down flat - just, but paddling the bike backwards was less than easy until I got the hang of it (much of the time, I quickly discovered, you could use the ridiculous amount of fork travel available to bounce the bike backwards yards at a time). In fact, it should tell you something about the Tiger that the most obvious and easiest looking way off my front path the first time I went to ride it turned out to be straight across the lawn and the adjacent flower bed, and out through a gap in the fence... I
wouldn't even have considered that on any sensible motorcycle!
The size, the immense twanginess of the suspension and the humungous fork travel all struck me the first time I sat on one - and before long this time round I also noticed a disturbing effect on my riding as well (of which more later). Incidentally, Sue will have to describe the experience of riding pillion on the beast - but I know mountaineering skills would probably have been helpful to her when first clambering aboard, and I'd have been distinctly unhappy while she mounted (Fnaar!!) if I hadn't had two feet solidly planted... nope, a Tiger is definitely not a bike for a short-arse! I also quickly also discovered that it most definitely can't be ridden like a sportsbike. My standard 'safe but agricultural' [©Bristol Class 1 Pork] approach may not be the RoSPA recommended one, but it works like this. There's an acute blind right-hander on my preferred back-road route to my current client's site. On the T595 (or even the ST), when pressing on a bit in the dry, I'd hare up to it at Warp factor 9, pin the front end of the bike to the ground on the front brake, trail off the braking to unload the front suspension as I blipped the throttle to rattle swiftly down the gearbox, then as I reached my chosen [IAM approved] entry velocity, countersteer hard to tip the bike in while winding open the throttle to power through the corner, then nail it up the next straight, clutchless changing my way up the box. Obviously, I initially used this approach on the Tiger... and very nearly became one with the scenery.
Hammer up to the corner on the Tiger and grab a big handful of front brake and immediately you find you have to be a bit more progressive than you do on a Sports bollide as the Tiger seemingly dives half a mile and takes an age to settle on the front Trail-wing. Once there it seems to slow down just fine, but since you are connected to the less-than-mega-sticky front tyre by way of two car radio aerials and a pair of slinkies (or something very similar) one wouldn't know that the front tyre was complaining until after the resulting face-plant, so discretion is very much the better part of valour... anyway, having scrubbed off speed, as you try to snick gracefully down the gearbox you discover that it's about as slick as a crowbar in a bucket of ball-bearings and that each change takes about 5 seconds. This is the least of ones' worries, though, since just as you come off the front brake and lob the bike into the corner using the admittedly excellent leverage offered by the wide bars, the forks go boingg! and the bike heads for the hedge, a tendency exaggerated by the squatting of the rear end if you are even a bit enthusiastic with the throttle. Furthermore, when you pitched into the corner from the LHS of the road, your head moved so far to the right that although your wheels are in the gutter, your head is about to whack the A-pillar of the oncoming and you've completely lost any view you had round the corner. Exit the corner in one piece and you should feel extremely thankful. Attempting a clutchless change at this point is really pushing ones luck. A sore foot and a Tiger bouncing off the rev limiter are the almost guaranteed results!
Having wrestled the bike round the corner at the end of this exercise in masochism, and assuming one isn't hanging upside-down from a nearby tree (I made it, but I laid down some serious skidmarks at the rear, and I'm not talking about tyres here IYKWIM), one is forced to re-evaluate ones cornering technique. Gone is the sportsbike approach (well, gone if you want to survive for more than a week or so, anyway) in favour of a much smoother, less agressive modus operandi. Braking for a corner is now much more gentle, if it is needed at all, and is completed much earlier, carried out using both brakes at once to counter the tendency for fork dive, measured and early gear changes are de-riguer, block changes are preferred. Turn-in is later, application of throttle is more progressive, blind corner speeds are of necessity slower due to the reduced view, and although I'm happy to nail it hard on the exit, there are no clutchless gear-changes in the plan. All very anal! Surprisingly enough, I can ride like this, it transpires. In
fact, on the Tiger a deeply ingrained sense of self preservation means I always ride like this. But it's bloody boring. Plus, there's less in reserve if you fuck up - like I did the other day on the way back to Wycombe from Carmarthen.
There I was tanking it down the empty A40 dual carriageway, intending to go via Monmouth and down the Wye Valley, when I remembered too late that you have to turn off the A40 to stay on it, IYSWIM, just as I passed the relevant junction. I was so busy looking where I should have gone rather than where I was going that I failed to notice for a vital few moments that the dual carriageway I was on was imminently about to do an acute 270 degree carousel impression and pass back under itself en-route to Newport. This error wouldn't have been a problem to recover from on the ST - just go a bit harder on the brakes before entry and slap myself upside the head for being a prat, before resuming normal service. As it was, I didn't dare brake hard before lobbing it in and just had to carry the speed into the corner. Once on my ear, I didn't have the option I would have had on the ST of tightening the turn momentarily, standing the bike up and braking hard then tipping it in again, or even - safely - shutting the throttle. I just had to ride it out on a whiff of positive throttle, hanging off like a gibbon and hoping that I didn't find a queue of cars at the bottom. Good job it was possible to avoid the puddle about halfway round the carousel, and that the corner didn't tighten up any further, otherwise I probably wouldn't be typing this now...
Another way the Tiger differs from something sportsbikish is in the relative lack of oomph. For next year, Triumph are sticking the 100bhp+ 955cc ST motor into the Tiger, but current bikes are driven by the old detuned 885cc 80bhp T509 motor and as such are relatively gutless, particularly when saddled with the aerodynamics of a parachute. Because when not pushing the
performance envelope it sounds and feels a lot like the other T5 triples, overtaking on the open road on the Tiger is fraught with danger for any regular T5 trumpet rider (I only started something that I would have needed the ST to finish safely once - but that was plenty, thanks!). Sportsbike style snap overtakes are rarely possible at GLF or near-GLF style speeds. The motor feels flat and gutless if you are used to other bikes with the T5 motor - if you really wind it up flat it maxes right out around 120mph indicated, eventually. The cornering limitations further lengthen the straights you need to be able to overtake in safety. So open road overtakes involve planning and execution using the IAM-stylee, rather than my more usual practice of waiting in the power-band for an opportunity to present itself then twitching my right wrist a tad; making progress on a Tiger is a challenge, alright, but on balance I would much prefer the extra 30bhp or so which would have the pilot forgoing some of the challenge, in favour of some fun.
While the towering riding position gives you a real advantage in town, where there is more than enough power on tap, the hugely bouncy spendies work against you. As you alternately work the throttle and brakes, squirting into space and dancing through gaps, something like the ST is far more controlled. The Tiger just leaves you seasick, and you spend too much time waiting for the whole plot to stop pogoing around before resuming combat. The mirrors, small bar-mounted devices which are shite at the best of times, become utterly useless during low-speed twiddling around in town, when bar deflections increase - but the bolt-upright riding position, which allows you to turn your head to see behind you without contortion, mitigates this deficiency.
Wind protection is adequate, even at motorway speeds. The lack of lowers mean that your legs are out in the breeze, of course, which becomes more of an issue the colder it gets, but the handguards keep the breeze off your mits and the useless looking little fairing keeps it off your chest. Sadly, I've never ridden anything that creates such turbulence at lid level. Earplugs are mandatory, at least for somebody of my height, at even relatively modest velocity - without them, on the motorway your head feels ready to explode after a couple of miles. Even more sadly, that diddy little fairing half a mile in front of the rider may deflect wind, but when it rains, it might as well not be there. Rain falls in behind it, pools in the natural funnel and container formed by the shape of the tank and the riders groin, then drowns your bollocks, with the water running down the inside of your leathers and into your boots... in other words, for weather protection purposes, it's actually worse than an unfaired bike!
Finally, you'd have thought from my comments about the sedate nature of the necessary riding style one must adopt to negotiate the twisties on a Tiger that it would have improved my riding. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, on the motorway, the entire feedback-free flying armchair experience engenders a loss of concentration reminiscent of what I experience in a cage. This is not healthy on a motorcycle, but the Tiger reminds me so very much of the Rangie on the motorway that I think it is inevitable. Worse, though, is that the high upright riding position completely buggers up my sensation of speed, to the extent that I find myself too often riding the Tiger absolutely flat-out on the motorway (which as mentioned, equates to an indicated 120mph, and is a temporary cure for the boredom I mentioned above)... so my licence wouldn't survive long term Tiger ownership, despite it not being a fast bike! But, worst of all, the part of my brain which notices and avoids dodgy road surfaces appears to have shrivelled up and dropped off under the influence of the Tiger. There are pot holes and sunken manhole covers all around High Wycombe, features which I've never consciously noticed, despite carefully riding past or between them every day for several years. I've now been sideways over several of them! Once you find yourself overtaking cars two feet off the ground whilst getting big air off of a speed bump, you realise that since you can no longer feel the road surface under your wheels, your brain has obviously ceased to process any data about it. When the first time you are noticing small chasms in the road surface is as the bike falls down them and ties itself in a knot while cranked over and wound WFO, you know that a serious wipeout is bound to result eventually.
So, at the end of the day, I now know I couldn't live with a Tiger as an every day bike. S'not really my bag, after all. If the gnarly thing is substantially like the Tiger, I don't want one of those either - but I think I do need to try one, just to make sure...
The more I play with my options, the more I believe that if I want just one bike, I've got the best choice right now - and when I need to replace it, I'm pretty sure I'm selecting out of the same bracket - between the Sprint ST, VFR800i, Futura and ST4S...
...but what if I could have two bikes instead? Then I could have a nutter bike and a Captain Sensible one as well! TT600 and new 'wing, possibly? :-).
Copyright © 2003 Ken Haylock. All rights reserved.