As winter has started to set in around here, during the dark evenings I’ve begun daydreaming about changing bikes next year. Make no mistake, I have a shiny new Tiger 800 XCx square in my sights for the bike I want; that said, I’m not sure a $16,000 payment is something I’m ready to saddle just yet. That’s left me considering used adventure bikes available under the $6k mark. Scanning through Craig’s List it’s obvious that several older Triumph Tiger models are available in that price range, including both the 900 cc triples and the Tiger 1050 that is a bit more “Sport Touring” oriented. I’ve ridden the 1050 before, the power of the liter sized triple is undoubtedly impressive, but thinking about spending $6,000 suddenly I realize that of a gently used, carbureted, Triumph Scrambler also falls in that price range. For most people, the prospect of owning one or the other of these two motorcycles is probably a simple decision, yet I find myself torn between what is logical, and what truly stirs the soul; what looks good on paper is often the antithesis of the motorcycle you “love”. Therein lies the rub…
I wrote just days ago about my “Dream Garage”, bikes 1 and 2 are obviously very functional machines, while choice number 3 is the wild card, the performance bike or the bike I have (almost) no functional reason for, beyond “I want this”. If money were no object, I would have the two previous bikes, combined with some sort of canyon carving machine, however money is very much a deciding factor. As such, I’m pretty much limited to one, or perhaps two motorcycles (in a stretch…), so I’m still on the path of finding the motorcycle that can “do the most with the least”… on a budget.
I suppose I should elaborate on that backstory that led me down this road in the first place. Somewhere around the winter of 2012 I was poised to get off my 150 cc scooter and on to a “real motorcycle”. Scouring the internet for specifications, prices, and reviews, I was drawn to the throwback look of the Triumph Bonneville. After sitting on a few, my wife said I looked silly on a Bonneville, and I (at least temporarily) dismissed the idea, in favor of the parallel twin powered Triumph Speedmaster. The Speedmaster was dark, curvaceous, and simple, so I lusted after it for over a year before my betrothed gifted my new mistress “Lola” to me for my birthday in 2013. So there I was, finally in possession of the motorcycle “I always wanted”, having put a whopping 3,000 miles on a scooter the two years prior. Finally being able to shift gears (I prefer manual transmissions), I was more addicted to riding than ever before; I found myself looking for any method to ride versus drive in nearly all circumstances, pondering “hmm… how can I carry these groceries home on the motorcycle…”. The first year it was 9,000 miles, then 14,000 the second, and this year 17,000 miles; after which I’ve realized that maintenance is expensive, and I don’t really think this cruiser was designed to rip up the twisties, nor take the gravel roads… Thus, late last year I began pondering if there might be a chassis more suited for intended use I have in mind; while I’ve already covered this to some degree, ultimately I feel that I need a more “touring worthy” steed with additional storage, sporty enough not to drag pegs (as I realized at the Dragon Raid this year), and lastly something that I’m not afraid to get dirty.
At any rate, my logical side says that the Tiger 1050 is a slam dunk. I’ve discussed the pros and cons of having a 1050 with several friends that own them, and it’s pretty much a sure thing in their mind. The Tiger 1050 has the additional power that would make touring two-up more comfortable, or at least “more spirited”; but I am already aware that my better half is not a fan of the pillion seat. A new seat is only a matter of $500, so that’s a moot point considering I’m mostly concerned about the initial investment. The 1050 also comes with panniers on most of the used models, considering I have like a two gallon tail bag on the Speedmaster, that’s a big plus for commuting to the office or taking a long weekend on the road. While the Tiger 1050 is almost completely street oriented, it does have adjustable front and rear suspension with almost six inches of travel. I undoubtedly have off-road capability listed on the “want list”, while I currently don’t ride off-road at all, save perhaps the occasional gravel side road, that considered, the 1050’s road preference isn’t a deal breaker either. The 1050 is also a three cylinder, that’s probably the part that is the most “soul stirring” about the whole machine. There is simply nothing like the sound of the angry Triumph triple; that, combined with the 1050’s torque, is a very compelling argument toward the Tiger. The flip-side of the minimal off-road prowess of the 1050, I have on good knowledge that its cornering capability is pretty fierce. I saw the video of a buddy of mine ripping up US-129 on his 1050… I don’t have stones for that business, but it was impressive… if nothing else. I fear the drawback to the Tiger may begin with maintenance. I currently have an air-cooled parallel twin, on which I have done over ninety percent of the maintenance; which also means I have a significant stockpile of parts and tools. The Tiger 1050 also (arguably) runs on high octane fuel with its higher compression ratio; admittedly the Tiger 800 probably runs on mid-range fuel considering it also has better than a 10:1 ratio, but it’s still something to consider when you’re buying 17,000 miles worth of gasoline, those extra pennies a gallon, combined with maintenance costs start to add up over time. Lastly, despite to good looks of the Tiger, I’m not convinced I will ever find myself seeing it as more than a tool, or a means to an ends, which is not the way I look at the XCx or the Bonnie.
The Scrambler on the other hand is almost the inverse of the Tiger 1050… almost. While the Tiger offers a sporty engine and chassis capable of ripping through the curves, the Scrambler represents the simplicity of a classic British project bike I’ve envisioned for several years now. The Scrambler has the same 865 cc parallel twin, including 270 degree firing order, that I already have in the Speedmaster. Needless to say, I’m already intimately familiar with its quarks and character, all of which I’m very happy with; while the twin engine could stand to have a bit more performance for two-up, but when riding solo, it never disappoints. The Scrambler is also air cooled, versus the liquid-cooled triple; while I’m not escaping the apocalypse or scrambling across South America yet, I would hope in the long run that the air-cooled twin’s simplicity provides ruggedness against the performance oriented 1050 alternative. While I love the angry growl of the triple, after following my buddy Steve around at the Dragon Raid, a good set of pipes really unbridles the grunt of the Triumph twin. On the flip side, the Scrambler doesn’t have suspension on par with the Tiger, especially once we throw riding dirt into the equation; upgrading the suspension would probably be an additional cost adder of easily $2k in the long run (if not more depending on how crazy I want to get). A lot of folks would consider the touring capabilities of the scrambler pretty limited, however considering I already do a fair amount of touring on the Speedmaster, I expect that the mid-controls and upright seating position to be superior to that of the reclined cruiser that currently hurts my back on the long-haul. Storage is pretty much zero in stock form, however I have a good buddy that has converted military ammunition cans into excellent waterproof panniers, which is exactly what I would want to do for the long rides. To me, the advantage of the Scrambler over the Tiger mostly comes down to simplicity and customization; in the end I would be looking to build a truly dirt worthy, carbureted, air cooled motorcycle that looks like it rolled out of “The Great Escape” if not “Mad Max”. There’s no denying that a Scrambler project would be an investment and an emotional attachment that would mean spending a lot more dough in the long run, but offer additional flexibility… if done right. the question would be, do I really want to rely on just one bike that’s essentially a rolling work in progress?
Ultimately this “red vs. blue” argument is about getting over the initial investment hurdle, in the end I expect I would be sinking more money into the scrambler to “build the bike of my dreams” whereas the Tiger 1050 is a tool, and does most of what I want from “go”. It’s a fallacy to believe that everything boils down to black and white, but this strikes me as the classic M-16 versus AK-47 argument, precision versus rugged simplicity, or perhaps just form over function. On paper the a Tiger 1050 can do anything the Scrambler can do, if not more; but l have a feeling that choosing a bike based on stats and finances seldom thrills.
Apparently I’m not the first guy to have this dilemma; have you every found yourself debating between such divergent paths on two wheels?