Triumph Tiger 800 Vs Kawasaki Versys 650

Triumph offers six variants of the Tiger 800 – XR, XRx XRt, XC, XCx and XCa, although I think they have now stopped selling the XRt and XCa in India. It can get quite confusing and people often ask me which Tiger they should buy. My response takes them by surprise because I recommend that they buy a Kawasaki Versys 650.

Truth be told, I never intended to buy a Tiger 800 XRx. My need for an adventure motorcycle arose after I stopped enjoying riding my Harley-Davidson Fat Boy on the not so nice state highways and village roads of India. At that time there were rumours of two entry level adventure motorcycles getting ready to be launched in India – the Kawasaki Versys 650 and the Honda CB500X. I did my research and even drew up a list of accessories that I would buy for each of these motorcycles. Then I waited and waited, and nothing happened.

My life mantra is made up of three simple words – “don’t postpone happiness”. So I didn’t. I extended my middle finger to Kawasaki and Honda and embraced Triumph. The Tiger 800 had been selling in India for around a year. But I didn’t want to spend that much money on an adventure motorcycle when my needs could be easily met by a much cheaper motorcycle. All I wanted to do was ride comfortably on India’s bad roads. I didn’t want an adventure motorcycle to go off-road and ride trails. I already had a heavily modified KTM Duke 390 for that purpose. I figured if I ever rode an adventure motorcycle off-road it would be during a normal tarmac ride when some bridge had broken and I had to take a detour through a jungle, cross a stream or something. Or maybe take a short cut through a field to bypass a traffic jam. Stuff like that. I had absolutely no intention to do serious off-roading with a big, tall and heavy adventure motorcycle. Otherwise I would have bought a Tiger 800 XCx, the off-road biased variant with spoked wheels, softer suspension and larger front wheel.

But having said all this, in the past year I did take my Tiger on trails, including some pretty tough ones. I climbed steep hills, rode through streams and even trotted along the mountain ridges of Chikmanglur. I did all this just to build confidence in handling the motorcycle off-road and I can say that I’m pretty confident now. While on a road trip if the situation calls me to go off-road I won’t think twice.

Don’t get me wrong. The Triumph Tiger 800 XRx is a far better motorcycle compared to the Kawasaki Versys 650. On paper and also in reality. The engine of the Tiger has the characteristics of a crotch rocket, while the Versys 650’s engine is a little more tamed. You will reach your highway cruising speed of 120 kmph on both motorcycles, just that you will reach that speed on the Tiger a little earlier. If that really matters to you then yes, please spend those extra lakhs and buy a Tiger. But if it doesn’t matter that much then you could use that money and buy yourself a proper dual-sport motorcycle to ride comfortably on trails, if that’s what you want to do. Maybe a Himalayan or an old Impulse. If you feel like taking the trouble, you can even buy a brand new Impulse. There are dealers in rural areas that still have unsold stock and they are offering some nice discounts.

Personally, I think too much is made about the larger front wheel of adventure motorcycles. The XC’s come with a 21 inch wheel, whereas the XR’s come with a 19 inch wheel. The Versys 650 sports a 17 inch wheel. If 21 inch is really the golden number for an off-road friendly front wheel, then based on what I’ve done with my Tiger sporting a 19 inch wheel, I should have smashed my skid plate and wrecked the crank case a long time ago. But the only damage to the skid plate has been a few scratches when I rode the motorcycle over large rocks.

Even if had bought the Versys 650 I don’t think the situation would have been any different. I think the 17 inch wheel would have done just fine. I say that because my Duke has a 17 inch front wheel and I’ve abused that motorcycle on trails like nobody’s business. Again, the Duke’s skid plate has merely got scarred, that’s all. Nothing ever broke and I’ve ridden that motorcycle over pretty large obstacles.

So before spending all that money on buying a Tiger, you really need to ask yourself what exactly are you going to use the motorcycle for? If you just want to ride comfortably on bad roads and go off-road only when you have no other option, then the Versys 650 is really what you need. If you want to do both, ride comfortably on bad roads as well as ride trails, then you are still better off buying a Versys 650 and using the money you save to buy a Himalayan or Impulse.

Riding long distance on highways and riding trails are usually mutually exclusive, unless you are going to ride a thousand kms of highways just to ride a 10 km trail. So you can pick which motorcycle you want to ride depending on where you are riding. Use the right tool for the job, so to speak. In any case, unless you are an extremely experienced off-road rider, you are not going to enjoy riding a big, tall and heavy adventure motorcycle off-road. I know. I have one and I don’t enjoy riding it on trials as much I like monkeying around on my light and nimble Duke.

Frankly, I don’t understand why someone would buy a Tiger XR or XRx when there is the Versys 650. Indeed, for the extra money, the Tiger comes with some fancy electronics like traction control, rider modes, cruise control and stuff. I do have fun playing around with these fancy features. But you need to ask yourself if you can live without these features and instead possibly buy a proper dual sport motorcycle purpose built for trail riding. In any case, the Versys 650 comes with ABS which is the most important of electronic features.

In a way I’m glad that I was impatient and didn’t wait long enough for Kawasaki to launch the Versys 650 in India. I now own a much better motorcycle which I absolutely love and plan on keeping for many years to come. But if I could go back in time, I wonder if I would have waited a little longer and bought the Versys 650 instead of the Tiger 800 XRX.

Nah! I don’t think I would. Don’t postpone happiness. 🙂