The 2016 Triumph Tiger XCx800 delivers 94bhp @ 9250 rpm, with 79Nm of torque available at 7850rpm. As with other Hinckley triples, the power delivery is smooth and engaging, regardless of what riding mode you select. Although the large wheels with narrow off-road orientated tyres required some getting used to, I was positively surprised by the way the bike handled on the road and even more off of it. The near perfect fuelling and good traction control make it easy for even a rookie off-road rider to feel comfortable, making for quick and safe progress even when the grip levels go down!
This is probably how Ricardo would have started his article on our latest bike adventure in South Africa. I however have a slightly different outlook on biking.
I assess bikes by the luggage carrying capacity and riding gear, by how well the jacket matches the trousers and helmets and by how comfortable they are when wearing headphones. I can tell you how many buttons the jacket has before I could quote the bike’s horsepower!
I’m not quite sure how I ended up being asked to write this article from the pillion’s perspective but I promise I’ll do my best to provide you with, at least some, useful insights. Pillion and opinion is not something you see together in a sentence all that often, but it does happen! Sometimes…
Anyway, here is my diary (I know, such a girly thing…) of the trip:
We’ve got wheels, finally! A couple of days of rental cars and Uber rides and I’m ready to get on the back of the bike and escape Cape Town’s chaotic traffic.
Being half-way across the world and all, bringing our bike wasn’t an option so a rental was the obvious solution.
As soon as we got to the dealership my eyes were immediately drawn to the two massive ATG saddlebags: I felt like jumping for joy and hugging Mark from Mike Hopkins Motorcycles. Oh yeah, I’m gonna get to buy more than fridge magnets and thimbles as souvenirs this time around!
Yes, even atop a motorbike crossing a beautiful country I have to confess shopping was on my mind for quite a while – I’m a woman, this is what we do! Besides, traffic around the cape peninsula was terrible so I had plenty of time to let my thoughts wander while we filtered our way, out of Cape of Good Hope under the blazing sun. By the time we got there and saw the hordes of tourist buses I was ready to give it back its original name: Cape of Storms! I refrained from doing so out of respect for our intrepid ancestor: Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias. Instead opted for the quick selfie-in-front-of-the-landmark before jumping on the bike again and begging to get a move on!
The bike sounds funny: it seems like it’s electric powered. Haven’t quite figured out what’s going on underneath us, but there is an annoying high-pitched whine coming from the engine. I voiced my thought to Ricardo and in return got an impromptu lesson on the unique sound of Triumph triples! (Note to self: next time just turn up the volume on the iPod).
With that mystery solved we were on our way from Hermanus to Stillbaai: 90% of the day spent on gravel tracks and I was so tense for the first couple of hours I didn’t even have time for my usual divagations. The bike feels unstable over gravel, moving around a lot more than on tarmac. After a while though, you become accustomed and it actually is quite fun!
The lower speed allows me to ride with the visor open for most of the time, making for a much more enjoyable experience. To the great amazement of my chauffer, after only a couple of hours, I am a fan of gravel roads!
Talk about gravel roads, good thing we made a stop in Cape Agullas for chocolate cake, carrot cake and coffee… oh and for the most southerly point of Africa! The rest of the day was spent riding along dead straight gravel roads in the middle of nowhere. We went past the last village around 11:00 and the next place we found where we could get anything to eat or drink was Stillbaai, four and half hours later! In between, there was nothing but dust, rocks, farmland and ostriches!
As we quickly learned, in South Africa, you can have all four seasons in a week. So far we had spring and summer and today we seem to have entered Autumn: it rained the whole damn day!
With a bit of rain the dirt track gets more compact and the riding becomes even more fun! The Triumph has two strategically positioned grab handles perfect for me to be able to ride without leaning against the rider the whole time (thus avoiding a considerable amount of helmet banging). Somewhere along the day I confessed I was actually enjoying the rain; it made for a much fresher ride and with the right soundtrack playing on the iPod I was having quite relaxing times on the back seat – a meditation of sorts. He didn’t quite share my enthusiasm… quickly starting a dissertation on the extra focus needed for him to ride on those narrow mountain trails with very limited visibility and soaking wet feet. I thought he was doing great! I even spent some time trying to figure out a strategy to get a cup holder for a warm cup of tea on the bike.
Our hideout for the night was a trout lodge lost in the middle of a forest, 40kms away from the nearest town and when we arrived there the boy looked happier than a five year old in Disneyland, riding the bike back and forth across a small creek. The perfect perfect pillion I am, I jumped off the bike and filmed the moment while he powerslid (not really…) across the rocky river bed. As long as he’s happy…
30,000km of immaculate track record as a pillion and the bike hits the ground in a service station, in the middle of nowhere, South Africa. I was standing 2 meters away and there was nothing I could do! Uneven terrain and a gust of wind conspired with a less than ideal side-stand, resulting in a loud bang and a large Triumph with the rubber side up.
From this moment on, and though the damage was merely a broken indicator and lever, my day was spent reviewing the moment, trying to find out a logical explanation for the fall and making up ways in which I could have done something about it. In the meantime the guy in the rider seat seemed completely unfazed with the events and unaware of my emotional struggle… men!
I’m a true believer that bikes should be allowed everywhere: they’re no bigger than a (well fed) Kudu, faster than a cheetah and quieter than a territorial Lion. These arguments however, seemed to have little effect in convincing the Addo Elephant Park staff to allow us in on the bike.
My daydream of riding across the savanah in a Tarzan meets Steve Mcqueen/Jane meets Lois Pryce kinda style needed to be put on hold.
Turns out the bushveld doesn’t really look like the savannah, but at least we’re sticking with the British motoring theme as we hitched a ride on a plush, late model Land Rover Discovery with Andrew, a very enthusiastic Park Ranger.
After the Addo Park the Discovery was replaced by a modified open top Defender for a safari across Schotia Private Game Reserve, where Jurassic Park style gates and fences make sure, at least some, of the animals aren’t eaten before the next visit.
Close up, the elephants are (very) big and the lions as beautiful as they are scary. Maybe leaving the bike outside wasn’t that bad an idea!
Ramblings aside, both places are definitely worth a visit for the amazing sightings and the fantastic work they do protecting the local wildlife.
As we moved away from the coast this morning, the landscape changed drastically from the lush green woodland areas of the bushveld to the arid plains of the Little Karoo.
However comfortable the Triumph might be, with it’s large wheels and posh WP suspension, the fact is 350 kms in I was starting to get considerably tired. The total for today was 527km (information cunningly withheld from me at the start…) in 33°C!
We tend to keep our days at around 300km, especially when it involves off road sections or mountain roads, but for today there was no other option than to cover as much ground as possible to reach Prins Albert. Six hours on the back of a bike on what were mostly arrow straight roads leaves one with time to explore the deepest corners of one’s soul. I was done with the podcasts, gone through my music playlist, renovated two houses top to bottom in my imagination and organized three different virtual weddings and was ready to murder someone when my astute pilot made a perfectly timed stop at a trendy French style cafe for the best carrot cake of the entire trip: catastrophe averted!
A biker’s best friend while travelling – apart from WD40, duct tape, zip ties and lip balm – is a night well slept, so today the day started out gloriously with the route proving to be one of the best so far.
“Took us a while to realize life is not all about money. This is what really matters: travelling, meeting new places, seeing new sights, enjoying. It’s great to see people as young as you have already figured this out!”
We heard from a lovely middle age couple who stopped by our side on the top of Swartberg Pass. Somehow this simple yet profound message resonated with us and I can’t count the times it came back into my mind during the rest of the trip when contemplating the many amazing places we visited – It’s the simple things…
The route today, and this trip in general, confirmed what I love the most about travelling by bike; winding our way along mountain roads with the ocean or a deep valley to our side. It gives me particular joy to mimic the rider’s movements as we slice through a sequence of corners – in my mind – the knee almost touching the ground. I hate tornantes [editor’s note: see Italian for a hairpin bend] but I loooove a well-carved flowing corner!
Of course, by the end of the day we were exhausted: stop for photo every five minutes (climb out of the bike – gloves off – helmet off – open bag – pull out the camera – switch lens – take photo – look everywhere for lost lens cap – pack camera – close bag – helmet on – gloves on – climb back on the back – ride – repeat!).
A hundred and fifty videos of the mister in every corner of the pass, a couple dozen more from different angles and I’m done with photography for the next couple of months!
Anyway, the whole exercise seemed somewhat pointless: on more than one occasion we went for the camera trying to get a photo, only to find out the tortoise we were trying to shoot was long gone! Note to self: Tortoises are faster than Ricardo photographers on motorbikes!
The place we spent the night today comes quite close to my dream house: a cottage overlooking a beautiful vineyard with its perfectly aligned rows marking the narrow flat stretch of land between the mountains. Called Bon Accord Farm in Montagu, we couldn’t have chosen a better place, which just made it even more painful to leave early in the morning.
Keeping to schedule during a trip is something I hate but we had booked a safari in the Inverdoorn Game Reserve and were expected to be there at 12:00.
Turned out the route was quicker than we feared and we ended up arriving quite a bit before schedule for what proved to be a very nice 24hrs.
The heat and dust from the last few days made me dream of a refreshing dive in a pool followed by a thirst quenching coconut water under a palm tree. You can imagine my surprise when we got to Inverdoorn Game Reserve, in the middle of the Little Karoo desert, and came across a pristine pool complete with lounge chairs and umbrellas; I thought I had a heat stroke and was hallucinating!
Energy replenished by a buffet lunch and refreshed from an afternoon spent by the pool, we traded the bike for yet another Land Rover for the sunset safari.
Inverdoorn differs from other private game reserves in South Africa in that they focus heavily on rescue animals. Because of this the safari experience feels less wild.
There are only two elephants; one used to be a TV star before he broke a tusk, the other was abused by an elephant back riding service.
The lion and lioness were rescued, just in time, after being raised in a cage with the sole purpose of being killed and sold as trophy. They now live a happy life but because they never learned how to hunt, they have to be fed. Hopefully it’s not too late for the couple of young cheetah in the reserve though. Rescued at a young age after having been bought as pets, they are now being trained to run and hunt, with the purpose of, in a near future, being reintroducing to a (semi) wild life.
The work the rangers do here is truly inspiring.
Getting up at 5 Am is not something that goes well with my mood but seeing the sun rise across the plains of the Little Karoo, next to lions, rhinoceros, elephants and dozens of other wild beasts does wonders for the spirit. Who can possibly be grumpy while a baby white rhino goes past, running towards his mom a mere 10m from you! Ricardo says it’s the best panning photo I took. To be honest, have no idea how I did it…
During our trip we’ve been lucky to see most of the big wild animals of Africa. Out of he big five the Leopard was the only one missing. Turns out we didn’t see a leopard this morning either but we did get to see elephants, lions, rhinos, hippos, buffalos and countless different antelopes from up close. For two hours we were guided through the reserve and either because I was feeling emotional contemplating the nearness of the end of the trip or because I was sleepy, I found it all so beautiful and tranquil.
Only this recently achieved Zen state can explain how I jumped on the back of the bike and endured the route to Cederberg without slapping my rider with a smile in my face.
There aren’t many things I am scared of, while on the bike. Or… let me put it in a different way: I have a great faith in his riding ability and we know very well where the limit of each other’s comfort zone is.
With time, pillion and rider tend to develop their special language made up of hand signs and nods. Together with a couple of unwritten rules they make the shared riding experience something special: no insane overtakes (though sometimes our definition of insanity doesn’t quite match…), no climbing on the bike before he gives the OK (this one took me a while to perfect…), no sleeping on the pillion seat (again… a work in progress), stopping every 80-100km to stretch the legs (all too often he seems keen on forgetting to check the odometer but I make sure to keep track!) and during this trip I found a new rule: No sand roads! The feeling of the bike shaking on soft sand while I felt his body constantly moving trying to keep the bike balanced is not something I enjoyed! Oh and that story about: “I need to keep on the throtle, the front wheel has no grip so I have to control the bike from the back wheel”, is not very comforting…
Rain: fine, Gravel: fine, Wet Gravel: fine, Bumpy Backroads: fine, Tornantes: meh, still fine… Sand: Not Fine!
What better way to finish the trip than a scenic ride along Chapman’s Peak Drive. First heading south then doubling back north, it was the opportunity to let the experience of the last ten days sink in. The mesmerizing beauty of the turquoise ocean against the green and brown of the cliffs dancing in my sight as I concluded (and yes… I know I say this about every bike trip) South Africa’s Garden Route is one of the most fantastic trips we’ve ever done, I absolutely recommend it to everyone!
It’s probably great fun to actually ride the bike, but I can guarantee you a comfortable pillion can enjoy it as much, if not more. After all, we get to enjoy the view without having to worry about the actual riding (I count gear-shifts sometimes… but that’s just to pass the time). Aspiring pillions fear not, it is far from being boring. While he hits his head against the wall trying to plan the route in advance, what gear to carry, what tools to take, you get to calmly make your playlists, buy the most fashionable bike gear (after all you’re bound to be wearing the same damn thing in every and each one of the holiday photos!), read about the destination (you’re going to spend a lot of time contemplating the view, might as well learn some facts and curiosities about it) and finally: relax! It’s not every day you get to have a private driver showing you around the world.
Ah, one more thing: do make sure there are no sand roads planned on the route and the first day is shorter than 350kms!
Ok, now it’s my turn! I’ve been reading everything Cátia wrote and I need to add some essential (of course!) information.
As you probably realised from the lack of complaints on Cátia’s side, the Tiger 800 is a pretty good bike for riding two up, but there is more to it than just that. I first rode a Tiger 800 back in 2013 and at the time I wrote:
“I love the little thing! It’s just so smooth it’s unbelievable, […] jumping on this bike coming from my Super Duke is a bit of a shocking experience. No vibration, no snatchy throtle, no clunky gearbox. Just perfect fueling at all revs.
It’s not going to win any prizes for performance but that engine is so likeable and smooth! It reminded me of the BMW K1600’s inline 6, despite only having half the capacity and half as many cylinders! “
Almost four years later and after taking the latest iteration of the bike on this trip I stand by everything I said before!
This latest, more off-road focused version, completely surprised me for its uncanny ability to adapt to every surface. One minute we were cruising in absolute comfort on perfect smooth tarmac, the next we were scrambling up a rocky single trail.
I’m no off-road rider yet, but even two up and fully loaded, the little Triumph allowed me to get away with so much! The tyres just seemed to be able to dig in and grip while the WP suspension and large spoked wheels took a beating without a single complaint.
My only minor niggles with it were the excessively long side-stand, that resulted in the bike toppling over once while parked and the fact the riding modes can only be changed while at a stand still using button next to the dash. All other controls are in the handlebars and most bikes nowadays can switch modes on the move, why Triumph opted for this clunky solution I have no idea, but it was quite annoying as often in SA the road changes from tarmac to gravel to tarmac every few kms, forcing me to either stop to switch modes or just riding in off-road mode.
Talking about off-road mode, the traction control was just perfect, allowing the rear to spin just enough to allow for some fun and kicking in just before I ran out of talent!
I can’t think of a better choice of bike for doing a route like this two up and I absolutely recommend anyone coming to South Africa to rent a Tiger 800. You’ll love it! Just make sure you get one equipped with the Mitas Enduro tyres and not the standard road oriented ones.
- Triumph Motorcycle Hire and Mike Hopkins Motorcycles for helping us sort out the gear and bike for this fantastic trip.
- Craig Marshal for planning the perfect route for our trip and making sure we got it loaded on a GPS and ready to go. I don’t generally delegate the route planning onto other people, but I’m pretty sure no one could have planned such a great route as Craig did. Often local knowledge is fundamental and in a country as big and varied like South Africa I strongly encourage everyone to get one of the pre-planned routes. You will still have complete freedom to do things your way, while being confident that you won’t be missing any of the highlight roads and sights.