Two brothers are at the centre of one of Triumph’s most exciting bike projects ever to embark on a journey into “hell”.
One of either David or Felipe Lopez will ride the new Tiger Tramontana, a customised Tiger 800 XC which has been six months in the making, through the blistering heat and treacherous terrain of this year’s Panafrica Rally.
Following on from the critical acclaim two years ago for their Tramontana Scrambler, its pared down cousin is a pure rally competition bike built to be fiercely competitive in one of the world’s most demanding desert races.
Triumph’s engineer test riders have been locked in competitive training in the run up to the 2,000km Saharan adventure to decide who takes the rider’s slot. Both hope their gruelling fitness regime and meticulous preparations ensure the bike will be one to watch around the 40-degree heat and powder-fine sand of the Moroccan course,
David says the Tiger Tramontana, built and developed from a Tiger XCX base with the “phenomenal support” of the passionate Hinckley team outside work hours, is testament to the passion that runs through the company.
“We’ve kept the original Tramontana spirit and philosophy of creating the most focused and pure bike we could deliver, giving it everything we’ve learned over the years of development at Triumph. But on this occasion everything is on a bigger scale,” he says.
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Like their original custom scrambler build, this Tramontana bike is named after the north wind that blows across the Pyrenees into Spain where the brothers are from. It’s nothing new for Triumph’s teams, who have also worked on other Bobber and Scrambler concept bikes that went on to form the basis of factory builds.
David says: “Both projects were extremely successful in different ways and with the Tiger Tramontana, we are combining the best of both… the purity and performance focus of the original Tramontana project with the innovation, freshness and beauty of the factory Bobber and Scrambler projects and the incredible character and capability of the Tiger’s triple engine.”
Painstaking support from expert individuals and teams in Hinckley has enabled David and Felipe to focus solely on the fitness work needed to compete as well as the dynamics development aspects and then, as he puts it, “racing the damn thing in hell!”
The Panafrica is being held in a loop starting and finishing each day over five different and challenging stages through the Saharan dunes from Erfoud in eastern Morocco. David admits it will be tough but says the approach to this bike will ensure it holds it own: “This is a racing bike and it’s going to be raced in the most extreme terrain and conditions over distance, so the primary focus has always been function over form.
“The things that have changed have changed for a reason, either to improve performance, to optimise weight distribution or for more appropriate functionality in racing conditions,” reveals David.
It will be a big ask. The brothers’ previous experience is in road and endurance racing but the lure of a big rally – “the ultimate bike experience combining riding and adventure” – is a once in a lifetime experience that they weren’t about to turn down.
A whole new level of off-road
Felipe says: “We’ve been training for the last four months on two Tiger 800 XCs riding an average of 300km every weekend across all types of terrain to test some of the components we’ll use on the final rally bikes. It’s been an extraordinary experience with a steep learning curve.”
Both have been delighted with the training capabilities of the XC, but changes were essential to make no compromise to any other type of riding than off road. David explains: “The Tigers are phenomenal off road, but in their original configuration have been conceived to perform well in other conditions away from the dirt, like normal road riding or touring with luggage and a pillion.
“The modifications we’ve made to the Tiger Tramontana take the all-round capability of the Tiger 800 to a much more focussed level required for this type of extreme off-road riding, so the off-road capability has been enhanced significantly to be comparable to all of the rally enduro racing bikes in the field.”
Ultimate union of bike and man
But the bike is only half the equation. One of the biggest challenges is the psychological strength needed to be competitive in a rally like the Panafrican, with the rider’s physical and mental presence almost as crucial as the bike’s capability: “It’s very much the ultimate union of machine and man so we know we have to have all aspects right all the time,” stresses Felipe.
“Mentally, our experience in endurance racing is helping us maintain concentration levels, but it’s still very challenging. This is crucial to avoid riding and navigation mistakes that can cost you dear in a rally like this.”
The pair have entered competitive events to experience the danger and loss or orientation of riding through the dust of the bike in front and to learn to resist the temptation of blindly following the guy up ahead.
The preparation for the rally’s Maxi Trail category included a run out at a Spanish Rally Championship round, a one day 450Km rally which saw the Tigers finish sixth overall with a class win against fully prepped rally and enduro bikes.
Confirmed entries for the event include Dakar stage winners and podium finishers Gerard Farres and Stefan Svitko, as well as more than ten other Dakar regulars.
The key mods
“The things that have changed have changed for a reason, either to improve performance, to reduce weight or for more appropriate functionality in racing conditions,” reveals David.
The front end of the bike has been modified to accommodate the new instrumentation (Roadbook, ICO, GPS beacon) which will keep David or Felipe on the right track, along with:
- Lighter headlights
- An adapted subframe designed to support all the new components
- A bespoke screen to cover and protect everything.
- Modified body panels, sump guard, seat and rear mudguard
Felipe says: “The end result is undoubtedly beautiful, but its form has not compromised any aspect of its functionality and that Tiger character and signature silhouette is very much present. The guys in charge of the styling and modelling have created a true beauty out of raw functionality and robustness, and have done an incredible job.”
Minimal means beauty
Changes to the bike’s architecture made to improve it dynamically include a shorter rear end to improve mass centralisation and the longer suspension and revised linkage to improve the ride in off-road conditions.
David says: “When everything on a bike is taken to its minimal expression and to its greatest focus configuration, the beauty and balance of pure racing motorcycles emerges on its own, almost without trying. Or at least that’s how we see it!”
The margins are extremely fine in a Dakar-format rally like this with human error a constant fear, but the brothers and the team behind them are confident of a competitive finish, with David insisting: “A lot of people have poured a lot of focused expertise and passion into delivering what we think is a stunning bike. Now it’s just up to us to ride it but whatever the outcome it’s been an amazing adventure from day one.”