TRIUMPH TIGER EXPLORER 1200

Triumph’s Tiger Explorer 1200 wasn’t a first choice for an extreme moto-adventure into the unknown. Too heavy, wrong engine type, wrong wheels – there were all manner of apparent shortcomings. Could it really deal with serious off-roading? We were about to find out...

It’s good to be different. The adventure world is dominated by twins, be they boxer-twins (BMW), vee-twins (KTM, Ducati) or parallel twins (Yamaha, Honda). Triples? Before Triumph came along with their Tigers (800 & 1200), there was briefly the Benelli TreK Amazonas (back in 2006) but that was more road bike, like a Ducati Multistrada, than a proper adventure bike. You might argue the same of the Tiger Explorer 1200, if you were feeling mean. But there is reason behind the twins prevailing, and that’s to do with engine characteristic: twins are an excellent design for producing solid low-rev torque, which is ideal for off-road and slow-ride cruising. Multis, like triples and fours – not so much, these are the rev hounds of the biking world. Which puts the Explorer on the back foot before this test even starts.

And that would to some extent explain why, when it was revealed to me (JB) by Touratech’s Ramona Schwarz that I was to pilot the mighty Explorer 1200 in the UPoA, that I did utter a fair few expletives. For the general consensus has been this bike is the heaviest of the adventure types and with that three-cylinder motor it’s more road-biased than dirt. It would be a big challenge to keep the Explorer plugging away, and upright, where we were heading, on the infamous RN5 and all that. Now I’d like to say I keep an open mind, but of course that wouldn’t be true. No, I wasn’t looking forward to this.

IT’S IMMENSE!

First impressions on seeing the Explorer in Madagascar? Immense size – although that’s common to all 1200cc adventure bikes. They are ridiculously huge if we’re honest. ‘Sledgehammer to crack a nut’ always comes to mind. Picking them up off their stand, pushing them around, doing U-turns in service stations – all of this is quite a challenge on these bikes, and you really don’t want to drop one. Usually it takes for you to actually start riding the bikes before they begin to make sense, once up and running the excess weight becomes less of an issue.

Even so, being 20kg heavier than a BMW R1200GS is not the best starting place for any wannabe adventure machine. And when you look at the Explorer's engine, sitting high and handsome under that trellis type frame, you just know it’s 259kg with a high centre of gravity. Only this exact bike isn’t 259kg because Herbert Schwarz has waved his yellow-and-black wand over the bike and now it has added stuff, like panniers and crash bars, hand guards, spot lights, tank bag, radiator guards... Then I have my own luggage to add, so throw on another 25kg there. In my riding kit I’d be another 100kg of (live) load too, so I’d be stressing the Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres to the tune of a fair 400kg with the Triumph.

Now, continuing on first impressions – is it handsome? I’d say no. In its defence it is at least brutish. It lacks the sense of integration the GS has developed and the headlamp arrangement lacks any sense of design at all, however there is an underlying feeling of quality, the more you look the more you appreciate the effort that’s gone into this machine. However, hit the starter button and the sound of the triple, broadcast through an aftermarket carbon fibre Remus muffler, is a gratifyingly masculine. Apparently these motors can sound a mite ‘agricultural’, a bit clattery, but this one was mechanically quiet enough – either that or the exhaust was drowning the engine noises out. So, aurally a delight, although, to my knowledge, sounding like a 1970s Rob North Trident road racer has never featured high on a rider's wish list for adventure bike attributes.

The ride position was, though, just about spot on. I note that the shaft drive doesn’t push out at your left ankle anything like that of the Yamaha Super Ténéré and the tank is deeply sculpted so the bike is quite narrow through the mid section. Herbert had added a Touratech seat to this bike, too, and I had this set to the higher position to make sure I didn’t have to bend my legs too much when seated and so that the seat was in the right place to be squeezed by my knees when stood. With a handlebar riser kit fitted I found the standing position for off-road riding to be spot on, proper off-road natural – and neutral – and but for the tank bag I could lean as far forward as I’d want. I’m pretty sure between Herbert and Wolfgang (Touratech’s guru of bike preparation) they’d had a proper think about these things and tailored the bike’s set-up to my dimensions.

Another house point to Triumph for equipping the Explorer with a decent battery and high-output alternator. When we arrived in Madagascar Herbert warned us that after the long sea voyage a bunch of the batteries were low and some care was needed not to drain the batteries still more. While in the course of the UPoA one KTM and the Ducati both succumbed to flat batteries, the Triumph though remained 100% strong beginning to end, even if I’d left the ignition and lights on (with the engine off) for long periods.

Now usually adventure bike tests are 90% road and 10% off-road in bias. Not so here, the exact opposite, probably 95% off-road in fact. So, on the short section of road that we encountered the Explorer was definitely sat at the smooth end of the spectrum. That triple’s power delivery is slick – with a claimed 135bhp it’s 10bhp stronger than the GS – and the gearbox is easy-shifting too so the big bike just purred along, comfort was obvious, and the mid-range howl meant there was fun to be had in making pretty tunes where the road slowed and then opened out again.

EXPECTING THE WORST...

The surprise was the off-road performance. Expecting the worst, it delivered not exactly the best, but at the very least delivered a seriously good account of itself. This being the older (new-in-2012) model it runs (stock) on Kayaba suspension, which is generally pretty good quality kit (there was a fairly comprehensive update for 2015, with a swap to WP suspension). But this particular bike had seen a comprehensive overhaul of its own with a progressive spring kit in the forks and a complete Touratech ‘ACE’ shock unit in the rear, with electronic adjustment of the preload and damping circuits. The upshot was a very refined ride. It would still struggle not to completely collapse under the pressure of flat-landing off jumps (with 400kg to contend with, most every adventure bike would) but it was firm yet sensitive enough to give a good feel for the terrain.

The power was mostly just fine. The most important thing to remember was to turn the traction control off. Without the finesse of BMW’s Enduro Pro mode, or even that of the traction control fitted to Yamaha’s Super Ténéré, with TC on the system interrupted way too early, making riding in tricky conditions impossible. There was plenty enough throttle control – this is a ride-by-wire set-up but felt conventional enough in response – to keep everything safe without it, so riding without traction control was the call. Only snag, with this older Explorer – as with many of the bikes here – was each time you turned the ignition off the traction control would reset to ‘on’ as default. And turning it off again was a royal pain requiring a sequence of button pushing that put minutes – felt like hours – into each restart.

Ridden without direct comparison to the twins, a rider would be quite happy on the Explorer. It was only when we took time out for some photos, and to swap saddles, that were able to appreciate the differences. It was noticeable that when being aggressive with the throttle in muddy conditions that the Triumph would rev and spin where the twins, with more grunt, would dig in and so push ahead more securely. And so where maybe you’ll find a tricky slope to climb then the Explorer will need a lot more finessing than say the GS. But, by no means, was the big Explorer ever a fish out of water, it was coping with extreme conditions very calmly.

It’s interesting to note the Triumph runs on a narrower rear rim to most 1200s, making for a 150-section rear tyre (where the GS adopts a 170-section), matched with a 110-section front. Interesting to note, but unremarkable otherwise, the handling felt solid and predictable, reassuring.

THE SAND MASTER!

Oddly enough the Explorer rose to the head of the pack in the conditions where you’d least expect it – in deep sand. Here, with the traction control off, and having popped a couple of brave pills, you could rev the proverbial nuts off the triple and it would fly along, the motor and sheer weight beating the sand into submission. It was a touch do or die – not what you might call a sustainable modus – but fact was the Explorer could handle it, the front didn’t tuck or dive, and for as long as you could keep the throttle pinned it would stamp its authority. Given also the howl from the exhaust it made for quite a visual and aural display, vastly flattering the rider, impressing the locals!

The Explorer also proved itself tough. Dropped into deep muddy waters – like knee deep when stood on the pegs – it would motor solidly through and all the mud, silt and water it simply shrugged off, with no resultant electrical issues. And once you got the hang of the highish centre of gravity you could ride it trials style around obstacles too. It took a serious amount of alluvial carnage to stop it. And when dropped, twice I think, it survived without damage – no doubt thanks in some part to the Touratech bars and panniers.

By the end of the ride I’d totally bonded with the Explorer, loved it like a brother you could say. It’s not perfect (who or what is?) but the fact it’s something so different, so individual, adds to its appeal. And when it matches a GS punch for punch on the trails you have to give it credit. I was struggling to make anything like a list of ‘hates’ or shortcomings by the end of the ride. I’m not a fan of cast wheels on adventure bikes, but Triumph have addressed this with the latest model with wire spokes (on the XC models) just like everyone else. I didn't appreciate the fiddly electronics controls, but these too have been comprehensively rethought and redesigned on the latest – and so now the bike remembers your settings.

Yep, against all my pre-conceptions, the Triumph won me over. I loved it and never once felt short-changed, didn’t find myself wishing I was riding one of the other bikes here. It stood shoulder to shoulder with the best and was never found wanting. And of course, the more it proved itself, the more I warmed to its looks. The Continental offerings might look more dashing, be more integrated, or come with serious pedigree, but the Triumph’s brutish attitude, ands sheer willingness, has its attractions. From being a bike I wasn’t ready to take seriously, I’ve got to give the Explorer 1200 a solid endorsement, it in fact feels and responds like a proper dirt bike, albeit a super-heavy one. And for that reason, it is an authentic adventure bike.

TRIUMPH TIGER EXPLORER 1200

Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC, 12-valve transverse three cylinder four-stroke

Capacity: 1215cc

Bore & stroke: 85x71.4mm

Claimed power: 135hp at 9300rpm

Claimed torque:  89lbft at 6400rpm

Compression ratio:  12.0:1

Fuelling:  Multi-point sequential electronic fuel injection

Ignition: 12v, digital

Starting:   electric

Transmission:  Six-speed

Clutch: Wet multiplate

Frame: Tubular steel trellis

Front suspension: Kayaba 46mm USD telescopic forks, 190mm travel

Rear suspension: Kayaba (Touratech ACE) monoshock, single-sided swingarm 194mm travel 

Front brake:  Twin 305mm discs, Nissin four-piston calipers, ABS

Rear brake:  282mm disc, Nissin twin-piston caliper, ABS

Tyres: 110/80-19, 150/70-17

Weight: 259kg

Seat height: 837/857mm

Wheelbase: 1435mm

Fuel capacity: 20 litres

Top speed: 215km/h

Price: €14,700 before options

Contact:  www.triumphmotorcycles.co.uk   

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