Review: Triumph Explorer 1200
It was only a matter of time, after the Tiger 800 started making waves on showroom floors, that we could expect to see a bigger brother from our brethren across the pond. Stepping into the ring with other giants is always tricky, even for a big Tiger. With the liter class adventure-touring competition rising, will Triumph’s cats come out on top?
Comfort and Ergonomics
Relative to the wide-barred Tiger 800XC, the 1200 sits in a very comfortable and neutral position—making it perfect for longer jaunts into the countryside. The stock seat is height adjustable, so even with a 32" inseam we preferred to keep it on the lowest setting to make getting around on dirt and gravel easier. Standing on the 1200 Explorer is okay, but like many bikes off the showroom, it could use a higher bar for taller riders. That said, cranking out several-hundred-mile days on the Tiger 1200 is a breeze.
Triumph put some thought into the Tiger 1200’s ergos and user features, ranging from wind protection to heated options with easy-to-use switches. The windscreen frame is adjustable, and the heated grips and seat are a joy to use on cool mornings or cold nights. The mixed digital/analog gauge cluster is bright and easy to see, but while the trip computer offers a lot of information, unfortunately the handle bar controls, which change the information display and settings, are rather cryptic and unintuitive to use. In an otherwise well rounded adventure-touring package, this is perhaps the one thing we’d most like to see improved the most.
Although our press bike wasn’t available for long term testing, we did manage to load it up for a little camping. Strapping on luggage was an easy chore, and there was plenty of room for bags. Perhaps the most interesting luggage feature, though, is Triumph’s swinging side-case design—which automatically pivots to the inside of turns.
Loose and swinging loads on a motorcycle are usually a number one no-no, so at first it was unnerving. However, we couldn’t notice any additional instability once loaded and underway. We assume it’s designed to help handling by keeping the center of mass low, but would need more time to verify its value. The unfortunate downside to this novel system is that the actual storage capacity of the bags isn’t anywhere near what their exterior size may suggest.
Performance and Handling
Triumph has created a totally new beast with 1215ccs of pull-your-butt-out-of-corner power. Triumph claims the Tiger motor produces 135bhp at 9,300 rpm, with a peak torque of 89ft-lb at 6400 rpm, totaling 41hp and 31ft-lb of torque more than the Tiger 800. Lots of torque can be found in the lower end of the rev range, and the new ride-by-wire system isn’t difficult to become accustomed to. The throttle twist lacks the feeling of a traditional spring-tensioned cable return, but the response is predictable and we quickly adjusted to its feel.
Compared to the pre-water-cooled BMW R1200GS, the Explorer’s street performance is more exhilarating. The legendary triple motor needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Like the Tiger 800, the 1200 Explorer has one of the quickest, smoothest and most positive shifting action we’ve experienced, making quick and confident work of even the trickiest sets of curves. With great amounts of on-demand power, and a comfortable riding geometry, the 1200 Explorer lends itself to a “sportier” ride, and a more blacktop-friendly experience than its counterparts. Sport-touring riders looking to dabble on fire-roads would find the Tiger 1200 Explorer a nice sweet spot.
In terms of long distance comfort, any of the 1200cc adventure bikes on the market fare well for eating major miles, but arguably the most challenging design aspect of large adventure tourers is managing their off-road prowess. The adjustable preload-only front suspension, and preload/rebound adjustable rear, are sufficient on the street, but at this price-point we’d like to see a little more tunability. Like the Tiger 800, which lacks any front fork adjustments, we conjecture that Triumph is leaving room for subsequent generational improvements.
While large bikes are inherently dirt unfriendly, having enough suspension travel, matched with correct dampening, can be the difference between making it home or not. After a couple hundred miles of fire and logging roads, we found the 1200 Explorer tended to chatter a bit at speed, and we wouldn’t suggest subjecting it to anything more strenuous. The BMW 1200GS’s lower center of gravity and long history of multi-surface suspension design make it more capable off road, and more compliant across a wider range of surfaces. Upsizing the wheels to the Explorer XC would change the tune, but unlike the Tiger 800 XC with a 21" front wheel upgrade, the Explorer XC keeps the same 19" wheel size, but with tubeless spoked rims, and some extra armor, as well as driving lights, standard.
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