Blame it on Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor. Ever since the two plucky Brits travelled the world on motorcycles in the television series Long Way Round and Long Way Down, showrooms around the world have been swamped with riders who dream of embarking on their own expeditions. Sensing this trend, manufacturers have scrambled to launch a slew of adventure bikes aimed at capturing a slice of this emerging, lucrative market. With their all-round abilities and go-anywhere reputation, such bikes are a natural draw.
Enter Triumph’s contender in this category, the aptly named Tiger Explorer. Powered by an all-new 1215cc 3-cylinder engine, it is Triumph’s latest flagship adventure bike following the success of the Tiger 800, the Explorer’s little brother. The British bikemaker isn’t ashamed to admit it had the class-defining BMW R1200GS as a target while designing the Explorer, so a direct comparison with this Teutonic “benchmark” is inevitable.
And the Triumph manages to deliver the first blow, without even spinning a wheel. Despite weighing 30kg more than the German machine, the triple produces 135bhp against the BMW’s 105bhp air-cooled boxer. This power advantage manifests itself on the motorways, with the Explorer pulling hard from low down – tugging effortlessly from 2000rpm in sixth gear and continuing all the way to its 9300rpm redline. But wringing its neck isn’t what riding the Explorer is about, as the engine feels strangely rough and gravelly at the top end. Keep it below 6000rpm, and the torquey engine will provide more than enough oomph to dispatch slower traffic with a mere flick of the wrist.
The Triumph’s screen excels in deflecting wind blast and keeping my head stable, while allowing enough airflow into my helmet vents to keep my head cool at speeds of up to 200km/h – not a mean feat for someone with a 1.81m frame. The wide, plush and adjustable seats will keep the bums of riders and pillions happy between long rest stops. Coupled with the easy-to-operate cruise control and the punchy, charismatic engine, long motorway journeys become soothing affairs.
Another thing that impresses is Triumph’s new shaft-drive. Unlike conventional systems, which can be intrusive sometimes, the Explorer’s swingarm has Triumph-engineered geometry that eliminates squat, however hard you crack the throttle open. It’s so slick and fuss-free, you’d swear you were riding a chain-driven machine.
While the Triumph out-handles the BMW in corners thanks to its road-biased nature, the bike’s ride-by-wire throttle system requires that you pay extra attention to your right wrist. While the system ensures almost spot-on fuelling and excellent response, the throttle action is unusually light. Riders who are limp-wristed or have a penchant for thick gloves, beware – the ride can get snatchy if you’re sloppy with your wrist action, especially on bumpy roads. The good news is that you will get used to it after a while.
Another area in which the Triumph loses out is ride quality. Sharper handling often means a harsher ride, and this is evident on the Explorer when compared to the R1200GS. The BMW has on-the-fly adjustment of suspension and ride height, with its trademark Telelever front end and Paralever rear suspension translated into a plush ride, whatever the terrain. In comparison, the Triumph’s traditional, non-adjustable layout provides a firmer, sportier ride – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when push comes to shove. At legal-ish speeds, however, the GS’ suspension wins.
So, has Triumph toppled the bike it set out to beat from its perch? Well, yes and no. You see, the BMW may be a better all-rounder than the Triumph if you include off-road riding (which, in reality, only a tiny minority of adventure bike owners actually engage in), but as a road bike to cross continents on, the Triumph, well, triumphs over the Bimmer. Its horsepower advantage and superior road manners are overwhelming pull factors. That 3-cylinder engine is also more charismatic than the German boxer (although BMW purists might disagree), and it sounds way better, too.
If all this isn’t reason enough, consider the following: A fully specified Explorer costs about $10k less than an equivalent GS in Singapore. I don’t care how you look at it, but $10k isn’t exactly small change. Can you say value for money?
Despite everything, Triumph knows it won’t get close to the phenomenal popularity of the R1200GS – over 100,000 units were sold worldwide in 2011. The Tiger Explorer was built to be a worthy rival to the GS and steal some sales from it, however minuscule that figure may be. The BMW has a certain aura and image the Triumph can never hope to match – not to mention the endorsement of the two blokes from those documentaries.
This story was first published in the November 2012 issue of Torque.
2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer 1.2
ENGINE 1215cc, 12-valves, inline-3
MAX POWER 135bhp at 9300rpm
MAX TORQUE 121Nm at 6400rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed manual
0-100KM/H 4 seconds
TOP SPEED 220km/h
CONSUMPTION 16km/L (combined)