Stop me if you’ve heard this one: when it comes to adventure touring, the GS is the royal family, and the R 1200 GS is the king. Despite recent competition in the form of Ducati’s Multistrada, Yamaha’s Super Ténéré, and Moto Guzzi’s Stelvio (and impending challenges from Honda’s looming Cross Tourer and Aprilia’s reincarnated Caponord), more than 25,000 BMW Boxer GSs — practically one-quarter of BMW Motorrad’s annual motorcycle production — were sold worldwide in 2011. Every adventure bike is judged against, and in competition with, the GS line, whether the manufacturer dares admit it or not. Most contenders downplay the comparisons, but last year’s introduction of Triumph’s Tiger 800 was such a blatant glove slap across the royal family’s face that BMW boss Hendrik von Kuenheim remarked in interviews that Triumph owners and dealers should be ashamed of their company for knocking off the German adventure-tourers.
Wait till HVK gets a load of this.
The 2012 Tiger Explorer is more than just another multipurpose maxi-enduro; the Explorer is a bona fide contender for the throne. Triumph wasn’t content to build a bike that would be just another commoner in the GS royal court; its stated intent is to swipe a share of the bounty. Triumph has produced a motorcycle so like the king of adventure-touring — in looks, size, and behavior — that if it weren’t for the “Explorer” badge on the tank, it might be difficult for a layman to tell the two apart. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They also say that one man’s shame is another man’s pride. This, my friends, is war.
At the Explorer’s worldwide launch, Triumph Product Manager Simon Warburton freely admitted that the UK manufacturer had one benchmark in mind when designing its new adventure tourer: the R 1200 GS. Triumph’s marketing and R & D departments began with a simple query: what do GS owners love about their bikes, and why? The answers ultimately determined several key aspects of the Explorer. To begin with, it had to be shaft driven, and the GS’ notoriously erratic shaft provided an opportunity for improvement. The new bike had to be reliable and reparable; the GS is (generally) hard to break and (relatively) easy to fix. The bike had to offer comfort and convenience for two, because while any ride can be an adventure, a partner on the pillion can turn a trip into a tour. Any adventure bike worth its salt must have off-road capabilities. Finally, and most significantly, Triumph’s distinctive triple provided a chance to beat the Boxer, performance-wise — but the power plant of the Tiger 1050 had already been wrought. So that meant an all-new motor.
• The Shaft — GS forums are teeming with Beemerheads complaining of bearing and/or seal failures, due mainly to off-road bumps and jumps. For the new Explorer, Triumph has developed what it terms a metalistic shaft: a tough rubber component bonds two separate shafts, providing smoother function and extended maintenance intervals.
• Reliable & Reparable — 10,000 miles between minor checkups, and 20,000 for major ones — these are the longest suggested service intervals of any production bike. By way of comparison, the GS requires attention every 6,000 miles; Ducati’s Multistrada, 7,500. A multitube trellis frame, using the engine as a stressed member, is reminiscent of the Tiger 800 (and by proxy, the GS); steel provides durability and weldability.
• Long Haul Ready — Cruise control is standard, as are switchable ABS and traction control. Comfort and range require a host of accessories, so the Explorer’s alternator has a massive 900W capacity. (The GS makes do with 720W.) An alternator that big could be a significant drain, but Triumph’s externally excited version produces only as much power as is needed. Other amenities include an adjustable screen and two-position seat, preload adjustable rear shock, centerstand, and a plethora of useful dash information. An electronic tire pressure monitoring system, larger windscreen, heated grips and seats, and roomy cargo boxes are among the 37 optional accessories.
• Trail Tiger — Adjustable 46mm front forks and rear preload allow the rider to tailor the Explorer to individual needs and riding conditions, while the long-travel suspension, dirt-ready tires, and 19″ front wheel ensure it has the ability to cope with unpaved roads. A plastic chin guards the three header pipes; an aluminum radiator shield, molded headlight protector, and sturdy engine bars are among the off-road add-ons.
• Powerful Growl — Plainly put, this 1215cc motor is dynamically better than the 1192cc Boxer in almost every way. Typically Triumph, the 12-valve, DOHC engine inline triple keeps the 71.4mm stroke of the 1050, but with a bigger 85mm bore. Thanks to an 11:1 compression ratio, the Explorer claims 135 hp at 9000 rpm and 89.2 ft-lbs. of torque at 6400 revs. Eye-popping numbers, to be sure, due in huge part to a flywheel that helps transfer power to the shaft. This motor pulls eagerly, in any gear, at any speed. In fact, Triumph says it makes as much as 73 ft-lbs. of torque from as early as 2500 rpm, and has afterburners beyond 7 thou. In a word, it’s stunning.
From the saddle, the Explorer feels roomy and comfortable, if big and heavy, but it does an outstanding job of hiding its heft. At 570 pounds curb, including 5.3 gallons of fuel, it’s heavier than the R 1200 GS — a difference that will surely be made up with the introduction of the long-rumored, liquid-cooled Boxer in the next year or two — but lighter and narrower than the Super Ténéré. The adjustable seat drops from 33.7″ to under 33″. Our test model had the accessory heated saddle, and a 5’11″ rider could easily plant both heels. Speaking of adjustments, the GS-cloned windscreen has five settings offering 13 degrees of tilt. This can be done by hand. Our test model also featured Triumph’s accessory luggage. The saddlebags provide 60 liters of cargo space, while the top box offers 35 more, and plenty of room for a full-face helmet.
The Tiger has a sophisticated dash that’s not nearly as complicated as that of the Multistrada and offers more information than most bikes in its class: digital speedometer, analog tachometer, clock, fuel gauge, engine temperature, gear indicator, and an array of warning lights including fuel, ABS, and cruise control indicator. A switch on the left switchgear lets you toggle through odometer, dual trip meters (with distance, time, and average speed), fuel economy, range to empty, and ambient temperature. Bikes equipped with the optional electronic TPMS will also display psi for both tires, and there’s an indicator for the heated seat if you’ve opted for that perk. Riders can set the unit readings and choose self- or manual-canceling turn signals using this switch, and this is also where you can turn the ABS off and adjust the traction control. Note that adjustments to these dirt-friendly features last only until you turn the key off.
The starter button requires that the clutch lever be squeezed in, and the gruff hum from the pipe confirms that this is a proper British bike. Keihin supplies 46mm throttle bodies and Triumph’s first-ever ride-by-wire system, which not only made tuning easier on the Explorer, but also allowed the cruise control system to be standard equipment. A simple on/off button and a set/resume (speed +/-) toggle switch are the extent of it, and it works effortlessly. Thanks to ride-by-wire, Triumph claims the addition of traction control was also mostly a matter of electronics.
On the road, the fat torque curve impresses. Delivery throughout is crisp and confident, and the relaxed riding posture and ease of maneuverability make the Explorer a breeze to ride. There’s not a lot of difference in the saddle between this bike and the big GS; the dimensions are similar, the power comparable, and the top end terrific. The distinction, I submit, comes in the low end handling and a wide gear ratio that allows complete control. On the twisties, fourth or fifth will provide plenty of pull to bring you out of corners with confidence. If you prefer to let your engine do the braking for you, third gear will suffice whether you’re doing 15 or 55 with nary a burp or whine. Under normal conditions the inline triple simply does not bog, and neither does it wind out. Phenomenal. The ABS is sensitive without being intrusive; the brake pedal stutter comes readily, but it’s subtle, and not nearly as alarming or clunky as others we’ve felt.
At the end of the day, last year’s Tiger 800 was a completely shameless project, one that was well received by owners and dealers alike. Aiming even higher, the new Tiger Explorer is every bit as impressive, if not more so due to loftier goals. Clearly, Triumph has built an adventure-tourer that tries to replicate the best of the GS while improving on its few shortcomings. The result is a big-bore adventure-tourer that is everything the BMW GS is, and everything it is not. And it’s slightly cheaper, too. At $15,699, it’s more expensive than the Japanese ADV, but less than those from Italy or Bavaria. Savvy owners will squeeze even more value from the extended service intervals and two-year, unlimited-mile warranty.
The Brits have not shied away from their desire to undercut the Germans; the Tiger 800 has already pilfered some sales. Surely not only BMW, but the rest of the premium adventure-touring market will feel the impact of the Explorer. Not only has Triumph’s triple matched or surpassed every power plant offered by the current crop of big-bore adventure-tourers, but the Explorer’s features, from accessories to ergonomics, make the big Tiger a compelling contender for the crown. The GS may still be the king, but this game of thrones is far from over. RB
By Jon Langston photos by Tom Riles