Tiger Tank

Story by Uwe Wachtendorf, Lawrence Hacking and Clinton Smout// Photos by Jeff Stephenson
August 1 2012
Photo of the new Triumph Tiger Explorer

In 1973, an inexperienced motorcyclist by the name of Ted Simon burdened a 500 cc Triumph Tiger 100 under a mountain of luggage, and then embarked on a four-year, 125,000-kilometre odyssey through 45 countries.

Today, much to his chagrin, Simon is regarded as a founding father of the adventure-touring genre, which was pushed into the mainstream in 2004 by a pair of British actors who documented their own global circumnavigation in a television series entitled Long Way Round. Since then, almost every motorcycle manufacturer has clamoured for ground in motorcycling’s fastest-growing segment.

New Touring Bike Tiger ExplorerIt’s unlikely that Ted Simon would recognize Triumph’s latest entry in the high-stakes adventure-touring market as being a Tiger. The goliath cresting the hill and rumbling the ground beneath my feet is an absolute behemoth next to the modestly sized Tiger that served Simon in his travels. A glance at the spec sheets confirms that the 2012 Tiger Explorer produces close to 100 more horsepower, carries 7 additional litres of fuel, and most significant of all, is 84 kilograms heavier.

But would Ted Simon approve? “My feelings about the evolution of motorcycles are fairly primitive,” he told me years ago. “They’re too big and are driven by the wrong things: greed for size and power. It’s a shame.” “To test Simon’s thesis, we handed Mojo’s accomplished off-road test team a Tiger Explorer and asked Lawrence Hacking and Clinton Smout to discover if adventure-tourers have overgrown their usefulness, or if it is actually possible to make a tank fly.

Beauty and the Beast

With its new Tiger Explorer, Triumph becomes the latest brand to offer a super-sized, adventure-touring motorcycle that takes aim at long-established class competitors such as KTM’s 990 Adventure and the benchmark BMW R1200GS.

With a claimed wet weight of 259 kg (570 lb.), it’s not a lightweight. However, its compact engine and steel tube trellis frame help to hide the Explorer’s heft, as was proven on the road, where the Explorer handled like a smaller bike, giving a rider confidence and that in-control feeling.

The rider’s compartment has a natural, open feel that offers comfort and the freedom to move around. Its seat is well designed, precisely shaped to offer plenty of support and encourage long rides. My wife tried out the pillion and felt at ease perched above me with a good forward view and well-placed hand grips and foot pegs.

Optional seats are available to alter the stock seat height between 810 and 880 mm. A heated seat – along with heated grips – are options I’d include on my build sheet; to accommodate the extra electrical load today’s numerous touring accessories add, Triumph fitted a class-leading, 950-watt, high-output alternator to the Explorer.

The variable-height windscreen effectively deflected windblast, and the handlebar and controls were well positioned. The easy-to-use switchgear featured an electronic cruise control on the right handlebar. Instrumentation included a digital speedometer and analog tachometer, along with a variety of readouts such as a trip computer, a tire-pressure monitoring system, air temperature, a service-interval indicator, gear indicator, and a frost warning.

I’m an old-school guy, one who usually disses technology, but this Triumph’s simple-to-operate digital control panel helped me to see the light. It offered a multitude of switchable options such as engine-power modes, different levels of traction control, and the ability to turn off the ABS.

The ABS was state of the art; on gravel, it smoothly controlled the rear brake without alarming the rider. The system consists of Nissin 4-piston calipers and double front discs, which impressively hauled the Tiger down from speed. Overall, I was impressed with the strength and precision of the brakes and found them well suited to the size, weight and intended use of the Explorer.

Typically for a Triumph, the Explorer employs a three-cylinder engine. The newly designed, big-lung 12-valve displaces 1215 cc and left me wondering why other manufacturers have avoided the three-cylinder concept. A triple is inherently balanced internally, uses about 25 percent fewer parts compared to a four-cylinder, and is narrower in width. Best of all, it makes a truckload of mid-range torque, which means it is a natural choice for an adventure-tourer.

The motorcycle’s enormous power and seamless delivery revealed a significant strength of the Explorer: its ability to swallow great distances quickly. The engine didn’t seem to mind which gear it was in while it provided the blinding acceleration that places it ahead of nearly everything else on the road.

The ultra-easy throttle action is connected to a ride-by-wire system and Keihin fuel injection, which provided near-flawless air-fuel metering and precise communication with the engine to control its scalpel-like power. It made me feel like I was wringing out a wet sock when twisting the throttle of my own carbureted bike.

Triumph equipped the new Explorer with a well-designed shaft drive, a welcome feature on a touring motorcycle. Its operation was almost transparent; aside from a pronounced whine at 70 km/h, shaft effect was discernible during hard acceleration, when the rear suspension would squat and apply traction-enhancing down force on the rear tire.

The driveshaft is housed in a massive, single-sided, cast-aluminum swingarm, efficient and clean looking. The 6-speed transmission shifted precisely and offered a perfect ratio for every situation, including light trail riding. On the open highway in top gear, the Explorer lopes along, barely working up a sweat.

The chassis was taut and provided positive feedback as the suspension absorbed the hits that otherwise would tire a rider. Its geometry worked well in paved turns and was unfazed by pavement-to-gravel transitions. Despite a wheelbase on the long side, ample steering lock allowed the Tiger to be turned within a relatively confined space. On gravel roads, the 19-inch front wheel followed a precise line, which was reassuring given that most of the world remains unpaved.
I’ve ridden adventure bikes with 17-, 19- and 21-inch front wheels (both cast and spoked), and find that a 19-inch wheel is the best compromise to provide good on- and off-road manners.

The Kayaba suspension used by Triumph had a high-quality feel, and its performance provided a good measure of comfort and confidence. A
46 mm inverted front fork with 190 mm of travel handled the range of conditions a true adventure bike is subjected to. The rear shock features a remote, hydraulically adjustable spring preload along with rebound adjustment.

Our testing far exceeded the intended parameters of a large-scale adventure bike. Despite this, I was surprised at the control the Tiger afforded and its ability to soak up even small jumps with ease.

During our test, the big Tiger averaged 6.1 L/100 km. With its 20-litre tank filled, you can expect a fuel range of around 330 km, even more if you ride it conservatively. That’s enough to cover most long-distance adventure riding scenarios without worry.

Another welcome feature for an adventure-tourer with serious aspirations is the Explorer’s 16,000 km service intervals; with Triumph’s faith in its durability and what seems to be a high build quality, I wouldn’t hesitate to ride it around the world – it might be my first choice for such an endeavour.

Our test bike’s Graphite paint scheme had an understated appearance well suited to its bodywork; however, two additional liveries, Phantom Black and Sapphire Blue, are also available. Pricing for the base Explorer, which comes standard with ABS and cruise control, starts at $17,499. That’s $500 less than a BMW R1200GS that doesn’t include ABS.

Although its styling reflects a form-following-function philosophy, which took a bit of getting used to, I really liked the Triumph Tiger Explorer. I especially liked its brash character; it had a slightly naughty side, much like the Rolling Stones do when compared to the Beatles. The Triumph Tiger Explorer is a motorcycle that feels prepared for any riding adventure, a motorcycle that you could escape on and leave it all behind – and that is an empowering feeling I like to have.

Hear Me Roar

Yahoo, another adventure-touring bike! It seems that almost every manufacturer makes one now, and ever since I first sat on the Tiger Explorer several months ago, I’ve wanted to ride one. I really liked its design; it’s a big motorcycle, but it looks and feels narrower than its competitors, and its various finished surfaces and visible welds are typical Triumph – in other words, beautiful.

When first riding an unfamiliar bike, I like to go slowly and get a feel for ergonomics, clutch and low-speed control. At unhurried speeds, the Explorer felt very balanced and not at all top heavy. Being an adventure-tourer, it had what I consider to be perfect ergonomics; my feet were under me, my arms and hands at a comfortable position, and I had a straight back. The only change I would make to the Triumph’s layout would be to roll the handlebar forward and adjust the control assemblies down to make it more comfortable for my orangutan arms when I’m standing up on its pegs.

As my speed increased, I noted that the adjustable windshield was perfect; even with my full face–helmet visor up, I didn’t experience any head buffeting or excessive wind noise.

The Explorer was made for the traveller who occasionally wants to venture off-road. Touring motorcycles designed just for pavement use usually have poor off-road handling due to their excessive weight and engine power, overly soft suspensions, and ergonomic layouts that aren’t conducive to riding while standing up. If you only want to ride on the street, this bike wouldn’t be the best choice; it would be like buying a double-decker bus to commute to work. On the other hand, if you want to do some big tours that mix paved and unpaved roads, then the Explorer will be your cup of tea.

Our test route took us on a very twisty road that we rode aggressively to get the bike leaned over. I found that the ride-by-wire throttle was very sensitive – I had to work harder than expected to keep the lines I wanted in corners. However, the more I rode, the less it seemed to bother me.

The three-cylinder, fuel-injected engine started immediately and had no manual choke for me to worry about. If you’re wilderness camping and have to leave in a hurry, odds are that the hungry bear will go for your buddy who is stuck using a choke to get his bike running. But you had better have your tent and sleeping bag strapped on well, because this inline-triple pulls really hard off the line and accelerates very quickly. In a short race, a superbike would smoke the Explorer, but I’d bet on the adventure-tourer in a race across the country, especially if the route contained gravel or trails.

I was really impressed with the big motor’s torque after I took off from a stop and felt the bike lug just a little; foolishly, I had it in third gear. In sixth gear at legal highway speeds, the engine hardly seemed to be working, and its exhaust produced a distinctive and pleasant rumble. It’s not overly loud, but that exhaust growls power.

The gearbox was very smooth, and the only issue I had was shifting it with my motocross boots on. It wasn’t actually anything to worry about, as raising the shifter’s position provided a quick fix.

During forceful braking on pavement, the Explorer’s three big brake discs, backed by ABS, worked flawlessly. However, if you’re riding the Triumph for an extended period on gravel or dirt roads, I’d suggest shutting the ABS off. ABS prevents a wheel from locking under braking. Since riding on gravel makes it easier for a wheel to lock, ABS will intervene often, which translates into longer stopping distances. With the ABS off, a skidding wheel will build up a mound of gravel in front of the tire, which will actually help to slow you down.

The process of switching the Explorer’s ABS off was a pain, requiring that I use two buttons with the bike stopped and idling in neutral. With practice, I managed to turn the ABS off fairly quickly, but then had to remember not to shut the ignition off. If you do, ABS and the Explorer’s traction control system reboot to their default setting with both switched on. If you’re just stopping for a minute, use the engine kill switch and leave the ignition switched on to prevent the two systems from resetting.

Most reviews of adventure-tourers don’t even get the bike dirty. We tested the Explorer in deep gravel, sand, on forest trails, and we even lapped it on a small motocross track. For a big bike, the Explorer handled the off-road conditions very well. Its big 19-inch front wheel really helped to keep it stable on the loose terrain as its plush suspension soaked up small irregularities with ease. The suspension proved to be near perfect for my 79 kg weight (175 lb.), and it was only on the motocross track that the fork and rear shock needed help in the bottom end of their travel, a situation that didn’t really surprise us; after all, who would be crazy enough to take such a large bike on an off-road track?

The rough trails we took the Explorer on proved to me that it’s a true adventure-tourer, one that can venture very far off the beaten path. If I had to sum up the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer in two words, it would be “bloody marvellous!”

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Spec Chart

MODEL 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
List Price $17,499 ($18,512 as tested: Fog Lamp Kit with Switch $423; Engine Bars $240; Alloy Belly Pan $220; Hand Guards $130)
Warranty 2 years
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 12-valve, inline-triple
Displacement 1215 cc
Power (claimed) 101 kW (135 hp) at 9300 rpm
Torque (claimed) 121 N-m (89 ft-lb) at 6400 rpm
Bore and Stroke 85 x 71.4 mm
Compression Ratio 11.0:1
Fuel Delivery Ride-by-wire fuel injection
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Type Shaft
Front Suspension Kayaba 46 mm inverted telescopic fork
Rear Suspension Kayaba single shock with hydraulically adjustable preload and rebound damping
Wheel Travel 190 mm front; 194 mm rear
Brakes Front: Two 305 mm floating discs with Nissin 4-piston calipers; One 282 mm disc with Nissin 2-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1530 mm (60.2 in.)
Rake and Trail 23.9 degrees/105.5 mm
Tires 110/80-19 front; 150/70-17 rear
Weight (wet) 259 kg (570 lb.)
Seat Height 837 mm (32.9 in.) – 857 mm (33.7 in.)
Fuel Capacity 20 L
Fuel Economy (observed) 6.1 L/100 km (46 mpg)
Fuel Range (estimated) 328 km

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