2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer

Road Test Review

After my exhilarating but brief ride on the all-new Triumph Tiger Explorer at its press launch in Spain (Rider, May 2012, and on ridermag.wpengine.com), I waited impatiently for the Explorer to arrive in the U.S., eager to spend quality time together and see if we had the chemistry for a longer-term relationship. The attraction was still there—the tall, robust Triumph’s rugged features and alluring British-triple accent push all the right buttons—but living together day-to-day would be the true test of our compatibility, and a comparison with the Yamaha Super Ténéré would put things into proper perspective.

What impressed me immediately about the Explorer, and continues to put stars in my eyes, is its engine—a smooth, potent triple with a spine-tingling exhaust note. At idle the Explorer rumbles unassumingly like a diesel, but at full honk you’d swear its stainless-steel 3-into-1 pipe was Gabriel’s own trumpet. Liquid-cooled, counterbalanced and displacing 1,215cc, the in-line triple has the same 71.4mm stroke as Triumph’s 1050 triple, but a 6mm-larger bore (85mm) and architecture based on the sporty Daytona 675. Dual overhead cams actuate four valves per cylinder and the three pistons compress fuel and air at 11.0:1. Fuel is injected via 46mm throttle bodies using throttle-by-wire, Triumph’s first use of this increasingly common technology that improves fuel efficiency and emissions, enables electronic cruise control and assists with traction control. As with some other bikes we’ve tested with throttle-by-wire, there’s some vagueness between the twist grip and rear wheel that takes a little getting used to. Also, clearly evident on our U.S. test bike but not on the Explorer I rode in Spain, is some abruptness in on/off throttle response, which may result from lean fuel mapping to meet EPA emissions standards. Despite my best efforts, it was often difficult to hold a steady speed and avoid bump-induced throttle inputs.

But when I got on the pipe, the Explorer’s pulse-quickening thrust and call-of-the-wild howl overshadowed all else. Triumph’s brute spun Jett Tuning’s dyno to 118.5 horsepower at 9,100 rpm (400 rpm shy of redline) and 78.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm, outgunning the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure (95.1 horsepower, 74.6 lb-ft) and Yamaha Super Ténéré (95.1 horsepower, 75.4 lb-ft) compared in our January issue, but falling short of the Ducati Multistrada 1200 (136.2 horsepower, 82.8 lb-ft; May 2011). What’s more impressive than the Triumph’s peak numbers is the smoothness of the underlying curves, revealing barely a blip or dip. Horsepower climbs linearly and torque spreads out flatly from sea to shining sea, with more than 90 percent of peak grunt available from 3,300 to 8,800 rpm. On the road, darting from apex to apex, the Explorer always has more to give, regardless of gear or rpm. Similar to the Multistrada, Triumph has injected a hefty dose of sport into its open-class adventure tourer, and it’s no surprise that the same engine will power Triumph’s new-for-2013 Trophy sport tourer (see page 18). Motorcycles like the Explorer have a way of putting you under their spell, compelling you to indulge primal urges. I twisted the throttle again and again just for the fun of it, consuming fuel voraciously in the process. Those with more self-discipline could no doubt improve upon the 35.7 mpg average recorded during this test.

From starting to shifting, from stopping to steering, to parking it on its wide-footed sidestand or easy-to-deploy centerstand, living with the Explorer on a daily basis has been a pleasure. The engine transmits minimal vibration to the rider, the seat is well-padded and supportive and the upright seating position is comfortably commanding. The height of the windscreen and seat can be easily raised or lowered, and with more effort and tools, the handlebar’s position can be changed. Out back, the Explorer has a sturdy tail section, standard luggage rack and large passenger grab handles, all made of aluminum. The tail section and rack are blessed with numerous tie-down points, some of which double as hangers for the accessory panniers, making it easy to secure luggage. Triumph offers 37 different accessories for the Explorer, from hard and soft luggage to hand guards and protective pieces, heated grips, seats, fog lights, an integrated tire pressure monitoring system and more. Due to the high, oddly shaped peak on the 5.3-gallon metal fuel tank, Triumph’s Explorer-specific accessory tankbag will probably fit better than most general-purpose tankbags.

Using the electronic cruise control and toggling through the various tripmeter, fuel economy and menu functions is straightforward, though having to root around in the setup menu to turn off the ABS or traction control is a hassle.

Admittedly, many Explorer owners will do so rarely if at all, but those that do will endure some frustration. Triumph’s legal department probably dictated such an inconvenience for safety reasons, but it could actually be less safe if a rider feels it’s too troublesome to turn off the ABS when riding off-road. (I once crashed an adventure bike when I failed to turn off the ABS before venturing off-road, and I have the x-rays to prove it.) For a motorcycle so heavily influenced by the BMW R 1200 GS, it would be well-served to have similar ABS and TC buttons right on the handlebar, visible reminders that are easy to use.

What’s inescapable about the Explorer is its husky size. Full of gas and ready to ride, it tipped our scales at 585 pounds, outweighing a well-equipped BMW R 1200 GS by 47 pounds (Rider, August 2010) and a Yamaha Super Ténéré by six pounds (see page 54). Bolt on some accessories and it will easily surpass 600 pounds, like the kitted-out R 1200 GS Adventure and Super Ténéré we tested in January. Yes, you can ride the Explorer offroad, but you must do so carefully to avoid ending up on the wrong side of momentum in a precarious location. The first time you have to pick up an Explorer in ankle-deep sand, you’ll curse every one of its 585 pounds; by the third time, you’ll curse the invention of the wheel. But Triumph knows that the vast majority of people who buy adventure tourers like the Explorer won’t leave the pavement, so it equipped the bike with cruise control, street-biased Metzeler Tourance EXP tires and cast wheels—spoked wheels are not even available as an option. If its 33.1-inch seat height agrees with your inseam (it can be raised to 33.9 inches; optional low and high seats subtract 1.2 inches and add 1.4 inches, respectively), then the Explorer offers a great touring experience regardless of road surface. On the road, the well-balanced Explorer feels much lighter than it really is.

Riding hundreds more miles on the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer has helped me better understand its many strengths and few weaknesses. My initial impressions of smooth power, minimal driveline lash, neutral handling and well-damped suspension have been reaffirmed. In my earlier report I said that the brakes needed more initial bite and better feel, but I had neither complaint during this longer evaluation. On the other hand, the abrupt on/off throttle response experienced during this test wasn’t evident at the press launch. The problem could potentially be solved with an aftermarket fuel controller, but a bike of this caliber should be dialed-in straight from the factory. Other test riders—when they were able to pry the key from my hand—also praised the Tiger Explorer. Based on its comfort, handling and engine performance, Editor-in-Chief Mark Tuttle likened it to a tall sport tourer, though falling short of the wind protection typically found in that category. And my brother Paul, who rides a Suzuki V-Strom 1000, developed a fever after being exposed to the Triumph’s contagious engine and handling, the cure for which requires hand-wringing negotiations with his wife and raiding his savings account. Although not perfect and more pavement oriented than some, the Triumph Tiger Explorer is remarkably good in its rookie year. It’s the answer to almost any adventure touring question you might ask—especially if it’s for more power.