Triumph Tiger Explorer

Stray Cat

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Patrick Gosling

They say: “A more distinctive take on adventure.”

We say: “A 135-horse punch in the Boxer’s gut!”

After the Tiger 800, nobody wondered if Triumph would take a shot at BMW’s wildly popular R1200GS. It was more a question of when and with what? Once the big cat was out of the bag, other questions surfaced in our editorial think-tank. And after a 23-hour slog from Los Angeles to Malaga and pots of Spanish coffee at the Hotel Bobadilla, the roads through these rocky, rolling Andalusian hills would answer them.

The Explorer idea took shape concurrently with its 799cc brother over the past half-dozen years, and certain facets of its omnivorous persona were clear from the beginning. A big Triumph adventurer capable of luring checkbooks from BMW showrooms needed an athletic chassis with room for two. It would need an array of useful electronic gadgetry, along with the refinement, personality and abundant power that could only come from an all-new triple.

The new 1215cc lump looks like all that. Hinckley’s first fly-by-wire throttle cues three 46mm throttle bodies breathing life into wet-liner cylinders with the same 71.4mm stroke of the 1050cc triple and a bigger, 85mm bore via 12 valves. Gear-driven I-section balance shafts cancel endemic three-cylinder vibes, while a 950-watt generator provides juice—more than BMW’s R1200GS or Yamaha’s Super Ténéré—to charge an 18 amp-hour battery and power what’s plugged into the 12-volt accessory socket. A crafty overrun decoupler lets said generator spin freely when the engine slows down—more electricity and less stress on attendant gears.

An alleged 135 horses and 89 lb.-ft. of torque move earthward through six speeds and shaft drive, but there are a couple of new tricks in the biggest Tiger triple. Along with the usual pressure switch, an oil-level sensor tells you when the wet sump needs topping off, and a tiny slipper clutch helps the starter motor live longer. The oil cooler and assorted other bits of plumbing live out of sight and harm’s way inside the engine. And with 20,000 miles between major service sessions, this one should spend less time in the shop and more on the road.

From the saddle, the Explorer feels roomy, comfortable and very big. Listed at 571 lbs. ready to ride, it’s 109 lbs. heavier than a Tiger 800, 67 lbs. heavier than an R1200GS and 4 lbs. lighter than a Super Ténéré. Getting some photography out of the way on La Bobadilla’s narrow-gauge rollercoaster of an access road, Triumph’s Explorer claims the mostly paved middle ground between those German and Japanese twins.

Narrower between the knees than the Ténéré and at least as comfortable, the Explorer seemingly loses about 70 lbs. once you engage second gear. Overabundant driveline lash and abrupt throttle response just above idle make smooth progress harder that it should be. Otherwise, the new triple is all-singing/all-dancing all the time. It pulls from 2200 rpm smoother than a certain horizontally opposed twin, sealing the deal with the sort of eye-widening afterburner rush from 5000 to 9000 rpm that makes standard two-position traction control a bona fide bacon-saver.

Braking from International Incident Speed for another off-camber, low-gear left requires a determined squeeze, but the brakes are powerful enough. Accommodating suspension, unswerving stability and abundant grip make sporty Exploring a beautiful thing at least 87 percent of the time. The long, tall chassis turns in with less effort than something this size should. Life is grand. At least until you find those 70 lbs. again halfway through some twisted succession of turns.

Set the nicely sorted cruise control at 75 mph and the Explorer inhales long, straight stretches of the world’s fourth-largest highway network with all the ease of a pure touring bike, and just enough muted mechanical presence to say that’s a triple down there instead of a twin or a four. The adjustable windscreen’s middle position delivers maximum protection with minimal buffeting. Handguards aren’t standard equipment, but should be. Pavement-biased Metzeler rubber on cast-aluminum wheels confine off-road exploration to beaten paths, but no worries: That 7000-rpm powerband and a solid, obedient chassis get you where you’re going as long as you’re not in a big hurry.

Looking for a dirtbike you can tour on? It's stronger and more sophisticated than sticking two air-cooled cylinders in the wind for a few bucks less: a big, fast, comfortable touring bike that isn’t afraid of getting dirty. The Explorer is no homage to the R1200GS. It’s mostly everything the BMW isn’t. And for a lot of people, that’s a very good thing.

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