Triumph Tiger Explorer | Short Shift

What You See Is Not What You Get

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

They say: “A whole new level of ADV performance.”
We say: “A Gold Wing in BMW GS clothing.”

Form does not always predict function. With your Standard Expectation goggles in place, you’d never think a Honda Gold Wing could well and truly hustle down a twisty road or that a BMW K1600GT can accelerate hard enough to take your breath away. View the Triumph Tiger Explorer through those same lenses and you might be fooled into thinking the new model was a much more serious shift toward dirt-readiness for the Tiger lineup. At least compared with the Tiger 1050 or the non-XC version of the Tiger 800—it just looks so butch.

You would be wrong. Above all, the Explorer is a fantastic, world-class touring machine. That’s right, the motorcycle with such overt Paris-to-Dakar intentions might well be the best machine for the Perth-to-Sydney trek on two lanes, the perfect friend for a Portland-to-Portland jaunt with significant stretches of highway thrown in.

In the grand BMW R1200GS tradition, the Explorer does much more than you expect it to, and somewhat less than you figure it could, at least off road. Let’s get this out of the way: The Explorer will not throw itself down at the sight of a dirt road, but several factors indicate it’s not a KTM 990 Adventure competitor—cast wheels, a 19-inch front, Metzeler Tourance EXP rubber, and a wet weight of 588 pounds. It’ll handle graded trails fine, but the low pegs, dangly under bits, and unpredictable reactions of the front tire over washboard surfaces all gently suggest you ask Mr. Garmin for at least a partially paved way back. That the ABS- and TC-cancel functions are so buried in the combo gauge’s menu system offers a subtle hint from Triumph as well.

Point the Explorer at a road, any road with pavement, and suddenly all is right with the world. “Triumph is making a habit of building bikes that are instantly familiar. By the time I’d ridden a tenth of a mile, I knew everything I needed to know about the Explorer,” says our small-bike maven, Ari Henning. “It’s big, yet incredibly well-balanced and surprisingly nimble.” He’s right there. Even though the Explorer’s wheelbase spans 60.2 inches (0.9 in. more than the R-GS’s) and has more trail, it has steeper steering geometry than the BMW and an almost ridiculously wide handlebar. The result: Very low steering forces and fairly quick responses for such a large bike. There is a definite limit to how fast the Explorer will change lean angle, but the overall impressions are of a bike willing to take whatever line you choose, and to do so without complaint. Front-end feel is very good, and steering remains neutral right until you start dinging the footpegs; indeed, the bike feels as though it could be ridden a lot harder if it had more cornering clearance.

Similar praise goes out for the big Tiger’s brakes, a set of Nissin four-piston calipers chomping on 305mm discs up front and a two-piston, sliding-pin caliper chewing on a 282mm disc out back. The un-linked brakes have plenty of feel with quick-acting ABS to keep you upright. As expected, the ABS is too granny-like on gravel—the standard TC settings are also very conservative. While the Kayaba suspension strokes through about 7.5 inches, it’s well controlled: Spring rates are a good compromise between bump absorption and chassis control, while the damping rates are just right. Budget generously for tires: The Explorer’s strong binders and light steering encourage you to brake deep into corners. The poor 110/80 Tourance showed artifacts of our entertainment after 1000 miles. For that matter, it looks like the Explorer will start to square off the rear in 3500 miles or less; that’s a lot of bike for a 150-section tire.

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