2013 Triumph Tiger Explorer XC | First Ride

Pumping Up the Explorer’s Off-Road Capabilities. Subtly.

They say: "Ready for your next adventure."
We say: "And that adventure involves cleaning spokes."

A few miles up a narrow, slightly slippery two-track just beyond the Alvie Estate in the Scottish Highlands, it occurred to me that I was attempting something most people rarely did. Besides trespassing with intent to photo model. No, as I was easing the 2013 Triumph Tiger Explorer XC up the trail, it occurred to me that few machines falling in the big-bore adventure-touring category actually did much of this. True, they, as a group, get plenty of time on the road beneath experienced riders looking for something more rugged than a sport-touring mount or more comfortable than a sportbike, but as for actually rock hopping and ravine jumping? Well, not so much.

Turns out, my assumptions were incomplete. “Approximately 44 percent of Explorer owners take their bikes ‘off road’,” said Triumph’s head of product development, Simon Warburton, at the launch of the Explorer XC. According to Triumph’s research, “off road” means “unsurfaced roads with occasional potholes.” “And this is just for Explorer owners in the first year of ownership,” continued Warburton, slyly suggesting that some owners hadn’t yet figured out they could get their bikes dirty while still under warranty. (When is there a better time, I have to ask.) So, not exactly the Baja 1000, more like a quick side trip up that fire road in the distance, or a detour over that snaky bit of road the locals call “sketchy.” Okay, good to know.

Triumph didn't feel the Explorer needed much to earn its XC subtitle—much less than what separates the base and XC versions of the Tiger 800, in any case. The primary differences between the standard Explorer and the XC are the wheels, nylon hand guards, a 3mm-thick aluminum bash plate, halogen driving lights, and tubular-steel engine case guards. (Incidentally, all are available as Triumph accessories, so it’s possible, given enough money, to gussie-up the Explorer you already own to XC status.)

The 32-spoke wheels feature anodized-aluminum rims with twin spoke flanges where the fixed ends hook through; the threaded nipple rides on the hub side. You’ve seen a similar approach on the Yamaha Super Tenere. Supposedly, you get the benefits of a spoke wheel—namely, tolerance of abuse—while still running tubeless tires, which are the same size as the base bike. The weight penalty for all this mild farkling? Triumph lists the XC’s curb weight as 586 pounds, or 16 more than the non-XC version.

Anything else? Besides a new paint choice—Matt(e) Khaki Green—that’s it. The XC retains the Explorer’s shaft-drive, 1215cc inline-triple, which hums out 135 horsepower and 89 lb.-ft. of torque, so says Triumph. The last Explorer we lashed to the SuperFlow spun out 114.3 bhp at 9100 rpm and 76.6 lb.-ft. at 6200 rpm. These figures put the Triumph up on the outgoing BMW R1200GS, but represent a sizeable gap to the Ducati Multistrada and KTM's new 1190 Adventure.

Clambering up a not-so-slippery Highland slope, the Explorer gave me more than enough power to spin the standard Metzeler Tourance EXP at the far end of the powertrain. But that was only with the traction control shut down. Triumph offers two settings plus off, with the default a fairly conservative scheme that was slow to give control back to the rider after even a mild slide. Not officially called “enduro,” the second mode allowed more wheelspin but stepped in before things got totally out of hand. I tried one run with the TC off and was quickly reminded how good the Metzelers are on the road. No free lunch today.

Triumph, incidentally, has heard the complaints about the ABS and TC-defeat functions being buried in the dash’s menu system, and has vowed to do better in the future. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Triumph debut ride modes that preselect ABS and TC intervention levels sometime in the future, and Warburton admitted that Triumph is “looking at” active suspension similar to the BMW’s and Ducati’s.

Roughly a quarter of our riding time through Scotland—major stops from our base in Aberfledy included Loch Ness, the Alvie Estate, and the Queen’s summer residence at Balmoral Castle—was off paved roads, and that’s probably a larger proportion than most Explorer owners will tackle. Which is a way of saying the Tiger’s performance in the dirt is completely with the program. Carrying weight high in the chassis, the Explorer feels less nimble than the low-center-of-gravity GS, and the ride-by-wire throttle control makes smooth power management harder than it should be. The calibration of the system is fine (really fine, actually), but the throttle grip has a very light return spring, so every lump and bump that comes up through the fork conspires to goose the engine. I had to make a concerted effort to decouple my upper body while standing to maintain smooth progress, and stay out of the TC when that mode was active.

You have permission to ignore the preceding paragraph if you’re content to use the Explorer where it’s happiest, on the road. After all, what’s not to like? Start with the seating position, which is open and natural for average-sized riders, even if the bar feels a tad too wide (and makes you lean forward a bit during full-lock turns): There’s a lot to be said for a bike that puts your head high, leaves your elbows bent, and plants your feet a comfortable distance beneath you. If you want to understand the true reason for the success of ADV bikes, look at this forgiving-to-the-aged ergonomic package.

As I said in our test of the 2012 Explorer, the bike simply inhales the miles, thanks to a very smooth engine, reasonable fuel economy, and an all-day saddle adjustable for height. It’s so good that the 5.3-gallon tank actually seems a tad small—the fuel computer kept saying absolute range was 200-plus miles, but the low-fuel light had been on for awhile when we stopped for fuel at 185 miles. Indicated average mileage was 48 mpg.

At idle, the big triple exhibits the usual Triumph whine, but it revs quickly, pulls acceptably well from 2000 rpm (and quite strongly just 1000 rpm further up the scale), and during hard acceleration makes the sound of a heavy-duty blender munching on frozen blueberries. Add in predictable clutch takeup, an impressively light and agile gearbox, and a torque wave as deep as Loch Ness while you’re at it. Triumph knows how to make triples, and did a splendid job with this one. It has just the right combination of ready-now grunt and a willingness to rev, with the grunt-making revs optional instead of mandatory for good progress.

In theory, the chassis shouldn’t act any differently than a base Explorer’s, as the only changes are the wheels. Maybe the spoke jobs are heavier than cast hoops, but the Triumph felt less compliant than I remember from riding the base model in the U.S. There are no damping adjustments besides rear rebound, and the way the bike settled under me suggested that the spring rates and preload settings were at least close to right. It’s never harsh, but the Explorer feels more like a tall sportbike than a heavy enduro machine from the way it uses the suspension travel. Another possible explanation could be the all-up weight of the bike. I rode it solo, no bags, and just a light backpack. Warburton admitted that the suspension setup was a compromise to accommodate two-up touring, and I rode our U.S. testbike with the optional hard cases installed and often filled.

In all other areas important to distance riders, the Explorer performs well. It’s smooth, has excellent wind protection, accelerates briskly in pretty much any gear, has a handy cruise control, and provides a comfortable perch—few better places from which to watch the sheep on the hillsides.

Triumph has priced the XC in the heart of the class. At $17,199, the upgrade costs just $1500 more than a base Explorer, and the accessories (save for the wheels) account for about half the difference. That makes the spoke-wheel upgrade fairly inexpensive. Heated grips are still an option, as is the lockable, hard-sided luggage. There remains noticeable daylight between the Triumph and the new BMW GS and Ducati’s evergreen Multistrada, though the XC pulls a slight gap on Yamaha’s ADV offering.

It says something that after a couple of days touring a chilly, wet (but cheerful) Scotland and adding 400 miles to the odometers, none of us in the press group was ready to stop. A few more days among the lochs and haggis shops with the Explorer’s key in my pocket would have been just fine, thanks.


A slight tweak on the existing Triumph Tiger Explorer. Spoke wheels, a few farkles.

BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada, KTM 1190 Adventure, Yamaha Super Ténéré

Price    $17,199
Engine type    l-c inline-triple
Valve train      DOHC, 12v
Displacement  1213cc
Bore x stroke    85.0 x 71.4mm
Compression    11.0:1
Fuel system      EFI, ride by wire
Clutch  Wet, multi-plate
Transmission    6-speed
Claimed horsepower    135.0 bhp @ 9300 rpm
Claimed torque          89.0 lb.-ft. @ 6400 rpm
Frame  Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension          KYB 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload
Rear suspension          KYB with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake       Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 305mm discs with ABS
Rear brake       Nissin two-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
Front tire          110/80R-19 Metzeler Tourance EXP
Rear tire           150/70R-17 Metzeler Tourance EXP
Rake/trail       23.9/4.1 in.
Seat height      33.1 – 33.9 in.
Wheelbase     60.2 in.
Fuel capacity  5.3 gal.
Claimed curb weight   586 lbs.
Color    Crystal White/Graphite, Graphite, Matt Khaki Green
Available: Now
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: www.triumphmotorcycles.com

VERDICT 4 out of 5 stars
The Explorer XC is not a big leap from the base bike, but absolutely looks the part of the "explorer."

Engine guards are part of the XC's additions.
Clever spoke wheels feature sealed rims to run tubeless tires. The design is like the Yamaha Tenere's.
Twin Nissin four-pot calipers do the job up front. They're strong but very progressive.
Halogen driving lights under butch protective covers are another addition to the XC.
Nylon hand guards block small branches and a lot of windblast.
Triumph's 1215cc inline-triple returns unchanged from the base Explorer.
It's three-abreast seating on Air Triumph.
Hydraulically operated clutch and six speeds, no waiting.