2012 Adventure Touring Comparison

JC Hilderbrand | September 19, 2012
After the arduous-but-awesome 2011 Adventure Touring Shootout, every MotoUSA test rider has been waiting for the 2012 edition. Even those who weren’t along previously were bidding for a seat in this comparison, but once the bike list rolled out, it became clear that there really isn’t anything new in the market segment, save for one bold new bike. As for the rest, a stagnant carry-over year meant we whittled our selection down to the reigning champion versus the new challenger. We quickly discovered that fewer seats don’t necessarily mean less drama.

The BMW R1200GS emerged from our biggest multi-bike AT test as the overall winner, and it did so in its unassuming German ways. The GS is actually very unconventional in its design as an AT bike, and yet has managed to become the standard that others are judged by. Cylinder heads that are the first thing to hit the ground doesn’t immediately seem ideal for a riding style that is more likely to crash than other street bikes. The Telelever front suspension leaves the fork holding the wheel assembly while an additional single shock is responsible for bump absorption. It all seems a bit odd, but there’s not one test rider who will say it doesn’t work. It’s those same designs that allow for a low center of gravity and nimble handling from such a heavy bike. As a result the GS has become BMW’s top-selling motorcycle out of its entire lineup of sport, standard, touring, dual sport and other AT machines. Over the years MotoUSA has become a steady believer in the formula, but even we had some big concerns when faced with the new Tiger.

Triumph wants to beat BMW at its own game. Company reps don’t even try to hide it, in fact they boasted about it during the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer First Ride in Southern Spain. The Brits aren’t being jerks, it’s actually a compliment to the Bavarian tribe as they recognize the impressive sales presence and have certainly spent their own time evaluating why the GS is so popular. But don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a form of flattery by imitation. Triumph has its own ideas about the right way to build an adventure platform, and at the heart of it is the signature Inline Triple engine layout upon which the company has rebuilt its empire. That alone should spark interest from the ADV community since different forms of Twins have become the dominant number of cylinders. Triumph uses a left-side shaft drive and Kayaba suspension components. It also incorporates fuel injection, ride-by-wire throttle technology and a slick cruise control. It certainly looks the part on paper and in person, but the question was whether or not it has the stones to make good on company claims.

We enlisted a pair of experienced riders to sort out the two bikes’ attributes and give riding opinions for each. Off-Road Editor and author, JC Hilderbrand, has been on the majority of AT bikes that MotoUSA tested in recent years. He loves this type of exploration and is always the guy who brings a tool pack (good thing, it turns out). Filling the other seat is Brian Steeves, a veteran professional street stunter and longtime off-road rider. That means he’s one of the weirdos

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
2012 BMW R1200GS
The Adventure Touring fight is on – Triumph
Tiger Explorer vs. BMW R1200GS.

that prefers the rear end to move at every opportunity whether it’s dirt or pavement. At 5’9” and 165 pounds, he had a different view from the saddle compared to our heavier editor at 5’11” and 190 pounds.

We spent five days flogging the touring motorcycles across dirt, street and everything in between as we explored southern Utah. Our troupe passed through this area last year and resolved to spend more time sampling its variety of roads and scenery. It didn’t disappoint this time around as wild weather ranged from a bout of hail to over 101 degrees and dotted the sky with amazing cloud formations. The weather also allowed us to get a better feel for the rider protection on each machine. When we weren’t logging miles, we collected horsepower and torque numbers from our in-house dyno, riding weights came from our Intercomp digital scales and onboard data acquisition determined braking and acceleration. Considering that these bikes aren’t likely to find a drag strip, we opted to include a more realistic 60-0 mph braking category in place of the traditional quarter-mile times. We still evaluate acceleration by ranking the bikes on 0-60 mph. Throughout the trip we counted miles and fuel consumption to see which is most economical and calculated what brand offers the longest range. With the guidelines set, let’s see how it shakes out.

JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.