2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Comparison Review

JC Hilderbrand | September 19, 2012

Triumph knows how important the adventure touring segment is. See how the new flagship model behaves in the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Comparison Video.

Much like it did when introducing the Tiger 800, Triumph has nailed the ADV formula on its first attempt at a heavyweight version. By targeting BMW, Triumph must hold itself to a high standard, and they attempt to reach those standards for a price that is equal or less than the German bike. Our Explorer carried a pricetag of $15,699. That could easily jump closer to $20K if the rider wants an exhaust, luggage, heated grips, auxiliary lights and whatever else, but in stock form there’s an awful lot that the base MSRP will provide.

Triumph has become synonymous with the Inline Triple. For the Explorer it uses a 1215cc engine with 85 x 71.4mm bore and stroke. The engine is fed by fuel injection and ride-by-wire throttle. As we’ve come to expect from the Triple, it blends a Twin’s torque with high-revving performance of a four-cylinder. For some it’s the ultimate compromise, and our riders found it difficult to fault for adventure touring use. On the road it soars to 9500 rpm while the BMW signs off 1000 rpm sooner. That translates to a much higher horsepower rating of 113.14 ponies compared to the Beemer’s 98.3. The Triumph peaks out only moments before hitting the rev limiter, but the torque curve maxes out earlier. BMW’s throaty Boxer makes a few extra foot-pounds of torque, but the difference in how it spreads the power over the rev range is significant. The GS dyno profile looks like a distant mountain range, and the rider can feel those surges. The Triumph looks like an ocean horizon – long, smooth and flat.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Smooth power makes this big motorcycle extremely predictable on maintained dirt roads and the Inline-Triple absolutely wails when turned loose on the pavement.

“It sacrifices the very lowest of low-end power in exchange for a motor that has great over-rev and continues to pull to redline,” notes our stunt rider. “This motor suits a bit more aggressive rider willing to keep the rpm needle in the sweet spot.”

Spinning the drum is one thing, but on the road our duo gave the nod to the BMW in terms of outright power because it pulls harder in normal riding situations such as overtaking or roll-on acceleration. But the Tiger won us over with its unique sound and willingness to scream when asked. That earned it a couple points for engine character.

“Ever hear a three-cylinder motor sounding off its battle cry at over 9000 revs per minute? It’s a beautiful thing,” croons Steeves. “The edgy, Mad Max styling cues of the Triumph match the exhaust note perfectly. A high-end buzz echoed from the exhaust tip, while a throaty Twin-ish intake sound resonates from under the fuel tank. It’s a beautiful song everyone should hear.”

One area that the Triumph is clearly better is the shifting. Neither shaft drive exhibits lashing or clunking, but the Brit’s six-speed transmission is considerably smoother than the signature thunk of the German. Gear ratios are adequate for street with plenty of legs to run at freeway speeds without strain, but they also work well for slow-speed dirt riding. First and second gear aren’t as low as the GS, but the super-smooth power delivery and 1215cc allow the engine to chug way down and quietly pull into the meat of the power without having to slip the clutch. Engagement at the lever is easy and smooth and we never had it fade during extended off-road sections.

“It’s 2012, we should all agree that drivetrains should have the bugs worked out by now,” says Steeves. “If I don’t remember how the drivetrain felt, that means it was great and got the job done without notice. No issues with Triumph.”
Triumph wrapped the engine in a tubular steel trellis frame and suspends it with Kayaba components. The 46mm inverted fork is less impressive than the shock, but the combination works well regardless of what it’s pointed at. We found the front sticks too soft for moderate or aggressive off-road riding, noting a hard clank when reaching the end of the stroke. This plays out constantly on any form of G-out, though it deserves credit for not deflecting – it just plows the plastic skidplate into the soil and skips ahead. Also to its credit, the KYB does not dive excessively during braking on the pavement. The chassis and suspension are controlled and confident when hauling through the twisties.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Bottoming resistance from the inverted Kayaba fork might be called a weak link, particularly in the dirt, but it’s a darn good compromise of comfort on the pavement.

“Even with the under-sprung fork, Triumph nailed the mid-corner damping,” Steeves notes. “Part of the Tiger’s great handling attributes come from the motor and rear shock’s ability to finish off the corner for you. The earlier you can get on the gas the better.”

Steeves is a sucker for the rear brake, favoring it heavily in his riding style. He preferred the outright power and feel offered by Triumph’s Nissin two-piston caliper and 282mm rotor. Both testers were concerned with the Explorer’s ABS system which delivers a grinding feel at the lever. Steeves preferred them shut off, but our less experienced street rider found them useful regardless, especially in wet conditions. Ultimately they both agreed that the British machine has better binders on the whole.

“Too many times the rear brake is under used and over looked. I’m glad to see attention was given in this area. Plenty of power was delivered up front without being overly sensitive, making the Tiger obey every command. These ABS systems are still in their infancy and with that come inconsistent interruption, braking pressure near zero once ABS is initiated and a down right sketchy feel. For me, disabled was the only way to fly.”

Switching off the ABS requires accessing the menu settings on the digital display. Triumph has a nice computer setup and once the rider learns the process, it only takes a few seconds to make a change to the brake assist or traction control as long as the bike is stopped and in neutral. However, the electronics reset when the key is turned off and it can be annoying during long days in the dirt. BMW’s dedicated ABS button definitely makes life easier when switching on and off the pavement and we added that to our wish list on the Tiger.

“I am a supporter of technology helping the rider experience,” admits Steeves. The instruments on the Triumph are easily readable and accessible through an array of properly laid out handlebar buttons. We would have liked to seen a setting to permanently disable the ABS and traction control with every engine re-start.

Aside from that small niggle, the computer is excellent. An analog tach sits to the right of the LCD display, which offers a fuel guage, range to empty, clock, air temperature, frost warning, dual trip computers, speedometer (that doesn’t lag) and gear position indicator. It also lists the cruise control settings, which is another high mark for the Tiger. Ride-by-wire throttle technology allowed engineers to integrate the cruise system and it quickly became a favorite trait. The operation is simple and it’s only when you don’t have it that the rider realizes how convenient it is to allow the right hand a break.

It is perhaps unmatched in features-per-dollar. Yamaha Super Tenere fans are choking on their rebuttals after reading that, but considering how inconvenient some of the features can be on other bikes, the Triumph really has a lot to offer without the hassle. Triumph claims 10,000-mile service intervals with 20K between major services. The Brits also offer a two-year warranty on the bike, indicating their confidence that it will go the distance for consumers.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Triumph definitely did its homework on the heavyweight adventure touring class. The Tiger Explorer is loaded with features that are important to ADV consumers and still comes in at a relatively affordable price. Combined with the impressive performance and comfort, this motorcycle has plenty to offer long-range touring riders, daily commuters or off-pavement explorers.

Away from the performance realm, the aesthetics of the Tiger are high-quality as well. The bodywork is angular and mean, giving the Explorer a presence even at a standstill. A lack of wires and cables around the exterior keeps things clean and also makes it less susceptible to crash damage. Working on it might be another thing, but the visual effect is awesome. Triumph incorporated the iconic AT beak and it leads the way for the Tiger’s thick, chiseled chest, sleek midsection and proportionate rear.

“Mad Max is cooler than the clean-cut Leave It to Beaver look,” says Steeves about the hard-edged Triumph. “For me the edgy lines, mixed with the aluminum 10-spoke wheels won the eye prize. A modern approach with attributes mimicked after tried-and-true Adventure Touring design.”

There was very little we could find to complain about with the Tiger. On the scorecard it won or tied every subjective category except one. In the objective range it got bumped by the slightest of margins, but when it comes to looking at the Explorer as a whole, this motorcycle does it all. It has the long-range comfort, fuel capacity and amenities to make it a competent touring bike. The muscular engine can easily carry two riders and luggage yet is sporty enough for aggressive solo blasts. Its stability and predictability create a fun off-road experience and Triumph hasn’t missed any of the small details. We knew it was good, but getting it up against a quality machine like the BMW proves just how impressive the new Tiger Explorer really is.


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.

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