The future is looking very bright for British bike manufacturer Triumph.
They're celebrating their 110th anniversary in the motorcycle business this year, on the back of a particularly prosperous 2011, which saw an industry decline of 3 per cent yet an increase for Triumph of 18 per cent. Along with their growing success comes confidence.
While most other manufactures are keen to state their adventure-soft/off-road bike is most definitely not a BMW R1200GS contender for fear of being directly compared, Triumph are shouting it from the roof tops. The Explorer is a rival to the GS. End of. There was never any doubt the Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200 would be powered by a three-cylinder engine it's their signature, it's what they do. But they've still pushed themselves to evolve for this model by introducing some all new features that are 'firsts' for the company.
The styling is clearly based on the Tiger 800, there is an obvious family resemblance and although the frame looks like it's been pinched from the smaller namesake, it's actually totally new. In fact the only things that have been borrowed from the 800cc Tiger are the indicators, the headlamp and the rear light.
The rest is new for the Explorer. The 1215cc engine is new, as is the ride-by-wire system, which operates the cruise and traction control. The latter aid uses the ABS's wheel speed sensors to back off the throttle when the difference in speed between the two wheels crosses a certain threshold, rather than cutting the ignition.
It's also the first time Triumph has ever incorporated a single sided shaft drive on one of their models. According to Triumph's engineers, BMW's existing shaft drive has been designed to deal with less power than the GS actually has, which is why the Germans have (reportedly) had durability issues. This is why Triumph's shaft drive is 2kg heavier and why they claim it's the most robust in its class. Only time will tell.
The Brits accept that as the new boy on the block, they can't compete with the history or kudos BMW has, so undercutting the German's price tag was an important factor when developing and subsequently pricing this model. Hence the lack of equipment like fully adjustable suspension and optional electronically adjustable system shocks.
On paper at least, the Tiger offers more for less than the GS. 135bhp, 121Nm of torque, plus traction control and ABS (and a centre stand) are standard. Scrolling through the very comprehensive menu shows actual fuel consumption, allows you to turn off the ABS or traction control and even lets you choose if you want the indicators to cancel themselves after a turn.
Riding at the international launch, I'm cruising down the highway at a sensible 130km/h within minutes of leaving the Spanish hotel's grounds. I hit the (optional extra) cruise control button and ride hands free. Adjusting the pace by one or two km/h is easy with a flick of a switch and the bike is also reassuringly stable, despite the strong side wind.
The standard windscreen is set on the highest setting and is adjustable by turning two knobs on either side and sliding the screen down to choose one of five heights. I make a mental note to lower it later as my eyeballs are wobbling in their sockets although I can't in good conscience blame the bike's design as my peaked helmet is most certainly partly to blame.
The launch route has a good variety of roads (and surfaces) and with the motorway section checked off, we head into the twisties. Having already ridden Honda's smooth and torquey Crosstourer, Triumph's triple cylinders have a completely different character. The Explorer has plenty of punch and it drives and pulls like a train, but it feels revvier. I find myself riding a thousand rpm higher than on the Japanese bike to get the most response from the engine and I can feel the bike's character through my feet and hands. It's not a vibey bike, it's not a slur, or even an annoyance, just an observation that fades as the day progresses.
There is no mistaking the exhaust's deep grumbly sound which Triumph have gone to great lengths to perfect - and are keen to demonstrate by leading us through a small tunnel and instructing us to 'rev it in second'. The handling feels responsive and light, which is surprising if you look at the statistics, and not surprising if you know Triumph. I'm in third gear and the bike is rolling through the turns with such an ease that I'm wondering just how much lean is on offer. It flicks readily from left to right without much pressure needed on the wide 'bars and on memory, it needs less persuasion than the GS, Super Tenere or the Crosstourer. Ducati's Multistrada is a law unto itself.
As the bends open to reveal little stretches of straights, I whack the throttle back and the Tiger leaps on the exit. In the lower gears, there is sufficient engine braking to back on and off the throttle to negotiate the turns, but even when using the brakes for a more aggressive ride, the Tiger doesn't pitch and wallow, not to the degree that I need to start messing with the suspension anyway. The brakes work independently and they do so with confidence, U turns feel balanced and easy and the bike can potter quite amicably in any gear.
The Explorer is a GS contender so that means it should be able to handle a fair degree of dirt. We're given the option to test its abilities on loose gravel and like the Honda Crosstourer presentation, this kind of limited opportunity, with my kind of limited skills, doesn't really offer any concrete conclusion about the Tiger's true off road ability, but it can certainly handle rough roads and dodgy surfaces. Triumph claim the Explorer's fuel consumption ranges from 17.8-23.8km/l and according to the information displayed on my bike's dash throughout the day, which seems about right. So Triumph's Tiger Explorer 1200 appears to be more frugal than the Crosstourer. Whether it's good enough to rattle the GS's cage can only be decided on a group test, but the Tiger is definitely in the running for the title.
Model: Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200
Engine: three cylinder, liquid cooled, dohc 12v, 1215cc
Power: 135bhp @ 9,500rpm
Torque:, 121Nm @ 6,400rpm
Transmission: Six gears, wet multi-plate clutch, shaft final drive
Weight: 259kg wet
Seat Height: 840mm-860mm
Fuel capacity: 20 litres