Test: Tiger Explorer 1200

Words and photos: Steve Bond
Words and photos: Steve Bond

BMW’s R1200GS has been the mainstay of the adventure touring crowd for quite a while – even discounting the fact that, like Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators, the closest the majority of GS owners get to dirt is when planting tomato seedlings in pots on the deck.

It’s been quite a while since the Brits had Jerry so square in the crosshairs, but after the launch of the Tiger 800 last year and now with the new $17,499 Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200, Triumph would appear to be zeroed in quite nicely.

And Mein Herr, this duel doesn’t require sabres at dawn, pistols at ten paces or even banjos on the porch. Just bring your R1200GS adventure touring motorcycle to the Field of Honour, and be prepared to get sorted out on the highways, byways and adventure touring areas all over the world.

Triple treat

Here’s a close-up of that 1200cc three-cylinder engine that puts out 135hp and 89 lbs-ft of torque.

For starters, the engine is an absolute gem – an all-new, 1215cc, three-cylinder monster pumping out a claimed 135 horsepower (25 more than the 1200GS) with 89 lbs-ft of torque. And most of the grunt is available right off the bottom.

Bondo says the Explorer 1200 has plenty of low-end grunt, putting out 74 ft-lbs of torque at only 2,500 rpms.

You can idle right down to 30 km/h in sixth, give it some throttle and it just hauls away with nary a buck or a lurch. It’s got so much power down low that first is almost superfluous – it’s just as easy to start in second and shift directly to sixth.

The six speed box is a bit stiff and notchy but would likely smooth itself out after being completely broken in. My press unit had barely logged 500 km when I picked it up, so things were still tight.

The engine obviously doesn’t have a lot of flywheel, which is both a blessing and a curse. Triumph’s first ride-by-wire throttle system allows it to spool up incredibly quickly, but that same responsiveness equals a throttle that’s a bit twitchy, bordering on abrupt.

Usually, you can short-shift an engine to get around this, but the Explorer’s engine makes 74 ft-lbs at just 2,500 rpm, so it pulls like a freight train as soon as you give it any wick at all.

The Explorer certainly looks the part (shown with options such as skid plate, crash bars, et al). Shame about the cast wheels, though maybe an XC/Adventure version is next?

Forks are beefy 46 mm, male slider units with a generous 190 mm of travel and are adjustable for preload. Bringing up the hind end is a single-sided, cast aluminum swingarm that houses the shaft drive system. The remote reservoir Kayaba monoshock sports a remote preload adjuster, adjustment for rebound damping and 194 mm of travel.

You can have any wheels you want with the Explorer 1200, as long as they’re cast 10-spoke units.

Wheels are standard fare and the same size as found on the GS and Super Ten with a 110/80-19 inch unit up front and a 150/70-17 on the back. Unfortunately they are only available in 10-spoke cast alloy format, which could cause issues once off the relative smoothness of our paved roads*. Maybe Triumph are saving those for a future XC/Adventure format?

Metzler Tourance buns are standard, which seem to be a good compromise, although they are slanted more towards paved surfaces than dirt.

Twin 305 mm discs squeezed by four-pot calipers provide stopping power up front, while a single 282 mm twin-piston unit is out back. ABS is standard and unlike Yamaha’s Super Tenere, the rider has the option of switching it off once he’s into the dirt.

The Explorer also comes with cruise control and traction control as standard equipment. The traction control has two levels of intrusion, or you can switch it off completely.

The Explorer’s seat is one of the best available. It has the ability to adjust for riders with longer or shorter legs; you can also buy accessory seats that will raise or lower it even further.

The seat is among the best in motorcycle-dom – it’s wide, flat and nicely padded. The medium rise of the bars, combined with the peg placement make for a nice, upright riding position that’s just about what I’d specify if I were building a bike from scratch.

Accessory lights are no problem for the Explorer 1200’s 950-watt alternator; should the power grid fail, you can always fall back on your trusty adventure motorcycle to power your house.

Some riders may have trouble with the seat height, but it’s adjustable from between 840 and 860 mm so have at it and see if it fits. If not, other seats are available as options (at an additional $190) to raise you up by 20 mm or lower it by another 30 mm.

The screen, likewise is manually adjustable and I found it provided a still, buffet-free cockpit on the high position . The handguards keep chill breezes away from sensitive pinkies although the GS gets real touring and has standard heated grips – so why not the Triumph?

There’s definitely enough juice to power them, as Triumph’s alternator pumps out 950W, way more than the GS’s 720W, and more than enough to operate Madame and Monsieur’s electric suits, boots, gloves, cell phone, GPS and auxiliary lighting with enough left over to power up a medium sized city.

The instrument pod has a digital speedo, analog tach, time, fuel gauge, handy gear position indicator, a menu for adjusting or switching off the ABS, traction control, optional tire pressure monitor and cruise control. You can scroll through a myriad of other functions including fuel consumption (instant and average), temperature, odometer, trip meter and a whole bunch of other stuff I couldn’t even begin to decipher during my time on the bike. All this is accessible via switches on the left pod rather than by tiny buttons that are useless with gloves on. Nice job.

On the road

The Tiger’s frame is steel, making it easier to find a welder if you break your frame while riding through the Sahara.

The frame is steel – heavier than aluminum, but then if you break it in some remote hellhole, any hack with a welder can repair it and get you going in no time. Overall claimed wet weight is 2 kilos shy of Yamaha’s Super Ten at 259 kg, but a chunk more than the 1200GS’s claimed 229kg.

The Explorer 1200 isn’t suited for hard-core offroading says Bondo, but you can get a aluminum skid plate (standard is plastic) for excursions beyond the asphalt.

However, the wide bars give excellent leverage around town and the quick, neutral steering makes the Explorer feel 50 kilos lighter than its claimed weight. The only time I noticed the weight was when I was almost stopped, doing a U-turn on a dirt road. The Explorer carries more of its weight up high, as you’d expect with the inline three cylinder mill vs. the flat twin boxer.

Through the twisties, the Explorer goes as fast as prudent on public roads. You can lean it wa-a-a-y over with nary a quibble from the chassis and, should you need to get by a plodding line of minivans or RVs, just grab a mittful of throttle and you’re soon at Warp 3.

The supple suspension soaks up all the divots and potholes our crappy roads have to offer and all the while, the rider is sitting all upright and comfy. Plus, the three-cylinder growl sounds awesome.

According to consumption during the test, riders should expect about a 300-km range from the Explorer 1200.

Off road? I’ll have to leave that opinion to those whose dirt riding skills are superior to mine (which is likely just about everyone) but I think the Triumph’s extra weight over the GS and abrupt throttle response will work against it, although the traction control might make that a wash.

Bondo’s a fan of the Explorer’s electronics controls, which he says are easily workable with gloves on.

Any of these bikes are too heavy for serious off-roading, although some riders will no doubt take them into the backwoods.

During “normal” riding, fuel consumption averaged around 6L/100km, so the 20-liter tank should give a range of over 300 km.

The bottom line

So the hardware is top notch and there are enough nerdalicious details to keep the techno-geeks busy for hours, but is it enough to successfully invade the Siegfried Line?

The Explorer is well thought out. Even though it has shaft drive, it comes with a centerstand, the sidestand has a larger than normal footprint to avoid digging in and tipping over on soft ground, and the rear rack is real aluminum rather than cheesy plastic.

The Explorer 1200 isn’t about to put its competitors out of business, but Bondo thinks Triumph’s new bike is a serious contender at the right price.

In the ever-growing adventure touring market, Triumph’s 1200 Explorer has the tools to be a serious contender. It’s extremely comfortable and a hoot to ride. It has a great engine, a willing, competent chassis and that three-cylinder howl is worth the price of admission.

And at $17,499, that price is $400 less than the 1200GS and a grand more than the Super Ten, so it’s definitely in the ball park.

Is this D-Day for the 1200GS? We’ll see, but the Triumph Explorer is definitely calling it out.

*Statement does not apply to Quebec.


Bike  Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200
MSRP  $17,499, plus applicable taxes and fees
Displacement  1215cc
Engine type  Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line three-cylinder
Power (crank)*  137PS/135bhp/101kW @ 9300rpm
Torque*  121Nm/89 ft.lbs @ 6400rpm
Tank Capacity  20 litres/5.3 US gals
Carburetion  Drive by wire, fuel injection
Final drive  Shaft
Tires, front  110/80 R 19
Tires, rear  150/70 R 17
Brakes, front  Twin 305mm floating discs, Nissin 4-piston calipers, Switchable ABS
Brakes, rear  Single 282mm disc, Nissin 2-piston sliding caliper, Switchable ABS
Seat height  837mm/32.9in – 857mm/33.7in
Wheelbase  1530mm/60.2in
Wet weight* 198 kg (437 lb)
Colours  Graphite/Sapphire Blue/Phantom Black
Warranty  Two-year, unlimited mileage
* claimed


Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.


  1. Nice looking machine I should also say.  I need a bigger garage and wallet it would seem…nice job by Triumph!

  2. I think your wet weight is incorrect in the specs…either that or it is a lot lighter than my GS-A.  I do believe it is 259kg/570lbs wet.

    Dry my GS-A is 223 kg (491 lbs) and a standard GS dry is 203 kg (447 lbs).  All claimed by the company of course…Wet the GS-A porks out at 259kg/570lbs with 90% fuel ready to go.  Not sure about the GS.  Add in luggage and the crap the wife “needs”…actually it’s not all that bad given the balance of the bike and all that.  I actually found my VFR to feel heavier…

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