Launch: Triumph Tiger Explorer XC

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Words: Costa Mouzouris. Photos: Alessio Barbanti, unless otherwise specified
Words: Costa Mouzouris. Photos: Alessio Barbanti, unless otherwise specified
Words: Costa Mouzouris. Photos: Alessio Barbanti, unless otherwise specified

HISTORY

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Introduced last year, the Triumph Tiger Explorer joined an elite, albeit small group of large-displacement adventure-touring machines, all vying to displace the king of off-pavement touring, the BMW R1200GS.

According to numbers provided by the folks from Triumph, what makes the GS the king is worldwide sales of between 20,000 and 25,000 units since about 2010, tapering off to just below the 20 grand mark this past winter, likely because potential buyers are waiting for the new GS to hit market this year.

Despite this slight drop in sales, BMW need not worry about losing that number one spot, as the competition, which includes the KTM 990 Adventure, Moto Guzzi Stelvio and Yamaha Super Ténéré, each represent less than 5,000 units annually.

The Explorer has made it's mark in its class, but is the XC going to make further in-roads?
The Explorer has made its mark in its class, but is the XC going to make further in-roads?

The good news for Triumph? Despite being introduced only in February 2012, the Explorer is now in the number two spot. As Triumph product manager Simon Warburton put it, “The Explorer is now the best of the rest.”

Wire wheels define the XC and are supposed to add to it's off-roadability.
Wire wheels define the XC and are supposed to add to its off-roadability.

For 2013, Triumph has added a second Explorer variation, the XC (for cross-country), much like BMW has the standard GS and the Adventure model. Triumph flew me to Scotland for a two-day, 600-km, wild-weathered trek through the Highlands to test the new XC machine.

WHAT’S NEW

The Explorer XC uses the same chassis, suspension and engine as the standard Explorer; what it has in addition is a selection of accessories that make it a bit more practical when used off pavement.

These include tubeless wire wheels, which are more robust than the cast items on the standard Explorer, a large aluminum skid plate, tubular engine guards, plastic hand guards and 55-watt auxiliary lights, adding $1,500 to the Explorer’s price tag, with the XC retailing for $18,999.

The XC looks over its domain and readys for battle with zee Germans
The XC looks over its domain and ready for battle with zee Germans

Otherwise it’s the same as the regular Explorer with a 1,215 cc inline triple engine that produces a claimed 135 hp, with torque peaking at 89 lb-ft (that’s 10 hp more but three pound-feet less than the new GS).

The gauges offer the usual options, but ride mode options are missing.
The gauges offer the usual options, but ride mode options are missing.

There are also the a number of standard-issue electronics, including ride-by-wire throttle control, cruise control, switchable ABS and adjustable traction control. There are, however, conspicuously no ride modes that would otherwise offer different throttle maps for various conditions.

A rigid steel trellis frame holds everything together, and suspension uses a 46 mm inverted fork and single rear shock. Suspension adjustment is limited to front and rear preload and rear rebound damping.

Seat height is adjustable to either 840 or 860 mm (33-33.9 in) and optional low and high seats offer a seat height range of between 810 and 895 mm (31.9-35.2 in). The gauge cluster includes a large analogue tachometer and an LCD screen that displays speed, trip and odometer reading, trip computer info and tire pressure.

THE RIDE

Cold and wet in Scotland? Surely not. Costa makes good use of the higher screen and heated grips.
Cold and wet in Scotland? Surely not. Costa makes good use of the higher screen and heated grips.

One thing I realised almost immediately is that I’d have ample time to test the Explorer’s weather protection. Temperatures during our early morning departure were in the low single-digits with the forecast barely breaking into the double digits. It was also very windy and the threat of rain would follow us throughout our journey.

The Scottish esses (pronounced "usiz") highlight the sport touring capabilities of the XC
The Scottish esses (pronounced “usiz”) highlight the sport touring capabilities of the XC

“If you don’t like the weather in Scotland,” said the day’s lead rider, Simon Warburton, “wait five minutes.” I think he meant that it would change, but I discovered, you can wait as long as you want and even if it does change you probably still won’t like it.

Our route began near Aberfeldy, about 120 km north of Edinburgh, and took us east along secondary roads before turning north on the A93 and into the Highlands, where open, winding roads emphasize the Explorer XC’s comfortable ergonomics and modest weather protection.

The road winds in a succession of esses between treeless, rolling hills, and the XC’s firm suspension keeps it steady through sweepers and allows waver-free transitions through esses, proving it is readily capable of handling a sport-touring pace.

I’m grateful that our hosts installed the accessory heated grips, which remained on almost the entire time, providing toasty warmth for my digits (these should be standard on Canadian bikes). Also helping in this respect are the hand guards, which do a good job of keeping the windblast off your hands.

The windscreen is adjustable in five positions over a 13-degree range. It’s relatively easy to adjust via two thumbscrews, though it should be adjusted while stopped. It was set at the highest position and kept the windblast off my chest to about mid-helmet level. Although airflow around my helmet wasn’t as clean as with the screen lowered, it didn’t shake my helmet around unless I got up to about 80 mph (U.K. test bikes; that’s about 130 km/h) while passing.

There may be patches of snow, but the roads and scenery are incredible.
There may be patches of snow, but the roads and scenery are incredible.

Seat height is fine for me at six feet tall, and even with the seat at its higher position, which offers more legroom, I could get feet flat on the ground with just a slight bend at the knees. The bike’s midsection is somewhat wide, wider than the latest R1200GS, which does make it seem a little taller than the seat height suggests.

When in Rome ... Photo: Costa Mouzouris
When in Rome … Photo: Costa Mouzouris

We continued north along the A93 through whisky country, where road signs announced distilleries like Aberlour, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, all of which occupy a spot in my stash of spirits. Weather be damned! I like Scotland more and more!

With the heated grips still set to high I followed Warburton, who led us to lunch at Alvie House, once home to Sir Robert Boville Whitehead, cousin of Agathe Whitehead, first wife of Baron von Trapp, the Sound of Music guy. It was also the home of Lady Carnarvon, immediately following the death of her husband George Herbert, who discovered (plundered?) King Tutankhamen’s tomb. The Egyptologist died within a year of discovering the tomb, from some kind of infection or curse or something.

But musicals and curses have little meaning to me; most importantly, Alvie House is where I tasted haggis for the first time. This mishmash of sheep guts, oatmeal and onion might sound dreadfully unappetising (the sight of it sure doesn’t inspire), but it’s actually quite tasty. I even went back for seconds.

Despite the added farkels, the XC was found to be a tad lacking in the dirt.
Despite the added farkels, the XC was found to be a tad lacking in the dirt.

Upon leaving Alvie House, we hit the dirt roads lining the estate’s 13,000-acre lot to test the XC’s off-road capability, and this is where the bike reveals its shortcomings.

Nessie makes an appearance to check out the XC.
Nessie makes an appearance to check out the XC.

The firm suspension that kept the chassis poised on the road is too harsh when the pavement ends. This is not a problem on smoother gravel roads, but the suspension reacts too slowly over sharp, successive bumps, causing the wheels to leave the ground.

The cure, of course, is to slow down, but even at a modest pace, the XC is not as compliant as other bikes in this category. Also, throttle response is a bit harsh for off-pavement riding, something that could easily be cured with the addition of selectable ride modes.

We ended the day at an inn by the banks of Loch Ness, famed for sightings of Nessie, the legendary monster that has so far evaded capture or shown any real evidence of existence other than some blurry photographs.

Perfectly happy on smoother gravel, this is about the limit of the comfort zone for the XC
Perfectly happy on smoother gravel, this is about the limit of the comfort zone for the XC

On day two we headed south and took some open roads towards a lunch stop at the Inverawe Smokehouse. The access road to Inverawe is tight, twisty and undulating, and the XC once again demonstrated its preference for pavement.

The XC happy place.
The XC happy place.

It’s a top-heavy machine but it nonetheless flipped through transitions with relative ease. I used the triple’s abundant midrange torque to hop between turns, lifting the wheel momentarily over sharp crests before the bike’s traction control took over and pulled it down again.

Our ride ended appropriately at a luxury hotel in Dunblane, where I parted company with the XC for what, despite the inclement weather, turned out to be a great ride.

CONCLUSION

There’s no doubt the Triumph Tiger Explorer XC is a great bike. It’s engine sounds great (surprisingly robust and throaty, in fact), it handles like a sport tourer, is comfortable and it gets great gas mileage to boot (I measured 5.5L/100 km, right on the factory’s claim), giving a possible range of 370 km from its 20-litre tank. Add luggage and it makes a commendable sport touring bike.

Sport touring and light gravel usage are the preferred locales.
Sport touring and light gravel usage are the preferred locales.

However, as an adventure tourer, if you actually intend on adventuring off-road, you’ll be disappointed, as the suspension is just too firm to handle rough, unpaved roads comfortably. Triumph’s latest Trophy SE has electrically adjustable suspension, which should be made available on the XC, though, according to Warburton, it might show up on later generation Explorers, as might selectable drive modes.

Optional accessories include bags, top box, heated seat and grips and Arrow pipe.
Optional accessories include bags, top box, heated seat and grips and Arrow pipe.

Truth is, despite Triumph’s own research that says 50 percent of Explorer owners have ridden off-road, it’s more likely that they just dreamt about it. Most adventure bike owners rarely take their tires off pavement, and for them, the Explorer XC will satisfy with great performance and comfort.

Still, it would just be nice to have an adjustable, off-road-capable suspension for riders who do want to explore the less-travelled roads. They may just have to wait a little longer.

GALLERY

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SPECIFICATIONS

Bike 2013 Triumph Tiger 1200 Explorer XC
MSRP $18,999
Displacement 1,215 cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder
Power (crank)* 137PS / 135bhp / 101kW @ 9300rpm
Torque* 121Nm / 89ft.lbs @ 6400rpm
Tank Capacity 20 litres (4.4 Imp. gal)
Carburetion EFI
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 (33.9in) to 857mm (33.7in)
Wheelbase 1530mm (60.2in)
Wet weight* 267kg (586lbs)
Colours Matt Khaki Green
Warranty Two-year unlimited mileage
* claimed

5 COMMENTS

  1. […] I attended the launch of the XC in a rather cold and wet Scotland back in 2013, and although I found the bike made an excellent sport tourer, its harsh suspension hindered its off-road abilities. Triumph had hinted that electrically adjustable suspension and selectable ride modes might show up on future generations of the machine. They now have. […]

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