Photos: Kingdom Creative
ALMERIA, SPAIN—By now, everyone knows the story of The Great GS and how it spawned the entire adventure bike class. But to put BMW’s ADV bike so high above its rivals is getting tougher and tougher to justify — just look at Triumph’s significantly updated 2018 Tiger 1200 lineup.
Hinckley’s Tiger Explorer 1200 – as it was known up to 2017 – is the perfect example of why the GS is so revered when compared to its competition. While the Triumph definitely looked the part, it never offered more than decent road manners and light off-roading capability. Its most unique feature was the inline triple powering it, and even Triumph’s own 675 or 1050 triples had a better exhaust note.
The new Tiger 1200 is another story. It’s no more a “GS killer” than it was before, but thanks to very well-chosen improvements (Triumph announces more than 100 changes for 2018), it now offers something it didn’t so far : its own identity.
Triumph flew the world press here to Spain for a couple of days on its new Tiger. Ironically, the Brit journalists drew the short straw and rode it on- and off- road over a condensed one-day program. North American writers got a full day on pavement and another in the dust, giving us a much better chance to grasp the new bike’s true nature.
You have to have ridden them all to know this : from manufacturer to manufacturer, adventure bikes may look the same, but they’re very different machines with a diverse range of capabilities.
For example, the BMW R1200 GS shines with unrivaled on/off road balance, while KTM’s 1090 Adventure R offers the best off-road ability of any big-bore model, with the trade-off of being only decent on the road. That range, from dirt capability to street bias, is the most important consideration for potential ADV bike buyers; in the case of Triumph’s updated Tiger 1200, it’s still clearly aimed toward road use.
However, for 2018, thanks to updated electronic settings, a weight loss of up to 11 kg (depending on which of the five versions is chosen), a significantly lightened crank assembly (a whopping 2.5 kg drop for the flywheel and 0.5 kg for the crank, allowing the 140 hp triple to pick up revs much more quickly), and an astonishingly well-programmed semi-active suspension, the big Tiger is pure joy on winding mountain roads.
Triumph’s staff, bless ’em, didn’t make us ride straight for long, taking us to the peaky parts of this magnificent region of Spain. The entire road day felt like a mountain pass tour, going up and down serpentine, almost-empty roads. Bless ’em even more, they didn’t hold back in terms of pace; we were pretty much at the grip limit of the Tourance Next E tires all the time, on roads in far from perfect condition.
As we attacked each new twisty section, it became crystal clear the big, fully-equipped Tiger 1200 XRT has transformed handling from the outgoing model, maturing into a legit sportbike on stilts. Speaking of sportbikes, there’s no way anyone could have ridden one safely at that pace. On a track, sure, but on those bumpy, cold and unpredictably twisty real-life roads, not a chance.
• The top-of-the-line versions come stock with an Arrow titanium silencer, adaptive cornering lightning, up/down quick-shifter, heated grips and seats and more.
• The bodywork is all new except for the tank.
• The combination of the new 5-inch colour screen and joystick on the left-hand controls allows for simpler, quicker changes and less menu fiddling
• All versions offer Rain, Road and Off Road modes; all except the base XR also offer Sport; Off Road Pro is only on the XCX and XCA; top XRT and XCA add a customizable Rider mode.
• The new engine revs up faster and offers plenty of low- and mid-range torque, but it vibrates noticeably through the rev range; the lower inertia of the crank assembly helps it pick up revs faster, but it also makes it easier to stall; the exhaust sound is better than before, louder and raspier, especially on the Arrow silencer equipped versions.
• Weight savings have been made on the flywheel (2.5 kg), titanium Arrow silencer (2.1 kg), crank (0.5 kg), magnesium cam cover (0.3 kg), engine bars (1.3 kg), auxiliary lights (0.5 kg), sump guard (0.5 kg) and battery (2.6 kg).
• Handlebar moved back 20 mm compared with previous version.
• Seats are new and offer better comfort.
• XR cast wheels and XC spoke wheels both accept tubeless tires.
• More than 100 accessories are available from Triumph.
The Tiger 1200 still isn’t a lightweight, but on the street, whether at speed or during tight maneuvers, its mass isn’t an issue, at least for a minimally experienced (and tall) rider. Its characteristics make it a brilliantly fun and accessible motorcycle in the twisty stuff: the ease with which it can be manhandled through a series of tight corners, the precision with which it holds the desired trajectory through a turn, the absence of any weird stuff going on when trail braking hard entering a hairpin, the normal way the front end dives during intense braking, despite the long travel of the fork and the serious yet predictable power of the brakes themselves.
The rolling chassis obviously deserves high praise for those qualities, but the semi-active suspension (adjustable on the fly through the new 5-inch TFT colour screen) is particularly impressive. All versions offer it except for the LCD-screen equipped base XR. We didn’t test that sub-model, but I recommend coughing up the extra cash for the versions with the semi-active fork and shock, which are also better-equipped (with cornering ABS, TFT screen, LED headlight, keyless ignition, Traction Control with cornering optimization, heated grips and available seats, etc.).
The next day, on the top-of-the-line XCA (wearing Triumph-approved Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires), we left the pavement and headed for unpaved territory. It only took a few metres to confirm the Tiger 1200 is still a road bike first, an off-road motorcycle second.
The XCA offers six riding modes; I started in Off-Road (rear wheel ABS off, some rear wheel spin allowed by the TC system), but quickly opted to stay in the new Off-Road Pro that turns TC completely off. The 1215cc Triple is so torquey (90 ft-lbs) and tractable that even with a heavy throttle hand, it never feels like the rear is going to step out unpredictably. The rider decides how much rock and dirt the rear should spit and the result is consistent and very easy to control.
That being said, the Tiger 1200 is a hefty motorcycle (depending which version you buy, 242 kg to 248 kg without any liquids) and it isn’t intended for 1090 Adventure R antics. And it’s not just beefy, but also top-heavy, which makes the 19-inch front tire want to dig in and wash away as soon as it hits something soft.
Going faster helps the 1200 float somewhat over that kind of terrain, but riding it that way isn’t for the inexperienced. I settled for a safe rhythm, going silly on the hard-packed stuff, carefully getting through the soft portions and occasionally leaving the ground when the appropriate dirt ramp appeared.
With that mindset, the semi-active suspension was excellent and the whole bike worked decently well. But it was also pretty obvious that trying to push the 1200 much past that leisurely pace was looking for trouble. The bottom line is that riders looking to go very hard off-road should look elsewhere, but for those only looking to get close to nature, it’ll do.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the big 1200 Triumph adventure bike, mostly because it was a confused machine looking like a GS but acting like a sports tourer. I feel differently about it now. It’s as if it unapologetically embraced that road-first identity and humbly accepted its off-road limits. Some will say that anything else than off-road first is unacceptable, and that’s fine; they can choose another bike.
The adventure class is evolving ,and slowly but surely, each model is finding its own spot in it. It feels like for the first time, the big Tiger has found its own niche: a package that’s 40 per cent road, 40 per cent sport and 20 per cent off-road.
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Nice package, but I still think the tiger Sport 1050 would be a far better option for the road, if only Triumph would make it available in North America.
I wish they’d stop improving this bike. Every time I decide I want one they come out with a better one.