When you first swing a leg over the Tiger, you are immediately struck that this is a big motorcycle. The seat height, when set in the highest of two possible adjustments, is a tolerable 33.8 in. by Triumph’s measurements, and you feel that you sit in the machine, with the gas tank and steering head rising high above your knees. Balancing the bike flat-footed is easy. The rider’s footpegs are also somewhat high, so the legroom isn’t as generous as on some adventure bikes; tall riders will almost certainly want the optional tall seat that adds another 0.8 in. to the seat height.
The LCD dash presents a wide range of tuning options and will probably require several readings of the appropriate owner’s manual section and a few practice sessions before mastery is acquired. You have to cycle through a number of levels to turn off the ABS or adjust the traction control, and these particular settings last only until you turn the key off. This suggests that Triumph sees the Tiger as primarily a streetbike with the standard ABS and traction settings strongly preferred.
The big Triple comes to life quickly and is smooth even on startup idle. The hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch pulls light, and the transmission clicks into gear lightly, precisely. The engine pulls from the absolute basement, with a torque curve that begins at the 1100-rpm idle and continues without a spike, bump or wiggle all the way to the 9500-rpm redline. This is an engine that lets you choose your riding style. Want to rely on engine braking and charge the twisties? Keep it in first through third gears and use the midrange and highrpm power. There’s enough flywheel that engine braking isn’t excessive, and the Triple runs so smoothly that it’s easy to bounce off the rev limiter if you’re not careful. Want to be smooth and ignore gear shifting? Just stick in in sixth and go. It’ll pull down below 2000 rpm in top gear to a speed below 10 mph, and it still accelerates well enough that you can keep a spirited pace on a tight mountain road in that one gear.
On that same road, the chassis and suspension tuning prove competent. On a BMW GS, front dive during braking is controlled mechanically through the anti-dive geometry provided by the Telelever suspension. The Triumph lives with the pro-dive geometry of a conventional telescopic fork but controls the dive quite well through a combination of multi-rate springs and sophisticated compression damping.
Entering tight turns, the Explorer reminds you of its mass; “flickable” is not an adjective that you would apply to this big adventure bike. It rolls in controllably and precisely but not with the hyper-kinetic vigor of a 600cc supersport. Instead, its handling is adult: safe, smooth, precise, controlled, emphasizing the “touring” in its category title, not the “adventure.”
A deliberately excessive squeeze on the front brake lever engages the Nissin ABS, and the lever pulses gently while the machine comes to a fast stop under computer control. Note that even with its high center of gravity, the Tiger is prevented from lifting its back wheel by the ABS system. The tall first gear (over 60 mph possible in first) minimizes wheelies, while the ABS eliminates stoppies; think of this as the anti-hooligan machine.
At the Triumph press introduction, the short “dirt” section said a lot about the expected usage of the big Tiger. It consisted of about a mile or so of a relatively smooth, Jeep-wide dirt lane, with some loose sand and stones atop a firm surface and a few areas layered with smaller-than-fist-sized rocks. Pulling smoothly, the Triple found traction readily, and the traction control, set on the less-controlling Level 2, would allow the rear wheel to break loose briefly and controllably when steering by throttle was desired. With no jumps or bumps bigger than a few inches, the Tiger handled the section comfortably, as would, say, a Triumph Bonneville or a Harley Sportster or just about any other motorcycle without clip-ons. Real evaluation of the Tiger’s off-road prowess awaits more-challenging terrain.
The list of available accessories available for the Tiger from Triumph immediately impresses. Hard side bags use Triumph’s “floating” mount design that helps high-speed stability, important on an adventure bike Germans will probably be flogging at over 130 mph when it gets to the autobahn. The left bag is commodious, the right less so as its back side has to be carved away for muffler clearance. A hard top box contains a standard, cigarette-lighter-style 12-volt electrical outlet; an electrical connector is built into the box’s mounting interface and connects automatically when it’s mounted. It’s just the thing for charging your cell phone while on the road. Triumph offers heated rider and passenger seats, as well as unheated low or tall rider seats. Also on the list are various guards, heated handgrips, fog lamps, a taller windscreen, a tankbag and soft luggage options.
All in all, the Tiger Explorer seems a worthy, if heavy, contender with its BMW target. Its greatest strength is its charismatic engine, smooth and powerful, with a broad operating range and a delightful intake rasp as it winds toward its redline. Fit and finish impress, and the accessories available mean it will be possible to roll out of a dealership with a fully equipped machine this spring, ready for adventure.