2012 Triumph Explorer: Fast, Smooth, and Comfortable

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Alfonse Palaima

One year after introducing the popular and acclaimed Tiger 800, Triumph has added its new flagship entry to the growing adventure-touring market—the 1215cc Tiger Explorer. Designed to go head-to-head with BMW’s R 1200 GS and Yamaha’s 1200cc Super Ténéré, the Explorer offers modern styling and a potent powerplant.

Powertrain and Performance

For the Tiger Explorer, Triumph built a new three-cylinder engine producing a class-leading 135 hp and 89 lb-ft of peak torque. The liquid-cooled engine shares the basic architecture that worked so well in recent Triumph triples, with a balance shaft for smoothness, dual overhead camshafts, and four valves per cylinder. The 71.4mm stroke of the outgoing Tiger 1050 is retained, but a larger 85mm bore (which necessitated wider bore spacing) resulted in 1215cc. Relatively mild camshafts provide strong bottom-end torque, while redline is a sporty 9,500 rpm. The engine uses an internal water/oil heat exchanger to reduce external plumbing, but it has a wet sump, which makes it tall with a high center of gravity.

The fuel injection is now controlled by a new Keihin ride-by-wire electronic throttle system and 46mm throttle bodies. This makes it easier for Triumph’s engineers to add cruise control and traction control; all Explorers will have a standard three-stage (1, 2, and Off ) TC system. The big triple starts quickly and is smooth even during warm-up. The engine has vigorous low-end torque nearly from idle and continues to pull harder up to its automatic rev-limiter cutoff. It’ll lug down below 2,000 revs in sixth gear and still accelerate like a sportbike, while tall gearing allows relaxed highway cruising.

The Explorer’s six-speed transmission shifts quickly and precisely. Clutch modulation is good and take-up is smooth, but lever-pull effort is quite high; I found my hand getting tired after extensive clutch use. 

A rugged shaft-drive system developed for the Explorer reduces maintenance and uses a floating gear case to virtually eliminate squatting under hard acceleration. This 
latest Triumph is designed to go 10,000 miles between servicing, ideal for long-
distance adventures.

Chassis and Handling

The Explorer’s stout tubular-steel trellis frame uses the engine as a stressed member, while the single-sided rear swingarm makes it easier to remove the 10-spoke rear wheel for tire changes. Steering geometry is 23.9 degrees of rake and 4.2 inches of trail. An adjustable 46mm male-slider Kayaba fork and single rear shock, along with long-travel suspension, deliver a controlled yet comfortable ride.

Tire sizes are 110/80R19 front and 150/70R17 rear. The 19-inch front wheel allows the bike to cope off-road, but realistically, unless you are a Dakar racer these big adventure bikes should be limited to dirt roads. Deep sand and single-track goat trails are flirting with gravity and expensive falls, particularly with the stock nonaggressive Metzeler Tourance EXP tires. They provide a smooth ride and good grip on pavement but tend to slither about on loose surfaces. On dirt the optional traction control can be set on intermediate Level 2, which allows the rear tire to spin briefly and controllably to steer by throttle if desired.

Nissin-sourced ABS is standard equipment on the Explorer. Apply the brakes too hard for available traction and the lever pulses gently to provide feedback as the big motorcycle comes to a rapid and controlled halt under ABS computer command. The ABS is also designed to prevent the Explorer from lifting its rear wheel under hard braking despite its high center of gravity, and can be switched off for off-road use.

Throw a leg over the Explorer and you’ll immediately notice that this is a big, heavy motorcycle. As you pick up speed, the bike feels lighter and is easy to control, but it never feels “flickable” like a sportbike. It tracks through corners precisely and feels stable and inspires confidence at high speeds.

Ergonomics and Features

The manually adjustable windscreen can be tilted back or set nearly vertical to meet individual rider preferences. We found the upright setting provided good wind protection without buffeting.

The rider’s saddle height is adjustable, from 32.8 inches stock seat height to 31.6 inches with the low accessory seat fitted. Taller riders may want the optional tall seat, which adds nearly an inch to seat height. Passenger accommodations include a wide, comfy seat with large grab handles for security. Our test bike also had optional, individually controlled heated seats that are very comfortable for long rides.

Instrumentation consists of an analog tachometer and an LCD pod which displays speed, odometers, gear position, time, fuel level, and coolant temp; it can be scrolled for air temperature and other useful info. The dash is set up for Triumph’s tire-pressure monitoring system, which is an optional accessory. It saved my bacon with an early warning when I picked up a screw in the rear tire.

A centerstand is standard, making minor servicing easier. A powerful 950-watt generator has been fitted to power add-on electrical accessories. Triumph offers heated seats and unheated low or tall saddles, along with various guards, heated grips, fog lights, a taller windscreen, a tankbag, and soft luggage. Triumph’s optional hard sidebags employ a floating mount designed to help high-speed stability. The two saddlebags provide a combined 60 liters of luggage space; the left bag is very roomy, and the right has its rear cut away for exhaust clearance (similar to BMW’s GS). The optional top box adds an additional 35-liter capacity, is big enough to fit one full-face helmet, and has a standard 12-volt cigarette-lighter outlet for charging electronic goodies. There’s also a power socket situated near the ignition switch, which can power a GPS or heated apparel.

Final Thoughts

Triumph’s new Tiger Explorer—with an MSRP base price of ,699—should be a solid contender in the large-displacement category of the adventure-touring segment. Fit and finish are first-class, and there are plenty of useful factory accessories available. Explorer’s greatest asset is its character-rich engine, which delivers smooth, torquey power across a broad range and has a pleasant snarl when ridden enthusiastically. With 135 claimed horsepower, compared to the 110 horses in the latest BMW R 1200 GS, it will be a formidable competitor.