By Bud Wilkinson of RIDE-CT.com
As a rider who takes precautions, I half-seriously considered tossing a step-ladder in the bed of my pickup and putting some tissues in my pocket before pulling out of the driveway. I was headed cross-state on four wheels to Hebron to see Dave Rosen, who is the regional dealer rep for Triumph. He’d offered a new 2012 Tiger Explorer for the day, so I wanted to be fully prepared.
The model only arrived in dealer showrooms earlier this month. While I had seen it previously at the motorcycle show in New York in January, I hadn’t sat on it. Knowing that the Explorer is a heavyweight “adventure” bike, with Triumph’s goal being to lure riders away from BMW’s R 1200 GS, I presumed that my 30-inch inseam would be a significant problem. Adventure bikes are the T-Rexes of motorcycles, traditionally tall to handle off-road as well as on-road riding, and with huge gas tanks to make them capable of gobbling up many miles without a break.
My concern was that the day would be spent tip-toeing at stop signs while straining to hold it upright. That’s why the step-ladder – to make mounting it easier, at least the first time. The tissues would be for later if nose bleed ensued from the altitude of the high seat or to wipe tears if I dropped it.
Rosen had the graphite Explorer parked in the driveway when I arrived shortly after 7:30 a.m. and he began the introduction by showing off the features from fog lamps to heated seats. The instrument cluster with digital speedometer and analog tachometer had numerous readouts, including air temperature, gear position, front and rear tire pressure, and the number of miles remaining until the depletion of gas in the 5.3-gallon tank.
After pointing out the ABS light – ABS is standard and so is traction control – and explaining how to activate the cruise control system, Rosen noted the throttle, gently twisting the right grip. “It is a fly-by-wire system, so this throttle is really responsive. You’ll notice when you’re out there just how instantaneous (and) responsive it is,” he said in such a matter-of-fact tone that I missed taking the comment as a warning.
Prior to my arrival, Rosen had raised the windscreen to its highest level and dropped the seat to the lower 33.1-inch position, assuming both would be more comfortable for me. I got on and, surprise, was able to put both feet flat on the ground. Touching the starter button, the Explorer’s inline triple engine fired. The odometer read 121 miles.
My plan was to meet friend Walt Pinto in Cobalt, ride together to Old Saybrook for breakfast, and then find a spot along the water to take pictures. I headed west on Route 66 feeling the usual “first date” tentativeness of operating an unfamiliar motorcycle. Rosen hadn’t kidded about the throttle response. With an all-new 1,215cc power plant and 135 horsepower, the Explorer was ready to rip at the slightest touch, no matter the gear. Any unintended hand movement prompted a burst of acceleration.
With practice came increased throttle control, though, and growing appreciation for the bike’s linear power, found in all six gears. After taking over the lead position from Walt during the ride to the shoreline, I was able to sample the Explorer’s handling through some curvier sections of Routes 151, 82 and 156. Most pleasing were the upright riding position, the smoothness of the shaft drive and the neutral steering. Each time I picked a line going into a curve and gunned it after entry, the bike held it.
While the spec sheet lists the Explorer’s wet weight at 570 pounds, it felt and handled much lighter. Checking later, I was surprised to discover that the Explorer weighs 66 pounds more than an R 1200 GS, while having a hefty 25-horsepower advantage to overcome the weight difference.
Over 96 miles, the Explorer wiped away all of my preconceptions. It wasn’t too tall for someone south of six feet (and shrinking by the year) and the center of gravity was sufficiently low for the bike to be nimble. With an MSRP of $15,699, the Explorer’s several hundred dollars cheaper than the R1200GS and with more features, including hand guards. The loaner also had engine guards, skid plate and center stand.
Before returning it, I took the Explorer on Route 2 to get in some divided highway miles and to test the cruise control. Cruising at 70 miles per hour, with only minimal head buffeting, I tried to engage the on/off button with my right thumb. In doing so, I tweaked the throttle again – not a comfortable feeling. A second attempt also failed to get the cruise control operating, so I reached across my body with my free left hand and hit the “on” and “set” buttons. The cruise control did its job.
Aside from feeling a little engine heat between the knees, hearing a bit of tire noise and being a bit disappointed by the rather plain exhaust note, I nonetheless concluded that the Explorer impressively accomplishes what Triumph had in mind – to build a strong category alternative to the R 1200 GS, the Yamaha Super Tenere and the Ducati Multistrada. I’d still want a step-ladder if I bought one, but only to sit on when occasionally cleaning it. Make mine sapphire blue, please.