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Triumph Tiger 1200 XRT & XCA launch test: Trailie Triple

In-Depth First Ride Review | Is it a match for the BMW R1200GS?

On making its debut at the EICMA Milan show back in November 2011, Triumph’s new 1200 triple, the Tiger Explorer adventure tourer, was clearly aimed squarely at BMW’s cash cow, its R1200GS Boxer, king of the adventure touring segment which represents a quarter of BMW’s annual production. Since then, a six-year production run has seen Triumph deliver a healthy 26,800 examples of its top end model to the global marketplace, making it a no-brainer for the British company to spend a sizeable slice of its R&D resources in developing an extensively revamped Gen 3 version for 2018, with the added benefit of Euro 4 compliance. 

Triumph’s Chief Engineer Stuart Wood says there are around 100 improvements in the new model over the uprated G2 Explorer introduced two years ago, enough to make this worthy of a name change to a slicker, sharper-sounding Tiger 1200 monicker with the Explorer tag a delete option. While the engine and tubular steel trellis chassis remain essentially unchanged from its ancestor in terms of overall concept, the  watercooled 1215cc three-cylinder in-line 12-valve motor measuring 85 x 71.4 mm, with chain-driven dohc and a balance shaft to eliminate undue vibration, has been seriously revamped internally to deliver a significant upgrade for a crisper, more immediate power delivery. Adding to this in terms of extra zest, the whole bike has undergone a serious diet, and is now much lighter, weighing in at up to 10kg less than the previous Gen 2 version, depending on the exact variant out of the six different model choices that are now available utilising the same platform. Triumph claims that this weight saving has been achieved across the entire engine, chassis and exhaust package, delivering improved manoeuvrability on all models, and better off-road agility and handling on the two wire-wheeled XCX and XCA dual-purpose on/off road variants. 

Revamped engine - more responsive from low revs

Maybe so, but the biggest change I noticed most immediately within the first ten minutes of a 200km/125-mile day’s ride into the Spanish Badlands behind Almeria on the range-topping totally tarmac-focused XRT variant, was the undoubted extra zip delivered by the revamped motor’s all-new crank assembly which weighs 3kg less than before, with the flywheel a whopping 2.5kg lighter, and another 0.5kg saved on the crankshaft itself. This makes it much more responsive from low revs, but without being snatchy or remotely abrupt in terms of pickup from a closed throttle. The zestful but controlled fuelling delivered by the Keihin ECU is near to perfection - indeed, it’s hard to think of another bike which has such a fluid power delivery and effortless transition through the six-speed gearbox from way low to way high. Gearchanges are accomplished seamlessly and smoothly without touching the clutch lever, thanks to Triumph’s all-new Shift Assist electronic system for clutchless shifts both up and down the gearbox. It was the first time I’d experienced a no-hands downshifter on a bike with shaft final drive, and it was frankly flawless. Worth noting this is Triumph’s first such device fitted to any of its production models, and they got it right first time. Maybe they learnt how to do it correctly in developing their similarly equipped prototype 765cc Moto 2 engine!

That two-way powershifter is just one of the many ways in which the new bike delivers the highest level of state-of-the-art electronic technology yet to be found on any Tiger model. The ride-by-wire digital throttle offers a choice of up to six riding modes for the 1200 triple - Rain, Road, Off Road, Rider, Sport and Off Road Pro. The entry-level Tiger 1200 XR variant features only the first three modes, with the XRX adding Sport and the range-topping XRT the Rider mode. Off Road Pro is reserved for the XC family and completely deactivates ABS and traction control, and switches the electronic suspension to its Off Road setting.

Either new or much improved over the previous generation Explorer are the keyless ignition, hill-start control, and see-round-turns adaptive cornering lighting which progressively activates four LEDs up to a lean angle of 31 degrees, illuminating a twisting road as you lean. That’s part of the all-LED lighting equipment including the self-cancelling indicators and twin spotlights, plus there’s semi-active WP suspension, an updated and very easy to use cruise control, cornering ABS developed with Continental, and a legible and readily adjustable full-colour five-inch TFT dash, with settings and data readily accessible via Triumph’s five-way joystick on the left control pod. This allows you to access what you might term conveniences, such as the electric windscreen and suspension settings, while the right-hand control allows you to go deeper into the fundamental setup of the Keihin ECU and Continental ABS, and even allows you to concoct a custom setting for the way you want to ride the bike here and now. Both lots of settings can be accessed on the go, and while I prefer not to fiddle too much with these while actually riding, I will admit to frequently altering the height of the screen depending on the kind of road I was travelling along – up high gives great protection on freeways for a 1.80m/5’10” rider, while down low still gives you enough corner vision to place the Tiger correctly in turns – as well as the WP suspension’s compliance for changes in the road surface.

Improved handling

That much lighter crank assembly and optimised fuelling also paradoxically enhances the Tiger 1200’s handling, thanks to the reduced gyroscopic weight and thus lower inertia which makes it much easier changing direction in turns, and especially so compared to the original Explorer, which by comparison was frankly a bit of a truck on which I never felt entirely at home. It seemed rather top heavy, plus distinctly cumbersome, and Triumph has subtly addressed this on the Tiger 1200 by firstly pulling the ‘bar end grips 20mm closer to the rider, and although the choice of seat heights is the same at 835mm or 855mm, there’s a new seat design and a consistency of the padding which is frankly more plush and welcoming than before. I opted for the lower setting of the two for my ride, and the result was that I felt properly ensconced within the bike rather than perched on top, yet without feeling in any way cramped. There’s a special Low Rider version offering a 790mm-810 mm option, but for some reason that’s only available in the XRX variant. Why? 

The result was an extremely comfortable riding stance that shrugged off the effects of a mere 200 k’s on the road – this is very much a bike for much longer hauls, and after leaving the Badlands where Clint Eastwood made his name churning out Spaghetti Westerns, we headed into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, whose snow-covered peaks lived up to their name. Carving corners and surfing switchback stretches while climbing to an altitude of more than 2,000 metres underscored what a lusty, torquey motor this reinvented Tiger 1200 power unit is, with torque peaking at 7,600 rpm where 122 Nm/90 ft-lb is available – but there’s already 121Nm at 6,100 rpm, and 118Nm at 5,500 revs. This meant I could hold third gear for literally miles on end, letting the engine drop as low as 3,000 rpm where 107Nm is on tap, then winding it on to deliver that seamless drive up to somewhere around the 9,500 rpm limiter. With peak power of 141bhp/104kW delivered at 9,350 rpm, you must be quick to powershift wide open up another gear at that point, with the guttural rasp of the freer flowing titanium-wrap Arrow silencer weighing 2.1kg less fitted as standard to this top end model and supposedly responsible for liberating at extra 3 bhp, changing just an octave when you do so. It’s impossible not to have your soul stirred riding the Tiger 1200 hard. 

Do that, and you will however find yourself holding third gear for long stretches of twisting, curvaceous highway, occasionally switching into fourth, then back again, letting the revs rise to around eight grand, then running as low as 2,500 rpm out of a slow turn. The Tiger 1200 motor is so torquey that fifth gear is a pretty pointless ratio, because once you get on a more open highway you’ll just stick it in sixth and go with the flow. A five-speed gearbox would have been ample for this bike, if not for bragging rights. 100 mph/160kmh comes up at 6,000 rpm, just two-thirds of the way to redline, so this really is a serious mileater just as the R1200GS is, except the German bike doesn’t have The Sound! I saw 7,000 rpm in sixth gear which equated to 200 kmh, but the Triumph is digitally limited to 220kmh, supposedly to do with stability when fitted with the optional hard luggage (there are more than 50 items in a dedicated Tiger 1200 aftermarket catalogue), but at high speeds it’s totally stable without luggage fitted – no shimmies, no weaving as the windstream catches the high handlebars, no misbehaviour of any kind.  

The Tiger 1200’s motor has a completely linear power delivery via a literally diagonal power curve, running all the way to the 9,500rpm cutout that’s surprisingly hard-action for a ride-by-wire digital throttle setup, and is actually shown as 10,000 revs on the ultra-visible TFT dash’s tacho. The sweet spot of the motor is between 4,500-8,000 rpm, and if you wind it up in the gears it’ll accelerate very hard. But the engine is so torquey and flexible that it makes sense to take full advantage of that and cut down on gear changing, even with the easy-action two-way powershifter. That power output allows Triumph to underline that this is still the most powerful shaft-drive 1200 on the market, although with the XRT weighing in at 243kg dry even after going on a diet, against the 244kg kerb weight of BMW’s R1200GS, it’s far from being the lightest. Add in a full 20-litre fuel load and oil plus water, and you’re looking at a kerb weight for the Tiger 1200 of around 265kg. However, thanks to its subtly revamped architecture and above all the kilos it has shed versus the Explorer, it’s no longer as much of an issue as before, and you certainly don’t get such a sweat on making it change direction as before. It turns in easily, aided by the good leverage from the revised handlebar, and proved surprisingly adept at switching from side to side through a series of third gear mountain turns – you don’t feel instinctively it’s as big a lump of metal as the Explorer did, and the fact that Triumph has gone up on rear tyre size to a 170/60-17 Metzeler Tourance (combined with a 120/70-19 front) versus the peculiarly narrow 150/70-17 rear cover the Explorer started out life wearing, hasn’t heavied up the steering in any way.

Better brakes

A further definite improvement on the Tiger 1200 is the new model’s brake package with switchable Continental cornering ABS and five-level traction control, with the same twin 305mm floating front discs as before now gripped by benchmark Brembo radially mounted Monoblock four-piston calipers, and a single-piston Nissin sliding caliper matched to a 282mm single disc at the rear. The Brembo calipers have completely resolved the weak braking I complained of on the Explorer, while retaining the same size front discs. Additionally, to provide what Triumph terms “smooth and progressive braking”, the Tiger features an integrated brake system again developed with Continental, which automatically applies a percentage of rear brake as you squeeze the front brake lever, though this is deactivated at low speeds, or off-road. I found this enabled me to return to the habits of a road racing lifetime and rarely touch the rear brake lever – just working the front brake additionally delivered just the right amount of rear end stopping power to keep the bike nicely balanced. It’s a good system. The excellent bite from the front Brembos was predictable and effective – definitely the right kit for the bike, especially when combined with the slip/assist clutch fitted to the Tiger 1200, which has quite a bit of engine braking left dialled into it, without causing any instability or risk of chattering the rear wheel into turns on the overrun. The XRT I spent most miles on and the XCA I had a short spell riding onroad with the same Tourance tyres as the XRT, both also featured Hill Hold Control. You activate this via the front brake lever, which also applies the rear brake until it disengages automatically as you start to move off. Having got used to this on the cars that I drive it was good to find it on the Tiger, and it certainly made it easier to stay in charge while getting a tall, heavy bike off the mark on a steep slope – on tarmac as well as dirt.

While the entry level XR features manually adjustable WP suspension, where the fork settings for rebound and compression damping can be adjusted, and the rear shock for spring preload and rebound, the mid-range and high-end variants retain the same WP/Triumph semi-active suspension system as the 2016 Gen 2 Explorer. This so-called TSAS system controls the front and rear suspension damping, as well as automatically adjusting the rear suspension for rider weight and payload, and has two modes of Auto damping, as well as one for Off Road, and it allows the rider to switch between types of ride via the left-hand joystick control. I kept the TSAS setting on Normal for most of the time as an ideal compromise especially on the 30km of freeway we rode on, switching to Comfort for stretches of roughly surfaced highway, where it soaked up the road rash well. However, there was noticeably more front end dive under heavy braking on this setting, whereas in Sport the settings were quite a bit firmer, which made the bike less eager to pitch back and forth under extreme conditions. But it was very easy to swap between modes – the electronic programmes on the Tiger 1200 are very accessible and pretty intuitive. Nice job, Triumph.

With its 1520mm wheelbase – down 10mm from the Explorer – the Tiger 1200 has genuine presence, as well as subtly redrawn styling that is less disjointed in appearance than the Explorer, with more contemporary graphics. It retains that model’s long 10,000-mile service intervals, and comes well equipped with excellent mirrors which don’t vibrate at any speeds, as befits a bike equipped with an I-section counterbalancer which is so-smooth to be aboard at almost any revs. Only above 8,000 rpm does it start to tingle a little, and that’s not an engine speed Tiger 1200 owners are likely to get acquainted with very much. The XRT has very accessible two-stage heated grips as well as two settings for the heated seat, with the passenger’s section individually controllable. I didn’t need the seat’s hotter second stage on a late autumn day even climbing to the snow level, though Level 1 on the heated grips seemed a little weak, especially as I still had summer gloves on. Triumph has equipped the XRT well, with two 12v power sockets and one USB port, and a huge range of optional displays for the TFT dash. The keyless ignition and steering lock is useful – until you need to fill up with fuel. Then you need to take your gloves off and go hunting through your pockets for the key in order to open the fuel cap, which rather defeats the purpose of the system. The dual purpose XCX and XCA versions also boast aluminium sump guards, radiator guards and engine bars as standard, 

Pricing for the family of 1200 Tigers is definitely high end, with bikes priced from GBP 12,200 on the road in his British home market (incl. 20% tax). The Tiger 1200 XRT I spent most time on comes in at GBP 16,150, or there’s the Expedition version at GBP 17,650 with a full set of hard luggage. But Triumph claims with some justification that its bikes come loaded with features as standard that are optional on comparable models, so be prepared for your local Triumph dealer’s salesperson to come well equipped with comparative costings if you start contrasting it with comparable R1200GS Boxer prices. But it’s a mark of how considerably improved over its predecessor the Tiger 1200 is that you can now definitely consider it as on a par with the market-leading Boxer twin. Good job, Triumph.

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