Test Drives

By Cycle Canada

March 5, 2015

The Third Option

Photo: Marc Bolan

The Triumph Tiger Explorer XC.

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Triumph’s bigger Tigger commands inclusion in the premium adventure confab
 

In the past two years, two contenders in the upscale, upsized adventure bike category have distanced themselves from the pack: the benchmark BMW R1200GS and the edgy Austrian KTM 1190 Adventure. (Honourable mention goes to the Suzuki V-Strom 1000, a quality bike that’s taxing Suzuki’s ability to stock showrooms. However, at the risk of enraging Stromophiles — and they are legion — we feel it lacks the premium panache of the European models. Now where were we?) 

The Triumph Tiger Explorer has been in the picture with the KTM and the BMW, though at the rear of the photo. But with the refinement of the Tiger platform in the new-and-improved 2015 Tiger Explorer XC ABS, tested here, Triumph’s big pussy becomes a viable third element in the premium ADV equation. 

One thing setting the Explorer XC apart from its other European competition — besides the English Channel — is its engine configuration. While the BMW and KTM are both powered by twins (a flat twin for the GS, a V-twin for the Adventure), the Triumph’s heart is an inline triple. It’s a liquid-cooled, 1,215 cc unit with double overhead cams operating four valves per cylinder, and it pounds out, says Triumph, a hefty 137 hp and 89 lb-ft of torque. That torque is spread smoothly and broadly throughout the rev range like butter applied evenly across a slice of bread, giving the Explorer XC a powerful and steady pull from start to finish. Having lots of useable low-end torque helps make this Tiger more manageable when venturing off the paved path — at least, as manageable as a 266.5 kg motorcycle with street-biased tires can be — though we stuck to the street during our Fall Tour dalliance with Delaware. 

Clutch pull is firm, actuation and engagement even, and shifting throughout the six-speed gearbox is sharp and sure. Like the BMW R1200GS, the Explorer XC uses a shaft to put power to pavement. Fuel delivery is controlled by a ride-by-wire throttle system, and while we found throttle response inconsistent on a previously tested model (CC August 2013), this Tiger’s reply to a right-wrist wringing is refined and rambunctious. 

Which could be why we flogged it so hard through Pennsylvania’s plentiful curves. A tubular steel trellis frame provides a sturdy chassis and is coupled with a 46 mm inverted Kayaba fork (adjustable for spring preload) and matching Kayaba monoshock (adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping) for a solid suspension setup. The bike is well sprung and feels planted and compliant; with 190 and 194 mm of front- and rear-wheel travel, respectively, it’s forgiving too. Wide bars make turn-in a breeze, and the bike’s agility belies its size. Sporty performance is backed up by a set of powerful front brakes — four-piston calipers squeeze 305 mm rotors. A single 282 mm rotor slows the rear, and switchable ABS is standard. The Explorer XC allows you to carve up back roads with the best of the sportbike bunch, and at day’s end you won’t be left with screaming muscles and stiff joints. 

That’s because the riding position of the Explorer XC is an elegant study in comfortable rider ergonomics. You’re seated upright with a commanding view of the surroundings, and wide grips fall naturally to hand. Your feet are below your hips but not too close to your behind (a seat adjustable between 837 and 857 mm helps here), which imparts a general ease of movement, and allows the rider a comfortable standing position when riding off-road. The Explorer XC’s seat is firm but not unduly taxing — even during a 677 km day from Harrington, Delaware, to Coudersport, Pennsylvania, which only ends after a harrowing ride through the pitch-black pines of Susquehannock State Forest with the temperature dipping to low single-digits. 

Thankfully, the Explorer XC’s standard 55-watt dual fog lights shine out like beacons in the night, reflecting from the retinas of countless critters along the road’s verge (though sometimes they’re standing on the centreline). Hand guards are also standard and help protect our sensitive hands from the bitterly cold breeze. Our test bike’s optional heated grips are a boon, and well worth their $269.99 price tag (grumble at the added expense if you like, but when you need them you’ll be glad to have them). (There’s a 12V power socket to juice up heated clothing, too.) Also part of the Explorer XC standard package are spoked rims (in place of the cast rollers on the Explorer), an aluminum sump guard, and engine protection bars, all of which make the bike look like a real off-road adventurer.

Adding to the Triumph’s long haul comfort is an effective and adjustable windscreen, though adjustment takes two hands and requires stopping. Still, it fends off the worst of the weather and we experienced little turbulence and a mild amount of wind noise. Cruise control comes standard, for which we were thankful on the long stretches of superslab between Delaware and Pennsylvania. Traction control is also standard and adds peace of mind. A large analogue tach is flanked by a clear LCD screen that shows all the information one could want (time, speed, fuel level, engine temperature, ambient temperature, current gear, odo and trip meters, and more). The screen is easily operated using thumb switches on the left switchblock. There’s also a “home” button beside the screen itself allowing a quick return to your preferred set of information.

It wouldn’t be suited for a long haul without luggage — and that’ll cost you. Our Explorer XC is equipped with the Explorer Pannier System ($999.99). Capacity of the left case is substantial (it easily engulfs a full-face XL Schuberth), but that of the right case is limited (it holds a laptop and a few smaller items) because of the XC’s beefy high-slung exhaust. We forgave this storage shortcoming, however, once we heard the stirring, angry snarl of the XC’s stock can. As you’d expect, Triumph offers a host of other accessories for its Tiger adventure-tourer lineup. 

At $19,299, the Explorer XC is priced comparably with its plus-sized ADV counterparts. Though at press time 2015 prices are unavailable for the BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure, last year’s MSRPs were set at $19,200 and $17,999, respectively. (And, in truth, with its standard ADV add-ons the Explorer XC is more reminiscent of BMW’s R1200GS Adventure, which would’ve set you back $21,600 in 2014.) We expect modest price increases for the Beemer and the KTM this year, so the big Tigger should still be in the ballpark. The KTM is undeniably the sportiest of the trio, the Beemer arguably the plushest. But with its 2015 refinements — and a torque-rich triple to set it apart — the Triumph Explorer XC is right in the hunt.