There’s no getting away from the fact that the Triumph Tiger 1200 is a big and heavy adventure bike that appears to carry its weight a little higher than the main rivals. The public are aware of this, and so is Triumph.
I thought I’d mention this straight off the bat, otherwise this review would be like pointing out the finer details of the emperor’s clothes or asking where’s the remote control when there’s a grey thing with tusks sat in the corner flicking through channels.
It’ll also give me the opportunity to discuss, with you, in practical and realistic terms just how relevant these size and weight issues are to all but the 1% (and maybe even less) of new buyers who ride out of the showroom and into the untamed wilds on a new 1200cc motorcycle.
If you, dear reader, are anything like me, then there is very little chance that you’re going to fork out the best part of £20k (by the time you’ve tooled up with panniers, top box, tank bag, legions of gizmos and a portable microwave etc.) on a brand spanking new motorcycle and then go treat it the same as you would a purpose-built trail bike.
It just isn’t going to happen, no matter how gung-ho I want to appear or how often the marketing departments convince me that everyone else does. I’m telling you now, in the normal course of day-to-day life, I value my bank balance, insurance premium, life, body, limbs and aged, crocked back far too much to do such a thing.
Mind you, I’d happily take yours for a spin down a gnarly Moroccan trail or, better still, I’d buy myself a trail bike, a mid-weight adventure bike or a third-hand 1200cc where the trauma of dropping the machine is usually confined to a smile.
In the course of my work and personal life, I ride a lot of green lanes, I probably spend more time seeking out off-road passes in the Alps than most, and over the past year I’ve spent my fair share of time riding deserts in South America and Africa. And guess what, other than yours truly, plus some other lucky journalists (or sponsored riders), I’ve not come across anyone else on a brand new 1200cc adventure bike doing likewise.
It takes a hell of a lot of bravery, foolishness or skill to take a big adventure bike off-road on anything other than graded trails or pistes, and with that firmly in mind, the new Triumph Tiger 1200 will more than do the job on that sort of terrain. I know so as I’ve just done so.
So, let’s get real here. Where height, bulk and weight count most, aside from the obvious straining waistline and zips, is in day-to-day slow speed manoeuvrability and general foot-down stability. In my experience, if you’re over 5ft 10in tall, that’s not going to be a problem on the Triumph Tiger 1200 even with the standard seat height – a 5ft 7in rider on the launch could get the balls of both feet planted on the low setting. And with the XRxLRH model specifically lowered to 790mm, there’s a Triumph Tiger 1200 to fit all.
So, having got that off my chest, let me whisk you off to Almeria in southern Spain and the launch of the 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200.
Just in case you don’t know, the first thing to mention about the new Tiger 1200 is that it is the updated version of what was formally known as the Explorer. I’m not absolutely sure why the company felt a name change necessary but, in theoretical terms, it means Triumph can now market a ‘Tiger family’ as opposed to mixed bag of big cats and explorers. Plus, and this is pure speculation on my part, it also frees up the Explorer name for any other adventure branch the company might have plans to develop.
From the outset, the enthusiastic Triumph team were keen to point out their four ambitions with the 2018 model. Basically, this involved advancement of the triple-cylinder engine, more use of technology, improved handling and enhanced premium quality in both style, features and finish.
This, the company stated, would be achieved by continuing to offer models with a more defined focus: the XCs for off-road bias, and the XRs for on-road prowess. To accompany the new Tiger name, there has been emphasis on improving the ergonomics and creating a new, sharper appearance topped off with a premium finish. The engine would be more responsive and free revving, and the technology state of the art.
To address what I’ve emphasised in the opening paragraphs, the company was also very keen to point out that it’s been working hard to cut weight from the Tiger and, in the process, has improved the slow-speed manoeuvrability and fine-tuned the high-speed handling.
The weight savings range from 2kg on the base model XR up to 11kg on the top spec XRT. The XCa, made available on the launch, weighs in 10kg less than the previous model. These savings have come from redesigning the flywheel (2.5kg), crankshaft (0.5kg), cam cover (0.3kg) and fitting lighter accessories such as battery (2.6kg), Titanium Arrow silencer (2.1kg), engine bars (1.3kg), aux lights (0.5kg) and sump guard (0.5kg).
Even so, the XCa still weighs 248kg dry, which is heavier than premium competitors such as the BMW GSA (244kg dry) and KTM 1290 Super Adventure R (217kg dry) despite both the BMW and KTM having larger capacity tanks, with an extra 10 litres and 3 litres respectively.
I’ve yet to see the weight of the 1200 triple engine, but I’d place money on it being the reason for the heft, and therein lies the conundrum. The Triumph Triple is, in my opinion, the sweetest power plant on the block. It almost defines the modern Hinckley company, and it’s been the main reason why I’ve spent my own cash on a couple of Tigers in years past.
The character, torque, power, vibe-free ride and howling soundtrack of the 885 Tiger (Steamer) and 955 Tiger (Girlie) were present at the conception and first issue launch of Adventure Bike Rider magazine. They were the machines which, at least in part, inspired me to create the very magazine you are reading and my fondness for that engine has not diminished over the years. As new models and variations have been launched, my admiration has only grown.
And staying with the engine, the 2018 Tiger comes with a 2hp increase in power, which means it’s still the most powerful shaft-drive bike in the adventure sector. Plus, other engine improvements have made the powerplant more refined and revvier lower down, which makes what was always a very responsive and satisfying performance a little sweeter and more rider-friendly.
There’s a lot of new stuff going on with the 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200. It looks sharper, more modern and streamlined than its predecessor, and a lot of that is down to the quality of finish and graphics. Mental note to myself here… Must employ a personal stylist.
A brief run through the spec sheet confirmed the following new features; adaptive cornering lights activated when the bike is leaning, a full colour TFT screen display, backlit switchgear and joystick for ease of use when night riding, a new, conveniently placed, heated grip button, Off-Road Pro riding mode, all LED lighting, shift assist clutchless gear change, updated cruise control and keyless ignition.
So, what’s it like to ride? First off, the bar, seat and peg triangle offer a superbly comfortable adventure style stance. From the moment you swing a leg over the Triumph Tiger 1200 and settle into the bike, it’s not a far stretch of a willing imagination to envisage consecutive 500-mile days in the saddle. It genuinely is a comfortable place to hang out and, as countless pillions have agreed, the heated back seat is spot on too.
Up front there’s a host of new features, with the most obvious being the TFT full-colour display. The screen tilts for ease of view and the quality and clarity is on a par with a modern tablet. The top-of-the-range models come with switchable screen styles, a bit of a gimmick, but something that’ll keep you occupied on those long, traffic free French motorway jaunts to the Alps. The screen and rider options are controlled via a new joystick on the left grip; operation is intuitive and easy to thumb. Top marks Triumph.
One new feature I appreciate is the backlighting of the switchgear, which will make any night time riding less of a grope or stab in the dark and more of a precise operation. As will the addition of adaptive cornering lights which engage depending on the lean angle of the motorcycle. Although we didn’t have the chance to ride the Tiger after sundown, having used similar set-ups in the past, they are a great help in lighting the way ahead.
Triumph has chosen to go with the sort of keyless ignition found in cars. And whilst I’m no anti, I still need more convincing of the merits of keyless when it comes to motorcycles. There’s the extra faffing in pockets at petrol stops, plus I’ve had mates start their bikes, change jackets and realise the key is back at home when it’s too late. I also like the surety of being able to see the key whilst riding. In addition, I’m of an age where the odd lingering luddite tendency is to be expected.
Heading out of the hotel, we were soon on a motorway and blasting effortlessly towards the mountains of Southern Spain. The electronically adjusted screen is very effective at deflecting wind blast and the eyeball shaking buffeting produced by the stock screens on the old 885 and 955 are now just a distant and romantic memory. The Tiger 1200 is a very comfortable and stress-free place to be at motorway speeds.
Any regular reader of ABR will know all about my enthusiasm for Spanish roads. Basic and complex road construction techniques all stem from the defining principle of ‘why build it straight when you can throw in a few switchbacks’, and in that they excel. Better still, get up in the hills and there’s hardly any traffic.
On these type of roads, the linear torque of the triple and improvements in the 2018 Tiger can be appreciated in full. I’d always raved about the old Explorer when it came to bopping around twisty mountain roads, but this new Tiger is a cut above.
The quicker revving engine produces even more useable power just where you’d want it, the weight loss makes the bike feel far more flickable and agile and the handling, as always with a Triumph, is neutral, stable, precise and predictable. Throw in the excellent quick shift gear change where you can go up or down the box with no dipping of the revs and you have a bike that, should you want, would keep up with even the most spirited sportsbike mob.
But the Tiger is far more than just a very fast motorcycle. As pointed out above, it’s also comfortable for long days in the saddle and is just as happy being ridden at touring speeds where checking out the views take precedence over lean angle on the next bend. In short, the Tiger 1200 is a seriously good road-going adventure bike.
What’s been a welcome change over the past few years has been the manufacturer’s willingness to upgrade the off-road test from spinning around a gravel carpark to something more meaningful. And fair play to Triumph for opening the Tiger launch to the sand, gravel and rocky gullies of the Tabernas Desert.
Famous as the location for Spaghetti Western movies and hosting the mock cowboy town of Fort Bravo, the Tabernas is criss-crossed with a network of sandy trails, rocky gullies and fast-paced gravel roads. With the bikes fitted with dirt friendly Pirelli Scorpion rally tyres and the ride mode set at ‘off-road’, I have to admit, these bikes are, considering the size and weight, very impressive in the dirt.
Riding a 248kg bike at any speed on unstable ground can be nerve racking, but the Tiger performed well above expectations. Whilst I’d have liked bar risers to fine tune the standing position, the excellent semi-active suspension and off-road traction control made the ride more controlled, enjoyable and fun than I’d ever imagined it would be.
The improvements in the new 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 have made what was already an exceptional road touring adventure bike even more formidable. The all-day comfort, fast-paced touring ability, superb engine performance, stable and precise handling, top spec semi-active suspension, rider-friendly electronics, plus undoubted pillion carrying ability, make it difficult for me to think of a better alternative.
If your travel ambitions stretch to riding gravel trails and pistes, then the Triumph Tiger 1200, whilst not the best in this department, is more than capable. But as with all big capacity adventure bikes, where you can take these machines is more down to the competency of the rider and less to do with the features and ability of the bike.
The top spec XCa is priced at £16,950 which places it in a price band with very strong competition, but this new Tiger is capable of competing with the best. In my experience, you’ll not regret setting aside some time for a test ride.
ABR Triumph Tiger 1200 Verdict
As a Commuter
There are better bikes for nipping around city centres, but the Triumph Tiger 1200 will make any extended ride to work a pleasure. Comfortable, formidable on-road presence and a great upright stance for visibility all help out.
As a weekend tourer
Long distance comfort, bags of useable power and pillion friendly features will make the Friday night motorway journey about as stress-free as it gets, and a sentence including the words ‘stress-free’, ‘Friday’ and ‘motorway’ is uncommon. More than enough poise, power and handling ability to make the A roads fun on arrival.
As an off-roader
The best Tiger 1200 yet, but it’s still a big beast for off-road excursions. Gravel trails and mild off-road should be fine, but unless you’re an off-road expert, I’d avoid the more gnarly stuff. Top marks to Triumph for letting us ride the Tabernas Desert for the off-road test on the launch. A fine demonstration of the confidence the company has in the new 1200.
As a continental road tourer
We’ve been using the previous version of the 1200 for the past two years for long distance travel, and it has been faultless and exceptionally comfy for both rider and pillion. Maintenance-free shaft drive and huge carrying capacity is always a bonus, though some would welcome a larger capacity fuel tank. The Tiger 1200 is one of the best long-distance adventure bikes on the market.
As a RTW overlander
Depending on the choice of route, the 1200 has the pedigree to see you arriving back home glitch free. It’ll be just the job on-road and basic pistes, but not one for hauling through the mud fests in central Africa or tougher trails.