XC and I know it!

triumph XC

Alun Davies checks out the new pimped-up version of Triumph’s 1200 Explorer

In the Spring of 2012 I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200 at a glitzy location in Spain and I posted up a full review of the Explorer on the ABR website – www.adventurebikerider.com The XC version of the Explorer is basically the standard or stock model with a few selected bolt-ons. So, with that in mind, what follows is a digest version of the online review of the standard Explorer, updated to include my longer-term riding experience on the bike over the past year, plus my impressions of the XC version gained on a recent press launch in Scotland.

IN A LINE: The stock Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200 dressed up to go to war

The review

The Explorer was a long time in the making, having been conceived by the Triumph team in July 2006 when the world was awash with disposable cash and easy credit and everyone was watching Zinedine Zidane being sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the France v Italy World Cup final. From the outset, the design and build brief was to develop a new 1200cc adventure bike to take on the mighty BMW GS, and Triumph wasn’t shy in telling the assembled journalists that the German bike was the target in the Hinckley factory’s crosshair.

In order to compete, there would be a new chassis, engine, shaft drive and electronics; the Explorer truly was a project that started on a blank piece of Bavarian paper. The base concept was to make a bike that was comfortable for extended use and capable of carrying a pillion with ease. Reliability had to be built in, as did features that would appeal to the adventure and touring rider. It also needed to come with a whiff of off-road capability (more promise than reality) and it had to have that look which has been raking in the cash for BM for many a year.

Up close the Triumph looks well put together, with clean angular lines and hardly a hint of the external plumbing that made some of the earlier Tigers I’ve owned look more like mobile chemical plants than a sleek combustion engine on wheels.

Take a step back and there’s little doubt that the Explorer, just like the Tiger 800, probably started life on the Triumph sketchpad as a GS. Tuck a bit here, rub a bit there, whip out the horizontal twin pots and bolt in an in-line triple and you have it.

In some eyes, the end result still won’t have enough of that rugged, plough through-walls visual drama that oozes from the BM; in Land Rover terms, the Explorer is the Discovery and the GS is still the Defender.

Khaki green colour
Sounds shallow, but Khaki green colour scheme as big a revelation as any

The Explorer, as you’d expect for a 1200cc shaft-driven motorcycle, is a big, heavy lump with a wet weight of 259kg, which makes it heavier than the GS. Throwing a leg over the bike, I can plant both feet on the ground, though I am 6ft 2in.

However, with all the adjustment/accessory options available the seat height is variable between 810 and 880mm. I’ve yet to confirm details on where the centre of gravity lies but it sure feels more like my top-heavy Tiger 955 rather than the lower balanced GS, or indeed the heavier but nicely weighted Honda Crosstourer. But then it is an in-line Triple and that means its weight will inevitably be carried high.

There’s no doubting that Triumph has done its research on what ‘adventure’ customers want. The Explorer comes with a class-leading 950 watts generator, which means it’ll power the adventure caravan that Touratech is planning to launch as an accessory.

In more practical terms, it’s a sign that Triumph is listening: the company knows that for the adventure bike rider, having the power to fire up a legion of gadgets ranks almost as high as having two wheels and for that reason, there’s also a beefed-up 18Ah battery as standard and auxiliary power sockets at the front and back of the bike. All good news.

Continuing with the theme of giving the market what it wants, the Explorer boasts a class-leading 222kg load carrying capacity; a centre stand that comes with the bike and not as an optional extra; an aluminium luggage rack in situ; cleated footpegs with removable rubber inserts; a side stand with a large footprint; 10,000-mile service intervals; a maintenance-free shaft drive; an adjustable and effective front screen; cruise control and ABS and Traction Control systems that can be turned on or off depending on your mood or the conditions.

Triumph has also made a set of panniers and a top box available for the Explorer and this is the one area where, in my opinion, it’s fired well wide of the mark.

I’m at a loss as to why the company didn’t just bang out a set of metal boxes for this bike rather than a trio of unsightly plastic containers. In my view, they spoil the look of the bike. In fact, they look as if they were made for a different motorcycle altogether. I’ve no doubt that many a buyer will be waving cash at a supplier of after-market aluminium luggage.

The road ride

From the off the ergonomics of the Explorer compelled me to think in terms of 500-mile ache-free days on the road and my extensive riding experience over the past 12 months has confirmed those first impressions. Every aspect of the stance and control positions suits the Davies torso to a T. Plus the seat feels custom-made for the 50-something bony-arse brigade – as I pointed out earlier, Triumph has done its research all right.

Ignition engaged and the engine sounds wonderful, the unique triple growl almost bringing a tear to my eye and then it was time for the off. Triumph has fitted the Explorer with the company’s first ride-by-wire throttle system where the fuelling is essentially controlled by an ECU (computer) activated electric motor.

The thinking behind such a system is that traction and cruise control can be programmed and adjusted electronically (by a geek with trendy specs rather than fitted by an engineer with greasy hands). Plus, of course, it helps with the all-important emission controls. All good stuff, but on the original (2012) test bike there was almost nil resistance when winding back the throttle.

This lightness of touch counted for little on road; it’s just a case of getting used to it, but I had visions of the Explorer flying out of control when hitting an unexpected off-road bump that causes an unplanned twist of the right hand. The good news is, on the new XC version, the throttle response appears to have been tweaked and isn’t so feather-light.

the XC is most at home here
Intensions aside, this is where the XC is most at home

If I’ve learnt one thing about press events then it’s to expect a rate of progress far in excess of what 99 percent of riders would consider spirited. What you do get though is the opportunity to test out the power and handling of the machines over and above what the average buyer is ever going to demand, and in both these respects, the Triumph delivered what I’d come to expect from the British firm.

This is definitely an adventure bike built for long, fast days in the saddle and if I were ever to consider meeting the criteria for joining the Iron Butt Club (1,000 miles in 24 hours) then the Explorer would be on the shortlist. It eats motorway miles effortlessly with superb comfort and stability.

Even the screen – a feature that in my experience has always been an after, after (yes, two afters) thought when it comes to Triumph – is effective and protective. Throw in the cruise control and there’s nothing left to say. Top motorway marks to Triumph.

Open up the throttle on the twisties and this is where the Explorer and the famed Triumph torque come to life, compelling the more free-flowing rider to actively engage with the machine.

The 135bhp and 89lbft are immense, pulling from low down and delivering through the range, and if I hadn’t known the bike had a shaft drive there was almost nothing in its on-road character that would have had me thinking anything other than a chain drive.

The Explorer has gained my total confidence over the past year on all the road surfaces I’ve encountered. From fast, smooth European motorways to grass-covered, pitted and tight Scottish single tracks, top marks to the Triumph.

Off-road

_1239269The slow-speed off-road stability and balance of the Explorer feels more in line with my top-heavy 955 Tiger rather than the better balanced GS. Th at said, I’ve taken the 955 on the Stella Alpina off-road rally in the Alps and wouldn’t think twice about doing the same with the Explorer.

With the above in mind, I’d better throw in this qualification: the Explorer is a big, heavy beast for taking on anything other than gravel forestry roads and the off-road ability of all 1000cc plus adventure bikes has far more to do with the knowledge and experience of the rider than the ability of the bike.

Back at the original Explorer launch in 2012 it was stated that there would be a more off-road suited XC version released at some time in the future. The thought back then was that with Triumph openly expressing the BMW GS as being the target the XC would emulate the GSA and be a significantly different bike with a longer-range fuel tank and more on-trail characteristics.

As it happens the XC is the stock Explorer dressed up with items straight out of the Triumph accessory catalogue. I’m slightly disappointed at this if only due to the fact that I was so impressed with the stock Explorer I was keen to see what other innovations Triumph would unveil. Ah, well.

On the Explorer launch, the off-road test involved riding down a track that wouldn’t have been a challenge to a low-slung golf buggy. For the 2013 XC test, we were treated to something far more appealing as the company had ‘hired out’ the mountain and forest trails of Alvie Estate, near Aviemore and the Cairngorm Mountains.

Having had a serious motorcycle crash in January of 2013, I was still recovering from the injuries at the XC launch and hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in three months. I also don’t mind admitting that I wasn’t sure if I was up to the task – physically and mentally – and had considered pulling out.

Spoked wheels, bash plate, engine guards, heated seat...
Spoked wheels, bash plate, engine guards, heated seat…

My decrepit state of well-being wasn’t stretched to any great extent as the trails were predominantly dry with a touch of mud coating the surface here and there, which was fortunate, as the bike’s were running Metzeler Tourance tubeless tyres; great in the gravel, not so good in the mud.

The suspension on the XC soaks up bumps well enough and the bike coped with all the rough, bumpy mountain trails with ease.

However, the height, weight and centre of gravity on the XC dictate that all slow-paced manoeuvres are performed with a degree of prayer. In short, the XC looks the part and is as capable off-road as almost all big-bore adventure bikes, but in reality, you’d not want to be hoofing the Triumph over anything much more taxing than forest trails.

Magnificent Scotland
Magnificent Scotland

Quick Spec:

Model: Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200 XC
Price: £12,189
MPG: 45mpg
Range: 200 miles-ish
Power: 135bhp @ 9,500rpm
Torque: 89lb,ft/10.6kgm/121Nm @ 6,400
Transmission: Six gears, shaft drive
Seat Height: 810mm-880mm
Weight: 259kg fully fuelled
Wheels: 19″ front/17″ rear, both spoked
Colours: Phantom Black, graphite or sapphire blue

What’s New?

The XC is the beefed-up version of the Explorer. Here’s what you get.

■ Wire spoked wheels
Off-road-friendly aluminium rims with steel spokes and tubeless tyres replace the cast wheels of the standard Explorer
■ Engine bars
If you ride off-road then you’re going to hit the dirt, at which point in time your wallet will be happy to know the XC comes with heavy-duty crash bars
■ Aluminium bash plate
Protects the engine. Shame a radiator guard isn’t a feature – one of the riders on the Scottish launch had his rad punctured by a loose highland stone
■ Handguards
Handguards should be standard equipment on all adventure bikes; fortunately, they are on the XC
■ Spotlights
Twin spots make the world a brighter place and you more visible to other road users

 

Engine Bars Hand Guards
Matt, rough-feel crash bars
as standard
Handguards good for
protection and warmth.
Heated grips an extra
Explorer Fog Lights XC
Spots are a necessary
addition for light and looks
XC an Explorer with
£900 worth of catalogue
accessories

Conclusion

Triumph has stated that it’s after the GS market and there’s little doubt that this bike has the quality and technical ability to dent the sales account of the German manufacturer. How much it does so will depend on the strength of the immeasurable ‘GS factor’, which has been recently boosted with the all-new and improved 2013 model.

However, in my experience, the Explorer and XC will certainly please Triumph-Triple loving die-hards, plus I think the company is well placed for picking up the sportier rider who’s had enough of experiencing motorcycling and lumbago in equal measure and is looking for more comfort and versatility but not yet willing to give up the power and speed.

Tiger XC

Also, if you’re a potential ABR who still wants to engage with the riding experience rather than have the bike do all the work, the Explorer XC should most definitely be on the shortlist. If you already own an Explorer you could turn it into an XC version by forking out about £900 for the accessories and fitting.

However, if I were buying, I’d go for the XC, save myself £100 and pick up one in the khaki-green colour scheme. While the folks at Triumph didn’t appear that keen on the green, all the assembled journos did, and it was the main talking point of bikers who came over to check out the XC on my ride back down from Scotland to the Midlands.

In short, there’s very little to dislike about the Explorer XC and plenty to drool over.

ABR Verdict

How versatile is the Explorer XC… As a weekend tourer?
Buy this bike and you’ll be finding plenty of excuses for heading off on those long weekends to Cornwall, Scotland or Wales. Power, comfort and reliability are three words that come to mind when I think of the Explorer and extended breaks.
As a commuter?
As comfortable as any big adventure bike, and 10,000-mile service intervals impress over a GSA’s 6,000-mile interval. The only snag could be the twitchy throttle, which in stop-start traffic might start to grate. In comparison to a GS, it’s just a little too light and lacking in feel, though undoubtedly something you get used to overtime.
As an off-roader?
It’s big and top-heavy but it’ll cope well enough with graded pistes and the occasional foray into wilder stuff, but that’ll be more down to the experience of the rider than the off-road prowess of the XC.
As a Continental road cruiser?
No complaints here, the explorer is built for fast-paced high-mileage comfortable days on major highways. Better still, and if it’s your cup of tea, it’s more than capable of keeping up with the knee-slider predators on Alpine roads, too. You can expect a return of about 45-50mpg and around 200ish miles out of a full tank
As an RTW overlander?
There have been over 4,500 Explorers sold over the past year and reliability does not appear to be an issue over and above the odd hiccup reported on forums. I see no reason why I’d shy away from taking a RTW trip on an Explorer, though I’d probably want to avoid having to pick it up in deep sand or hauling it through an Amazonian mud pit. A bigger tank would also have been handy. The XC can hold 23 litres, while the GS Adventure (air-cooled model) can hold 33, and that’s a big difference out on the road,
As a pillion carrier?
I’ve been out and about on the Explorer with my partner in tow for a few extended trips over the past year and there’s not been one complaint from the back seat. As far as performance and handling goes, I’ve not even known she was there. And you can’t ask for more than that.