Triumph Tiger does what the box says
Humankind are strange creatures. We huddle together in large groups for mutual support yet, given the chance, most of us love to visit the wild open spaces of our planet. The more we come to rely on our gizmos and gadgets, the more we want to get away from them.
Those of us who ride motorcycles have a name for it: adventure touring. And some of the most impressive (some would say intimidating) two-wheelers ever built have been designed for just that purpose. Now Triumph has unleashed its own version of the ultimate beetle-crusher - the Tiger 1200 Explorer.
It has, marginally, the biggest engine in its class (1215cc), and it is the only transverse triple - but then it would have to be, given its heritage.
It is also, by a respectable margin, the most powerful with 101kW and 121Nm on tap although, at 259kg fully fuelled, it's among the lighter machines of its type.
NOT DESIGNED, BUT ENGINEERED
But these are mere numbers; when you see it for the first time in the metal, it seems as insectoid, its design language as complex and fragmented as any of its globe-trotting rivals - it's as if the maker would have you believe that the bike wasn't designed, it was engineered.
The Explorer has no neat little sheet-metal or plastic covers. Chassis members and brackets are precision laser-cut in aluminium alloy, or stamped and expertly welded in steel - and then anodised or powder-coated and bolted together. There is an essential honesty to Hinckley's heavyweight in hiking boots that makes the “nuts and bolts” look seem less contrived than on many rivals.
All new and six years in the making, a close look reveals attention to detail bordering on the anal; to give you a few small examples, the oil filter has been moved from the front to the side of the engine to make it less vulnerable to marauding rocks, and there are no external oil lines, and the minimum number of external coolant hoses.
The alternator and its ancillaries have been moved to a piggyback position behind the cylinder block and the oil cooler is inside the engine casings - the excess heat is transferred to the water jacket and thence to the main radiator.
The ride-by-wire sensors are inside the twistgrip, and talk to the engine via the biggest and fastest ECU Hinckley has yet fitted to a motorcycle, which makes possible a whole host of electronic features without adding any extra hardware.
All that's needed is the appropriate software routines to provide switchable antilock braking, two levels of traction control, “intelligent” cruise control and tyre pressure monitoring - plus a trip data computer that would be the envy of many luxury-car drivers, all scrollable from the left switchgear without taking a hand off the 'bars.
It also makes possible one of the flattest torque curves in the business, with more than 100Nm available from 2500 to 9500rpm. There's no power band either, the power curve is practically a straight line from 2000 revs until it begins to plateau at 7700rpm.
All of which arrives at the back wheel via a positive if rather vocal six-speed gear box and an almost clonk-free shaft final drive.
Nevertheless, riding a quarter-tonne motorcycle for the first time that stands as high as your short ribs to the top of its 20-litre fuel tank is always going to be intimidating - especially as the first section of the South African launch drive this week was on grass.
But I soon settled into the saddle (set on the lower of its two standard positions) and found that the Explorer was reassuringly stable at very low speeds and the throttle a model of decorum at low revs, with no sign of the dreaded 'spritzer snatch' that bedevilled earlier fuel-injected machines.
Out on the highway, however, when we started giving the bike big fistfuls of throttle, it reacted as a 1215cc, 101kW machine should - with alacrity. The engine note, a lovely melodious three-cylinder hum at low revs, became more strident as an intrusive second vibration set in and, from 5000-9000rpm acceleration, even at Gauteng altitude, was impressive for such a heavy bike.
Triumph says the big Tiger is limited to 208km/h; we'll take that under advisement until we strap a Garmin on to a test unit but the launch bike went up to an indicated 200km/h in a hurry and was still accelerating strongly when reason prevailed.
Even with the (manually) adjustable screen in its lowest position, however, my head was mildly buffeted at more than 140km/h and, at about 150, the screen-induced vortex banged the visor of my new helmet shut.
The upright, totally relaxed seating position didn't feel very sporty, but the wide 'bars and narrow midsection - which also makes getting your feet flat on the deck much easier - together with almost indecently quick steering, make Hinckley's biggest beetle-crusher almost too chuckable on the tar.
I found myself over-controlling on corners, going in too early and too tight, until I learned to relax, letting the bike steer itself to the apex; like an aristocratic Italian sports bike, it goes where you look. Or, it you're in a serious hurry, you can hammer up to a corner, hit the brakes hard and throw it on its ear in a split second.
The bike turns in like a terrier after a rat, and the ABS and traction control will look after you if you overdo it a little. There's almost 200mm of suspension travel at each end, so be ready for some significant nose-dive when the two Nissin four-piston callipers and 305mm platters get busy.
DANCING ON THE MARBLES
It was, however, not as extravagant as I was expecting, which led me to fear the worst when we left the tar and struck out on a (relatively) smooth gravel road, with a surface of loose, round pebbles.
The bike danced around a little (and a little is more than enough on a 259kg machine) on the marbles but felt remarkably sure-footed on harder surfaces, even on tar-biased Metzeler Tourance tyres.
The firmer-than-expected suspension did a good job of soaking up the worst of the bumps, although the ride was a little harsh on corrugations, and the light, sharp steering engendered confidence in the bike's ability to handle anything short of thick sand.
Certainly, if there's enough of a road to go there with a conventional bakkie, you can go there on a Tiger Explorer, even if you may have to slow down a little to avoid unloading your passenger on big ruts.
Triumph insists that the Explorer is intended for tar-road riding, and its lightweight cast-alloy rims and competition-spec brakes bear that out.
There's a musclebike hooligan streak a mile wide under that khaki-and-tyresole exterior. But you should get close to 300km out of a tank of fuel - without any real discomfort - and the Explorer is at least as competent on dirt roads as anything in its class.
With a full range of factory aftermarket accessories - from heated seats to satnav brackets, and heavy-duty panniers and top box - already available for Hinckley’s tough tourer, the Germans no longer have a title deed to the road less travelled.
The basic Triumph Tiger Explorer costs R144 500, which includes all the electronic aids except tyre pressure monitoring. Services intervals are 16 000km.
Engine: 1215cc liquid-cooled transverse triple.
Bore x stroke: 85 x 71.4mm.
Compression ratio: 11.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 101kW at 9000rpm.
Torque: 121Nm at 6400rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic ride-by-wire fuel-injection with three 46mm Keihin throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital-inductive type via engine management system.
Clutch: Hydraulically-actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by shaft.
Front Suspension: 46mm Kayaba inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload.
Rear Suspension: Kayaba monoshock with remote reservoir, adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 305mm discs with Nissin four-pot opposed-piston callipers and switchable ABS.
Rear brake: 282mm disc with Nissin twin-piston floating calliper and switchable ABS.
Front tyre: 110/80 - 19 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 150/70 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 810 - 880mm.
Kerb weight: 259kg.
Fuel tank: 20 litres.
Top speed (limited): 208km/h.
Fuel consumption (claimed, at 120km/h): 5.5 litres per 100km
Price: R144 500.