A few months ago I was invited to a 'pre-launch' unveiling of the Tiger Explorer. It wasn't a riding test (more's the pity), it was simply a detailed look at the technology behind Triumph's new Explorer and the reasons for its creation.
During the day I spent with the Explorer's designers two things really struck me - firstly how important it is to Triumph that the Explorer is absolutely 100% from the word go and secondly the fact they have unashamedly taken BMW's GS and tried to beat it. Why do I know this? Parked in the corner of the presentation room was a GS! Yep, during a technical briefing about their new Explorer, Triumph actually brought the competition into the same room and pointed out to the assembled journalists what they had done to try and beat it! Is that bravery or fool hardiness?
Like the GS, the Explorer feels a big and solid bike. The bars seem a bit wider spread than the BMW but, just like the GS, the riding position is dominated by the petrol tank. It's a big old unit on the Explorer (20 litres) but this is actually smaller than Triumph planned. During the design stages the tank was trimmed down as the test riders thought it dominated the ride.
With the engine running, the first surprise with the Explorer is that it sounds like the GS. At low revs the Triumph's triple has that deep bark that the boxer motor also has, something I wasn't expecting. On the move the Explorer seems to shed a lot of its 259kg. Through bends it feels solid and secure, just like the GS. But when turning into corners and braking, the Explorer's conventional fork front end as opposed to the BMW Telelever/Paralever set-up gives far better feedback.
I'm not a huge fan of the BMW's front end and, while owners seem to get on with it, I reckon it muffles some of the feedback from the front tyre. It's a personal preference and I'm not saying it's a right or wrong thing, I just don't really like it.
The 1,215cc triple is brand new for the Explorer and it's a real beauty of an engine. On the road I didn't manage to get the traction control activating (the first time Triumph has developed such a system) but I love the torque-laden nature of the triple. I dropped the revs right down to 1,500rpm in top and the Explorer still pulled smoothly without stuttering, which was very impressive.
The throttle response is excellent, and when you get it spinning the Triumph certainly seems faster than the BMW. On an adventure bike top speed isn't much of an issue - it's more about the low-down grunt - but it's always nice to have a bit of poke at the top. Interestingly the Explorer comes with cruise control as standard (though that's something I didn't bother using as the only time I like cruise control is when you are on a Gold Wing and you can stick it on and hop in the pillion seat to scare other drivers...)
Does it beat the GS?
With bikes like this you really need to cover big miles to get under their skin and, while I have taken a GS to Moscow, I only got to try the Explorer for a few miles in the UK. So I wouldn't like to say if it is better or worse than the BMW, but it is it is certainly different. While the Explorer, to me, lacks a bit of the ruggedness of the GS, the engine is far perkier and nicer to use, while the handling is considerably more 'normal' thanks to its conventional suspension set-up.
I love the details and dedication that Triumph have put into the Explorer - stuff like the huge generator to power all your electrical gubbins, or the easy-to-use dash, but I do think the view from the riding position is a bit 'plasticky'. On the comfort side, the two bikes are much of a muchness and, when it comes to cool optional extras such as fog lights, Triumph has mimicked BMW's catalogue and you can fully load your Explorer just as you can with a GS.
So does the Explorer knock the GS off the top spot when it comes to adventure bikes? The reason the GS continues to sell so well is that it has encapsulates the adventure image and dream so perfectly. Ride one, and it says that, although you might not be about to set off around the world, you look as if you could. As well as buying a cracking bike, you are also buying into a lifestyle.
A developing lifestyle...
Triumph has yet to develop this 'lifestyle' image, but don't let that dissuade you from considering an Explorer over a GS. Especially if you want to stand out from the crowd. The BMW's ubiquity works against it, you see. Everywhere you go in the world you see a bloody GS parked on the side of the road, something you won't get (at the moment) with the Triumph.
The Explorer is every bit as good a road bike as the GS and, in some areas such as the handling and engine, is actually better. It is also a bit more exclusive and, best of all, British. My only worry with the Explorer is that as they have tried so hard to beat the GS, in some ways Triumph has almost created a GS clone. Yes, it has Triumph's own unique stamp, but it doesn't half have a lot of similarities to the GS - the split seat, the trellis frame, the singlesided swingarm, the twin lights, shaft drive... But I suppose after so many years of development, BMW has worked out exactly what riders want in an adventure bike and it is now almost the industry standard. So that is probably to be expected...
TRIUMPH TIGER EXPLORER
Engine: 1,215cc, liquid-cooled, triple, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 135hp at 12,000rpm
Torque: 89lb ft at 6,400rpm
Top speed: 150mph (est)
Weight: 259kg (dry)