The open-class adventure touring segment has grown from a class of one—the BMW R 1200 GS/Adventure—to a class of five in recent years, with the introduction of the Ducati Multistrada 1200, Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Yamaha Super Ténéré and Triumph Tiger Explorer. We compared the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure and Yamaha Super Ténéré in January (also available on ridermagazine.com). The Adventure is a taller, heavier, more extensively accessorized version of the standard BMW R 1200 GS, and we requested a Super Ténéré that was comparably equipped. Key differences emerged—the BMW costs thousands of dollars more and requires more frequent valve service than the Yamaha, but it has a proven track record and a longer warranty, as well as 2.7 gallons of additional fuel capacity for epic expeditions—but they converged more than they diverged. Their 1,200cc engines have roughly the same output—95 horsepower and 75 lb-ft of torque, measured at the rear wheel on Jett Tuning’s dyno—and fully fueled they weigh exactly 628 pounds, as equipped. Both have shaft drive, 6-speed transmissions, standard ABS and 19-inch front/17-inch rear wheels, with good handling and braking. Similarities between the GSA and Super Ténéré led us to conclude that “the decision comes down to preference more than performance, personality more than price.”
Even though there isn’t much visible light between the Super Ténéré and the R 1200 GS Adventure, in some ways the all-new Tiger Explorer squeezes in between them. Its base price ($15,699) is more than the Yamaha’s ($14,500) but less than the BMW’s ($18,350); its two-year warranty is a year longer than the Yamaha’s but a year shorter than the BMW’s; and its 10,000-mile valve adjustment interval is longer than the BMW’s (6,000 miles) but much shorter than the Yamaha’s (24,000 miles).
Along with our full test of the Tiger Explorer (see page 50), we rode it back-to-back with the Super Ténéré. The Triumph’s 1,215cc triple packs a much bigger punch than the Yamaha’s 1,199cc parallel twin: 118.5 horsepower and 78.5 lb-ft of torque. Since the 585-pound Triumph weighs just six pounds more than the Yamaha, the Explorer’s power advantage is readily apparent from the saddle. The number and firing order of their cylinders give each bike a distinct character, but their counterbalanced engines are smooth and have similarly flat torque curves. Throttle-by-wire helps manage emissions, fuel economy and traction control on both bikes, as well as cruise control on the Triumph and riding modes (Touring/Sport) on the Yamaha. Both also exhibit some artificiality in throttle feel, as well as on/off throttle abruptness.
The Explorer and Super Ténéré are tall bikes with about 7.5 inches of suspension travel front and rear, male-slider forks and single rear shocks. The Triumph’s fork is adjustable for spring preload only, while the Yamaha’s is fully adjustable; both rear shocks are adjustable for spring preload (by remote knob) and rebound damping. They have triple disc brakes with standard ABS, but the Triumph’s ABS can be turned off and the Yamaha’s can’t, and the Yamaha’s brakes are linked front-to-rear but the Triumph’s aren’t. Both exhibited good suspension compliance and strong braking with excellent modulation. Where the Explorer and Super Ténéré differ most, aside from engine output, is handling. The Triumph’s sportier steering geometry, slightly shorter wheelbase and wider handlebar help it turn quicker, but not at the expense of stability. Regardless of speed or lean angle, I always felt more planted on the Triumph.
Seat height is similar and adjustable on both machines, and the seats are firm and supportive, but the Yamaha’s is sharper edged and can dig into the rider’s thighs. The Yamaha comes standard with hand guards (they’re an accessory on the Triumph), but the Triumph offers better wind protection, with a wider fairing and a larger windscreen that can be raised or lowered without tools. The Yamaha has a larger fuel tank (6.1 vs. 5.3 gallons), gets better gas mileage (38.3 vs. 35.7 mpg) and has more adventure-worthy spoked wheels with tubeless tires.
In an attempt to take a bite out of BMW’s dominance in open-class adventure touring, Yamaha and Triumph have introduced machines closely modeled after its R 1200 GS/Adventure. They’ve tried to undercut BMW on price, outdo BMW on standard features (such as traction control) and meet or exceed BMW in terms of performance. Impressively, they’ve achieved their objectives with brand-new models. Just like our comparison of the GSA and Super Ténéré, our comparison of the Super Ténéré with the Tiger Explorer comes down to splitting hairs. Although they’re very close and I’d be proud to have either in my garage, the Triumph’s stronger, more exciting engine and better handling clinch the decision.
Also check out our full test of the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer: http://www.ridermagazine.com/road-tests/road-test-2012-triumph-tiger-explorer.htm
(This Battle of the Upstarts article was published in the September 2012 issue of Rider magazine.)