2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer | First Ride Review

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
The all-new 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer is torquey, agile, comfortable and packed with useful features. (Photos by Paul Barshon and Alessio Barbanti)

Leaned over mid-corner, the toe of my boot scraping the tarmac and adrenalin crackling through my veins, rolling on the throttle induces a deep, guttural bark from the stainless-steel exhaust pipe. The rear tire hits something slick, perhaps a thin line of diesel fuel slopped onto the roadway by that smoke-belching, errantly driven tanker truck I passed going the other way a few klicks back. The tire slips and the rear end steps out momentarily, but the TC light flashes and the bike regains traction before my cheeks can clench involuntarily. Crisis averted, I continue driving hard out of the corner, standing the bike up and blasting down a short straight before the next blind left-hander. Though I’ve never ridden this bike before, it feels familiar, like an old friend. I’ve all but forgotten yesterday’s marathon, intercontinental trip to Andalucia, Spain, and the two high-octane café solo dobles I slurped down over breakfast burned off the last fog of my jet lag. Right now, on a crisp mid-February morning under sunny blue skies, I’m focused on the serpentine road beneath me, riding what feels like a hooligan bike fed a steady diet of steroids and growth hormone.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
The 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer is available in Sapphire Blue (shown), Graphite and Phantom Black.

With a target on its back for years, the BMW R 1200 GS has fended off multiple competitive attacks. The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 turned out to be more of a street bike, the KTM 990 Adventure more of a dirt bike. Then came the Yamaha Super Ténéré, its 1,199cc parallel twin making power and torque comparable to the latest DOHC iteration of BMW’s 1,170cc boxer, and both offering low-maintenance shaft final drive. But the Super Ténéré is heavy and its ABS can’t be turned off, limiting its versatility. The latest offensive in the ADV wars comes from Triumph, one year after releasing the Tiger 800/XC (Rider’s 2011 Motorcycle of the Year), a two-pronged attack on BMW’s F 650 GS and F 800 GS. The all-new 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer is a 1,200cc, shaft-driven, competitively priced adventure tourer aimed directly at the R 1200 GS. With standard ABS, traction control, cruise control, adjustable ergonomics and more, it comes out guns a-blazin’ with a base price of $15,699, offering more for less than the BMW.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Triumph is known for its torque-rich in-line triples, and the 1,215cc example in the Triumph Tiger Explorer is a fantastic engine.

The latest Tri-oomph is powered by a liquid-cooled, DOHC transverse in-line triple with four valves per cylinder. Its 71.4mm stroke is shared with the 1,050cc mill found in the Tiger 1050, Sprint GT and Speed Triple, but its architecture is closer to that of the 675cc engine found in the Daytona and Street Triple. An 85mm bore (6mm more than the 1050) yields a class-leading displacement of 1,215cc, which Triumph says is good for 135 horsepower at 9,000 rpm and 89 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm, with 74 lb-ft on tap from 2,500 rpm until redline (9,500 rpm). Such a broad spread of torque is a signature trait of Triumph triples, as is the uniquely addictive exhaust note. Leave the Tiger Explorer in third gear; it pulls like a diesel out of corners and steadily spins up to a screaming top-end. Or shift regularly to keep the triple near its torque peak; the hydraulically actuated wet clutch and 6-speed transmission work flawlessly.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
The 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer offers adjustable seat height, handlebar position and windscreen height. Hand guards are an optional accessory.

The Tiger Explorer’s engine features wet liner construction and piston spray jets for improved cooling, an internal oil/water heat exchanger for fewer exposed parts and a back-torque limiter on the starter motor to prevent excessive wear and tear. Since adventure riders like farkles—heated grips, fog lights, GPS units, etc.—the generator pumps out a generous 950 watts. Rather than being driven off the end of the crankshaft, it is mounted atop the engine and runs off the clutch basket via an overrun decoupler to provide consistent output regardless of engine speed. And the Explorer is the first Triumph with throttle-by-wire, which enables electronic cruise control and traction control and optimizes emissions and fuel efficiency. Triumph claims 43 mpg at 75 mph and 57 mpg at 55mph, yielding a range of 228-302 miles from the 5.3-gallon tank.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Dual 4-piston Nissin calipers are strong but feel is a bit vague. ABS is standard and can be turned off.

Its triple is unmistakably Triumph, but other key features of the Tiger Explorer—a tubular steel space frame that uses the engine as a stressed member, a cast aluminum single-sided swingarm, shaft final drive with parallelogram geometry and a pronounced beak extending from the front fairing—mimic the BMW R 1200 GS. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as well as a way to poach customers. The Explorer’s ADV bona fides also include ABS and traction control that can be turned off (both default to “on” when the key is switched off, and you have to dig deep into the setup menu by repeatedly pressing buttons to turn them off), 19-inch front/17-inch rear cast wheels shod with Metzeler Tourance EXP tires (spoked wheels like those found on the Tiger 800XC are not an option), long-travel suspension, tough-guy bodywork and a long list of go-anywhere accessories. Useful touches include a centerstand, a cast aluminum luggage rack, cleated footpegs with removable rubber inserts and a forged aluminum sidestand with a large footprint to prevent sinking into soft surfaces. One potentially limiting factor, however, is weight. Triumph claims 570 pounds ready to ride, which, if accurate, is 32 pounds heavier than the last BMW R 1200 GS we tested and just a few pounds shy of the Yamaha Super Ténéré. Load capacity is said to be 489 pounds—considerably more than most bikes available today.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Analog tach is paired with a digital display that provides a ton of information. Tire pressure monitoring is optional.

Our test ride in Spain was short—less than 100 miles on the street and a short blast offroad—but enough for a first impression. The Tiger Explorer is comfortable and can be made to fit a range of riders, with a supportive seat that can be set at 32.9 or 33.7 inches (accessory comfort, heated, low and high seats are available), a wide handlebar with fore/aft adjustable risers and a height-adjustable windscreen with good coverage. Its throttle-by-wire system provides crisp throttle response, driveline lash is minimal and ride quality is high, with metalastic driveshaft bushings, a torsional damper between the shaft and transmission, a counterbalancer and a hefty flywheel nullifying unwanted vibration. Handling is neutral, with easy turn-in and good stability through both tight and fast corners. The 46mm male-slider fork is adjustable for preload only and the remote-reservoir rear shock is adjustable for preload (via remote knob) and rebound. Made by Kayaba, the suspension offers 7.5/7.6 inches of front/rear travel and soaks up rough pavement with ease. Powerful Nissin brakes—dual 4-piston front calipers and a single 2-piston rear caliper—scrub off speed well, but they could use more initial bite and better feedback.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Upright ergonomics, a supportive seat and decent wind protection are ideal for touring.

In standard trim, the Tiger Explorer is packed with features, some never before offered on a Triumph, such as a traction control system with two modes plus off. Mode 1 allows virtually no rear wheel slip and is ideal for the street (see first paragraph); Mode 2 allows limited slip and works well offroad, where you can steer a bit with the rear without getting badly out of shape on such a heavy bike. I just wish it, along with the ABS, was easier to turn off. Cruise control, a popular touring feature not normally found on adventure bikes, can be easily set and adjusted using buttons on the right handgrip. An analog tachometer is paired with a feature-rich LCD display showing speed, fuel level, gear position, engine temperature and clock, plus a custom-settable information reading. On the left handgrip, a menu button and a toggle switch navigate through information functions—trip 1 data, trip 2 data, ambient temperature, tire pressure (if the accessory sensors are fitted) and setup (for ABS, TC and other functions). A wealth of useful information is available, including fuel consumption (average, instant, range to empty), average speed, cruise control set speed, odometer and distance, though it would be preferable to show ambient temperature and trip function simultaneously rather than just one or the other. An auxiliary power socket and a coded key ignition immobilizer are also standard.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Metzeler Tourance EXP dual-sport tires are very versatile. For off-road riding, the ABS can be turned off and traction control set for no, some or lots (off) of wheelspin.

Anyone who owns or has ridden adventure tourers knows that their greatest strength is versatility. Comfortable, upright seating, large fuel tanks and the ability to carry lots of gear make them great for long distances; torquey engines, beefy suspension and brakes, and ample cornering clearance make them great for tackling any road in any condition at almost any speed; and durable chassis and components make them capable of venturing offroad, whether such escapades are a dream or reality. The 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer checks all of these boxes while offering many useful features at a competitive price. Available in Phantom Black, Graphite or Sapphire Blue, it should be in dealers later this spring. Will it outgun the BMW R 1200 GS or Yamaha Super Ténéré? It certainly has the potential, but a down-and-dirty shootout is the only way to know for sure.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer
Triumph offers a wide range of accessories for the new Tiger Explorer, from luggage to lights, guards to gizmos.

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Specs
Base Price: $15,699
Website: triumphmotorcycles.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 85.0 x 71.4mm
Displacement: 1,215cc
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 60.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 23.9 degrees/4.2 in.
Seat Height: 33.1-33.9 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 570 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.1 gal. warning light on
Average MPG: NA


    • The Super Tenere is heavy, and so is the Tiger Explorer. The reference to the Yamaha was in comparison to the BMW R 1200 GS, which is over 30 pounds lighter.

    • If you read the report carefully, you will read this…………..

      “One potentially limiting factor, however, is weight. Triumph claims 570 pounds ready to ride, which, if accurate, is 32 pounds heavier than the last BMW R 1200 GS we tested and just a few pounds shy of the Yamaha Super Ténéré.”

      Pretty self-explanatory really.

      • Google r1200gsa final drive failure and see what pops up. About the last thing you want on an adventure bike is a BMW final drive.

  1. I would really like to see some real-life mpg figures……also as a side note, Tenere abs, I have read in Yamaha literature, can be turned off.

  2. Whoops…ignore that comment about abs on Tenere being able to turn off….just re-read it & it was the “linked” braking they were referring too.

  3. The BMW GS does not need competition–it will commit suicide on its own due to excessive weight, bulk, and unwieldiness. If you have ever ridden one of these loaded up on bad gravel road you will understand what I mean.
    Triumph, and the other manufacturers who are now making 800cc’s and less are headed in the right direction for adventure touring. Even better would be a 450 to 650cc with good power and handling when loaded for those long gravel road expeditions. Having done a lot of this I can say that less is better when it comes to gravel.

    • Man, you’re damm right!!!
      My 800XC is great…… until I hit the sand. Don’t listen to those ignorant (dishonest?) salesmen that tell you: it weighs 250 kg, but it feels much less. Go tell the sucker to pick it up after he drops it, and ask him if it feels lighter.
      Last weekend I dropped the bike going into sand on an unknown track (I guess I misjudged a little my trajectory and the ground condition, but does it really matter?), my right foot got stuck under the pannier and I couldn’t get out. Lucky some guys riding those little 50cc or 125cc stopped to help me out.
      I am seriously thinking going smaller, even though my bike is very good (probably the best in its class, as seen on the comparisons), and excellent on the road, but one thing is sure, the best off road bike is only as good as its weight is low.

  4. Everything that I have read about the Explorer sounds excellent.

    One of the guys on ADVRider had an incredibly simple way to turn off the ABS on the Triumph Tiger XC and I am sure that it will work on other bikes as well. He wired a switch (prefereably a momentary on/off switch) to the fuse for the ABS so that he could interrupt the circuit as he was riding. He said it seemlessly turned off the ABS and the ABS would come right back on when he restarted the bike. He put the switch on the handlebars and said that things worked well. You should be able to test that approach on any bike by pulling the fuse to the ABS and then going for a ride.

  5. I have a GS 1150 and really like the suspension. But this bike has been nothing but constant trouble and needs a fat wallet to keep it on the road.

    I generally like the looks of the Triumph, but think all the techno-clutter bolted on looks too faddish. Why can’t Triumph smooth out some of these pieces to make it look cleaner, simpler, and less complicated to work on? I’d hate to have to clean this thing after owning it for awhile.

  6. I really laugh at all the debate on BMW- Triumph- Yamaha so called adv. bikes. They are not good off road, where the real adventure begins. I have ridden these pigs and bought a KTM Superenduro which can shame these bikes off the dirt. I put a small windshield from Hyde Racing and a rack on the back which is all you need for real back country riding. If you have loaded panners and stuff piled on, it will come off where we ride. They are fine for touring with occational logging roads and such but don’t kid yourself they are not designed for gulleys, ruts, loggs, mud, and rocks. If you plan on real adventure touring with technical riding, there are only 4 bikes to choose from so far- KTM Adventure- Superenduro-690 Hardenduro or Triumph 800 with the spoke rims. A shaft drive bike is not good in rough terrain, it’s too heavy and you cannot change the gearing.

    • These new “adventure” bikes are trying hard to be an “everything” bike, and so must make compromises in each riding situation. They are at best general purpose machines that deliver generally acceptable performance for most riders.

      KTM’s are hard-line dirt bikes and I would never want to travel anywhere on one beyond my backyard. And I could think of a number of machines that do that better for a whole lot less money. Fortunately, I won’t be wasting any more future money on BMW’s either.

    • agreed. These bikes are really touring bikes that can go on gravel if you’re careful.
      Even el cheapo dual purpose bikes like a DR650 (with a couple of grand spent on improvements) will give you more options for touring than these big bikes. The guy who said less is better with this sort of bike is right.

  7. Hate it when I read people saying large ADV bikes aren’t as good as the mid-size ADV’s. That decision all comes down to what the rider is actually going to do with it. I agree the new 800cc versions are far better off-road than their big brothers, but then of course a good ole’ XR650L will smoke any of them in a even more serious off-road situation. The big boys are still the better long distance mounts. So bottom line what is your flavor? Plan on using it more off-road and light duty on-road, go buy the much more serious Dual-sports on the market from Honda, Suzuki, KTM, ect. Want something more situatted smack in the middle, the 800cc are the perfect middle ground. XC versions or street versions, Transcontinental two-up riding, then I say go big or go home. All comes down to your specific use. Cheers.

  8. I am very interested in this bike for two-up touring. I just returned from 5000 miles in Chile & Argentina with my wife on my trusty F650GS Dakar. It’s power was adequate for most conditions but it would be nice to have more torque for two-up riding on steep rocky sections. I also own an F800GS set up for mostly dirt. After laying out serious $ to upgrade the suspension on it I am distresses that both front and rear suspenders are not fully adjustable on the Explorer. I think my riding on the Triumph would be mostly on road so the 19″ rims would probably not be a liability.

    I also love Triumphs having had a classic Bonneville, ’95 Speed Triple and Daytona 675. The torque band on the triple is hard to beat not to mention that glorious sound!


    • absolutely. the power band is the most linear of any bike i have owned. Only the front is 19 inch. the rear is 17. Migh only gripe is the rear tire is a 150 unlike the Tiger 1050s 180. Im sure this is due to the massive shaft. I prefer a chain. I miss my 1050. A superbike with luggage. I could carve the twisties with those big tires like nothing. And a chain bike is more responsive. Big deal you clean and lube it every 1k miles. x chains will last 30k miles. Shaft. YUK

  9. I own two GS1200 and have ridden them in Europe, Argentina and Chile. I tried the Triumph yesterday. My verdict: similar, yet different. Obviously the brits are catching up with the Germans and are taking shortcuts: take everything that did well for the success of the GS (except the duolever, ESA, etc. suspensions), fit it a big 3-cylinder, made in the UK powerhouse, and put it on the market. And you know what? It works for me. It is a very nice bike. Not off-road at all, and less so than a beemer, but great for all purposes otherwise.

    I would not be able to recommend either one first to any friend (or any of my four sons), as they are both truly excellent bikes with many common features and different style engines (and sound). But I just ordered a Triumph, while I will keep one GS. After all, since I can…

  10. Having owned a Triumph triple in the past, I am looking forward to test riding this bike. I presently own a F800GS and recently purchased 2008 R1200GSA that I like even better.

    That being said, I am looking for a ADV bike that I can carry all my camping gear, take the occasional dirt road, has cruise control and a fuel gauge that works longer than a couple of months after it is replaced (for the 3rd time).

    More power and features for less money. On paper the Triumph fits the bill. Can’t wait to try it in the real world.

  11. “A shaft drive bike is not good in rough terrain, it’s too heavy and you cannot change the gearing.”

    A shaft drive can be designed lighter than a chain, and even better in rough terrain (better ground clearance). With regard to changing the gearing — what is wrong with using the shift lever! Seriously, one of the main reasons for having an engine with a broad torque range is not having to shift as often. A big engine with a 6 speed transmission BEGS FOR A WIDE RATIO GEAR BOX WITH A LOW FIRST, AND A HIGH TOP GEAR. A WR tranny (with a wide torque range) is a MUST for a dual sport adventure touring bike. A tall first gear on a heavy bike advertised for part time off-road use is dumb. A low gear is often needed off road; and a tall highway gear saves fuel (you can always shift down if you run out of torque on a hill). For the street you can always start a WR tranny in second (or short shift immediately after starting to save the clutch).

    It is likely that triumph uses a tall first gear to limit torque on the shaft (this could be done electronically using the traction control circuit). A super WR tranny would offer the best of both worlds WITHOUT having to switch out sprockets. If i want to race, i’ll buy a bike made for it — with a CR tranny.

    Another reason for a shaft on a dirt bike is dirt! Dirt ruins chains and sprockets fast. The main advantages of chain drive are lower cost and higher efficiency. Chain drive would be acceptable IF IT WERE FULLY ENCLOSED and running in oil.

    Agreed that a 650 is plenty of power IF THE WEIGHT IS LOW. The CR tyranny and chain drive on my 650 veestrom are the main things i would change (as well as cutting 75lbs). The 68hp is plenty (even two-up loaded with a weeks gear). It is extremely rare that i desire to go faster than the 115 the DL650 is capable of, and in the dirt more power is not that useful (but a low first gear is). A 21″ or 23″ front and a couple more inches of travel and clearance would be good too. I would rather the manufactures spend more money on reducing weight (and maintenance) than on increasing power (and fuel burn).

  12. I’ve had the GS (1150) and now the Super Tenere along with several sport touring bikes. The Adventure Touring class is well defined, bikes that are focused on carrying a lot of gear for many miles with an upright seating position cabable of running off road on forest roads and better maintained single tracks. They aren’t designed as dirt bikes and shouldn’t be compared to those at all. As other posters have mentioned, the 800 class of bikes are better oriented toward that type of riding. What the these bikes do exceptionally well is carry a rider all day long with lots of gear. I ride an average of 20k miles per year and the Super Tenere is by far the most comfortable ride I’ve had. I’ve had it now for 5 months and just clocked 9k miles, with almost a 1000 gravel miles. It will do the gravel, but at lower speeds +- 25mph, and will do the twisty mountain roads here in the Pacific NW with ease. Have ridden 10 hours doing 600 miles one day with no highway miles without pain, I’m 54 so that’s important.

    I’ve ridden the Explorer as well, much more sport tourer than the Beemer or the Yamaha. I’d worry about that huge radiator up front, the gear whine was obnoxious as well, which was too bad as I was hoping to trade into it. Amazingly the seat heigth was too low as well, the angle on the knee to great. I would have to get the tall seat option and I’m only 5 10.

    My only complaints with the Yamaha are the lack of cruise control and the silly arrangement of the trip computer and data controls. Having to reach over the handle bars to press the two buttons while riding is both stupid and dangerous. The air temp displayed shows the temp inside the cowling at the intake for the rad, always way too high and useless. Otherwise a great machine. A complete redo of the the fairing/instrument cluster with a handle bar control system with cruise would make it unbeatable. My two cents.

  13. I hate they changed to a shaft. The 1050s x chain will last 30k miles. The 1050 Tiger was the best bike I have ever driven. It was like riding a GSXR with luggage. Yeah it was heavy too but the 180 on the back compared to the new 150 gave me more confidence to get that baby low and lean. Shaft drive bikes suck. Too heavy, not as responsive, ugly. And why everyone gushes over the GS 1200 is beyond me? That boxer was like riding a washing machine. The triple is the best linear power ranged motor out there.


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