One, two, three for the road… from the beauty to the beast… and one in-between!
WORDS AND PICTURES: MICHAEL COWTON
Once upon a time in the west there was a biker who was to make a complete chump of himself.
Early one late spring morning just after the sun had risen, on a quiet country road, surrounded by fields of yellow with the scent of rapeseed in the air, he stopped to take a few pictures of his ride… a rather tasty Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally Explorer.
Now, if you know your wheels, and you will do if you are into adventure biking, then you will be aware of this top-of-the-range behemoth. Triumph classes it as the ultimate large-capacity adventure motorcycle, perfectly at home munching motorway miles and hitting the balcony roads and switchbacks of the Pyrenees or heading along dust-laden trails, eating up everything in its path with consummate ease.
To be honest, as to the genuine off-road capability of this machine I cannot testify as I am no connoisseur of adventure bikes, so I stuck to the Tarmac, my thought stream tamed towards an all-road focus.
I shall return to the introduction presently, but just to recap, it was back in 2010 when the first modern Tiger saw the light of day, creating a bloodline of triple-powered machines that have since gone on to define the middleweight adventure motorcycle category and set the benchmark for handling, character, quality and all-round riding capability. Having now experienced the front seat view of the Tiger 1200 Rally Explorer, the Tiger 660 Sport and 850 variants, of that I have no doubt.
As has often been the case with Triumph, it was never going to rest on its laurels, and so we witnessed the launch of the Tiger 1200 generation, knowing full well it was going to be up against some tough opposition, so the line-up had to represent nothing less than a complete transformation in weight, handling, triple-powered performance, character and Tiger style.
As a result, and a formidable one at that, we have two Rally machines boasting a 21-inch tubeless spoked front wheel and a chassis designed for the toughest terrain. The Explorer version of both the GT and the Rally adds a further 50 per cent of riding range with a 30-litre tank capacity, plus an innovation in Blind Spot Radar technology on both Explorers.
Without doubt, handling and comfort have played a large part in the Tiger success story.
As for the Rally Explorer, complete with hard top box and side panniers, for my part the fun – or not so fun – part was straddling the beast in the first place! So, back to the introduction.
Having wheeled the bike out of the garage, I cannot recall a time when I experienced so much difficulty in getting my leg over a bike. I am 6ft and have a 31-inch inside leg, and eventually ignorance was replaced by a YouTube video. Previously I had seen adventure bike riding YouTubers using the foot peg to stand on, making it so easy to swing the right leg over. At 90kg I am no lightweight and was worried as to whether the side-stand would hold my weight. It wasn’t my bike, remember. But I chanced it, and, of course, it was easy-peasy.
Snicking into first gear, it was oh-so-smooth a take-off down the road and I was soon out of the village and heading towards some of my favourite test routes. After half-an-hour or so I found a nice, quiet spot to pull over, jump off (lol) and take some pictures. Almost immediately a biker slowed to check that I was okay. Then a car driver did the same thing. People are so courteous in Lincolnshire. Photoshoot over, it was time to climb back on board… or not.
Somewhat stupidly I had parked on a slight camber and so was nervous about standing on the foot peg again in case the bike keeled over… so I tried to slide my right foot over the seat. It was fine until I got it stuck part-way across. Eventually I managed to release my foot without falling arse over tit and decided that rather than sit on the verge all day like a complete pillock, my only option was the foot peg route. Oh-so gingerly I mounted the bike, but then I had to heave it into an upright position before flicking up the side-stand. I don’t think my right-sided muscles were very happy, but I managed it and off we went with a great sense of relief.
Now, I am a strong believer that honesty is the best policy, and whilst I am conscious that many of you may think of me as a dumb ass for the above shenanigans, I learnt a big lesson about big motorbikes. I have owned a few mega-weight Harleys, but Adventure bikes are in a different league altogether. In fact, I remember the seat height of H-D’s Pan America throwing up an almost similar challenge, but that was sans aluminium panniers and top box.
At £19,500, the Rally Explorer is a hefty wad to lay out, but then when you look at Ducati’s all-new Multistrada V4 Rally and its equally capable abilities both on-and off-road, you’ll be looking at the rear end of £23,590, so maybe it’s not so bad, but then whether you would want to take that much monied bike off-road is a different story entirely. And, of course, we can’t leave this subject without mention of BMW’s R1250GS Adventure, which has been so dominant in this sector of the market for so long now.
If looks are your thing, then the Rally Explorer will have you smiling. Add to that the comfort and practicality as you lap up the summer breeze, it’s all a bit of a revelation, in particular the handling. Yes, it is great fun to ride, inspiring confidence with its excellent overall balance and feel. Throttle response is superb, even at low rpm, and although it was a while before I decided to introduce the bi-directional quick shifter to my ride, once I did it was hard not to use it at nearly every opportunity. In fact, I probably used it more than necessary, because obviously this is no sports bike where throttle twisting and quick upward flicks of the left foot as you head for the red line are both fun and addictive, it isn’t really all that necessary for the type of cruising I was enjoying. Putting all that thrust aside, dropping back down through the gearbox was equally as smooth.
I did have an issue with the left-side mirror, which after only a short time out had come loose and swung round towards me, and with no tools to hand, there it stayed until I returned home, so plenty of blind spot head turns were employed. I also noted a small level of vibration from the windscreen, which is easily adjustable with one hand, and I had a considerable amount of wind noise around my helmet, which would become tiresome on a long journey, so getting the right screen adjustment is paramount.
Moving on, in my garage alongside the Rally Explorer was Triumph’s versatile triple-powered Tiger 660 Sport, again a bike offering excellent power and spec. This really sits at the other end of the scale, with a price tag from £8,945.
Sporty it most certainly is, perfectly balancing low-down torque and heart-pumping top-end power. And what’s not to like about that wonderful, crisp soundtrack from the three-cylinder engine! 81PS peak power and 64Nm peak torque to hand, it boasts bags of smooth, responsive, usable performance. Little wonder, then, that it didn’t take long for it to ease its way into the much-contested mid-range touring market and show its muscle.
Triumph has been busy building on the 660 Trident platform with additions including wider bars making for a more comfortable riding position, superb suspension and adjustable windscreen. And with all that power to hand, the Tiger 660 Sport could certainly benefit from a quick shifter, and if you are an all-year rider or plan on touring, heated grips would be a serious consideration, so something for Triumph to consider.
Okay, so what stands in the middle of little and large? … of course, the Tiger 850 Sport. This is one bike for life’s big adventures, for me anyway. A head turner in its own right, and you’ll no doubt do a double-take at the price… £10,095.
Sitting underneath you is that sporty, triple T-plane crank delivering a distinctive raspy and roaring soundtrack. Built for road-focused adventure, it’s a joy to ride whether it be along twisty country back roads or a weekend away swallowing up A and B roads (I avoid motorways like the plague, so I don’t mind a longer journey!). Agile and manoeuvrable, I never once felt intimidated by the bike as the mid- and top-end kicked in thanks to enhanced rider connection to the rear wheel. With 85PS peak power @ 8500rpm and 82NM peak torque @ 6500rpm, it’s a question of ‘Ready when you are’! And when things are toned down in city traffic, the unique 1, 3, 2 firing offers superb tractability at low rpm.
The Tiger 850 Sport boasts angle-adjustable handlebars; adjustable screen; two seat heights; and adjustable high-specification Marzocchi rear suspension. And as for accessories, phew, Triumph has lined up over 60 genuine parts, including Trekker panniers and twin helmet top box for those longer trips.
Having mentioned that, it is fine to make future plans for that epic adventure, but it is not always about the destination, as the ride is as equally important, because if dullness creeps into your daily ride, then you might be on the wrong bike. So, if you are looking for the ultimate companion, try any one of these bikes for size and feel and comfort, and you will not be disappointed. Trust me.