British bike has German accent
It's official. Triumph copies BMW. The Hinckley firm's product planning manager Simon Warburton said as much at the international launch of the new 1200cc shaft-drive Explorer adventure tourer when he made the statement: "We looked at the [BMW R1200] GS and what we could do better".
Such honesty is refreshing at the debut of a new motorcycle, where the PR flacks are usually keen to keep the focus of the event entirely on the brand doing the chest-beating.
Warburton's acknowledgment that the R1200GS inspired the new Explorer is tantamount to Sir Cliff Richard finally ending all the speculation about his sexual orientation. There are things that we already know, but it's nice to have official confirmation.
Warburton definitely said the right thing, because any denial that the GS had no influence on the gestation of the new Explorer would have placed him on shakier ground than Cathedral Square.
For the Explorer oozes BMWness from just about every pore, and the imitation would have been almost total had Triumph chosen the Bavarian bike's funny single-wishbone front suspension and quaint air- cooled horizontally-opposed "boxer" twin-cylinder engine.
Instead, the Hinckley engineers selected arguably better options - conventional telescopic forks from KYB (formerly Kayaba) and a new 1215cc liquid-cooled inline triple that kicks the boxer into touch in terms of peak horsepower. Better engine performance and increased front-tyre feedback are desirable upgrades that every former GS owner will enjoy when they trade their bike for an Explorer, but will these changelings begin to pine for that elusive commodity that their former ride has in spades - character?
While it's easy to admire the competence and comfort of Triumph's new big-block adventure tourer, I found it a harder bike than most of the breed to engage with. Perhaps some of that personal indifference is caused by my continuing infatuation with the smaller, lighter, friskier, more versatile Tiger 800 X/C, which would be my weapon of choice from the expanding adventure bike catalogue from Hinckley.
To spend more on a heavier, less wieldy and more cumbersome-to-ride model is something I'd only contemplate if planning to do a lot of two-up touring. For the 1200 is better built for the cartage of larger burdens, and this represents its sole advantage over the more off-road- ready Tiger 800 X/C to me.
For some bike tourers, however, only a shaft-drive motorcycle will do, and with that method of power delivery comes extra durability and sealed-in immunity to the wearing effects of dust, sand and ice grit. Triumph says the driveline engineering of their first shaft-drive motorcycle is some of the most robust in the marketplace, and the wearable components of the system are expected to last far longer than those of a R1200GS.
However, the downsides to a shaft are the dramatic increase in unsprung weight that it adds to the rear of a bike and the amount of power it saps during transfer to the rear wheel. Most shaft- equipped bikes are therefore duller to ride than chain-driven alternatives, as any back-to-back ride of the Explorer 1200 and Tiger 800 X/C will confirm.
Finally, while this new 135-brake horsepower engine is hard to fault, it's equally hard to applaud. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any aspect of its performance, and it generates power in a highly refined and progressive fashion as the needle of the analogue tachometer sweeps from idle speed to 10,000rpm redline, the delivery perfect for any bike intended for touring applications, including the coming Trophy 1200 model. However, with this jet turbine-like potency comes a similar blandness, which isn't helped by the whining sound effects at idle, nor the feeling of remoteness promoted by the cableless ride-by- wire electronic throttle.
The latter is a critical component in the Explorer's traction control system, which automatically shuts the throttle butterflies when there is a 10 per cent variation in front and rear wheel speeds at its most intrusive setting. Bumping the trigger point up to a 25 per cent variation in wheel speeds adds more adventure to the Explorer, and the access to the two settings is easier than that of a TC-equipped GS.
The latter is one of many advantages that the $26,990 Explorer lauds over the bike that inspired it and others include more accurate steering, more robust driveline engineering, and a level of affordability that allows you shop-till-you-drop through the Triumph's list of accessories and still spend less than the $33,481 asked for a fully-equipped R1200GS. I just wish the Explorer had the same emotive appeal as the Bavarian wunderbike that provided the template for its development.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1215cc liquid-cooled dohc 12-valve inline triple, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 101kW (135bhp) at 9500rpm and 121Nm at 6400rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, shaft final drive
Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame and single-sided rear swingarm; 46mm KYB inverted front forks with 190mm of travel, Fully adjustable KYB rear monoshock with 194mm of travel.
Price: $26,990 (as tested: $30+K)
Hot: Comes with a full inventory of electronic riding aids for a price pegged $2000 below that of a base BMW R1200GS; plenty of optional accessories including his and hers heated seats.
Not: Triumph's latest motor feels and sounds more like a jet turbine than an internal combustion engine; heavily- engineered shaft adds unsprung weight to rear wheel.