Look who’s here! Costa Mouzouris is stopping by to give us his opinion on the new Triumph Tiger 1200. Canadian readers should know Costa’s name well, from both his two-wheeled and four-wheeled motojournalistic efforts, as he’s been a highly respected road tester for many years. He’s Canada’s version of The Stig, but without the anonymity—Ed.
Sitting in the tech-briefing room, I was surprised by the bold statement made by the presenters of the all-new Triumph Tiger 1200. They outright stated that the rival they’re looking to conquer is from Germany, in the form of the R1250 GS. It’s one thing to target the adventure touring segment, but going after the grandfather of the genre is a tough nut to crack.
BMW essentially invented the adventure touring category in 1980 with the R80 G/S, when many of you were probably still in diapers. That’s more than four decades of refinement, and quite a head start on the English company that John Bloor rebooted a decade after the R80 was introduced, thus creating the Hinckley Triumph we know today.
Well, after thrashing several variations of the new Tiger 1200, both on the road and in the dirt at the bike’s press intro in southern Portugal, I can comfortably say that BMW should be very wary of this new threat. In fact, Triumph can easily set its sights on a company to the southeast of Germany that specializes in orange ADV bikes, and it, too, should be looking over its shoulder.
What it’s about
The 2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 is new from the ground up. There are five variations. Three are more road oriented (the GT, GT Pro and GT Explorer), and two are true off-roaders (the Rally Pro and Rally Explorer).
All models get a 7-inch TFT screen, lean-sensing traction control (via a 6-axis IMU), cornering ABS, keyless ignition, and a USB port with smart phone compartment under the passenger seat. All models except the base GT get adaptive cornering lights, auxiliary lights, cruise control, a bi-directional quickshifter, hill-hold function, heated grips, and a centerstand. The Explorers get heated rider and passenger seats, a tire pressure monitor, engine guards, a 7.9-gallon gas tank (the others make do with 5.3 gallons), and radar-activated blind spot warning (a warning light in each mirror lights when a vehicle is in your blind spot).
Pricing is, of course, reflected by the amount of goodies you select. The Tiger 1200 GT starts at $19,100, the GT Pro at $21,400, the GT Explorer at $23,100, the Rally Pro at $22,500, and the Rally Explorer at $24,200.
Standard ride modes on all models include Rain, Road, and Sport. All but the base GT add Off-road and Rider modes, and only the two Rally models get Off-road Pro. Each mode has preset traction control, ABS and suspension parameters, and Off-road Pro shuts off traction control and ABS (you can also do this individually in Off-Road).
The front brake is partially linked to the rear, and Off-road mode disengages rear ABS. Rider mode is configurable, so you can tailor each parameter (throttle map, ABS and suspension settings) to your taste, though you can also alter each parameter individually within each ride mode.
There are some notable differences between the GT and Rally models. The GTs have cast 19- and 18-inch wheels; the Rally models get tubeless spoked 21- and 18-inch wheels. The Rally is, in fact, the only shaft-driven adventure bike on the market with a 21/18-inch wheel combo. GTs are equipped with Metzeler Tourance tires, Rallys come with Karoos. For more involved off-roading Triumph has homologated more aggressive Michelin Anakee Wild tires.
The Rally models also benefit from 8.7 inches (220 mm) of suspension travel at both ends, while the GTs have 7.9 inches (200 mm). Showa semi-active suspension is standard on all models, and it is electronically adjustable through the TFT screen. Suspension damping is adjustable, though compression and rebound damping cannot be set independently, nor is adjustability for front and rear damping separate; when you choose a damping setting through the menus, you’re setting the compression and rebound damping all around. There are nine levels of adjustment, though parameters are different for road and off-road settings—road and off-road modes have different damping force for the “normal” setting for example. Also, the sensors monitor when the bike is in the air, and the suspension automatically firms up for the landing.
Rear preload adjusts automatically to maintain ride height based on how loaded the bike is (the preload servomotor is mounted to the left of the subframe). The drawback of this system is that you can’t adjust rear ride height separately if you want to quicken steering, though after spending time on the different models, I found no need to.
The frame is new, weighs 12 pounds less than before, and includes a more off-road friendly removable aluminum subframe. The two bikes actually have slightly different frames. The geometry is a little more aggressive on the GT, and since its engine doesn’t need to clear a 21-inch front wheel as it does on the Rally, it is tilted slightly forward for a more forward weight bias.
Wheelbase has stretched by 1.6 inches to 61.4 inches, and there’s now a dual-sided swingarm. Despite this, wheel removal seems pretty easy, requiring the removal of the axle and a triangular portion of the swingarm that’s held on by two bolts, though if you’re on the clock, it looks like you can just remove one bolt and swing it out of the way.
To clear the 21-inch front wheel, a pair of side-mounted radiators replace the single, centrally-located rad. While they might be prone to damage in a hard crash, they don’t really come close to the ground in a tip-over, and you can install accessory crash bars (standard on the Rally Explorer) for added security if you tend to drop your bike often.
Aside from the lighter frame, other components have been trimmed of weight, including the engine, swingarm, and the gas tank, which is now made of aluminum. Another change was a move from a rubber-damped drive shaft to a solid one. This reduces weight, and more importantly unsprung weight, as well as providing a more direct connection between the engine and rear wheel. The trade-off, however, is harshness on throttle transitions, mostly noticeable mid-turn on pavement or when making sloppy gear changes. There’s still a cush drive in the drive unit taking some of the snap out, and this harshness almost disappears on dirt, where the absence of grip provides the damping.
The Tiger has reportedly lost up to 55 pounds depending on the model, with claimed wet weight varying between 529 and 590 pounds That’s a huge weight loss, which according to Triumph makes the Rally Pro pounds lighter than the GSA. A fairer comparison would be between the crash-bar-clad Rally Explorer and the GSA, at around 20 pounds lighter, which is still impressive. Regardless of the actual numbers, the Tiger 1200 definitely feels lighter than the GS, whether at a standstill or on the move.
The new Tiger 1200’s inline triple has lost some displacement, going from 1,215 to 1,160cc, via a larger bore but shorter stroke (90 x 60.7mm versus 85 x 71.4mm). It also has a considerably higher compression ratio, now 13.2:1 from 11:1, yet despite the high CR, the bike still requires only regular fuel.
The bigger change within the engine is at the crankshaft, which is now what Triumph calls a T-plane crank. Introduced in the Tiger 900, it has timing intervals spaced unevenly at 180-270-270 degrees, as opposed to the conventional 120-120-120 degrees, which gives it a distinct, almost V-twin-like rumble. This setup boosts bottom-end power while giving up nothing through the midrange and top end compared to the old configuration. In fact, the new, smaller engine makes 148 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 9 horsepower and 6 pound-feet
When seated, the two bikes feel different even at a standstill. The GT has a more nose-down pitch and feels lighter and lower than the Rally. While both bikes are tall, the Rally is tippy-toe tall—and I’m a six-footer. The good news is that the bike is narrow between the thighs, which makes reaching the ground easier, and the seat is adjustable to two positions and done without any tools. Seat height on the GT is 33.5/34.25 inches and the Rally is 34.4/35.2 inches If the lowest is still too tall for you, you can get a low seat ($225) which drops seat height an additional three-quarters of an inch.
There’s lots of legroom, even with the seat in the lower position. The handlebar is taller on the Rally models, and the risers are in different positions depending on the size of the gas tank; on the Explorer models the risers are mounted about an inch forward to clear the tank. It appears that you can change the position of the risers, but we were told that they cannot be adjusted. The windscreen is easily adjustable by simply lifting or lowering it with one hand. The seat is wide, flat, and proved comfortable after several hours in the road.
Alright dude, ride it already
The first part of the day was spent on a GT Explorer, entirely on the road, around a 180-mile loop of twisty, undulating mountain roads. The weather was cool in the morning, so I toasted my buns and palms by turning on the seat and grip heat.
The first thing I noticed after rolling away is that first gear is tall, requiring a bit of clutch slippage to get going, though the engine’s massive torque is certainly a stall-preventer. Raising the windscreen to its highest position to counter the chill, I noticed that while it cut the windblast to my torso, it also induced a fair amount of helmet-shaking buffeting, which was amplified by the peak of my helmet. The sweet spot was about midway up, where the buffeting was reduced to a comfortable level while still providing adequate wind protection.
The six-speed gearbox is feathery-light in effort when using the clutch, though it firms up slightly if you use the quickshifter. The quickshifter works remarkably well, and in fact, the Tiger 1200 is the first bike I’ve ridden on which I continued to use it even at low speeds. Other bikes’ quick shifters are often clunky to use and high on shifter effort at low speeds, causing me to resort to clutch use around town; on the Tiger it remains light and almost seamless in operation.
The seat of my pants tells me that the BMW GS has a slight edge in power delivery right off the line, but the Triumph will walk away from it as soon as its tach passes 4,000 rpm. Keep the engine spinning above 4k and it hauls ass like a big-bore sport bike.
Steering is light and neutral, and despite the wide handlebar, the bike is rock-solid in a straight line at high speed. It rails through sweepers and transitions through a series of esses with relative ease—I say relative because the bike is tall, and it’s a long way up from a lean and back down again. However, you can effortlessly maintain a pace through winding mountain roads that will make a sport bike rider bust a sweat. Add some rough pavement and Ricky Racer will break into a fever trying to keep up.
You still have to adapt your riding style though, since the Tiger isn’t a point-and-shooter, but rather prefers a smooth approach to braking, since hammering on the binders will soak up all of the fork travel. And those front Brembo Stylema brakes will shave off speed with supersport-like power. Again, the only hitch in this otherwise stellar back-road carver is that driveline lash, which is occasionally noticeable in the lower gears through turns.
Being on the GT Explorer, I got to experience the new blind-spot radar system, and found that it’s a very useful rider aid. It’s easy to scoff at certain rider aids, but when they don’t deter from the riding experience and improve safety, that’s a good thing. I always check my mirrors and blind spots, but have been caught on occasion by errant drivers changing lanes unexpectedly and unseen behind me. This system warns you when there’s a vehicle in close proximity behind you by illuminating an easily visible yellow light below each mirror. It works as claimed, the only drawback being that if you ride in a tight zigzag formation with your buddies, the warning light stays on. Also, I didn’t use it at night, so I don’t know if the brightness of the warning light is a hindrance. However, if you find the system annoying, you can turn it off. I did not find it annoying.
Switching to a Rally Explorer in the afternoon revealed a bike that felt taller and slower through esses, tending to run wide occasionally at corner exit due to its more relaxed geometry and 21-inch front wheel. Suspension compliance was also notably softer, though I was able to firm it up enough for a fast pace due to its wide range of adjustability. The bike gave up little in the way of speed, however, and handily kept up with the GT ahead, again at a fast sport-bike pace.
Tigers frolicking in the Dirt
The following day, aside from a few bits of connecting asphalt, we stayed entirely on dirt. My ride of choice for the day was the Rally Pro equipped with Michelin Anakee Wild tires. The off-road ride was based out of the Wim Motors Academy enduro camp (wimmotorsacademy.com), and meandered around the surrounding area. The route varied from fast fire roads to tight, undulating tracks, to some tighter enduro trails, with a touch of single-track thrown in. Most of the surface was hardpacked, much of it rocky, some of it sandy, and there were a few ruts, water crossings, and steep climbs and descents to keep you alert.
Here, the Tiger 1200 Rally Pro really impressed. We immediately set a fast, elbows-up pace, and the bike followed commands obediently and confidently. After a while, I found the sweet spot in the ride mode and suspension settings. From the get-go I selected Off-road mode, which releases the rear brake from ABS intervention, raises ABS intervention at the front, loosens up traction control enough to break the rear end loose at will, sets the suspension to standard (for off road), and sets throttle response between the most aggressive Sport mode, and the less aggressive Road mode.
I did eventually tailor the setup by setting the suspension damping one step firmer than standard, setting the throttle map to Road for slightly softer response, and I switched off the traction control to be able to make the steep, slippery climbs. The beauty of the system is that you can leave various menus up on the screen and make changes on the fly. I did this for the suspension, and used the joystick control on the left switch pod to firm it up or soften it as I rode.
Due to legislation regarding ABS, the bike will resort to its default Road mode every time you turn it back on. However, if you shut off the bike while in Off-road mode a message will pop up on the screen upon start-up reminding you to confirm that you do, indeed, want to remain in Off-road mode. It’s a handy shortcut that bypasses having to scroll through menus to do so.
With my preferred settings selected, I really gelled with the Rally Pro, riding confidently at a fast pace despite the dusty conditions, which meant I had to react quickly to hidden obstacles. The efficient quickshifter makes the clutch almost redundant; it’s used only to get going from a stop, or when the speeds are low enough that the tall first gear requires some clutch slippage in tight corners.
Simply put, the suspension is excellent. While the Rally Pro is agile enough to react quickly to avoid obstacles, I sometimes came up unexpectedly on a deep rut or a rock and expected to be hammered by the impact. Yet, the bike soaked up the rough terrain without bottoming, and only wavered a bit off line if it was a really big impact.
A lot of this is due to the way the suspension has been tuned, using what Triumph calls a “virtual spring rate.” While the forks and shock use straight spring rates, the sensors monitor when the suspension soaks up a lot of travel quickly, and damping is immediately firmed up to absorb the shock. The spoked wheels seemed to take the punishment in stride, too, as I did manage to hit a big enough rock to bottom the suspension a couple of times, but it didn’t leave the slightest dent in the rim.
On relatively challenging terrain, the Rally Pro is very forgiving; it reacts quickly to steering inputs and feels more like a middleweight adventure bike than a big-bore 1200, which isn’t surprising since it weighs about 40 pounds more than the Tiger 900 but makes a full 54 horsepower more.
Which one and why
Is the new Triumph Tiger 1200 better than the BMW R1250 GS? Only a back-to-back comparison can answer that question. I have spent a lot of time on the big GS, though, and can say that the Tiger handles better offroad at a fast pace. It’s more forgiving if you make a mistake, and requires less effort to ride when charging hard. It’s also easier to ride offroad for the average to intermediate rider than the ready-to-race KTM 1290 Adventure R, which rewards expert riders at an expert pace.
My choice goes hands down to the Rally Pro. Big selling points for me include the excellent suspension and off-road friendly wheel sizes (like on the KTM 1290 Adventure R); add to that a low-maintenance shaft (like in the BMW R1250GS) and it really makes good sense. It gives up little in the way of road performance to the GT, weighs less than the Rally Explorer (if I need extra fuel, I’ll tack on a RotopaX can), it handles better than the BMW GS and is easier to ride than the KTM 1290 off road.
One final tick in the box if you’re considering a BMW GS: the 2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 comes with a three-year warranty. Add it all up and it’s almost a no-brainer.
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2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 – Adventure Rider
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