Written by Bill Dragoo | Images by Triumph Motorcycles. Posted in Bikes
The old Triumph 1200 was considered an overweight, smooth-motored street bike more suited to sport touring. It had the will and looks to go off-road, but without the ability to do it well. Enter the new 2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 series, a machine Triumph has touted as “the most agile and maneuverable large adventure bike you can buy.” Does it stand up to this claim, and how does it compare to BMW’s venerable R1250 GS series?
What growls and snarls and rules the backcountry trails? Certainly not a three-cylinder adventure motorcycle? At least not historically speaking. At the press launch in March 2022, chief Triumph engineer Stuart Wood stood in front of our group in southern Portugal, touting his team’s latest iteration to a dozen journalists from the United States and Canada. Skepticism lurked among the group, as most of us had heard it all before.
Others have stepped up with premium suspension packages, decent handling and a racing heritage, but reliability issues, excess engine heat, or seat heights requiring the inseam of an NBA basketball player stopped them short. What new tricks has Triumph conjured to take down the competition? Make no bones about it, Triumph is going after the most popular big-bore adventure motorcycle in the world, the mighty BMW R1250 GS and GS Adventure.
• Triumph’s Tiger 1200 T-Plane Engine
The first weapon in their arsenal is the engine. A brand new 1160 cc triple with T-Plane crank replaces the old, even-firing three-cylinder motor. The T-Plane firing order is 1-3-2, skipping over the middle cylinder every cycle. Consequently, the crankshaft rotation is 180 degrees, followed by two 270-degree rotations between firing strokes.
The result of this configuration is an exhaust sound more like a V-twin which is enhanced by the slim, lightweight silencer. Power delivery is also unique, and more effective at keeping the rear wheel hooked up in the dirt.
This new powerplant produces a ferocious 148 horsepower from its over-square 90 mm x 60.7 mm bore and stroke and three 13.2:1 compression ratio pistons at a screaming 9,000 rpm. What we want to see is how this translates to both on and off-road usability and performance.
The exposed, tubular steel frame and bolt-on aluminum subframe are roughly 12 lb. lighter than the previous model and a new Tri-link swing arm reduces unsprung weight by 3.3 lb. The overall package is some 50 lb. lighter than its porky ancestor and even drops a few pounds below the BMW R1250 GS.
• New Tiger 1200 Model Line-up
The new Tiger 1200 line-up enters the arena with five models. Three are the road-focused but still off-road capable GT, GT Pro, and GT Explorer, quickly identifiable by their cast aluminum 19” front and 18” rear wheels. The more off-road oriented Rally Pro and Rally Explorer sport a 21” front and 18” rear radial spoke wheel setup to facilitate tubeless tires.
The Rallies also have a more relaxed steering head (rake) angle, which not only provides additional clearance for the 21” front wheel but also delivers mellower handling than the quicker steering GT. Tubular, stainless steel engine bars are standard on the Rally Pro and matching fuel tank/radiator guards are also standard on the Rally Explorer. Twin radiators provide ample cooling, with vents positioned to disperse engine heat away from the rider, a lesson some of the other high horsepower players in the market should heed. The Rally also boasts a more robust skid plate than the standard unit fitted on the GT models.
• Triumph Tiger 1200 Model Differences
The GT, GT Pro and Rally Pro come with 20-liter/5.3-gallon aluminum fuel tanks while the GT Explorer and Rally Explorer are the long-range versions with 30-liter/7.9-gallon capacity. Range is expected to be about 250 and 370 miles, respectively. The base model GT shares the same motor and chassis design as the others but with fewer standard amenities. All but the GT have electronic cruise control, shift assist, heated grips, a switchable hill-hold feature and a center stand as standard equipment. Everything but the hill hold feature is available as an option on the GT.
All five models have an easy-to-read array of lighted switches, a five-way joystick for easy mode selection and modification and a handy under-seat storage box with a USB port for phone charging. The windshield is adjustable with either hand by simply lifting an easily accessible bar. Lean-sensitive adaptive cornering lights are standard on all but the GT. Optimized cornering traction control, keyless ignition, gas cap and steering locks are standard on all models. Ride modes range from Rain, Road, Sport on the GT to Rain, Road, Sport, Off Road and Rider programmable on the GT Pro and GT Explorer.
Both Rally models add Off Road Pro to the mix which simplifies deletion of ABS and Traction Control. Although both will reset when the main switch is turned off, a rider reminder function allows preferences to be reset with one touch of the joystick.
GT and Rally Explorers also come with rear facing Blind Spot Radar, heated seats and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Blind Spot Radar functions as a small, yellow light under each mirror and can be switched off if it becomes too annoying in heavy traffic. Triumph has partnered with Sena for their standard, proprietary “My Triumph” connectivity system which is presented through a crystal clear, 7” optically bonded display and enables phone, music, turn-by-turn navigation and Go Pro controls.
• Tiger 1200 Suspension, Comfort, Ergonomics and Luggage
Showa semi-active suspension is linked to riding modes on both the GT and Rally models. An onboard IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) modifies damping, cornering ABS and traction control to reduce slip and decrease suspension dip while accelerating or braking. Rear preload is automatically adjusted according to weight by a small servo motor. Sensors increase damping any time the bike leaves the ground to prepare for the hit.
The 220 mm/8.7inch travel Rally suspension lifts seat heights 20 mm above the shorter 200 mm/7.9 inch units on the GTs. This puts the GT seat at 33.5” on low or 34.3” on the high setting and the Rally about an inch taller in each position. Damping and ride modes can be switched on the fly with the five-way joystick on the left switch pod. Damping is measured according to conditions relative to selected settings and self-adjusts multiple times per second within the mode parameters.
Reach adjustable Magura levers and HC-1 Radial Master Cylinders hydraulically activate the mechanical slipper clutch and Brembo Stylema brake calipers on front. The whole package is backed up by a 10,000-mile service interval and three year/unlimited mile warranty.
A growing list of accessories is available to adorn the new Tiger lineup including two luggage options available through Triumph’s partnership with Givi. Their Trekker, molded, side/corner opening panniers and 52-liter twin helmet top box with upholstered passenger backrest pair nicely with the GT models and Expedition alloy top opening panniers with 42-liter top box and two-piece passenger backrest are nice touches for road and mild off-road use on the Rally models. All panniers come with waterproof liners.
• On-Road Handling and Performance
Riding the Tiger is a joy, on or off pavement. Plenty of power is on tap from the T-Plane motor, making brisk riding, passing and general thrill factor a common theme when throwing a leg over the narrow fuel tank/saddle juncture. I found the seat a bit soft for my liking, a shame really since they have gone to the trouble of offering heated versions as standard equipment on the Explorer models and accessory options on the rest. No doubt the aftermarket will soon have suitable options.
Triumph has done a fabulous job of lowering the center of mass and overall weight on this machine with the stressed engine assembly sitting as low as possible in the frame while still providing good ground clearance. The result is a quick handling machine that no longer has the top-heavy feeling of the previous 1200 Explorer, not to mention several others in its class. They have also managed to reduce the force required to lift the bike off its side stand, claiming a 25% reduction in effort from their BMW counterpart.
Road handling is neutral with no tendency to fall into turns nor to stand up prematurely, even under the more-than-downright-thrilling acceleration. Weight bias is somewhat forward, which is a two-edged sword. The bike accelerates well without a tendency to prematurely lift the front wheel and engage traction control; however, it does take a bit of a bounce to loft the wheel when desired and with the traction control turned off. Not much, mind you, but it’s noticeable. With a touch of technique, it can still wheelie at will. The shift assist was flawless and can be switched off if desired.
I managed to drag the footpeg feelers aplenty on the twisty mountain roads of southern Portugal, a nod to the sport handling characteristics of the bike and not an indictment of peg placement. It took plenty of lean to make that happen and the bike begs to be leaned over hard. I found the Michelin Anakee street tires fine for the moderately aggressive riding we were doing. Switching ride modes can be done on the fly and a rider custom preference mode can be created before rolling out.
The Brembo M 4.30 Stylema monoblock radial front calipers and twin 320 mm floating rotors were typical Brembo good. They simply do their jobs without complaint or notice, converting kinetic energy to heat energy. A Brembo rear single-piston caliper and 282 mm disc teamed up well with the front to share stopping duties. I was not able to test the Adaptive Cornering Headlight but it was comforting to know that if I needed it, I could peek a bit farther around a dark turn. A stylish daytime running light graced the perimeter of the headlight and a full array of LEDs should provide plenty of see-and-be-seen lighting.
• Off-Road Handling and Performance
Off pavement, at speed, the Tiger Rally Pro really comes alive. I found it almost too easy to step the back end out, even on sketchy turns and fitted with aggressive Michelin Anakee Wild tires. The front wheel would track through all but the most ham-fisted rider inputs and correction was intuitive. There was no tendency of the chassis to over-rotate once a slide was induced, a relief I must say, since I managed to over-cook a few turns here and there. Again, the suspension was up to the job, never leaving me wanting. I played with the damping, toggling up from 3 all the way to the maximum 9 position as I increased my speed.
Even when occasionally bottoming the rear, it was not too harsh and it never upset the bike directionally. Custom power mapping was distinctive between Rain, Road, Sport and Off Road settings and all 148 horses were available regardless of the setting. Only the ramp-up rate relative to throttle position was modified.
The bike felt light and easy to maneuver at low speeds with the exception of being slightly sensitive to stalling if I let down my guard even a little. It is nothing like the older Tiger 800’s maddening whip stall tendency, but some diligence was required to keep from killing the motor inadvertently.
All in all, Triumph has checked nearly every box before stepping into the ring with the more experienced players in the big-bore adventure bike market.
• Room for Improvement
Time will tell and much is subjective. If you want a big bike that will make going fast off road easier, it does that. On-road characteristics leave nothing wanting.
What would I change? Not much. My biggest gripe was the ease of stalling when trying to maintain low throttle settings while lightly engaging the clutch. This is a growing area of need among some of the middle- to large-bore adventure bikes as technical riding increases in popularity. I’d like to see a slightly heavier flywheel for low-speed, technical off-road work.
I noticed a slight backlash between deceleration and roll-on if the clutch was not activated during the transition. It felt like a freight train effect, in which minimal slack from several areas throughout the powertrain was compounded on take-up and deceleration. It clunks. The windscreen works well until it doesn’t. Grit fouled the mechanism on the Rally Pro I tested, making it stiff to adjust. A good washing would probably rectify that issue.
As previously mentioned, the seat was too soft for my taste. I did like the narrow seat/tank juncture, however. It made the seat height feel much lower than other machines with similar seat height.
• Triumph Tiger 1200 vs BMW R1250 GS?
So have they done it? Has Triumph dethroned the reigning champion, the mighty BMW GS? I would like to do a head-to-head comparison before picking an overall winner, but what I have determined is that the mountain has two peaks.
One peak is graded on pedigree. Here, the GS has no peer. It is the original Swiss Army Knife of big adventure bikes. It has the heritage, the sound, the look and the feel of a champion. It gives up 14 horses at peak power but torque is higher at 105.5 foot pounds at 6250 rpm vs. 95.5 at 7000 rpm for the Triumph. A sixth gear roll-on challenge from 30 mph would be an interesting contest.
The Beemer doesn’t stall at low speeds without a suicidal set of rider inputs. It turns tighter and, at two inches shorter, it wheelies easier, if that’s your thing. It is also a bear in the sand, and the BMW’s front wheel requires some effort to keep from slipping out on sketchy terrain at speed. Down low, however, in tight quarters and over the road, it’s that big brother that walks you to school when the class bully has been picking on you.
The other peak is graded on confidence at speed. Higher revving and quicker but still with uncanny low and mid-range power, the Tiger makes it easy to ride fast, especially off pavement in sketchy terrain. It tracks better, feels lighter (partly because it is), and the suspension is almost as good as the big KTM…in some ways it’s better because it is so easy to adjust.
The Tiger 1200 seems crashworthy, bringing decent hand/lever, engine and fuel tank protection on the scene as stock components. It is loaded with standard features that work well. If you want a bike with a great warranty that will help you go fast with long maintenance intervals, no chain to fuss with and the long-distance prowess of the BMW, the Tiger 1200 sits squarely on that pinnacle.
While BMW’s R1250 GS series is the most direct comparison to the Tiger 1200, it’s worth mentioning the big ADV bike field has a spectrum of offerings to suit just about anyone. Just to name a few, KTM’s 1290 Super Adventures, Harley Davidson’s Pan America and Ducati’s Multistrada are top contenders in this category.
If I were BMW and had one of those Blind Spot Radar accessories, I’d be watching out for that flashing yellow light below my mirror…. that might just be a Tiger!
For more info on Triumph’s new Tiger, visit the Tiger 1200 information website.
Bill Dragoo is a long time friend of ADVMoto, BMW Motorrad Certified Off Road Instructor and owner of D.A.R.T., (Dragoo Adventure Rider Training) based out of Norman, Oklahoma. D.A.R.T runs training both separately and at events around the United States so please say hello if you see him around! All brands, riders and skill levels are welcome. Training is sometimes offered on tour rides as well. For more info, please visit BillDragoo.com or call 1-405-830-6630.
• 2023 Triumph Tiger 1200 Specifications
- MSRP by Model: GT – $19,100 / GT Pro – $21,400 / GT Explorer – $23,100 / Rally Pro – $22,500 / Rally Explorer – $24,200
- Engine: 12 valve, inline 3-cylinder with T-Plane firing order
- Displacement: 1160 cc
- Horsepower: 148 hp at 9,000 rpm
- Torque: 96 lb-ft. at 7,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6 speed
- Final Drive: Shaft drive
- Clutch: Hydraulic
- Frame: Tubular steel
- Front Wheel (GT/Rally): Cast 19 x 3.0in / Tubeless spoked , 21 x 2.15in.
- Rear Wheel (GT/Rally): Cast 18 x 4.25in / Tubeless spoked 18 x 4.25in.
- Front Tire Size (GT/Rally) :120/70R19 – 90/90-21
- Rear Tire Size (GT/Rally): 150/70R18 – 150/70R18
- Front Suspension (GT/Rally): Showa 49mm USD forks (7.9 inches of travel) / Showa 49mm USD forks (8.7 inches of travel)
- Rear Suspension (GT/Rally): Showa monoshock 7.9 and 8.7 inches of travel
- Front Brakes: Brembo radial calipers, ABS with twin 320mm floating discs
- Rear Brakes: Brembo single piston caliper, ABS with single 282mm disc
- Gauges/Instrument Panel: Full-color 7” TFT with My Triumph Connectivity System
- Seat Height (GT/Rally): 33.5 – 34.3 inches; 34.4 – 35.2 inches (adjustable)
- Wet Weight: 529 (GT) to 575 pounds (Rally)
- Fuel Capacity: 5.3 or 7.9 gallons (on Explorer models)