Opinion The Journey

The Triumph Tiger 1200 is Not an Off-Road Motorcycle

Fantastic road bike is hurt by manufacturer's attempt to shoehorn it into a genre

Dig, if you will, a picture – of a sledgehammer being held aloft by your good self. It’s a heavy ol’ thing, but you’re strong; I believe in you. I want you to keep holding that sledgehammer for a moment while I back up and tell you how we got here.

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I’m a big fan of adventure motorcycles. Especially the gigantic ones that everyone likes to whine about. Call me a basic bitch, I guess, but I like the fact they are tall (I’m 6-foot-1), comfortable (I like traveling by motorcycle), relatively powerful (sometimes I like to go fast), can carry a lot of stuff (I like traveling long distances), and can run on good tires. Ostensibly, an adventure bike is also capable of being ridden off road. You can find a different genre to better serve any one of the above needs, but only the ADV manages to address them all.

BMW’s R 1200 GS is the benchmark adventure motorcycle. When it comes to truly being capable of ALL things, it is still probably the best.

Though, of course, actual experiences will vary by model; some all-rounders are more all-round than others. In his ode to the scrambler genre, Drew Faulkner described adventure bikes as “larger-displacement bikes, intended for 60 percent or more time on the pavement,” as opposed to dual-sports, which are 60/40 in favor of off-road riding. That’s a reasonable base definition of the genre, but in recent years a sub-genre has developed that leans even more heavily to road use.

We haven’t quite come up with a good name for the genre – adventure tourer, adventure sport – but the basic idea is that these bikes are designed for at least 80/20 road use. And most of these bikes, like the Yamaha Tracer 900, favor the tarmac even more. By and large, these are the bikes I prefer because I’m not terribly adept at off-road riding and I dislike the idea of spending in excess of £10,000 (sometimes close to double that) on a vehicle that I would then place in situations where it is likely to be smashed to smithereens.

Still holding that sledgehammer? Good. I’m getting to it.

sidebyside-right copy
I’ve spent a lot of time with the Tiger Explorer (left) and Tiger 1200 (right) – enough to speak with confidence on the models’ primary weakness.

One thing that gets under my skin (perhaps unnecessarily) is when the maker of one of these extra-road-focused adventure bikes tries to make you believe otherwise. There are a few examples, but I’m thinking specifically now of the Triumph Tiger 1200.

RELATED: Adventure Sport Round-Up: The New Sport Tourers

That’s a good bike. I got a chance to spend a few weeks with one earlier this year, clocking up 1,200 miles on the thing, and, of course, I own the previous generation model, the Tiger Explorer. The two generations are almost identical, with this year’s name change only being warranted by a differently tuned engine (still the same 1215cc triple, though) and a blingtacular TFT screen. Chassis, suspension, and aesthetics remain more or less the same.

That’s fine for my purposes. On the road, whether speeding through mountain curves or hauling myself and a passenger comfortably across the country (on a recent trip to West Sussex my wife was so relaxed she kept falling asleep), the Tiger Explorer/1200 is hard to beat. All things considered, I’d say it’s one of the best bikes you can buy… Unless you want to take it off road.

A muddy parking lot is about as ‘off road’ as you should get on the Tiger 1200.

I’ve been holding my tongue on this somewhat for quite a while because, well, I didn’t want to be one of those moto dudes who thinks he’s clever for pooping on a manufacturer’s hard work. Triumph has a passionate team of people working up there in Hinckley, England, and, as I say, they’ve built an otherwise solid machine. But every time I see the company attempting to suggest this bike has legitimate off-road chops I feel triggered, y’all. It’s been festering in me for too long, and I just have to let this out: if you want a bike that can be ridden regularly off road, the Tiger 1200 is a terrible choice.

Of the large adventure bikes I’ve ridden off road – BMW R 1200 GS, Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro, Honda Africa Twin, KTM 1090 Adventure R, Suzuki V-Strom 1000 – the Triumph Tiger Explorer/1200 is hands down the worst.

There are a few reasons for this but the one that Triumph cannot overcome without a start-from-scratch overhaul of the model is weight.

The Tiger 1200 looks the part, but this is a bad idea.

He Ain’t My Brother, He’s Heavy

All big-displacement adventure bikes carry a substantial amount of weight. Because of all the things we want them to do, there’s not really a way around that. Triumph makes a big deal of its Tiger 1200 having dropped a few kilos, but some of that is fuzzy math (for example – the official accessory engine bars are now lighter than previous official engine bars and Triumph counts this when making weight-loss claims). A Tiger 1200 XCx (the most affordable ‘off road’ Tiger 1200) still weighs 242 kg dry.

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Dry. It’s probably fair to add at least 17 kg more to make the bike fully fueled and ready to ride. So, you’re really looking at a bike that clocks in at or above 259 kg. A fully fueled BMW R 1200 GS – notorious for being portly – weighs in at 244 kg. However, it’s not really the weight itself that’s the problem, but where the weight is located.

Still got that sledgehammer? I want you to take it now and balance it on your hand, arm fully extended out in front of you. First, I want you to try to balance it by placing the head of the hammer in your hand, its handle pointing straight up. Have you managed it? Good. It’s not too hard, is it?

To make things extra difficult, this fella’s chosen to stand on one leg as well.

Now take that same sledgehammer and place its head high in the air, then keep it balanced by resting the handle on your flat palm. Not as easy, is it? The actual weight of the sledgehammer hasn’t changed, but keeping it balanced is far more difficult because of where the weight is located.

On the Tiger 1200, there is a lot of weight sitting high on the bike. When you sit on the motorcycle, it feels as if most of its bulk exists at the height of your hips. Compare this to an R 1200 GS, where the weight feels like its down at your ankles. I started thinking about this phenomenon a lot when the Harley-Davidson Street Bob came into my life a few months ago. That thing weighs a colossal 297 kg wet, but it is easier to move around in the garage than my Triumph! Because the weight of the Harley’s monstrous Milwaukee Eight engine is low.

Above 5 mph, on paved surfaces, the Tiger 1200’s heftiness more or less disappears and it quickly becomes your most favoriteist touring weapon ever. Off road, though, that top heavy nature pulls you to the ground again and again and again. And again. And it’s not fun.

This is what happened when I tried to ride the Tiger 1200 off road.

A possible counter to my criticism (and, indeed, one the Triumph folks have used with me) lies in the fact I’m not an avid off-road rider. Yeah, I’ve ridden a number of adventure bikes in the dirt, but never for a terribly long time. Most were ridden on short taster sessions like the Multistrada Enduro Experience. So, what the hell do I know? I’m just some novice, right?

READ MORE: 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 – Ride Review

Well, that’s sort of my point. In the right hands, with the right tires, pretty much any bike can be ridden off road. Hell, the internet has shown us before that a good rider can manage a Ducati 1199 off road. So, yeah, you can find people who will make the Tiger 1200 look bad ass because they are people who can make anything look bad ass.

To me, the test of a bike’s off-road worthiness is how easy it is for an idiot to master. I’m an idiot, so I feel fully qualified to speak to the Tiger 1200’s inadequacy in dirt. The BMW R 1200 GS it’s trying to be is so demonstrably better it’s depressing.

The Tiger 800 performs reasonably well in the dirt. If not simply because it weighs almost 40 kg less. I mean, it will probably be completely outgunned when Yamaha releases its Ténéré 700 this autumn, or KTM its 790 Adventure R, but we don’t need to talk about that right now. The 800 is without question superior to the 1200 off road, so Triumph should just be happy with that.

Stop trying to make the Tiger 1200 out to be something it isn’t. Just accept that it’s a fantastic all-roads bike and then put some effort into better molding the thing to its reality, offering more road-appropriate wheel sizes, even better weather protection (I remain fascinated by the apparent lower fairing on the Harley-Davidson Pan America) and more aerodynamic luggage (thereby improving fuel economy). Stop making a great bike shitty by trying to force it into a category into which it cannot fit.

OK, rant over. I feel better. You can put down your sledgehammer now.