Before our readers enter into a rant about why these large, heavy adventure bikes are not sufficiently dirt worthy, I need to editorialize briefly.
For most riders, the appeal of the new, large displacement Adventure bikes has nothing to do with their off-road capability. Zero. These bikes are frequently viewed as superior road machines . . . superior to many competing sport tourers and full dress tourers for both commuting and touring. They are primarily bought for this reason, not for their dirt worthiness.
Having said that, these bikes do have varying degrees of ability to travel off-road. Many owners will never take them there, but they have the ability, nonetheless.
So if you are shopping for a street bike in the sport tourer category, for instance, will you be better off with an adventure touring bike? Quite possibly. For many riders, the bolt upright seating position and relatively forward peg placement is simply more comfortable than the riding position offered by sport tourers that hang on to the pretense of sportiness with lower bars and more rearward peg placement (often with less leg room, as well). One of the most comfortable freeway jaunts I can recall occurred while I was aboard a large displacement Adventure bike.
Which brings us to the subject of this test, the 2013 Triumph Explorer XC. A huge machine, no doubt, with its elevated seat height (32.9 adjustable to 33.7 inches) and claimed wet weight of 586 pounds.
The XC takes the standard Explorer that we have tested previously (see Gabe’s report here, and our report from the world press launch here), and adds features to improve its dirt capabilities, including steel-spoked wheels (abandoning the cast wheels of the standard model) that are nevertheless tubeless, crash bars, under-engine bash plate, hand guards and dual 55-watt fog lamps. The rest of the technical details are identical to those described in Gabe’s story. The headline feature is Triumph’s all-new 1215cc 3-cylinder engine. The largest transverse triple ever created by Triumph.
The engine is fantastic. With peak horsepower of 135 at the crank and nearly 90 foot/pounds of torque, this is an extremely fast motorcycle. Not just fast, it pulls effortlessly with that mountain of torque. The smooth feel and shrieking turbine-like sound are characteristic of Triumph triples.
The seating position, including the seat itself, is hard to fault. The bars are comfortably high and close, placing your wrists at a natural angle. The seat is firm enough to be comfortable on longer rides, and broad enough to distribute your weight well beyond your sit bones. Wind protection was good, with minimal buffeting at the helmet level.
On-road handling initially revealed a vague feeling from the front end. As we noted nearly a decade ago with Suzuki’s V-Strom, some adventure tourers are delivered without enough weight on the front wheel, necessitating the addition of spring preload in the shock and/or sliding the forks up a few millimeters in the triple clamps. We did both, sliding the forks roughly 5mm. The result was a much more confident-feeling front end and more accurate steering.
We got comfortable enough on the big Explorer XC to utilize nearly all of the very generous lean angle on the street (resulting from all that ground clearance). The wide bars made it fun, and easy, to throw the big Tiger on its side. Is it the most nimble Adventure bike we have ridden? No. The huge engine displacement and corresponding crank intertia mean it won’t change direction like a Suzuki V-Strom 650, for instance. What it has is added straight-line stability over a smaller, nimbler mount.
The six-speed transmission offered more than enough gear choices given the extremely broad plateau of torque, but it was still nice to have an overdrive sixth gear for fuel economy on the superslab. Speaking of which, we averaged 39 mpg while riding the bike more aggressively, no doubt, than you would in day-to-day use. The 5.3 gallon tank should get you well beyond 200 miles between fill-ups on a tour, because we are confident that you can achieve 45 mpg while cruising on the highway. Given the engine performance on offer, not too bad.
The large dial that allows you to easily change rear spring preload without tools comes in handy. You can not only quickly adjust weight distribution and handling with this feature, you can accommodate passengers/luggage loads. We added 3 turns (equaling 3 clicks) of preload before escorting a relatively small female passenger to dinner one evening.
The instrumentation (described in our earlier stories) is both legible and complete, and includes a very precise fuel gauge.
Off-road the big Explorer XC is a handful. It doesn’t like to change direction quickly on loose soil or gravel, but the suspension works to carry speed on fire roads and through more gradual corners. I was able to comfortably travel 60 mph, or so, across the desert, with the suspension keeping things under control, on moderately rough roads.
On the street, the extra suspension travel and 19″ front wheel provide another benefit versus traditional sport tourers, i.e., better absorption of small bumps. This is another reason why some riders now prefer adventure bikes for touring. Honda’s big sport tourer, the ST1300, has an 18″ front wheel for similar reasons.
The extra features offered by the XC (features you could add to your standard Explorer through the Triumph accessories catelogue) do improve its dirt worthiness. The high-speed desert travel I described would have concerned me a lot more without the engine bash plate and crash guards, and with the cast wheels found on the standard Explorer. Visions of cast wheels collapsing in aggressive off-road riding would have been dancing in my head, otherwise. The traditional, steel-spoked wheels on the Explorer XC look extremely stout and are undoubtedly leagues stronger.
So what we have here is a large, extremely comfortable and powerful Adventure bike that changes directions easily, and confidently, on the street, while offering the ability to take you off-road where a traditional street machine would falter. Appropriately painted Khaki Green, the 2013 Triumph Tiger Explorer XC also looks the part. The typical comment was “That bike looks badass”, and one could imagine that it was morphed out of something seen in Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies. The U.S. MSRP is $17,199. For additional details and specifications, visit Triumph’s web site.