The Triumph Explorer back to back with the Ducati Multistrada 1200, Honda Crosstourer and BMW R1200GS
You will know by now that I have just bought the Triumph Tiger Explorer. As I had test rode the Honda Crosstourer and owned both the Ducati and BMW I thought it would be a good idea to post my experiences of all the motorbikes.
My initial views of the Triumph Tiger were that the engine was outstanding. It was smooth and fast. It was much more responsive than the Honda Cross Tourer, and less hasty than the Ducati Multistrada. It felt as effortless as the V4 Crosstourer, but it had more of a feel of a motorcycle.
It had no feeling of a power band. It just had turbine, stable power and much more of a sensation of speed than the Honda but much less urgency than the Ducati. Depending on what type of riding you enjoy, this is either a positive or negative. I prefer an untroubled and rapid progress, whereas the Ducati is barking and urgent. It depends how you like your bikes. The Honda Cross Tourer had a similar feel to the Triumph; well mannered, planted and really competent but it was just missing something for me. I don’t want to damn the Honda Crosstourer with feint praise, but it was like eating really high quality vanilla ice cream. It was a pleasant experience, but unremarkable.
Bikes are a really personal thing. A lot of journalists and reviewers have the Explorer and the Cross Tourer neck and neck, but this was not the case for me. The Crosstourer is creamy smooth but a bit flavourless. I found it worthy, certainly not dull or steady but very controlled. The Ducati Multistrada is at the other end of the spectrum for this class of bike. It is a well set up, mentally fast, comfortable sports bike. Neither the Honda Crosstourer nor the Triumph Explorer can kick your backside like the Ducati. The Ducati has the most essence of motorcycle. It is fast, howling and aggressive. Its competence so outstrips what I can do that it almost goads me to push it on. If you do not mind chains and do not want a relaxing ride but a fast ride on a responsive thoroughbred, then the Ducati Multistrada is fantastic. It is lumpy in traffic, and quite a lot of my riding is in traffic. However, what should I have expected from a 1200 L twin?
So for outright riding pleasure the Ducati takes some beating, but pleasure is a very subjective thing. For me, steady power feels at least as good as a kick in your pants thrust. As a riding experience, the Triumph shades the competent smoothness of the Honda and the bite your backside Ducati. The weight of the Honda and Triumph are both significantly greater than the Ducati. On the move the frame geometry and weight make the Triumph and Honda feel more planted, but the Ducati more nimble. Again what works for me does not necessarily work for you. I like the planted feel and instinctively took to all three bikes. The bike I prefer depends on my mood and what I am doing and the weather. The Triumph felt really planted on wet greasy roads and has a beautiful, instant and smooth throttle reaction. Some journalists say the throttle is too light. I did not find that was any sort of problem. Counter steering invites you to yank the Explorer’s big bars over and get your chicken strips scrubbed out.
The Honda makes its relaxed fast progress more sedate and is a very comfortable way to watch miles disappear. However it was the least engaging ride. It beats the Ducati in traffic and for relaxed progress. Apart from the Honda’s linked brakes which were very effective it does nothing better than the Triumph in my opinion. I also rate the Triumph’s brakes the least out of all three of these bikes, and certainly less effective than my old R1200GS. The brakes stop you, certainly well enough, but they are lacking some of the progressive power of the linked brakes on the Honda, the snap you shut Ducati, and the very smooth unflustered braking of the telelever/paralever BMW.
The Ducati is the wild one, wearing its performance for all to see. In its class it is the bare knuckle fighter, fast, furious and pure motorcycle. The Triumph is the quiet but menacing professional fighter, wearing its aggression and capabilities quietly, but menacingly just below the surface. As an all round package its good manners contained the hoodlum DNA, and has it for me. The Honda is the reliable journeyman. You can chuck what you like at it. You cannot fluster it, but nor will you get a flash of brilliance. Neither the Ducati nor the Triumph can knock it out, but they both win on points. The well schooled professional produced by Triumph beats the talented but mercurial Ducati but it is a close run thing. This is definitely one fight in my view that goes the distance, and on a split decision.
What all three of these bikes do is show the age and limitations of the R1200 GS. I put 30,000 miles on to the 1200 and before that 40,000 miles on to the 1150. The GS now feels old and under powered. It does not stop it being a highly competent bike but it is clearly being outclassed by the new contenders. I cannot think of a single good reason for the road rider, looking for an all rounder to pick the GS over any of these bikes.
6 years ago the GS 1200 reigned proudly supreme in its division. Now the GS looks and feels like an ex champion, with its reactions slowed by time and getting thumped mercilessly by the new hot shots in its class. I am not sold on BMW build quality and its engine is now probably at the end of what it can do, and still meet the emission standards. The GS still remains a highly competent usable all rounder but the other three bikes on the road, and I have ridden them all, are all just plain better.
So is the Ducati getting the chop? Sadly yes. I have never agonised over getting rid of a bike like I have the Ducati. I fell totally out of love with the GS 1200, and could not wait to get rid of it. The Ducati broke me from 10 years with BMW, and reintroduced me to the real joy of performance motorcycling. I will miss my Italian beauty, that bike is something special. If you are thinking of buying one, you will not regret it. It was just not the right bike for what I need. As to the Crosstourer or the Explorer there is no competition. The Triumph does everything as well if not better than the Crosstourer with the exception of the braking.
I did buy into BMWs build quality and BMW certainly didn’t fail to deliver that on my ’06 R1200 GS. The Ducati which was a standing joke for reliability never missed a beat for me in the 7000 miles I had it for. So it is the Triumph but not by a massive margin. For my bike needs and my riding style the Triumph ticks all my boxes. But of the Multistrada, the Explorer, the Crosstourer and the GS there is not a bad bike there.
Within this level of competence and engineering it is hardly surprising that the “Adventure Tourer” class has grown so massively. Anyone of those bikes eats miles in comfort, but pushes through traffic. Anyone of them can hoon around when the mood takes me, all of them sure footed and stable on greasy roads. I can carry all my kit on any one of those bikes including bulky Court files and accident reconstruction kit.
Whilst my requirements for a bike as a working tool are not the same as every other rider, the thing that surprises me is that there are still people around who do not get the tall roader class. I think the pretentions of going off road have probably blinded people to what is the most useful and practical class of bike, which you can still enjoy. As adventure bike that never goes off road is no more daft than the race replica that never sees a track or a highway cruiser that never sees Route 66. I could go for a narrow tourer like the FJR or a sports tourer like the Bandit (yup, I know Suzuki don’t like them being called that any more) or the Sprint but for my 6 foot frame the tall roaders just fit me better. I have tried them, but keep coming back to the tall roaders. I just don’t wear a peaky faux motocross lid or motocross boots.