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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Ride review: Triumph Tiger Explorer XC

Ugly, but almost the best bike I've ever ridden. Almost.
"Hold me closer, ugly dancer." That's the song I found myself singing to the almost-wonderful Triumph Tiger Explorer XC recently as I explored the famous roads of Peak District National Park. It is a bike that is so close to being exactly the sort of thing I want but falls horribly flat on just two points.

The first one is, admittedly, subjective. The Tiger Explorer XC is stupid ugly. It's a machine that looks to have been designed by the same bloke who produced the 2012 London Olympics logo. There are many good things to say about the bike but I'm afraid that no matter how I turn my head or squint my eyes, I cannot say it looks good. This is the girl in the bar who always goes home alone.

But the 1,215-cc three-cylinder machine has so many great qualities that it almost makes up for its looks. Almost. As Samuel L. Jackson says in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way. But still there is one other aspect of the Tiger Explorer XC's personality that is impossible to overlook and which eliminates it from any list of bikes I'd consider buying.

I don't want to be too negative of an otherwise amazing motorcycle, though, so let's look at some of the good things first. And there are a lot of good things.  

Apparently the "XC" stands for "cross country," but it could just as easily mean "extra comfortable." I took on more than 130 miles in the Triumph's saddle and this was after having already pushed 160 miles from Penarth to Stoke-on-Trent on my own bike. But at the end of the day I would have been happy for more. Seat, wind protection, heated features and riding position all combined to create an experience that was anything but tiring.

The seat was large and offered an unobtrusive comfort. You didn't notice it. The day's weather was such that I didn't need it but the seat came with heating for both rider and passenger, the pillion seat being equally large and providing plenty of space for an actual-sized human. I will say, though, that the angle of the seat was just a little strange and had me occasionally slipping forward on hard stops.

I was amazed at how well the screen worked.
Wind protection, meanwhile, was surprisingly effective. I would not have guessed from looking, but the windscreen and basic fairing offered a happy cocoon that kept the wind away from everywhere but the very tippy top of my helmet. Within that space I was warm and happy and somewhat shocked at what an incredible difference wind protection can make. I made a promise to myself to invest in better wind protection for my own bike before the next winter.

Part of that protection involved hand guards, which kept my frustratingly-susceptible-to-cold hands from hurting as they usually do when spending too much time in a cold wind (I fell through the ice as a teenager and the ensuing frostbite made me less able to tolerate cold in my extremities). Helping things, of course, were dual-setting heated grips.

The Tiger Explorer XC produces a whopping 135 bhp, making it the most powerful vehicle I've ridden thus far, but everything worked so beautifully that all its power and torque (89 lb. ft.) were easily managed. Wide bars made the big machine simple to move through corners, and when you wanted that power it was so incredibly accessible. The distances that I usually look for when passing suddenly halved –– the shaft-driven engine easily launching me forward as if I were attached to a giant rubber band.

There was a bit of grumbling if you tried to throttle up when in too high a gear, but by and large the machine was willing to move regardless of where you were on the shifter. The engine offered a tractor-like sound and reassuring clunks when hitting gears, something that I'm sure sportbike guys might moan about but that, as a cruiser lover, I thoroughly enjoyed.

I'm 6 foot 1, so obviously the bike's height was something of a selling point to me. Another person in our group was a good 7 to 8 inches shorter than me and actually chose to hop off the bike at stops, because he could not put feet to ground when seated. He managed this in part because he was a superior rider (I saw him take a corner at such speed it made me feel queasy) but also because the Tiger Explorer XC's weight is so well balanced.

It really is an incredible machine and, I think, very much worth its £12,300 asking price...

Ugly from any angle.
...until you get on the motorway. There you find the bike's biggest flaw. Once your speed starts to crawl above 75 mph the Tiger Explorer XC begins to dance, swaying in the turbulence of cars and trucks like an American newsman reporting from a hurricane. Because I am used to the bum-clenching gusts that hit a person when crossing the Severn Bridge, all this kicking around didn't bother me too much. But it was visible to other riders in my group and made them feel nervous for me. And it made me nervous to think of how terrifying it would have been had there actually been any wind at all that day.

I mean, if this thing was jumping so much in the wake of a big truck, what would it be like to ride in the great exposed space of the Severn Bridge? Or how would it handle the valley gusts that plague the A449? Maybe the weight of a passenger and luggage would better anchor you, but on your own it would be hell.

It's a fatal flaw that I simply wouldn't be able to overlook. Which is too bad, because the Tiger Explorer XC is otherwise one of the best bikes I've ever had the pleasure of riding. Ugly. But an absolute joy to ride. If I lived in the United States, where it is possible to still travel efficiently on slower roads (the slow roads in the UK are really slow) I'd very seriously consider overlooking the aesthetics of the bike to shell out the cash. As is, though, it is simply a bike that has helped me get a better sense of the features I'd love to have. It is not a bike that I would buy.

The three questions

For me to consider spending my own money on a motorcycle it needs to answer in the affirmative three questions:

Does it fit my current needs and lifestyle?
Pretty much. Off the motorway, the Tiger Explorer XC is 100-percent an ideal vehicle for tackling British road and weather conditions. I suppose it makes sense that a British company would know how to make a bike for the British environment. But once you approach the speeds that Britons achieve on their morways it becomes a nerve-wracking disappointment.

Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes, as long as I'm not looking at it. I loved being in the saddle of this thing. Absolutely loved it. But when taking it in visually I felt almost embarrassed. This bike is the equivalent of having a really ugly wife who is really, really good in bed.

Is it better than my current motorcycle?
Yes. I'll state that unequivocally. It's not as stable at high speed, but even so it is immensely superior to my trusty Honda CBF600 SA. If someone were to offer me a Tiger Explorer XC at a discounted price I would jump at it without hesitation. I could avoid motorways or just learn to love dancing at high speed.

Comments

  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I personally, LOVE the look of the Tiger, so it's disappointing to hear of the high speed instability. Of course, you've previously stated a general dislike for adventure bikes, so your thoughts on the Tiger aren't a surprise. I'd love to try one out...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, really my only complaint is about styling and that's such an individual thing. For example, I like the look of the Victory Cross Country. If someone told me it was ugly, though, I could see where they're coming from. Besides the look, though, this Triumph a pretty great bike. I suspect even the speed-wobble issues might be resolved by adding a little weight (luggage, a passenger or both).

      Delete
  2. Staggered by your comments re weaving. I have had my Explorer XC for 9 months now, with plenty of freeway and country riding, (I am the same height as you) and NEVER had this 'weaving' issue. Sounds like maybe tyre pressures or alignment issues to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe, but there were two of us from my group riding the Tiger Explorer XC and both of us experienced the same thing. Keep in mind that motorway riding in the UK is often upward of 85 mph, despite an official speed limit of 70. Below 70 the bike was great.

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    2. I just bought a Tex a month ago, and after doing the 1st 1000kms slowly, I started to ride a bit quicker and was shocked to find myself in a heck of speed wobble as i approached 140km/h. I took it back immediately, and they had it for a week, did some adjustments, which imporved it, but is in no way acceptable. I traded in my 1050 which I had for 2 years, and it was rock steady at any speed, with or without top box, pannier, pinion, tire type, etc, all the things that have been held out as reasons for this problem. I agree that it is a fundamental design flaw and I cant believe fiddling with adjustments can truly solve it. they have said I must bring it back next week, but I am not holding my breath. It is hard to believe in this day and age, that a brand new modern motorcycle can still have a problem like this. lets see?

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  3. Chris:

    Aesthetics never bothered me after all, I own a Vstrom which I think is beautiful. I am more about reliability and dealer support. Think that when you ride any bike, you cannot see what you are riding. You can only see the cockpit, unless you see your reflection in a window. They say the the Vstrom is unstable with lots of wind buffeting. and it is but perhaps the Triumph XC is better but it is too tall for me so I'll never know.

    I think your XC was not set up correctly. Shock and valving rates and also I have a fork brace which really helps. My BMW also has a steering damper, so I believe the problem can be solved after you buy it

    bob
    A weekend photographer or Riding the Wet Coast

    ReplyDelete
  4. Chris, sounds like a great bike...except for the "dancing in the wind" part. That would be scary. I have to say I got a good chuckle when you wrote, "This bike is the equivalent of having a really ugly wife who is really, really good in bed."

    Thanks for making me smile.

    Cheers,
    Curt

    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy

    ReplyDelete
  5. Maybe different tires (sorry, tyres) would have solved the stability issue.

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  6. After 17 months and 15,000 miles I'm on my third set of tyres (Moving from the OEM Metzelers, to Avon Distanzia's to Avon Storm 3D's). From this experience I can confirm:
    1. The bike's handling is highly susceptible to tyre choice.
    2. The OEM Metzelers couldn't be any worse if they were square instead of round!
    Please do not judge the handling of the bike until the OEM tyres have been placed safely in the bin and some proper tyres have been fitted.
    Having said that, I moved to the Tiger from a 1200 Daytona and a 900 Sprint and this bike is less happy at illegal speeds than either of them. Considering the bike's nature, this is hardly a surprise. I'm happy to enjoy the upright riding position, the space and the comfort of the bike AND keep my license intact!
    As for the looks - they put me off for the first 12 months after launch. All that black plastic doesn't help - it makes it look like the cheapest Transit van available! I've completely repainted mine, plastics included and it makes a world of difference.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Can you post a picture of the repainting results ? I own a Tiger Explorer 2012 and want to restyle it.

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