Last summer those nice people at Triumph gave me a Tiger 800 to play with while my Sprint was in for its service. When I bought the Sprint I said that I was not ready (i.e. old enough) for an adventure style bike but I probably would be by the time I changed it. Hmmm this is nice. Upright riding position is really comfy and so light and flickable. Tried some filtering and thought the bars were a bit wide, but I'd probably adapt - the Sprint really is deceptively narrow. Since it was a non work day I did have an extended play. In the end I decided it wasn't the bike for me because I could not live with the screen at motorway speeds - it offered minimal protection and was very noisy. So I spend the next few Fridays test riding bikes. Well I was working 4 days a week and needed something to occupy my Fridays. If nothing else its a great day out and inexpensive (until you sign on the dotted line). My requirements for a bike hadn't really changed, but I did want something lighter, more upright and with a shorter wheelbase. LED headlights were on my wish list, as was a lighter clutch.
About a year into Triumph ownership I went to a Tiger open day where I rode all 3 sizes back to back. At the time I thought the Sport (1050) was a bit meh - but I really liked the Explorer. But after 3 years and 23000 miles that 1050 triple had grown on me, and the new model was getting rave reviews - so I left that test ride till last. Before the final test ride my short list was down to 3
- BMW 1000 XRT. Loved this bike and the one I tested didn't seem to suffer from the vibes I'd read about in most reviews. Don't think my licence would have lasted long if I had bought this one. Most expensive of the bunch.
- Honda Africa Twin. This really surprised me. Completely different to the Beamer and I'd already ruled out the German twins (and the Italians) but I just liked it. It was ridiculously tall. I'd only gone into Honda because I was keen to try their DCT (dual clutch transmission automatic), which would have been the perfect solution to my quest for a lighter clutch. The DCT was impressive and the AT was the only bike that came with it that I wanted. Cheapest bike of the lot and also the lightest. An added bonus was that it was the only one with LED headlights.
- Tiger Explorer. No real surprises there. That 1215 engine is an absolute gem. However the bike is the same weight as the Sprint, and I was keen on something lighter.
By the time my final test ride came I had discovered that most dealers are happy to book a double or triple slot if you ask nicely so I had 3 hours booked. When I got back I placed an order. The only options I chose were a GPS bracket and a rack. I had a spare, unused, top box for the Sprint and they happen to be identical. Mine is the wrong colour but I saw no point in spending an extra £100 to get a different coloured lid - if anything I would rather spend that money on a smaller after market box.
- Very comfortable on my 3 hour ride, the only stop was for fuel. I did find that I slid forward on the seat and thought I could to with a greater knee angle
- I thought the fuelling on the Sprint was damn near perfect, well this was in a completely different league.
- Very responsive throttle and light clutch.
- Good but not spectacular brakes
- Decent (ish) suspension
- Really nippy. In theory it was a bit down on power from the Sprint and a lot down on the Fazers but it didn't feel that way.
- Mirrors were good. They did go a bit blurry from about 6k but I can easily see past my shoulders and elbows. I still look over my shoulder as a final safety check before changing lanes, but I have never yet spotted anything that I didn't already know was there.
- Pathetic hooter (horn)
- Good protection from the screen in the high position but quite noisy at speed (I always wear earplugs anyway). Lowering the screen makes it a bit (but not much) quieter, but protection is also reduced.
- Cruise control is nice, but it would be nicer if the switches were on the left side - and they are quite close to the kill switch. Note to Triumph: A rocker switch is more sensible than a pair of thumb switches when you are wearing gloves and using the throttle!
- Self cancelling indicators: you would think this is great, and it is once you realise that they turn themselves off too quickly for extended filtering (lane splitting). Fortunately it does come with a hazard switch so this gets used regularly and I have left the self cancelling turned on.
- It would have made more sense for the haszard switch to be on the left bar - but it didn't take too long to find it without looking - but a bit tricky when delicate throttle control is required
- Computer / dash switches are on the left grip which is good. The mode switch requires you to lean forward and press it on the clocks. In practice its not something I ever use so I guess that's ok.
So what was I to do for the two months before it arrived. The whole point of buying a new bike and testing so many options was that I did not want to have to spend a lot of time and money changing it. So based on my test ride, trawling through forums and own experience I ordered the essentials.
- Grip puppies. Inexpensive foam grip wraps to make them wider and reduce vibrations
- Fender extender to reduce the amount of muck hitting the engine
- Radiator and oil cooler covers. Apart from appearance stone damage can be costly
- Spare seat from ebay. I noticed a tendency to slide forwards on my test ride. I also felt my legs were a little cramped. On the Sprint I changed the pegs and bar risers, perhaps getting a custom seat would be an easier option, and more comfy
- I bought a link pipe to transplant the carbon can from the Sprint, but ended up sending it back and flogging the can. The original looks good and the fuelling on the bike is so good I wouldn't want to mess with it. OE can is heavy though.
- LED side lights. Anyone who has ever left their park lights on for a day will understand why!
I did think about heated grips. The Triumph ones are expensive but the cabling is routed inside the bars. They were out of stock so I decided to wait and see.
Oh yes - first day back at work after placing the order I was given notice that that my contract was not going to be renewed as I had hoped. Could that be a problem? I was planning to pay cash anyway but I had taken a lot of time out the previous year so might I be better canceling the order? Oh well, 2 months to decide so I'll wait and see. But I did check with the dealer to make sure cancellation was ok. It was a new model and there was a long waiting list - so they were happy to agree. Nothing left but to sit back and wait, oh and find a job.
The early days
Finally the 30th September arrived and my bike was ready. Still no hint of a contract in sight, but somehow you knew I wasn't going to cancel. I collected it with the mismatched top box attached because the dealer had modified the lock so I could use a single key. Within an hour of geting home I had fitted the grip puppies and cooler covers. Time to strap the spare seat on the back and pay a visit to the local upholsterer.
The next few weeks were spent running it in in a fairly low key way. Since I wasn't working I went out most days on the local B roads with a few longer rides thrown in before the clocks changed. A lot of that time was spent getting the suspension right. To be honest it was horribly set up and not at all like the bike I had test ridden. As I had the time I arrived at the best settings fairly quickly. It was delivered with the damping wound right up and the preload right down. What I needed was no damping and fairly high preload. The suspension was adequate, rather than brilliant and the bike is slightly under sprung. Of course I also had to get used to the upright riding position. The bike behaved perfectly but it took me a while to trust that you could corner effectively from so high up. I mentioned how bad it had been when it went for it first (500 mile) service. The mechanic said they were obliged to set them to Triumph's recommended settings prior to delivery. "Well what about the test bike?" I asked. He just smiled and said "They don't dictate how we set those up - and we're all bikers in here!" No harm done, but they might have told me!
I tried all the riding modes. Rain mode limited power and added a lot of traction control. It didn't really feel a lot different but you were suddenly left short if you were already doing motorway speeds and needed to accelerate to overtake. Remember I wasn't racing as I was still running it in. Road and Sport modes are quite similar but the throttle response is more direct in Sport mode (which is pretty much the only difference that I could tell between the two). As there was no difference in fuel consumption I have just left it in Sport mode. This proved to be absolutley fine all through Winter. The ride by wire throttle is so responsive that controlling it is a doddle and the fuelling is so good it never does anything unexpected. My only niggle at this stage was the sceen noise above 50mph. It is adjustable and most of the time I preferred the high setting but the wind hit the top of my helmet. No turbulence - just noise. My seat had come back by this time and it made absoultely no difference putting the lower stock seat back on. I always wear ear plugs anyway, and this was not a bike you wanted to forget to put them in.
Not too much riding in the early part of November but plenty of interviews. Then I finally signed a contract to start on the 22nd. Just one little thing: It's office based and 85 miles form home - and Winter is coming!
Winter is here!
First order of business was a decent set of hand guards. The stock ones are OK, but wouldn't cut it in winter. I did have a pair of badgers but they were too small. So I bought a pair of Barkbuster Blizzards. These are more like over sized fabric guards that are designed for one thing only which is to keep the wind off your fingers - and they do it well. I passed 1000 miles on my first day of work. It hadn't got cold yet but it was clear that gloves wouldn't be enough for the 2 hour ride. Still no heated grips at Triumph so I bought of pair of Gebring (heated) gloves. Why, oh why have I bothered with heated grips for so long. These are bloody fantastic! Oh and a thermometer. If there was ice about I'd like to know before hitting it. All the bike thermometers I saw were very expensive, made for cruisers and (based on web reviews) leaked when wet. So I got a digital aquarium thermometer and attached it to the bars with cable ties. Not pretty but did the job and survived the winter. It was also accurate (and cost less than a fiver).
I rode it all through winter and came out with a few more tweaks:
- LED Auxilliary lights. Just added a bit to the OE lights which are actually quite good. I spent a lot of time riding in fog / rain / dark and even a bit of snow. I wanted to be absoultely sure I was seen
- LED headlights (low beams). The lights are actually decent, for halogens. Only I had bright white side and fog lights and the yellow headlights didn't look great next to them. A joy of winter in the UK is that by the end of the ride your bike is covered in salt and muck. At this time of year I wash the lenses before every ride - but over the 2 hour commute you can notice the lights deteriorating as you go
- Additional horn installed in parallel with the existing one. They came as a high / low pair but couldn't both fit between the forks, so I just added the low tone
And that's it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the original tyres were very good in the rain and cold and gripped from the off without having to be warmed up. They are also good in the dry. After 8K miles they still look and feel ok. Remember I wasn't thrashing it in mid-winter. I had bought an all rounder, and when it came to the crunch it turned out to be a fantastic mile muncher through the UK winter. Only one real test for the traction control (ice at low speed on a corner) and it did its job. I think this one's a keeper. In fact its close to perfect for me - apart from that damned screen. Oh yes I almost forgot - it does provide a good enough bubble around the visor that clearing water using the traditional "shake of the head" doesn't work. I haven't found an alternative to using my left glove as a wiper.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Towards the end of Winter the first aftermarket screen for the new model was announced, a straightforward bolt-on that was 20cm longer than the stock screen. Sadly it made no difference to the noise once you got onto the motorway, so I took it off. Before I started my job I spent some time experimenting with custom brackets (i.e. strips of stainless steel I had lying around) to extend the screens adjustment range. Sadly without any success. Once the sun returned enough to make most of my trip in daylight it also warmed the garage up enough that it was no longer unpleasant to spend time in there. The adjustable screen is great but it only moves in one dimension. What if I could change the angle? So off to my favourite on-line store to buy a selection of different length machine screws and nylon spacers. For my first attempt I went more upright and moved the top of the screen 20mm further away from me. Oh dear - the bottom is too close to the cowling and the screen is no longer adjustable. This might have been ok - but I stuck 5mm spacers in the bottom anyway.
Woohoo the noise has gone. Ok it hasn't really but it is no longer unpleasant on the motorway as long as I wear earplugs (which I would anyway). And I can hear my music and the lady inside my satnav at motorway speeds. I will experiment with a few more angles but the improvement so far is enough to say that for me, right now, this is the perfect bike. I could go on about performance, handling, power delivery and so on - but those are already covered in many reviews so I won't. I did smother everything with ACF before winter but it has come out the other end of it still looking like a brand new bike. Special mention to the riding position (and possibly the addition of the custom seat). I arrive at the end of the 2 hour commute feeling comfortable. On previous bikes I typically started squirming around the seat after about an hour and tried to stop every hour or so for a walkabout. Never found the need to yet. Remember this is day in and day out in all weather - that's different to a test ride or your first long ride on the new toy.