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A Triumph Tiger 1200 for the ADV arms race

The British big cat gets a shot in the arm to keep up with its competitors

Plenty of power and comfort for gobbling up the miles. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Last year, I had the pleasure of riding the Triumph Tiger 900 on a 400km round trip, through scorching sun and a sudden downpour, at just a little over six hours. Loved the heated grips and seat, the generous power and torque, and the characteristic snarl of the three-cylinder.

When I brought it back to the Triumph Greenhills showroom, I concluded that—other than the heat blown to my thighs by the radiator fans—there wasn’t much to improve on an excellent, premium adventure bike (ADV). A real contender for a category lorded over by the BMW R1250 GS.

A shaft drive for Triumph's big cat. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

But the Tiger was also getting a bit long in the tooth, so for the latest round, Triumph had to come up with something even more special. So the big news is, obviously, the bigger displacement is now up to 1,160cc and rounded off to 1,200cc to make it roll off the tongue more easily.

It might look similar to the Tiger 900 (which is still available, by the way), but a peek at the left side reveals a shaft drive versus the 900’s chain system. It’s a tried-and-tested system for harnessing big torque with lower maintenance requirements, and the big triple has lots of it: 148hp of output at 9,000rpm, and 130Nm of torque at 7,000rpm.

The TFT dash can be customized to your preferences. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Getting the Tiger 1200 started is mildly confusing at first. There’s a key fob with an “enable” button that lets the Engine Start button on the control pod go live, as well as disable the steering lock. Forget to press the fob button before you go through the whole wear-the-gloves-balaclava-helmet drill and you may need to fumble through your pocket for it while your riding mates wonder what the hell is taking you so long.

When you finally get it to start, the triple fires up with a throaty rumble, and the big seven-inch dash lights up to present you with your preferred information. You’ll want to set aside around five minutes to configure the dash to your liking, because getting the data to present itself like the clock, the fuel consumption, and the range-to-empty requires fiddling with a little thumbstick on the left pod and flipping through a bunch of menus.

Now, this would normally be a pain in the crotch, because while you’re figuring everything out, the motor is getting hotter and hotter between your legs and you still haven’t moved an inch, but the really good stuff is worth your patience.

The sculpted, beaked front is a champ at redirecting wind away from the rider. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

With the GT Pro, you get five riding modes to choose from, and you get a nifty adjustable suspension by Showa that you can set in increments. For my familiarization ride down the moon surface of EDSA, I noticed how choppy the suspension was in “normal” and setting it a few clicks softer gave the bike an almost creamy ride.

A quickshifter is also part of the package, although the clutch assist is light enough that you don’t really need a computer to cut or rev the throttle for you every time you shift, but hey, you get your money’s worth.

Now, about that power. To be perfectly honest, you probably don’t need 148 horses. When I rode the Tiger 900, at no time did I ever think: “Gee, 94hp isn’t enough for our road and traffic conditions. But riding the Tiger 1200 feels borderline excessive, a bit of how-high-can-you-pee there and you get the feeling Triumph only really did it so owners wouldn’t feel envious of their Multistrada/Pan America/GS-riding buddies.

It makes enough torque off idle that getting on the gas always induces some minor drivetrain lash as the shaft hooks up. Not especially smooth, a bit of a constant reminder that you’re riding the alpha cat.

It's not thrifty, but you don't get a 1200 to save on gas anyway. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

In any case, moderation isn’t part of the bike’s mission, and having that much power at a twist of the throttle is like owning a gun even though you’re a peaceful fellow. Si vis pacem, para bellum and all that. Anyway, 90% of the time, all you will ever need is the first 3,000rpm to get you moving and up to highway speed. You can lug the bike around in sixth and it will hardly protest even if you suddenly open the throttle at 2,000rpm.

But when you do pull the trigger—that is, shift to a low gear and whack the throttle all the way to 9,000rpm—acceleration is blindingly quick and will put a silly grin on your face. That car you need to pass a hundred meters ahead? Gone in the blink of an eye, like the P1,000 bill you set aside for gas.

Ah, yes, the fuel consumption. As you’d expect, it’s no fuel miser. I got around 13km/L in mixed riding conditions, which is a pretty standard figure for engines of this class. If thriftiness is what you’re after, the Tiger 900 will be a better fit. The 1200 is the no-excuses class, and as long as you understand that it’s built for serious, multiday touring, there’ll be little to complain about.

One of the most comfortable cockpits in its class. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Between the big bruiser of an engine, the sweet ride and handling, and the stopping power of the Brembo Stylemas, the only thing that will get you off the bike is your need to stretch and use the toilet.

It has one of the best stock saddles in its class, with good ergonomics, and excellent wind protection. It has a standard ride height of 850mm, with good seat-to-peg distance, which suits riders in the Tom Cruise height category (5’7″) and up.

With the GT Pro’s 20L tank, a safe estimate is 180km to 200km between fill-ups before the dash lights up red warning you of “Low Fuel.” You could probably go farther if you baby the throttle, but honestly, if you can afford a bike like this (P1.46 million), then you can afford to burn a few liters in the name of crazy fun.

After all, few other bikes offer sport bike performance, but without the pain of contorting yourself into an unnatural position. With the 1200, you can keep a blistering pace when the mood hits, while carrying enough gear and clothes for a few days and while listening to your favorite tunes and controlling your GoPro, too, thanks to its nifty My Triumph app. No compromises, no excuses.

The GT Pro gets adaptive cornering lights. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Riding the Tiger through my secret twisty route, blasting through the gears for a few minutes, then just relaxing back on the highway, it’s easy to take for granted the things that don’t pop up when you’re at the helm of a great bike. My back wasn’t screaming for relief. My legs weren’t cramping up. Heck, even my eyes weren’t watering up with the helmet visor up, either.

Between the abundance of power, the excellent aerodynamics, and the comfortable position, you’ll have to be nitpicking to seriously complain about the bike. Like, why does the big windscreen still have major distortion? Why does the motor want to fry my tadpoles at every stoplight? Big deal, HTFU (harden the f**k up) and just ride the beast or go back to scooters.

To be perfectly honest, the “old” Tiger 900 is still a great bike, but if you’re the type who has to have the very best—and you’re willing to put up with the heat—the 1200 will make you run out of excuses not to ride out and have a blast.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.