Feral Feline

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Triumph NZ has thrown us the key to a brand new Tiger 1200 Rally Pro to do with as we wish. So, we headed straight for the South Island...

WORDS & PHOTOS: Ben Wilkins

Most bike tests here in New Zealand involve picking up the review bike from the importer, keeping it for a couple of weeks to try and get some kilometres in the saddle before it has to go back and be lent out to the next publication. At best they’re a snapshot of the bike – better than grabbing a couple of hours test ride at your local dealer, but they can never simulate the longer term riding experience. So, when Triumph New Zealand asked if we’d like to test a Tiger 1200 Rally Pro for the whole summer, we were all in.


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My Thing
I’ll admit, this is my kind of bike – well, one of my kinds of bike, my tastes on the bike front are… umm… eclectic – as I own a big adventure bike in the shape of a 30-year-old BMW R80GS and spend many weeks a year touring the gravel roads and 4WD tracks of the country. So, I was kinda buzzing when I got the call to say we could keep the Rally Pro for the summer.

The Tiger Rally Pro is the most dirt capable of the 1200 Tiger stablemates. There’s a 21-inch wheel up front, a 20-litre fuel tank and a wet weight of 249kg. Yes, it’s a big cat, but a heap lighter and smaller than the Explorer model which carries 10 litres more fuel, comes with heated seats, tyre pressure monitoring etc, which makes it feel significantly bulkier. If gravel roads are your thing and you won’t get much further off the seal than that, the Explorer could be the bike for you with the extra fuel range and full complement of electrical extras. I like to get onto 4WD tracks like the Porika near Lake Rotoroa and the Sedgemere near Lake Tennyson, so appreciate the little less bulk of the Pro model.


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And We're Off
Just picking the Tiger up was an adventure in itself. I rode up to Rotorua for the GS Rallye adventure weekend, dropped my ol’ GS off with our buddy Doug for safe keeping, then hopped into the passenger seat of publisher Vege’s Transporter for a ride up to Auckland. Anyone who’s ever been in a vehicle with the big man will know that’s an ‘adventure’ all of its own. Anyway…

Grabbing the Tiger from Triumph’s warehouse in Auckland there were barely one hundred kilometres on the digital clock. After a few adjustments to the bars and quickshifter (to accommodate my boots), and with promises to be gentle on the bike for the next 900km floating away on the breeze, I slipped into Auckland traffic and pointed the big cat south.

Heading from Auckland down to the South Island meant I’d be putting more kilometres on the bike than most tests ever do, so would get insights into the Tiger I’d never get otherwise.


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Triumph is giving away a set of sturdy, ignition key-matched, Givi-made aluminium panniers with every Tiger, which were big enough to swallow most of my weekend away adventure riding gear I’d swapped over from my old GS, only my Mosko Moto tank bag had to be strapped to the pillion seat. It’s not often you get the latest updates retro-fittable to your bike. New features always seem to be announced for the model that comes out after yours, but you never get them. Since the 1200 Tiger was launched last year, Triumph has come up with an automatic lowering system, allowing the seat height to be dropped by 20mm at the press of the ‘home’ button. If you’ve already got a 2022 Tiger with the Showa electronic suspension then your dealer can download an update and away you go, low. It’s not a gimmick either, I found that dropping the suspension, by a paltry sounding 20mm, makes it easier in start-stop traffic and it stays down until you press and hold the home button again or road speed reaches 80km/h.


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Highway Patrol
I’ve never looked forward to the stretch of highway out of Auckland, it’s licence-destroyingly dull; all too easy to wind open the throttle for some distraction from the straight lines. The advent of ride-by-wire has put cruise control at the fingertips of most riders and the Tiger is no exception. Setting it to cruise at 110km/h on the surprisingly accurate speedo had the three-cylinder engine purring along at 108km/h GPS speed. Fast enough to make a little progress but not draw any attention from the traffic cops.

The Tiger makes distances easy. The seat is broad and firmly plush, the kinda place you can sit easily for multiple tanks of fuel. The pegs are low enough to prevent my knees from aching. Up front there’s an adjustable windscreen that, while not electrically controlled, can be lifted up and down with one hand as you ride to suit a variety of rider heights. So far I prefer it either fully up or fully down, the middle settings gave some turbulence while the extremities of adjustment seemed to calm the windblast down.


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Desert Road & Beyond
By the time the Tiger and I were south of Turangi, the engine had almost 400km on it, so I fed it a little more throttle and revs through the beautifully twisting Three Sisters area. The guts of the bike is an 1160cc triple with an uneven firing order. Triumph calls this the T-plane crank. Rather than the spark ignition from each cylinder being equally spaced, the new 1,3,2 order fires two cylinders one after another and there’s a space before the third cylinder fires. The effect is a twin-like feel at low revs, but there’s still the feel of a screaming triple further up the revs.

Triumph claims a torque figure of 130Nm at 7000rpm, and peak power is a very healthy 110kW or 148hp.

With the duh-duh---duh firing order, the engine note is a tricky one to describe. At tick over it sounds like a fairly innocuous twin, but once it revs above 4000rpm or so there’s a distinct change. It’s a beast all of its own that’s a mix of twin and triple, but the outcome is a sound reminiscent of Honda’s V4 VFR motors of old. Opening the throttle wide and letting the engine rev is quite addictive, there’s a deep, tearing of Velcro kinda sound. Gorgeous.


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The Road Less Travelled
I decided to thread my way home off the beaten track of SH1. Hooking a left down Vinegar Hill, I followed my nose along quiet rural backroads with vet utes and contractors for company, ending up in Shannon in time for morning tea. Heading south into town, The Horsemans Cafe looked inviting. Unlike the cafe that exists only to separate travellers from their dollars I found in Franz Josef while taking the Hayabusa for a lap of the South Island (read about that here), The Horsemans is lovely, with pleasant staff, offering decent grub at a reasonable price. $20 for eggs, toast and coffee. Tasty too.


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The bumpy backroads let the Tiger’s Showa semi-active suspension do its thing. Spring pre-load is automatically adjusted to make sure the ride height and geometry are right for any rider/pillion load and the damping adjusts to suit the load. There are a LOT of different options, so I’ll endeavour to figure it out in the coming issues. Suffice to say, for a solo rider and luggage, it literally floats over our crappy tar-seal.

In the hours on the road south, I played around with the ride mode settings that can be accessed, and adjusted, while riding. Sport, Road and Rain (the gravel and dirt modes can only be selected from a standstill). They all have a different feel and I’ll write on that at length in another instalment.


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Service Time
When I got back home, the speedo had just clicked over 900km, so the first service is looming. After that there’s a huge 16,000km between services (or once a year, whichever comes sooner). That’s a long time between oily drinks for the motor, and will save money on servicing for the rider who does more than 10,000km a year. This is great, a boon for most owners. That said, and I know Triumph’s engineers will have done their homework on engine longevity, oil contamination and lubrication, but it does make me nervous. Oil is cheap. Engines are not. I reckon, if I owned this bike, I’d swap the oil out at the 8000km half way point, just for my own peace of mind. It’s not a Triumph thing, I’d do it on any bike with huge service intervals.

Anyway, I’ll get another 100km on the dash and get it in for a service. I’ll make a beeline for some gravel too.


Article kindly provided by kiwirider.co.nz



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