When I was in my late teens, I?d be sitting around with my riding buddies and someone would say, ?Let?s go for a ride.?
Great. Where to?
?How about Peterborough for a coffee??
And off we?d go. We?d just ride, didn?t really need a good reason.
Years later nothing much has changed. Shortly before the May long weekend, Larry Tate, former Wheels motorcycle racing columnist, sent me an email saying, ?Let?s go for a ride.?
Great. Where to?
?How about Wilno for lunch??
The only ?I?m in? requiring less deliberation would involve supermodels and a hot tub.
My ?chariot du semaine? was the $17,499 Tiger 1200 Explorer, Triumph?s entry into the big-bore adventure touring class. Adventure touring bikes are not unlike SUVs: they?re big, flashy, extremely comfortable and the closest most owners get to dirt is deadheading the geraniums on the deck planters.
Triumph started with an absolute gem of an engine ? an all-new 1215 cc three-cylinder monster pumping out 135 hp with 89 lb.-ft. of torque. Most of the grunt is available right off the bottom ? you can idle it down to 30 km/h in sixth, give it some wick and it hauls away with nary a buck nor a lurch. Most of the transmission is almost superfluous ? it?s just as easy to start in second and shift directly to sixth.
Wilno ? the first Polish settlement in Canada ? is nestled about 10 kilometres northeast of Barry?s Bay in the rolling hills of the picturesque Madawaska Valley. Getting there ain?t quick or easy.
Setting out early, I hit the 401 eastbound from The ?Shwa, appreciative of the handguards keeping the chilly wind off my tender pinkies but surprised that heated grips aren?t standard on the motorcycle like this. One hundred km/h comes up at a relaxed 4,000 r.p.m. in sixth gear, and an easy hour and a bit drone had me northbound on Highway 37 out of Belleville.
At Tweed, I took Marlbank Rd. east over to Highway 41, then north to Kaladar, where I met up with Tate for coffee and a muffin. We filled up with gas, then headed north through some very interesting back-roads.
The preload adjustable forks are beefy 46 mm, male slider units with a generous 190 mm of travel, while out back is a remote reservoir shock with 194 mm of travel. Over the two-lane twisties, the Triumph?s supple, well-damped suspension soaked up all the divots, craters and tumours thrown at it. The steel frame holds everything together nicely while the cast aluminum, single-sided swingarm houses the shaft drive.
The seat is among the best in motorcycledom. It?s wide, flat and nicely padded. The medium rise of the bars, combined with the peg placement make for a nice, upright riding position that?s just about what I?d specify if I were building a bike from scratch.
After a nice run up the old Barry?s Bay Rd., we arrived at the Wilno Tavern (a very motorcycle-friendly establishment) for a wonderful Polish lunch. And if you know anyone of Polish heritage, ?sensible portion? is not in their vocabulary.
After a ?sampler? that the Mongol hordes would have trouble getting through, we waddled back out to the bikes. I thought it prudent to crank in a couple of turns on the Explorer?s remote preload adjuster, seeing as I was now packing several extra kilos of cabbage rolls and perogies.
Larry headed back toward Napanee while I steered west towards home. I picked up the Peterson Rd. near Maynooth, then the Elephant Lake Road into Wilberforce, then Tory Hill and on to Gooderham and the 507.
Through the 507 twisties, the Explorer was a joy. The steering was very light, you can lean it wa-a-a-y over with nary a quibble from the chassis, and should you need to get past a plodding line of minivans or RVs, just grab a mittful of throttle and you?re soon at warp 3.
Metzler Tourance buns are standard with a 110/80-19 up front and a 150/70-17 out back. The tires are a good compromise, although they are slanted more toward paved surfaces than dirt. The Explorer is not lacking for brakes with twin 305 mm discs and four-pot calipers on the front, and a single 282 mm unit at the rear. ABS is standard and the rider has the option of switching it off once he?s into the dirt.
At the end of the day, I?d logged just over 740 kilometres upon virtually every road condition you?ll find in Southern Ontario, averaging about 5.6 L/100 km.
In the ever-growing adventure touring market, Triumph?s 1200 Explorer has the tools to be a serious contender. It?s extremely comfortable and a hoot to ride. It has a great engine, a willing, competent chassis and that three-cylinder howl is worth the price of admission. I could?ve easily turned around and done another 700 kilometres.
After all, I missed dessert.