Geoff Saunders: Triumph Explorer Review


I recently ran into someone I know who had also bought a Triumph Explorer from our local Triumph dealer and when I asked how he was enjoying his Explorer I was very surprised to hear that he was not happy with the bike and regretted its purchase.
This got me thinking, of all the Triumphs sold through-out the year, you most likely only receive feedback from those ‘very few’ clients who have a complaint. I therefore thought it prudent to put “finger to I-pad” and let you know that I am very satisfied with my Triumph Explorer and as time in the saddle increases the more I can appreciate the design and engineering that went into my bike.
Let me share my most recent experience with you and please bear in mind, I’m not a journalist so here goes ….
My friends and I had been planning a road trip for some time however we could never pull it off and we had to be content with the occasional weekend Rat Runs as arranged by Triumph dealers. Always great riding with like-minded Triumph owners so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s planned for 2013.

The opportunity for a road trip finally came together this December and the plan was to fly into Cape Town and then ride the bikes back toJohannesburg the ‘long way round or back’ as Charley Boring would say. My one friend abandoned the idea of sending his Tiger XC800 via courier toCape Town and decided to ride his bike down to Cape Town as a ‘warm up’ to our road trip. Amazing bikes these Tiger 800’s but this story is about the Explorer!
We collected our bikes, a Tiger 800, XC 800 and an Explorer from the local Triumph Dealer in Cape Town (Mike Hopkins) as arranged, by the way there are a great bunch of guys working there, good service and their mechanic Gareth certainly knows his stuff. When diagnosing a suspected technical problem with one of our bikes he promptly whipped out what looked like a doctors stethoscope. This really impressed my wife who had now returned from a walk around the shops very impressive collection of Triumph motor cycles and clothing accessories. As it turned out, the bike was given a clean bill of health and performed faultlessly for the remainder of our journey.

I must mention that the Explorer I was riding was not mine as it belonged to a very generous friend whose bike happened to be Cape Town for the holiday’s, this particular bike was black whereas mine was blue hence an opportunity to see which of the two is faster and if colour plays a part. This Explorer was fully ‘tricked out’ and this road trip would also be an opportunity for me to try out the panniers, heated seat and grips which I had not yet got round to purchasing for my bike. It also had an Triumph / Arrow pipe fitted where as I have an aftermarket pipe, as it turns out my thinking is that the Arrow pipe is probably a better option for a road trip as the noise from my aftermarket pipe sounds brilliant on the breakfast run but would have become an irritation on a road trip such as this.
Following two days of awesome riding around Cape Town which included numerous passes and coastal roads, by the way they have some of the best riding roads in the country, we were at last ready to depart on our road trip. 
As we were leaving my friends brothers house and saying our good buys to his family, I recall my wife mentioning to me that this scene reminded her of the family farewell at the outset of Charley Boring and Ewan Mc’whats his name’s Long Way Round DVD, the only difference being we were on better bikes.

Day one – Cape Town, Franshoek, Worcester, Robertson, Montagu, Barrydale, Ladismith, Oudtshoorn.
We were making our way to Oudtshoorn where we would spend our first night and the plan was to stop every 150 km to give the wives and girlfriends some shopping time. I must also mention that my wives travelling kit which comprised of seven days riding outfits, evening wear, spare evening wear and her just in case travel wear all fitted into the 50 liter Triumph tail pack i had brought with. All my kit and our rain suits fitted into the right hand side pannier which is smaller than the left side but still has enough space. The reason I am mentioning this is that our left hand pannier would become my wife’s shopping container for the duration of our road trip. The panniers turned out to be a brilliant piece of engineering, i must admit that I was a bit sceptical with the idea that they were not a rigid fixture to the bike and were designed to simultaneously “float” around their hinge point. The net result is this made the bike feel more stable on uneven road surfaces and when leaned over in a corner on an uneven surface, your chosen line would not change. Even our off road adventure that transpired later on could not unsettle these panniers. I’m sure the Triumph engineers will explain using terms such as centrifugal forces, displacement of energy etc. By the way I see that the panniers have a recommended weight limit of 5kg’s, you can inform the Triumph designers that they can cope with a lot more …. Yes we are typical South Africans!
Following a brunch stop in Franshoek we were finally on the open road and the ambient temperature had steadily climbed to 37 degrees, despite the excessive speeds we were doing so as to catch up some lost time, the Explorers temperature remained consistently in the middle of the temperature gauges range. Our next stop would be Ronnie’s Sex Shop and a cold coke, must admit this turned out to be somewhat of an anti-climax ….. get it? The shopping was limited so the girls started daring one another to bare all for the camera where the words Pompstasie were written on the back of the building. It’s amazing what a road trip can lead to!

Back on the road again, town after town passed by and my wife was becoming so comfortable on the back of our trusty Explorer that with the ever changing scenery and approaching towns she would promptly whip out her camera and start taking photos, similar to a camera man standing on the back of a bike filming the Tour de France. Later on she managed to lose one of her gloves, so somewhere in Calitzdorp town is a Michael Jackson wannabe with one Triumph glove. Our stop for the night arrived following an enjoyable day on the road and the three Tigers were very impressive, even two up with luggage. 

Day Two – Oudtshoorn, Willowmore, Baviaans, Patensie, Port Elizabeth.
The next day was an early start and a quick dash to Willowmore where our group would split up, my wife and I on our fully loaded Explorer and my one friend and his girlfriend on his fully loaded XC 800 would attempt the T1 route through the legendary Baviaans Kloof. The other two would make their way to Port Elizabeth via tar and a few passes. We had also convinced our shopping pillions that this was the most scenic and shortest route to their next shopping destination in Port Elizabeth where we planned to spend the night. Whilst filling our tanks at the local petrol station in Willowmore, we enquired about the conditions of the roads through Baviaans as we had heard that some of the river crossing could be tricky. Bear in mind that neither my friend nor I are serious off road riders. Due to heavy rains two days earlier we were advised that a handful of the 20 or so river crossings may be a challenge. 

After waving goodbye to our fellow Triumph riders we headed down the dirt road into Baviaans Kloof, this was the first time that I had taken an Explorer on a dirt road and I was amazed at the speed one could comfortably achieve. I had made no changes to the front suspension and I had only turned in the pre-load at the rear and adjusted the rebound slightly, to my amazement the bike just glided across the loose surface absorbing all the bumps, corrugations and so on. I also recall the noise being made as stones were thrown up against the aluminum engine skid plate and I made a mental note to myself to replace my original Chines plastic look alike asap. Very soon we were crossing streams which seemed to get deeper as we went along, the terrain was also becoming more technical which was not a problem as I was becoming more confident with the bike. My pillion shopper who had now become a wildlife photographer was also getting to be one with the bike and the rough terrain was not going to stop her from taking photos of the donkeys that seem to run wild throughout Baviaans Kloof. In fact the only wildlife I had sight of was donkeys! 

At the halfway point we stopped for a picnic and a quick swim in the river which was crystal clear and not as cold as mountain water. By the way, the ambient temperature had climbed back to 37 degrees so this stop was a welcome break. I remember thinking to myself whilst lying on my back in the river as the cool water passed over me, if this is what Baviaans Kloof is all about then why does it have such a fearsome reputation? I thought it must have something to do with the number of adventure bikers on German or Austrian bikes that either brake down or fall off! This would also explain why the German and Austrian manufactures have those off road training camps otherwise their clients would scare off other potential clients with the plaster casts and queues at the spares counter. No need for Triumph to have a similar weekend and if they did everyone would probably end up ‘going their own way’.

Later we passed through the entry gate into the Baviaans Kloof nature reserve and very quickly the quality of the route changed to one that became more adventurous. The river crossings got much deeper with no concrete slab and the river beds became a trail of slippery rocks and sand. The dirt road became a tricky pebble or gravel track in places and the track became two paths that went up and down the mountains. I noticed that some incline paths were filled with concrete to assist the German and Japanese 4×4 with traction. Not a problem for my Explorer so I rode between the concrete paths otherwise this ride would feel like a breakfast run. The views at the top were spectacular however without barriers one mistake here and you’re going to hurt yourself.

……And then we arrived at the mother of all water crossings, not only was it deep in places but it had a slippery pebble bed which was approximately 80 meters in length. At this point I asked my trusty wildlife photographer if she would climb off the bike and follow me across, the plan was that if it looked like I was about to drown the bike she would step in and save the day. Slowly I proceeded into the river, in some places the water depth increased to about two and half feet. Admittedly i stalled the bike twice, fortunately in the shallow parts however I found that if you keep the ignition on then you do not have to reset the ABS or Traction Control which i had turned off earlier. By the way, switching the ABS and Traction Control off is not that difficult as some journalists have claimed it to be, once you know how it only takes a few seconds. After a few minutes I was across much to the amazement of the 4×4 onlookers that had gathered, I somehow suspect that the ‘very wet’ adventure rider we passed earlier on the Austrian bike was a source of the onlookers entertainment as he may have drowned his bike and they were hoping for a sequel.

Off we proceeded on our trusty Triumphs, the route ahead continued to be tricky and in places there were tight hair-pin turns followed by steep uphill sections. This required some slick gear changing and not once did the Explorer hit a false neutral or miss gear. Triumph has certainly done their homework with their shaft drive. Most of the steep climbs were done in second gear as i felt that this was the best compromise between torque and speed. 
For some unknown reason, most 4×4 drivers fail to check their rear view mirrors and passing them became challenging at times. After passing numerous 4×4’s, we had built up a thirst yet we had nothing to drink so we decided to stop for a breather and suck the moisture out of the remaining wine gums which my now navigator had brought with us. After a couple of Japanese 4×4’s had passed us, along came a chap in an old Land Rover and he stopped for a chat and produced ice cold beers and iced teas (so English!) for all, now that’s a comrade between English manufacturers! Whilst we were chatting and enjoying our beers, along came an adventure biker with a pillion and they were on an Austrian bike which had done 150,000km which was very impressive. Apparently he had owned the bike since new, some 9 years so I’m sure he knows how to fix it when it breaks down as he had all sorts of tools strapped to the bike. When he stopped to greet us we noticed that his trusty steed was leaking fuel, this was promptly resolved by opening and closing some valves on the bottom of his petrol tanks, at least the Explorer does not have this design oversight. The adventure biker and his pillion thanked us, waved good bye and sped of up the track and both were standing whilst riding which looked very impressive. My ever observant navigator mentioned that this was probable due to the uncomfortable seat on their bike which resembled a motor cross seat. Let’s hope their manufacturer sorts this out on their 2013 model.
The rest of the trip through Baviaans Kloof passed without incident and soon we were in Port Elizabeth.

Day Three – Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort, Alice, Hogsback, Cathcart, Queenstown, Lady Frere, Elliot.
The following morning passed very quickly, probable due to me spending much of my riding time experimenting with the bikes on-board computer and cruise control. I also like the idea that the on-board computer can be set up using only my left thumb and it’s very simple to use. Soon we were in the very pictures hamlet of Hogsback which according to our female riding companion, is full of fairies. Admittedly I only saw two and they were enjoying a pizza under the old oak tree that had a yellow ribbon tied to it …..seriously! 

Leaving Hogsback, I must admit that my trusty Explorers seat was becoming somewhat uncomfortable and I this was due to the built in heating system which consists of several wires and they were becoming a pain in my arse. Soon I was also standing every time we approached a town. Should work well enough on a cold morning when doing the breakfast run however on a long trip such as this I would have preferred the standard seat or even the Triumph gel seat.

Day Four – Elliot, Maclear, Mount Fletcher, Matatiele, Kokstad, Underberg, Himeville.
Leaving Elliot the next morning we rode into heavy cloud and mist, this was a good opportunity to use the bikes hazard lights and heated grips as the temperature had also dropped. The hottest setting was too hot on this occasion and would have been best suited for an early morning winter breakfast run. Made a mental note to myself, invest in a set of Triumph heated grips. After our lunch stop we could see that the weather had changed and the sky in the distance was turning 51 shades of grey. We decided not to wait it out as we still had some way to go before our destination in Himeville. We rode on and into dreadful rain which included the occasional hail storm, thank goodness for the hand guards however the Triumph designers should offer an accessory extension that can be attached to the top of the hand guard to offer more protection from the elements. 

The roads in this part of the country are littered with potholes, although the Explorers excellent headlight was lighting up the road ahead my biggest fear at the time was hitting a hidden pot hole filled with water. Unfortunately this happened more than once however the Explorer never got out of shape. Inspecting the rims later on indicated no damage what so ever so I can safely say that these triumph rims are tougher than we would like to believe. Sections of the route also threw up a surprise or two and these come in the form of goats and cows, more than once I had to brake hard and I recall the ABS kicking in which was a welcome thought.

Day Five – Himeville, Bulwer, Nottingham Road, Mooi River …. N3 back to JHB
Leaving Himeville on new year’s morning our destination for the day was Johannesburg and home. On the N3 highway there is a section that calculates your average speed and should you exceed the 120km average speed limit, you will be locked up and left for dead. Entering this zone I set the bikes cruise control to 120km/hr and reset the bikes on-board computer as a back-up only to watch my friends on their 800’s disappear into the distance. Later on they informed me that the number plate recognition cameras are all facing on-coming traffic! 
Later that afternoon we arrived safely back home in Johannesburg, what an awesome experience and now I could place at tick on my bucket list!

In closing and if I were to summarize this road trip, the Triumph Explorer simply put is an amazing piece of English engineering and design and I’m 100% satisfied with my decision to purchase an Explorer. Thinking back to our road trip, we toured for seven days, scratched the pegs on numerous mountain passes, went off-road, crossed rivers and all this was done with a pillion and Triumphs full luggage system and this was done safely aboard a Triumph Explorer. I am now qualified to say that this bike is 4 bikes in one! 
You are most welcome to share my story with any prospective buyers and take it from me they can’t go wrong if they purchase a Triumph Explorer. Best wishes and safe riding,
Geoff Saunders

Total distance travelled = 2,977km
Fuel used = 194,2 L
Average consumption = 15,3km/lt (Two up, full luggage system and we were not attempting to win the economy run)

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2013 at 9:15 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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