1997 Adventure Tourers

Seeking Adventure

story by Tom Fortune, Managing Editor, Created Jan. 01, 1997
Somewhere a motorcycle manufacturer's marketing department coined the name "adventure tourers" to describe large-displacement dual sport bikes. Spawned from Paris-Dakar rally machines, they come equipped with hard luggage, enormous fuel tanks, high-mileage radial tires, comfortable seats, long-travel suspension and lots of ground clearance. Want to take a trip to Alaska? Maybe head south through Mexico's rugged terrain? These will be the machines of choice. But which of these heavyweights works best in this environment? That depends on which side of the equation you place the most emphasis -- adventure, or touring. Follow along as we do a photo-comparison of these two adventure bikes. The results may be surprise you.

BMW's Telever front suspension gives a natural anti-dive effect under hard braking, something you can do with confidence on the R11GS because of its Brembo-equipped dual discs and four-piston calipers. The Tiger's softly-sprung, long travel forks dived excessively under heavy braking during spirited riding, putting it at a distinct disadvantage while chasing the Beemer through the canyons.

Using the same fuel-injected, 4-valve boxer motor as the R1100R Roadster, the GS produces a claimed 80 hp, the same output claimed by Triumph for its DOHC, 4-valve triple. But the BMW is a heavy beast. Although providing the perfect marriage between mechanical innovation and computerized electronics, its three-way catalytic converters, electronic engine management system and ABS-controlled triple disc brake system extol a large weight penalty. BMW's Teutonic twin outweighs the Tiger by almost 50 pounds -- an important consideration when blasting down rock infested trails.

Off-road, the GS' wide bars offer more leverage during tricky uphill climbs than the Tiger's narrower bars, but then again, the Beemer shouldn't be climbing hills off-road. The narrow windscreen provided a surprising amount of wind protection during freeway travel. BMW's Rider Information Display, a broad array of functions and warning lights that includes the ABS warning system, is the prominent feature on the GS' simple instrument panel. The ABS system can be disarmed through an instrument panel-mounted switch, something you'll want to remember if you venture off the pavement with the GS. Take it from us, anti-lock brakes make it difficult to control a motorcycle as large as the Beemer when traveling down a slick, off-camber cobby downhill.

 Meanwhile, the Tiger's cockpit features the standard array of gauges and lights, and even has a clock -- a nice touch when out on tour. A major nitpick though, is the dark-tinted lens cover over the idiot light strip that makes it hard to see the neutral light or turn signal indicators in daylight. More than once it caused us to travel down the highway for miles with a blinker flashing.

Both the Triumph and BMW make excellent street machines. Their dual sport-inspired suspensions make traversing pot-holed infested pavement a piece of cake. You'd be surprised at how many sport bikes you can humble on one of these motorcycles. Give the edge in sport riding to the BMW.

With its wider wheels and Metzeler tires, the BMW holds an advantage in the twisties over the Triumph and its less sport-oriented Michelins. The GS puts out boatloads of low rpm torque, while the Tiger's power is found higher in the rev band.


This is a typical view of the R1100GS off-road -- sideways. The Beemer's wider tires and wheels were of no extra help here. The bike's suspension severely limited off-road fun. The Tiger is a beautiful machine, turning heads everywhere we went.

BMW's unusual styling cues with the GS elicited many unfavorable comments - you either love or hate it. The Tiger's GIVI luggage mounting system and hard saddlebags were the model of simplicity. Extremely easy to open, mount and remove, the bags had more carrying capacity than the GS' but were no where near as stylish.

 Large dual-sport motorcycles are often categorized by the percentage of street-vs-off-road capability they possess. Make no mistake -- both these bikes are happier on pavement than plowing through sand washes. 85 percent street, 15 percent dirt is the usual formula. And that 15 percent dirt had better be on smooth fire roads -- there'll be no rock-infested single-track trails in either of these bikes repertoires. Indeed, many adventure bike owners may never experience life beyond the asphalt, and the docile road-going manners of both the BMW-GS and Triumph Tiger make them perfectly suited for light-duty street-only touring.

But if you seek real adventure and want your tourer to be capable of heading into the boonies when the need or desire arises, you'll want the Tiger. Lighter weight, six-speed transmission, chain-drive, powerful high-rev motor, suspension that handles acceptably well in the street and even better off-road, there isn't much that a Tiger rider would have to avoid. It's only limitation is in its tires, which are not intended for serious off-road play -- although the Triumph Tiger is willing in every other way.

PAGE 2Riding Impressions:

1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief

First, I have to say I loved the styling of the Triumph -- I still believe they're making the best-looking bikes on the road today, an impression that solidified when a beautiful woman actually pulled me over to compliment the Tiger on it's "really good looks" and hinted at wanting a ride.

Regardless, I think the BMW is better because anyone who buys an "Adventure Touring" machine is fooling themselves if On the other hand, the Tiger excelled off-road with its more dirt-worthy forks and rear shock. Longer travel suspension (over nine inches in front!) allowed more rapid travel when the pavement ended.they think they'll spend more than one percent of their time off-road. At that level of lopsidedness, I don't feel like living with the Triumph's inadequacies on the road -- typically Triumph, below 4,000 rpm, the motor is flaccid and unresponsive. The tires are also significantly smaller than the GS' and the suspension doesn't come close to the BMW's on the street. Fully leaned over and gassing it, the Beemer is controlled and smooth; slides over varying tarmac are even and consistent, whereas the Triumph wants to slip-grip-flick you down the road (don't ask me how I know!). The choice between these two is clear: If you're really going to spend a lot of time off-road, go for the Triumph. But don't kid yourself -- if you really want to veer off the occasional fire road, get a real dirtbike and go for the Beemer.

2. Len Nelson, Off-Road Guru

Adventure is the primary goal of all off-road enthusiasts, and I live for dirtbiking. I do not, however, get any enjoyment from a computer-equipped motorcycle instructing me to let off the brakes every 100 or so times a second, going as far as to take the liberty of releasing the brakes for me, while I'm trying to change my direction by brake steering the rear wheel at the edge of some steep cliff. Fortunately the nightmares and bedwetting have subsided. The BMW is equipped with a switch to turn this scare feature off -- unfortunately, it didn't work on our test unit.

The R1100's plush suspension, comfortable ergos and stump-pulling powerplant make a strong business case for riders with a primary orientation towards the street. I love the bike's styling. But send me to deliver a package to some remote country in South America and I'll insist on riding the Triumph. The Tiger's suspension, responsive high-revving power characteristics, lighter weight and confidence inspiring tracking allows me to take in some scenery along the way. Keeping the BMW afloat off-road was more adventure than I prefer, thank you.

3. Tom Fortune, Managing Editor

I do a lot of commuting. More than anyone else on the staff. I can pile up over 800 miles during a normal week in the saddle of a motorcycle. So I really appreciate a bike that handles this chore well, and for commuting the BMW-GS rules. Even over street-only type bikes. Its supple, dual sport-based suspension, hard luggage, ample seating, torquey motor, great brakes, and maintenance-free shaft drive made the daily commute much more tolerable -- even enjoyable. A lot of people question the GS' unique styling, but I kind of like it. As an adventure bike though, the Beemer fails. To be truthful, it's downright scary off-road.

And I love to ride in the dirt. I can live with the Tiger's street-riding shortcomings, which to me are minor, in favor of its superior off-road performance. I wouldn't hesitate to take either of these machines on tour - but if that tour had any dirt in its path, the Tiger would be my mount of choice.

4. Billy Bartels, Graphics Editor

With its high-mounted twin tailpipes pushing the saddlebag's mounting points outward, the Triumph cuts a much wider profile than the sleeker BMW's luggage. Makes lane-splitting in congested L.A. a dicey proposition.Although I only rode the two bikes a very short time off-road, it was enough to come to a simple conclusion: The Jack-of-All-Trades wins. Editor Plummer is bound to disagree with me on this, but I'll take the real dual-purpose bike over the poseur any day. The BMW is an excellent street bike with a dirt attitude. Great luggage, five star handling, easy to work on, a bit pricey, but that's the cost of excellence. More than anything else on the BMW-GS, don't leave the road. It's incompetent on anything more challenging than gravel.

The Triumph? Drop dead gorgeous, decent torque, fun in the dirt. It's not an ideal mount for hitting a twisted game trail, but it lives up to its packaging, it's an adventure bike. The ugly modular saddlebag/top-box setup, while not as good as the Beemer's, carries a good amount of luggage, and works well. Altogether, a bike to get you. . . wherever.

5. Patrick Ciganer, Guest Commentator

Earlier this year I shipped my 1100GS to Sydney, Australia.

The Beemer's cockpit was roomy and comfortable, featuring wider handlebars than the Tiger.There I rode north and entered the BMW Safari which, for 1996, went from Brisbane to Cooktown. You had two choices, an adventure route (90% dirt, either good roads or "corrugated") or a "touring" route, all sealed roads. The Adventure route was the choice of most of the 1100GS and nearly all the 100GS riders. We had good condtions when it was not raining, a few river crossings (with "salty" croc. warnings), some interesting sand and "black mud" hilly sections and quite a few loose rock and clay trails. In most cases I ended up riding alone most of the days, usually due to my uncanny sense of misdirection and the Australian belief that too many road signs might marr the landscape, so, if you took the wrong road/trail it usually meant 30 miles on average between signs...

Several of the riders had crossed Aus. from Perth, Broome and other Indian Ocean localities to get there. Several 1100GS's had more than 80000km (app.50K miles) on the odometer and most 1100GS riders came solo mostly on dirt.

In summary, I would have to say that the 1100GS suprised me positively. I had previously owned an 80GS and a 100GS which I also toured with internationally and I still ride my 1990 KTM300EXC for serious dirt so, I had a few comparison benchmarks.

Dirt handling: Heavy bike, especially the front end. Forget everything you know about riding modern dirt bikes. Sit back, and body ride the bike from the rear wheel focusing on loading the suspension and keeping the front light. Surprisingly, I found myself wishing for ABS (I specifically ordered my bike without it thinking that it would not help off-road). At speed in deep sand corners, the ABS aussie-ridden bikes usually stayed up. also, emergency "critter" braking/avoidance benefitted from ABS. FYI: My only serious shunts were due to locking the front in a very sticky tropical downhill up north and also flipping over in a high speed off-camber turn on a very fine ground granite trail. (by the way the bike did a complete somersault, somehow landed on its wheels and gracefully low-sided to a stop). It did take me over 20 minutes to pick it up (it was on a slope, fully loaded with about 80lb of gear) a bruised set of ribs did not help, but it started immediately and except for a bent handlebar, a broken windscreen, a busted panier, a torn engine guard and sundry scratches, no worries...

Reliability: So far I have ridden over 5000 miles in Australia, mostly alone, mostly dirt, albeit good dirt, and all I had, besides the minor stuff above) were two flat tires and a broken exhaust mount. (I installed a staintune pipe and got rid of the converter). Several riders broke more stuff, usually due to close encounters with denizens of the local animal kingdom.

Ergonomics: A tailored sheepskin seat cover was the difference between a 400 mile day and a 500 mile day coming back down from Cairns. (I only had four days to cover the 2000 miles back to Sydney).

Conclusion: So far, so good. The bike is now going to Tasmania and NZ in February, then South Africa/Zimbabwe in late 97 and finally Tierra Del Fuego in early 1998. I will keep you posted....  

Manufacturer:  Triumph 
Model: Tiger 
Price:  $10,395 
Engine: dohc, liquid-cooled, in-line three-cylinder 
Bore x stroke: 76 x 65mm
Displacement: 885cc 
Carburetion: (3) 36mm Mikuni CV 
Transmission:  6-speed
Wheelbase:  61.0 in.  
Seat height: 33.4 in.  
Fuel capacity: 6.0 gal. 
Claimed dry weight: 460 lbs. 

Manufacturer:  BMW 
Model:  R1100GS ABS 
Price:  $14,750 
Engine:  air/oil cooled flat twin 
Bore x stroke:  99 by 70.5mm 
Displacement:  1085cc
Carburetion:  fuel injection 
Transmission:  5-speed 
Wheelbase:  57.5 in. 
Seat height:  30.7 to 32.2 in.  
Fuel capacity:  6.07 gal 
Claimed dry weight:  506 lbs 

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