1997 Adventure Tourers
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 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
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.
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....Specifications:
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