Not too long ago, I got a chance to spend some quality time with the new and improved Triumph Tiger 1200. I swooned for the bike’s on-road and touring abilities, but stated plainly that “you shouldn’t take it off road.” However, Triumph would like you to know that I am totally stupid and wrong, and it has set up an adventure riding school to prove it.
READ MORE: 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 – Ride Review
If things go Triumph’s way, this is just the beginning.
The company’s chief commercial officer, Paul Stroud, told me two years ago that he sees the adventure segment as one of the three pillars of Triumph’s identity – the other two being fast road bikes, like the Street Triple, and modern classics, like the Bonneville T120. So, whereas you might initially assume this is a case of yet another manufacturer jumping on the adventure bandwagon, it’s really more an example of Triumph’s habit of taking its sweet time to do things right.
Think of the aforementioned Bonneville T120. It wasn’t around in 2014 when Ducati first launched its Scrambler line-up; the previous-generation Bonnie looked all kinds of old and busted by comparison. Then came the T120, and the T100 and the Thruxton and the Street Twin and so on and so on, and now Triumph is the gold standard. No one does modern classics better.
Whether the British manufacturer will be able to pull the same trick in the adventure world remains to be seen. Step one in its world domination plans, though, is the recently established Triumph Adventure Experience, in Ystradgynlais, Wales.
As a fluent Welsh speaker, it’s my party trick that I can pronounce “Ystradgynlais” without difficulty. I can also tell you what it means; the town’s name literally translates to “estate before the stream.” The surrounding environs are of the sort that such a pleasing name suggests. Spilling into Brecon Beacons National Park, the region is home to a number of adventure riding schools, including the official UK adventure schools of Honda, Yamaha, and BMW.
It’s that last one to which Triumph is paying the most attention. Almost to a comical degree. BMW’s UK adventure riding school, Off Road Skills, is headquartered directly across the street from the new Triumph Adventure Experience HQ. Students from each school will be able to taunt one another in the mornings before riding off to their respective training grounds (which, as it happens, are right next to each other).
Catty-corner to both schools is the UK headquarters of Touratech. The person tying all three of these together is four-time Dakar participant Nick Plumb. The Englishman was a BMW instructor before becoming the UK managing director of Touratech. Now, after two years of planning, he and his team have set up the Triumph Adventure Experience.
As with BMW’s school, TAE relies on a fleet of new bikes that are replaced at the end of each season. In the case of Triumph, those bikes are the Tiger 1200, Tiger 800, and Street Scrambler. (Your eyebrows went up at the mention of that last one, right? More about that in a second.) Triumph’s school differentiates itself somewhat in its use of top-of-the-line models. So, whereas a day at Off Road Skills will see you riding a stock R 1200 GS with as many breakable bits removed as possible, Triumph will give you a brand new Tiger 1200 XCA to chuck off a ledge.
That, of course, is the real benefit of schools like this: sure, you’ll learn a few things, but you also get to do terrible shit to inordinately expensive motorcycles. Related to that, I crashed nine times during my day at the Triumph Adventure Experience. In fairness, my own decision making is largely to blame – I was attempting to keep up with Alun Davies, founder of Adventure Bike Rider magazine – but I stand by my previous assertion that the Tiger 1200 isn’t appropriate for off-road use.
The Tiger 800, however, is the bee’s knees. This is the one you’ll want to hop on when taking one of the school’s one- or two-day courses. The courses follow the same structure as those offered by BMW, which have become something of an industry standard. So, training is broken into Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. The Triumph Adventure Experience also offers an introduction day for complete novices who want to ease into a Level 1 course.
Intriguingly, where Triumph breaks from the BMW mold is in the presence of its Street Scrambler. Folks uncomfortable with the height of a Tiger 800 can take the training courses on one, but the school is also offering a so-called “Scrambler Experience,” which is more or less aimed at hipsters who want to get their Red Wings authentically dirty. The school is even working with IXON to develop special armor that would allow folks to wear their jeans and checkered shirts while still being afforded a certain amount of protection.
The aspect of clothing is an interesting little sidebar to this story. Triumph has gone to the trouble to commission all kinds of gear exclusive to the school, to be leased out to students. Its fancy-dancy Gore-Tex riding suits, which are available to the general public, are also a result of the school. They’re worn by the instructors, developed through the input of Nick Plumb and his team.
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The presence of exclusive gear is a sign of how dedicated Triumph is. Though, you only need to visit the TAE headquarters to know how seriously the manufacturer is taking all this. I’ve taken a two-day course from BMW’s school across the street and Triumph wins easily when it comes to facilities. The TAE’s branded, modern building features a tea and snacks area, dressing rooms, gear-drying rooms, showers, and meeting room. When you first show up, a wild-eyed Charley Boorman (Nick Plumb trained him and Ewan McGregor for their “Long Way Round” adventure) appears on a video screen to welcome you. By comparison, BMW’s UK school is basically a garage; when I attended, I changed clothes outside.
As I say, for Triumph this is all just the start of something even bigger.
“Our ambition in the medium term is to supply a consistent level of instruction and customer experiences across existing sites,” Triumph Senior Product Marketing Manager Tom Robinson told me. “It is also our medium term ambition to add additional Triumph Adventure Experiences for customers to make sure we have a presence in all key adventure markets.”
Strip away the corporate-speak, and what Tom means is Triumph plans to follow BMW’s tack of setting up official schools around the world. Riders in the United States may be familiar with RawHyde Adventures in California, run by the indefatigable Jim Hyde. Jim’s is the official BMW adventure riding school in the United States, and anyone attending his school will be receiving the same level and structure of instruction that I received in soggy Wales. Triumph plans to do the same thing through its Adventure Experience.
It will work with a number of existing schools or set up new ones where it sees a particular opportunity, molding them all in the image of the school back in Ystradgynlais. In fact, Nick Plumb told me that all instructors, regardless of where in the world they operate, will have received training at the Ystradgynlais site.
These are ambitious plans, and Triumph’s crew are going about it with the same infectious enthusiasm that has made me such a fan of the brand in recent years, but the challenge of rivaling or surpassing BMW’s dominance in this arena is a pretty big one. Especially in light of the two companies’ respective arsenals. BMW has the F 850 GS, the R 1200 GS, and, to a lesser extent, the G 310 GS, which can all be considered legitimate off-road-capable machines. Whereas, truthfully, Triumph only has one dog in the fight.
I don’t want to belabor a point here, but I feel only the very skilled will be able to handle the top-heavy Tiger 1200 in the mud. And I can’t help but think that anyone proficient enough to do so is also going to be knowledgeable enough to choose something else, ie, the Tiger 800. It’s powerful, tractable, and lighter. The Tiger 800 XCA weighs almost 90 pounds less than its 1200cc equivalent.
Meanwhile, the Street Scrambler is far more adept off road than I would have guessed, but, there’s a reason Triumph put the word “Street” in its name. It’s difficult to magic a good, affordable road bike into being anything other than a good, affordable road bike without making some pretty big changes. The internet rumor mill suggests Triumph is working on those changes, possibly in the form of a 1200cc machine, and, who knows, maybe Triumph is also developing a Tiger 1200 with a lower center of gravity. But those bikes don’t exist now; they won’t exist this year; they probably won’t exist next year.
Triumph has a great facility, and an awesome team of enthusiastic and supportive instructors (one of whom has also been very supportive of TMO), but not as many legitimate tools as BMW. And since, ultimately, the goal of the Triumph Adventure Experience is to affect public opinion, it begins its ADV world domination attempt just a little bit on the back foot.
Or maybe not. Honda really only has one dog in the ADV fight – the Africa Twin – and no one is arguing against its legitimacy. Maybe the Tiger 800 is all Triumph needs.
The incentive in all this is strong. The R 1200 GS has been Europe’s best-selling 1000cc+ motorcycle for several years running. It’s the motorcycle equivalent of Ed Sheeran: annoyingly difficult to kick out of the Top 5. If Triumph can convince riders that its bikes are viable – nay, preferable – overlanding vehicle choices, the dividends will be worth all the effort it’s putting in.
As a Triumph owner I’m probably a little biased but I do think that eventually the company may be able to master the immense task it’s set out for itself. It won’t happen overnight, but, fortunately, Triumph is used to taking its time.
To find out more about the Triumph Adventure Experience visit: www.triumphmotorcycles.co.uk/adventure-experience
This article was originally published in a different form on Common Tread.