words & photos - Rod Chapman
The Bikesales Network pits Triumph's new luxo sportstourer against BMW's veteran campaigner, in this exclusive first Australian shootout

Life is busier than ever these days, so when an opportunity arises to take pack the panniers and ‘get the hell outta Dodge’ those first few moments of rolling away from my house are truly seconds to savour. My latest escape was made all the more special by the fact my ‘ever-patient other’ was along for the ride – the kids already tearing their grandparents’ place upside down – and we were sharing the adventure with Bikesales Network’s Mark ‘Mav’ Fattore and his ‘definitely better half’, Mel. With a summer sun blazing and spirits soaring, our getaway was capped off by the bikes beneath us: Triumph’s much-anticipated Trophy SE and BMW’s entrenched mainstay, the R 1200 RT.
The plan was simple. We wanted to see how Triumph’s latest machine, which represents yet another push into a new market segment for the marque, would stack up against its established and much-lauded competition. Sure, the RT isn’t the only competitor the Trophy SE is gunning for – bikes like Kawasaki’s 1400GTR, Honda’s ST1300A, Yamaha’s FJR1300 and Moto Guzzi’s Norge 1200 are in the mix too – but for a first Aussie taste we thought the RT was the best match for the Trophy SE in terms of engine capacity and appointments, and we wanted see if what is essentially an all-new machine had what it takes to usurp a dominant king with a reign spanning 18 years.

In doing so, we asked the bikes to do what they do best – carry us two-up with luggage on an open-road escape that took in freeway, towns and winding country roads. Setting out from Melbourne we had the picturesque hamlet of Port Fairy, some 400km to the west, in our sights. We took in the full length of Victoria’s famed Great Ocean Road on the way and then, the next day, we returned to Apollo Bay and cut inland, climbing up and over the Otway Ranges before dropping down to the flat farmlands on our way back to Geelong.

Needless to say, our steeds were perfect for the job. The RT has slowly swallowed more and more features as standard equipment over the years, to the point that the only optional gear on our testbike was an iPod adapter cable for the bike’s stereo and the large 49-litre topbox ($1070). The Triumph, meanwhile will only be sold in Australia in SE form. The standard bike comes with a comprehensive array of niceties, but the SE version also gets Triumph Electronic Suspension (TES) and a stereo system. Our Trophy SE was also fitted with a factory topbox ($824).

Packing these beasts of burden was simple. Both luggage systems work well and between the panniers and topbox they take a heap of gear. While the RT’s panniers feel securely locked into the bike, the Triumph’s boxes actually have a significant amount of freeplay. While initially unsettling, this is all part of the Triumph Dynamic Luggage System (TLDS). The panniers can move through an arc of five degrees and they’re connected by a central strut, the idea being that the vibration of the luggage that would normally be transmitted to the chassis are isolated, delivering a smoother ride. In any case, we never lost a pannier when riding in anger and both bikes’ cases can be detached or re-attached in a flash. The pannier bags supplied with the Trophy were a nice touch as was the 12V auxiliary power outlet in the Trophy’s topbox (in addition to the other two on the bike, fore and aft).

Both bikes have adjustable seats and the adjustment methods are simple. The Triumph has the lower of the two (800/820mm versus 820/840mm for the BMW) and while they’re not especially tall, the seats are broad and these are both large, heavy bikes that require a high degree of care when manhandling in the drive. Fortunately, for those short of leg both marques offer a range of lower seating options.

Our initial run from just north of Melbourne to Geelong was conducted over long, flat country straights, which gave both Mav and I a good chance to fiddle with the bikes’ advanced and perhaps initially daunting electronics. In terms of creature comforts and rider aids, these bikes have got the lot. Electronic cruise control, comprehensive trip computers, sound systems, ABS, electronic suspension adjustment (for preload and rebound), traction control, tyre pressure monitors, electric screens – they’re a gadget freak’s dream.

There isn’t a vast amount of difference between the two in terms of outright function, but there are subtle differences in their operation. For example, the Trophy’s screen will ‘remember’ its position. When you switch the ignition off the screen retracts and then, when you switch it on again, it reverts to its last position. The RT does the same, but it comes at the issue from another angle – it simply stays exactly where it’s set, even when you switch the ignition off. The damping settings on each can be changed while on the move, but the BMW has a dedicated ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) button that makes it easy to cycle through the options. The Triumph’s settings, meanwhile, have to be explored via the bike’s menu system, which takes more effort and takes your eyes off the road for longer.

Actually, it’s worth making the point for both these bikes – there’s so much to fiddle with and so much information you can dial up, you really do have to take care not to become too engrossed, especially when other traffic is about.

As a general observation, the Triumph’s rider profiles and twin trip computer readouts (see more in the bike’s tech section) put it a step ahead of the BMW, but the BMW is an easier proposition when exploring its features. The stereos highlight this – the BMW’s Multi-Controller collar means adjusting the volume or scanning the radio is easy and you don’t have to take your hand off the handlebar, but to carry out these adjustments on the Triumph you do. I also prefer the RT’s cruise-control setup, but I like the way the Trophy flashes up a warning on its display whenever the bike’s speed deviates too far from the set speed, such as on a particularly steep downhill section – handy given the number of speed traps around these days.

Those long country miles also gave me a good impression of each bike’s electric screen. Again, I had to lift my left hand off the handlebar to access the Triumph’s rocker switch, while that wasn’t necessary on the BMW. But the BMW’s screen could do with being 5cm or so taller, as even with the screen on its highest setting my head was still just above that quiet and protected spot. I’ll qualify that by saying I’m a lanky streak at 188cmand because of that I did have the Beemer’s seat on the highest of its two settings. For most riders it won’t be an issue. The Triumph’s screen, however, is superb – even with its seat on its highest setting, I could still raise it up far enough that I was looking clear through the screen (possibly handy in wet weather), and riding all day with an open-face lid was a delight.

Comfort shares equal billing with performance on both these bikes. There’s ample legroom and it’s just a lazy stretch to the low-set bars on each of them, resulting in an upright stance that, combined with their excellent wind and weather protection, makes them ideal for easy all-day riding.

Pulling out the tape measure confirmed my impression that both share fairly similar ergonomics. The Triumph’s bars are 20mm lower than the Beemer’s and also 20mm wider, while the Trumpy affords an extra 30mm between the seat and the footpeg. Meanwhile, the Beemer is a little roomier in the seat to handlebar measurement, offering 30mm more than the Triumph. Really, we’re not talking big differences here – both machines are armchairs on wheels and, with topboxes with pillion backrests in place, they’re veritable thrones for pillions.

Still, armchairs they may be, but they’re a tad faster and more mobile than your average Jason recliner. Not long after the ring road around Geelong had deposited us on Victoria’s Surf Coast, the arch that marks the start of the Great Ocean Road swung into view. This was going to be fun…

While both bikes are on an even footing when it comes to comfort and appointments, their two different engine formats lend them markedly different personas on the road. Jesus use to get around on a BMW Boxer flat-twin and while it’s been steadily refined in the centuries since, it’s still inherently more vibey than other formats with additional cylinders. That probably sounds a little harsher than the reality – the vibes have been softened to the point that they simply add to the bike’s unique character rather than being an irritation, as does the traditional left-to-right torque reaction when you blip the RT’s throttle at a standstill.

The RT’s tractor-like grunt is a delight down low and through the midrange, but on the road there’s little point in revving it past 6500rpm – 500rpm after its claimed maximum torque signs off and 2000rpm before its 8500rpm redline. That’s fine – it’s not a sports bike, after all – but on the road it does bring out its true character. Short shift and keep it in the meatiest part of the torque curve and all is right with the world. Rev its tits off and you’ll get increasingly more vibration for little return in terms of performance.

The Triumph, on the other hand, feels strong and muscular pretty much all the way through its rev range, right the way up to its appreciably higher 10,000rpm redline. While the two bikes share a maximum torque figure of 120Nm, the Triumph’s triple churns out an extra 24.5hp (18kW). You can feel the seat-of-the-pants difference, too, despite the Triumph’s extra (and significant) 38kg.

This was underlined by a roll-on test on a lonely country lane. From 60km/h in third gear, the Triumph got the jump on the BMW and then proceeded to pull away steadily at first, then more quickly once the bikes reached higher up the rev range.

An aspect in which the Triumph is particularly impressive is its smoothness. There’s barely any vibration – just the barest distant tingle through the bars – and this doesn’t increase by much at all as the revs rise. As the result, the Triumph offers something of a magic carpet ride, willingly sweeping you towards the horizon with urgency and pace, while you remain cocooned in a bubble of comfort and refinement. It’s impressive and intoxicating.

The Triumph’s ride-by-wire throttle is remarkably light – appreciably lighter than the BMW’s – but for the clutch the roles are reversed: the Triumph’s lever is substantially heavier than the BMWs, not that it’s heavy enough to be a pain if caught in stop-start traffic. The Triumph’s six-speed gearbox also gets the nod, being light, slick and responsive. The Beemer’s equivalent, also a six-speeder, is good too, if a little more vocal in its operation. Clutchless upshifts are no issue for either, however, which adds to the plot in a sporting sprint.

Each bike’s gearing offers a good spread of ratios, from tooling around gridlocked city street to galloping through the backblocks. I will say, however, that for both bikes sixth gear is basically redundant at legal Aussie highway speeds – there’s certainly no chance of wearing it out. At 100km/h in sixth gear the BMW is loping along at just 3250rpm, while the Triumph is barely breaking a sweat at 3200rpm. Still, it’s a mark of the flexibility of both these powerplants that cracking the throttle at this point still produces strong, useable acceleration. You can be as lazy as you want on these mounts, and each will accomplish highway overtakes with commanding pace.

The sinuous cliff-hugging run from Lorne to Apollo Bay is a thorough test of any bike’s chassis and suspension, with its mixture of medium flowing bends to tight hairpins made all the more challenging by a fairly average surface – potholed and pitted thanks to the continuous stream of tourist traffic, including countless caravans and motorhomes. The stunning views of the Southern Ocean are always a tempting distraction, but the consequences of getting it wrong – and either plunging headlong off a cliff or into a rock wall – do help keep you focused. Again, both bikes excel in a sporting context, even when two-up and loaded to the hilt.

Each machine has plenty of low-down urge to drive through corners and because of the hefty weights involved each needs quite a degree of rider input – both at the handlebars and at the throttle – to motor along at pace. The end result is an involving ride, even if the healthy torque outputs mean you can be a little lazy with the gearshift.

That 38kg difference between claimed wet weights is noticeable in tighter going and, while the heavier Triumph doesn’t feel any less willing through the bends, the BMW doesn’t need quite as much of a shove of its bars to tip in, while it responds just that little bit more quickly to changes of direction. The BMW’s overall steering geometry assists it here, the RT having a marginally sharper rake and a significantly shorter wheelbase (26.2 degrees and 1485mm, versus 27 degrees and 1542mm for the Triumph). There’s not much in it on the road though, and with excellent ground clearance and confidence-inspiring rubber on both mounts it really is amazing just how hard this pair can be pushed.

I couldn’t pick a winner as far as suspension performance goes, but rest assured each bike does a top job of contending with less-than-perfect tarmac. Electronic suspension adjustment is so much more convenient than pulling out tools and scrabbling around on your hands and knees and with just a few basic options it also simplifies the process. On each bike the differences between the main damping settings do make a reasonable seat-off-the-pants difference, but it’s not massive. It would be an interesting exercise on each machine to see how accurately a rider could guess what damping setting they were using if they couldn’t see the readout on the dash. It’s fairly easy to pick the difference between Comfort and Sport, less so the difference between Comfort and Normal or Normal and Sport.

The brakes on each are superb – tremendous power, with great progression and feedback backed up by ABS. You can’t turn the ABS off on these bikes, but I can’t think of any scenario where, on bikes of this ilk, you’d want to. Turning off the traction control could be of some assistance on a dirt road, but I left it on on both bikes for the duration of this tarmac-bound test.

Both bikes impressed with their stability under heavy brakes. BMW’s Telelever front end has always been particularly impressive in this respect, but given the Triumph’s excess weight and more traditional tele, its stability also shone. The Triumph does, however, display more of a tendency to stand up than the BMW if you apply the front brakes midway through a turn, not that there’s usually much call for that sort of carry on.

Another area where these battleships shine is fuel range. With Port Fairy around 400km from home we only required two fill-ups during the course of this test -- and each still had a bit left in the tank when we turned into the servo. I love it when a bike’s comfort matches its range and that’s the case here.

These two are a pretty even match for economy. The Triumph returned an average of 5.71lt/100km while the BMW was marginally ahead with 5.65lt/100km Those numbers aren’t especially impressive on their own, but they’re not too bad given the weights and power outputs in question. With the BMW sporting a healthy 25-litre tank and the Triumph a slightly more generous 26 litres, we’re talking safe working ranges of around 410km and 425km respectively. Bear in mind those figures were taken over a mixture of roads, two-up with luggage. Solo and over steady highway cruising, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t go close to the magic 500km.

In the ‘odds and ends’ department both sport decent sidestands, but the BMW is a clear winner when it came to its centrestand. The shaft drive makes it a little tricky to get the centre of your foot on the centrestand hoist plate on the Triumph, and it requires more muscle to get it up on the stand. The BMW’s horn is a cracker – the Triumph’s sounded weak in comparison – while both bikes have excellent headlights.

After a spirited return run through the Otway Ranges followed by plenty of lazy country miles, the fringes of Melbourne swung into view. The trip was over all too quickly and that sense was exacerbated by two bikes on which I’d happily set off on a lap of the country. However, it was clear the old hand, the R 1200 RT, could still hold its head high in this luxury, heavy sportstourer category, and the years of refinement since its birth are evident in its ability, its finish, and its ride.

At $28,790 however, it’s $2800 more than the Triumph ($25,990), and that’s going to sway a significant number of buyers. It’s also not the only other offering in this category – bikes like Kawasaki’s 1400GTR ($24,999), Honda’s ST1300A ($24,690), Yamaha’s FJR1300A ($23,999) and Moto Guzzi’s Norge 1200 ($22,990) are also right in there and they offer plenty of bang for the bucks.

However, in this direct two-bike comparo, I have to give the nod to the Triumph. After riding the Trophy SE, you’d never know it had been a decade since Triumph’s last entry in this market niche – it’s that refined. It’s got everything that opens and shuts, and while the interface for some of those features (adjusting the TES, operating the stereo) isn’t quite as easy as it is on the BMW, it’s the Trophy’s engine that does it for me, backed up by a chassis that laugh in the face of its bulk. Boxer fans will still fall in love with the RT from the first ride, as they have been for nigh on two decades, but for me the Triumph’s price, powerplant and velvet-smooth delivery put it out in front.

For hopping back on a bike again for the first time in six years – kids can have that effect – I was in for an easy transition with both the Triumph Trophy SE and the BMW R 1200 RT.

The Triumph was the clear winner for me for several reasons. Firstly, its seat was a little comfier – it just seemed a bit more compliant and I felt a bit more supported by it instead of sitting on top of it, as was the case with the RT. I preferred the extra height of the Trophy’s topbox, too, because it gave my back some extra support. The Trophy’s topbox just seemed sturdier – it was rock-solid under hard acceleration – while the BMW’s topbox had a little more ‘flex’ in it.

The Triumph’s seat felt wider and I preferred the shape of the Triumph’s grabrails, and it had a little more legroom. I did, however, find my head was subjected to more wind buffeting on the Triumph as I sat higher on that bike, whereas on the BMW my head was pretty much directly behind Rod’s helmet (where it was a bit more protected, although the view was little ordinary as a result!).

Really both these bikes are excellent options for pillions (and I must have sampled dozens over the years) but their pillion seats are quite high and wide, and hopping on or off while taking care not to scrape the panniers did require some care. There was no difference between the Triumph and the BMW in this respect. -- Meghan Chapman

Published : Saturday, 16 February 2013
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