It is not easy trying to remain a purist in an adventure motorcycling segment filled with so many choices. In the high performance off-road niche of the genre, you have the KTM 990 Adventure R ruling the roost.Access to an impressive worldwide dealer network and legendary reliability makes the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure the choice of riders on a global mission. However, in between these extremes lies the typical adventure bike rider‚Äîsomeone interested in a rugged bike that can take on the occasional dirt road, while spending the vast majority of time exploring paved roads of varying quality and racking up prodigious mileage totals in comfort.Jess McKinley and Shawn Pickett are our two resident adventure bike owners. Jess has ridden his R 1200 GS Adventure from California to Panama (two-up, no less), while Shawn’s Ducati Multistrada has found its way from the sunny Golden State to Seward’s Icebox. As such, we have a natural interest in the breed. So, when there are two new bikes on the market, it is time to go riding.After initial forays onto the dirt, we determined that the new Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX ABS and Triumph Tiger Explorer were primarily street bikes. Yes, they do empower you to ride on dirt roads when the opportunity arises, but stay away from 4×4 trails, sand, and single-track on these two open class adventurers, especially with stock rubber.These two motorcycles – one from Italy and the other from England – both have the same mission, yet they accomplish their goals in radically different ways and with significantly different tools. We rode them far, we took them off-road a bit, and we scuffed the tires more than a little. Here is what we found out.Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX ABSGliding across the tawny expanse of Rabbit Springs Dry Lake, I resist the urge to glance down at the speedometer; there is no speed limit out here, except for the limits of adhesion. My riding partner is only discernible in the buzzing haze of my mirrors by the dual headlights on the Triumph. He’s keeping well to the left, out of my dust.Squeezing my knees into the tank I give a quick twist on the throttle to power over the desiccated tire tracks left by a traveler when the lake wasn‚Äôt so dry. Tracking true to my line, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX ABS is not disturbed in the least by the crosshatch ruts marring the otherwise level surface.The rich mahogany tone coming from the exhaust urges me to open the throttle wider. The chopping rush of air squirting through the intake under the pillion provides syncopation to the dominant exhaust note, adding a somewhat soothing low frequency oscillation to the otherwise frantic call to twist the grip harder. Pulsing just in front of my knees is the iconic Moto Guzzi transverse 90-degree air-cooled V-twin, with its 105 horsepower and 83.3 ft/lbs of torque cradled in high-strength tubular steel.Pinging the throttle from idle, the Stelvio’s 1151cc engine lets you know it is coming to life with a quick hit of torque lean. Once under way that phenomenon disappears, unless you blip the throttle with the gearbox disengaged.The first three gears of the six-speed transmission are the most fun, allowing you to utilize the peak torque at 5800 rpm for strong acceleration, and then slow quickly using engine compression braking. Maximum horsepower is reached early at 7250 rpm with this oversquare four-valve SOHC motor, with very little left over before you hit the rev limiter at 8000. An urgent little red light flashes on the dash when you approach the limiter, though it is easy to miss when accelerating hard.As satisfying as the engine is, the Stelvio’s handling is truly impressive. With the 8.5- gallon tank freshly topped, turn-in is quick. For my first few miles on the Stelvio, it was disconcerting how willingly the bike reacted to any input into the bars.Quickly, I realized that once the bike leaned about 30 degrees from vertical on the impressive Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires it became incredibly stable and one of the most comfortable bikes to maneuver I have ridden. Whether cutting between cars while commuting or bombing a serpentine mountain road, the Stelvio feels more akin to a hooligan bike than an adventure bike approaching 600 pounds.I knew there was something about the handling characteristics of the Stelvio that made me thoroughly enjoy riding it, yet I could not isolate the difference until I got back on my personal bike. On other bikes I have ridden, I have to apply increasing pressure on the inside grip to keep them in a lean, constantly wrestling the bike to track through a turn. With the Stelvio, you apply pressure to initiate the lean then decrease the pressure to maintain; there is no fighting with the bike to keep it turning.To pull out of the lean, you apply pressure to the outside grip and the Stelvio rights itself. Moto Guzzi has added ABS and traction control to the adventure bike’s package, and I found myself confidently powering deeper into turns and accelerating harder out than ever before. The only thing lacking to complete the package is a slipper clutch.Despite the ease with which the Stelvio steers, it also has cruiser steady straight-line handling. Never does the Stelvio unexpectedly deviate from its set course, diminishing fatigue during extended highway rides.Suspension is fully adjustable with nearly seven inches of travel up front and six inches in back. As with the handling, the suspension provides an excellent combination of highway plush with sporty stiff, requiring only the addition of rebound damping to smooth out stops.The riding position is upright with the seat, pegs, and handlebars adjustable to accommodate a rider’s size and comfort preferences; seat height is adjustable between 32 and 33 inches. Windscreen size has increased from previous models. It is adjustable for height and provides enough protection to allow me to ride comfortably with my helmet visor open. Clear plastic deflectors positioned on the sides of the fairing add extra coverage for the torso.With aluminum sump and engine guards, fog lights, and rugged aluminum panniers, the Stelvio NTX is clearly meant for the touring rider, and deservingly so. The trappings of a big dirt bike should not repel someone who would otherwise find the sporty or touring characteristics of the Stelvio appealing.Approaching riding perfection, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX ABS gives highway comfort, mountain killing handling, and cross-continent ruggedness in a package exuding Italian style. For your daily commute or for that big trip beyond the end of the road, Moto Guzzi has engineered a bike to handle it all.– Shawn M. PickettTriumph Tiger ExplorerLike most relationships, mine with the Explorer was initially based upon pure aesthetics. Cut with sharp and angular features, the images I conjure in my head burst with confidence in both purpose and performance. The obligatory front mud guard “beak” thumbs its nose at the German benchmark that undoubtedly inspired the Explorer’s existence in the Triumph fleet, while the triple-into-one exhaust and dual headlamp design affirm its pedigree solidly rooted in the English Midlands.The undeniable centerpiece of the new adventure package is the 1215cc DOHC, 12-valve, three-cylinder powerplant that outputs a class-leading 135 horses and 89 ft/lbs of torque. The liquid-cooled engine itself is a massive chunk of engineering that is noticeably absent of hoses, cabling, or wires, giving the Explorer a clean and unencumbered look that safely internalizes the small bits out of harm’s way. Just as impressive are the baritone reverberations from the oversize exhaust that uniquely identifies it as a Hinckley triple, and provides a fitting soundtrack to its domineering presence as a 570-pound beast.Mounting the bike, I immediately notice the wide comfortable seat that made me feel like an integral part of the bike, an active participant rather than passively sitting on top. The snappy ride-by-wire electronic throttle system delivers gobs of wrist-straining torque from a crack above idle through to 9000 rpm welcome characteristic that Triumph Speed Triple aficionados have come to adore.Blasting through city traffic, the feel is much more sport-touring than adventure, if for no other reason than the sheer amount of motor that is immediately available. At triple digit speeds, the Explorer cruises comfortably and is able to crunch through high-mileage days with ease. Due to the linear power delivery of the big triple, shifting the transmission is completely optional – it pulls nearly any gear steadily from 1500 rpm through to the 9500 rpm redline.Firmly established as an open tarmac annihilator, it was time to head up into the mountain passes for what I expected would be a leisurely jaunt. Entering tight turns, the Explorer immediately reminds you of its hefty size. Still, cornering is calm and predictable, without too much engine braking on entry, and there is a smooth, even pull from the apex through the exit.Excessive front-end dive under braking can be an issue with 7.5 inches of front suspension travel, but the 46mm Kayaba forks do a superb job of minimizing the effect and making the weight transfer from balanced to front under aggressive braking a pleasant experience.
ABS brakes are standard equipment and functionally work well, although the twin-pot Nissan calipers up front provide average braking power at best for aggressive riding and the feedback at the lever was rather numb and not as progressive as I prefer.This however was completely overshadowed by the thrust and bravado packed into the power delivery of the Explorer’ s 1215cc engine. The usability on the open highway translates completely to the tight and twisty canyons. The torque delivery is amazingly long and third gear provides for face-distorting acceleration from 30 mph to 80 mph without having to click the transmission. This was no leisurely jaunt, on the predictable Metzeler Tourance EXP tires.In fact, I was having so much fun burning up the mountain roads that I failed to recognize a sizeable pothole at the apex of a corner. By the time I spotted the obstacle, I was already leaned over and committed. I stood the bike up to avoid the hazard, and then ran off the edge of the road into the gravel and hard packed dirt shoulder. The stability and suspension of the big Explorer never skipped a beat – I may not be able to say the same for my heart – and reentry onto the tarmac was smooth and predictable. This was a situation where I really appreciated the modest adventure capabilities of this sport adventurer.Although the Explorer instrument panel is packed with information and performance modification options, it does take a bit of memorization and deft thumb control to navigate to the desired destination. At rest, I took advantage of some of the adjustability to tailor the chassis and ride to my liking. I increased the rear shock preload to increase the steering angle for more precise corner entry, and raised the seat and lowered the windscreen. The Explorer foot pegs are positioned quite high, so despite my 30-inch inseam, I preferred the seat in the high (33.7-inch) position.The Explorer luggage set provides nearly 16 gallons of storage between the panniers and over nine gallons of storage in the top box, big enough to fit a full-face helmet and inclusive of a charging outlet for electronics while underway. With clever locking mechanisms and pop-out grab handles, the luggage set is fully functional and road-worthy, albeit sans any flair or Fifth Avenue style. However, a bit paradoxical to the Explorer theme is the 5.3-gallon fuel tank which, depending on the appetite of your throttle hand, may have you at the filling station more than once a day, so plan accordingly.For the sport adventurer, Triumph has defined the benchmark for me – a high horsepower performer that devoured every form of tarmac I threw at it.– Jess McKinleyConclusionFor two motorcycles in the same category, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio and Triumph Tiger Explorer are demonstrably dissimilar. At the heart of their differences are the two motors.The Stelvio’s big V-twin motor has the characteristics you would expect – lots of torque, slower revving, easily controlled, and still capable of strong, consistent acceleration. Triumph’ s triples always offer a unique experience, and the Explorer is no exception. Quicker through the rev range and smoother than a twin, yet torquier than a four‚ – it is a great compromise, though one that works better on the street than dirt.Chassis matching the motors are provided. The Triumph is agile and dares you to ride it hard. You have traction control and ABS on the Explorer to aid you in your goal of high-speed sport-touring through the twisties. Moto Guzzi gives the Stelvio a front end that is much more raked out – 27 degrees, compared to 24 on the Explorer – and that slower steering and stability is something many touring riders crave.Choosing between the two is all about the rider, not the bike. Aggressive sport-touring aficionados will gravitate immediately to the Triumph Tiger Explorer, and readily test its limits on the trickiest of back roads. Those who don’t want to be challenged by riding and prefer a bike that puts them at ease, have the Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX ABS to give them their desired predictable and relaxing ride. Look within, and you will find your winner.Story: Jess McKinley & Shawn M. Pickett
Photography: Don Williams