Triumphant

2015 Triumph Trophy SE

BMW Motorrad has long had two boxer-engined motorcycles that were considered the top of their class: The R1200GS adventure bike and the R1200RT touring bike. Apparently, the Brits at Triumph Motorcycles found this enraging. Over the last century, the Brits have often found the Germans enraging, of course. Anyway, Triumph produced two bikes to compete directly with BMW’s offerings, the Tiger 1200 for the adventure crowd, and the Trophy for the touring rider.

2015 Triumph Trophy SE

I’m a big fan of the R1200RT. It’s fun, the motor has loads of character and torque, and it has every bell and whistle you can imagine. It also handles very, very well. So, I wanted to take a look at the Trophy to see how it compares, especially since, here in the US, the only Trophy model we get is the SE spec, which comes with loads of options. 

How it looks

It looks huge. Far huger than the curb weight of 664 lbs. or thereabouts would lead you to think. The fairing is what gives it the imposing girth. There’s a lot of plastic there. What it covers, though, is mainly empty space, and the massive fairing is designed to do two things: provide fantastic wind protection for the ride, and effectively manage engine heat to draw it away from the rider is warmer weather. The drawback, here in California, however, is that, while lane-splitting is legal, the width of the Trophy, combined with the fact that its rear-view mirrors are almost exactly the height of a Honda Accord’s, leaves very little room for error when squeezing between the lanes.

The color-matched hard saddlebags are well-integrated, waterproof, and use a locking system very similar to BMW’s. The single-sided swingarm is attractive—at least when you can see it, which isn’t often, as the muffler and right saddlebag mostly conceal it. That gives me a sad.

Sitting on the bike, you are immediately struck by two things when looking down at the cockpit. You’re seeing an awful lot of motorcycle, and an awful lot of switchgear. As to the former, it gives a bit of a Honda Gold Wing vibe. As to the latter, the sheer amount of switchgear is a bit confusing. In addition to the regular motorcycle switches, you’ve got a bunch of buttons for the stereo, heated grips, cruise control, windshield, and information system. The buttons are arrayed a bit inconveniently, and you’re forced to take your hands off the grips to reach many of them.

Triumph Trophy Cockpit

The instrument console consists of an analog speedometer and tach, placed on the left and right sides, respectively, of an LCD center screen. The numbers on the analog gauges are a bit on the smallish side, but still readable. The center console has a digital speedometer as well, along with a gear indicator. And many, many other items.

The Trophy really does quite a large number of electronically-controlled things, all of whose functions are displayed in menus on LCD information screen. What with the Stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, suspension adjustment, bike setup, passenger/luggage weight settings, and whatnot, there is a bewildering array of menus and submenus to scroll through. You could spend hours in the saddle scrolling through menus and playing with different settings, though, in reality, it’d just be a few minutes before you were distracted from the mesmerizing complexity of the menu system by straying across the centerline and striking a truck head on.

Which would be upsetting, because you’d immediately miss the comfortable, wide seat and roomy ergonomics of the Trophy. Sitting on the Triumph Trophy is very much like sitting in a large, comfy easy chair that goes from 0-60 MPH in 3.3 seconds. The handlebars are pulled well back, allowing you to rest your hands comfortably of the grips, with your elbows well bent. The rear-view mirrors are set below the handlebars, and give a surprisingly good and vibration-free view of what’s behind you. The ignition key is mounted between the handlebars, and, frankly pulling the key out the switch to get off the bike is a bit of a struggle, in that you have to jiggle the key to remove it, and the space between the handlebar mounts is a somewhat cramped for gloved hands.

Overall, looking and sitting on the Trophy gives you the impression that it’s a big, heavy, complicated bike. That impression is bolstered by the extra effort it takes t lift it off of the kickstand. Just looking at it, and sitting on it, you imagine that it’ll be equally behemoth-like and sluggish to ride.

But then it starts to move…

How it rides

2015 Triumph Trophy SE

The Triumph Trophy looks big and heavy, but, in point of fact, it weighs pretty much the same as the Honda VFR1200 I’ve been riding daily for the last couple of years, though the VFR is significantly smaller, visually. Powered by a 1215cc, Inline-3 motor, the Trophy hits 132 HP and 88.5 lb.-ft. of torque at it’s peak, which moves the Trophy along with a fair bit of authority, hitting 60 MPH in about 3.3 seconds, and passing the quarter-mile marker in 11.4 seconds at 118 MPH. I suspect that’s fast enough for most people, if not in sport bike territory.

It’s not the speed, though, that grabs you about the Trophy. It’s the handling. The Trophy handles far better than any bike this size has any business handling. I said the exact thing about the BMW K1600GT last year, but the Trophy is a significantly better handler than the big Beemer.

A couple of things come into play to work together to make this possible. The hard saddlebags aren’t rigidly mounted to the frame thanks to the Triumph Dynamic Luggage System, or TLDS. TLDS connects the bags with a series of rods, allowing them swing from side to side in unison, in a 5-degree arc. While it may look from the outside like the saddlebags are flapping about alarmingly, they aren’t. The other thing they aren’t doing is transmitting stress to the frame, and adding instability. This stress reduction means that Triumph can make the steering geometry far sharper than it would otherwise be.

The result is a large bike that transitions from side to side with ridiculous ease. The Trophy not only responds instantly to the mildest of handlebar inputs, it also responds to shifts in body weight, or stomping on the pedals. Look into a corner and lean, and Trophy falls precisely into the line you want, with the Pirelli Angel tires sticking happily to the road. Additionally, the weight bias of 52% to the front wheel keeps the front end stable, with the front tire firmly planted.

The only other large bike I’ve ever ridden with handling this sharp is the BMW R1200RT—which weighs 80 lbs. less than the Trophy—and, like the RT, the Trophy’s handling is nearly telepathic. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because handling is kind of Triumph’s thing, but in a big bike like this, it is. On top of that, the braking works fairly well, via a linked ABS brake system that delivers a moderate, but not intrusive, touch of front brake when the rear brake pedal is pushed, and fairly powerful two-wheel braking when using the front brake handle. Some will prefer the braking be a bit stronger, and the stopping distance a bit shorter, but I didn’t have a problem with it. Braking performance for the Trophy is, in my view, perfectly acceptable.

Equaling the outstanding handling is the Triumph’s 6-speed transmission. It’s smooth and precise, with a fairly light clutch pull. Over the course of  5 days, I didn’t once hit a false neutral, which is unexpected, considering that my VFR’s duel-clutch transmission has relieved me of manual shifting duties for the past two years.  I expected to fairly cock up the constant manual shifting until I got used to it, but I took to the Trophy’s 6-speed manual transmission right away. Running through the gears is done without chunkiness or delay, just smooth snicks from gear to gear. The friction point on the clutch is smoothly progressive and easily controlled, making low-speed, parking lot maneuvering far less tedious than I had initially feared. 

With the handling, braking, and transmission sorted as well as it is, you can come reasonably close to throwing the Trophy around like a sport bike. Actually better than some sport bikes, really. The handling of the Trophy is significantly sharper, faster, and more precise than my VFR1200. Whatever it may lack in straight-line speed, the Trophy gives up absolutely nothing in the corners. It would probably be amusing to take it out on some mountain road to stupefy the average squid on his Gixxer by hustling it through the corners at speed.

2015 Triumph Trophy SE

And you’d do it in comfort, too. In addition to the relaxed seating position and ergonomics, the huge fairing does a great job of keeping the rider out of the wind and elements. The electrically-adjustable windscreen can be moved through six inches of travel, and, at the highest position, shelters the rider almost completely from the wind, at least for someone with my 5’ 10” frame. There is noticeable back pressure from the screen at taller heights, but it’s not excessive. At one point this week, while riding at night in 50-degree weather, I had to stop and take the liner out of my jacket to cool off while riding.

Your hands are equally well protected by the placement of the rear-view mirrors, and your knees by being placed inside the deeply scalloped fairing. Further warmth can be acquired by obtaining the heated grips or seat, for which the Trophy SE is already wired, though the actual heated grips and seats are additional OEM options, and do not come standard with the bike.

The electronically adjustable suspension, something Triumph calls the TES, or Triumph Electronic Suspension, can switch between Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings on the move, but you have to stop to change the weight bias for 2-up riding or full panniers, unlike the BMW system. Also unlike BMW, changing the TES settings don’t affect the spring rate. Mostly, I expect you’d set the TES on Normal and forget about meddling with it on the Trophy, whereas on the BMW you would change the settings as needed, and the changes would be far more noticeable on the BMW, too. This is about the only area where the BMW R1200RT has a noticeable edge on the Triumph, but the BMW Electronic suspension control system is simply better, with more noticeable differences between the settings. It’s really hard to beat the Germans when it comes to spiffy electronics. Or waging aggressive warfare.

On the other hand, BMW expects you to pay more than $1,000 for a frickin radio, while Triumph supplies an AM/FM/HDX/SiriusXM radio as standard on the Trophy SE. The sound is about as tinny as you’d expect at highways speeds, but decent when riding around at city speeds. Let’s face it, it’s a set of outdoor speakers trying to be heard over wind blast. How good can you possibly expect the sound quality to be? Obviously, you’d get better sound with in-helmet headphones, but at the expense of cutting your hearing off from the outside world.

The stereo system accepts USB input from an MP3 Player, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for phones and headsets. You can listen to your iPhone’s music library via Bluetooth, and, if necessary, answer the phone on your Bluetooth helmet headset by using the handlebar switchgear. The Trohy’s center console politely informs you that you have a phone call, too. Phones and headsets have separate Bluetooth inputs in the Trophy’s stereo system, so you can adjust each individually.

There’s a plethora of other items you can monkey around with, like trip computers, electronic cruise control, traction control levels, and tire pressure monitoring, but the key takeaway is that the Trophy SE is jam-packed with features and settings, yet, still manages to come in significantly cheaper than the BMW R1200RT. I checked a similarly-specced RT at the local BMW dealer, and the cost came out to $3,000 more than the Trophy SE’s $19,599 sticker price. And, speaking of costs, the Triumph should have a significantly lower cost of ownership, because the service interval on the Trophy is…wait for it…10,000 miles, which is ridiculously long. Also, in addition to service intervals that are thousands of miles shorter, everything that might break on a BMW motorcycle costs, like, a thousand bucks to fix. In some ways, the R1200RT is a better bike than the Trophy, but it’s very hard to argue that it’s $3,000 better.

One option the BMWs have that Triumph doesn’t is an integrated sat-nav system. It’s a special unit from Garmin, with big rubbery navigation buttons for using with gloves. Sadly it costs $700. Also, it constantly wants to give you directions to Warsaw, for some reason. Since most cellular systems offer navigation apps for their smartphones now, though, you can simply get your navigation instructions from your phone, and route the verbal instructions through the Trophy’s stereo via Bluetooth.

What’s good about it

The handling is outstanding—arguably the best in its class—and the 3-cylinder power plant provides a nice broad torque band with a pleasing engine noise. It’s all-day comfortable to ride, and the cruise control works well. It has loads of sophisticated features at a relatively good price, a fine transmission, decent cargo capacity and outstanding weather protection. Traction control and ABS braking deliver some extra confidence when riding in inclement weather. The long service interval should contribute to an economical cost of ownership. The value proposition for the Trophy is very compelling, all things considered.

What’s bad about it

The handlebar switchgear is inconveniently placed, requiring you to take your hands off the handlebars to fiddle with things. The menu system is dauntingly complicated, though presumably, the owner would learn it over time. The seat height is a bit high, and the front of the saddle is wide, preventing average-sized or shorter riders from flat-footing it at a stop. The numbers on the analog gauges could be bigger and more legible. The TES system lacks some sophistication, compared to the competing BMWs. It’s a very wide bike which makes filtering through traffic or at stoplights an occasional adventure, though, outside of California, that’s not legal, anyway, so not really a concern in 49 states.

Conclusion

Frankly, the complaints I have about the Triumph Trophy SE are relatively minor when you look at the whole package. What you have here is an outstandingly capable motorcycle at a very good price. The handling and comfort really set it apart from most of the other bikes in its class, and the areas where it falls short have little to do with its capability as a motorcycle.

The Kawasaki Concours14 and Yamaha FJR are significantly cheaper and faster, but they also handle far more porkily, and come with far fewer standard features. On the other end of the market, while the Trophy’s power slots it between the BMW R1200RT and the K1600GT, you can expect to spend at least $22,700 for a similarly equipped R1200RT, and in excess of $25,000 for the grosser panzer K1600GT. Add in BMW’s relatively steep ongoing ownership costs, and the Trophy comes awfully close to to hitting the sweet spot in terms of features, price, and value.

At least, that’s the reasoning I used when, earlier this week, I traded in my VFR for the Trophy SE pictured in this article. Which, I guess, tells you exactly how much I liked it.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for TechCentralStation.com. Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

2 thoughts on “Triumphant”

  1. Great, detailed review.
    Smooth, huh? I still wish there was some way to measure a bike’s vibe levels. The GoldWing has spoiled me, and the V-Twin Suzuki 650 has amazed me in that arena… both sewing-machine smooth.
    I wish I could say the same for my Moto Guzzi.

    With more and more GREAT equipment bein’ made available these days it seems the big decision maker might be where your closest dealer/service provider is.
    My Triumph guy is 100 miles distant.

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