Contained rotating flows subject to precessional forcing are well known to exhibit rapid and energetic transitions to disorder. Triadic resonance of inertial modes has been previously proposed as an instability mechanism in such flows, and that idea was developed into a successful model for predicting instability in a cylindrical container when departures from solid-body rotation are sufficiently small. Using direct numerical simulation and dynamic mode decomposition, we analyse instabilities of precessing cylinder flows whose three-dimensional basic states, steady in the gimbal frame of reference, may depart substantially from solid-body rotation. In the gimbal frame, the instability can be interpreted as resulting from a supercritical Hopf bifurcation that results in a limit-cycle flow. In the cylinder frame of reference, the basic state is a rotating wave with azimuthal wavenumber
, and the instability satisfies triadic-resonance conditions with the instability mode maintaining a fixed orientation with respect to the basic state. Thus, we are able to demonstrate the existence of two alternative but congruent explanations for the instability. Additionally, we show that basic states may depart substantially from solid-body rotation even with modest cylinder tilt angles, and growth rates for instabilities may be sufficiently large that nonlinear saturation to disordered states can occur within approximately ten cylinder revolutions, in agreement with experimental observations.