Triumph Rocket IIIreview109c

by Kevin Kocur

A lot of good things come out of England. If I were to compose a list, it would include Billie Piper, fish & chips, the mini-skirt, Monty Python, the Rickenbacker 360 guitar, Top Gear and too many bands to possibly list here. Now we can add one more item to the list: the Triumph Rocket III Touring.

Lest you think I’ve turned into a cruiser fan, let me make one thing clear: this is not your average, everyday McBagger. Not content with a cookie-cutter V-twin, Triumph employs a liquid-cooled, longitudinal triple with roughly the same displacement as a Ford Pinto’s 2.3L mill, minus one cylinder and Ford’s goofy, two-blade fan. Upon learning that I was going to be riding a 2,300cc übercruiser for a week, I immediately had visions of muscling an 800-pound behemoth through stop-and-go traffic with every ounce of my strength. Turns out, I need not have worried.

This isn’t my first review of a Triumph. In fact, my first-ever MMM article was for a Hinckley-built Bonneville back in 2001. The only similarities between the two are that they both say Triumph on the gas tank. Styling-wise, The Rocket III Touring is different from most of the Triumph line: the Touring is pure bagger: think of it as a Harley FL on steroids. It differs greatly from its sister bike, the standard (if you can even call it that) Rocket III. In fact, the two share very few components.

Unlike the featherweight Bonneville, the III is larger and heavier. While a longer wheelbase and more weight are good things when running across Nebraska while battling non-stop side winds, around town, weight and heft are things that you usually don’t want. A good touring bike is seldom small or light and when you lift the Rocket III Touring off it’s side stand, you’ll immediately feel that weight. Backing out of a parking spot, the weight is still there. But snick the bike into gear and pull away, a funny thing happens: it’s as if the Triumph just shed 300 pounds.

Motoring along, one thing becomes apparent: the Rocket is aptly named. With 107 ponies on tap, and 154 ft.-lbs. of torque, Rocket works pretty well as far as names go. Triumph was smart to keep that one.

The first time I entered the freeway and decided to open her up all the way, my arms were nearly jerked from their sockets. “Houston, we have lift off!” You don’t expect a bike weighing nearly 800 pounds to take off like that. The triple howls like a banshee. I grab the next gear before the rev-limiter kicks in. Twist. Shift. Repeat. I could do this all day long….

All that power gets to the rear wheel through a smooth-shifting five-speed transmission and a shaft final drive. The tranny shifts wonderfully and predictably, and the wet clutch pulls pretty easily. Remember my earlier comments about commuting? My left hand was never overtaxed using the clutch in stop-and-go traffic. My only two nitpicks about the drive train would be the heel/toe shifter (yes, I know it’s a personal issue) and the noticeable shaft effect from all that torque. Ride accordingly.

So, we know this Triumph is pretty fast, but I’ll let you in on a secret: the III can corner as well. Sure, it’s a hefty cruiser, but remember: it’s also a Triumph. Throw this thing into corners all day long, if you like. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But, please remember, while it corners quite well, you’re probably not going to keep up with the bloke on the Ducati 1198. I don’t care if you do have more displacement than him. Still, I leaned the thing over pretty good on a couple of curves (Editor Pearman will back me up on this) and still didn’t scrape anything. Triumph did a nice job of combining decent handling without killing the ride quality.

OK class, we’ve covered the acceleration and handling. But at some point everyone needs to stop.No worries there, as the engineers at Triumph have that covered as well. Up front, four-piston calipers squeeze two 320mm floating rotors. A single 316mm disc and two-piston caliper handle braking duties in back. If the last Triumph you rode was a T-120 thirty years ago, it’s a safe bet that there’s going to be an “adjustment period” for you. Now it’s time to examine the “Touring” portion of the Rocket’s name. If you plan to actually ride the thing, a touring bike should be comfortable and you should be able to take things with you. Done and done. An easily removable windshield handles wind protection and there’s an absolutely fantastic set of saddlebags. The windshield (windscreen, for those of you across the pond) really works well, in addition to looking good on the bike. Buffeting, for me, was manageable, and it deflected enough wind off my hands to allow me to wear my mid-weight gloves, even on the coldest fall days. There is even a set of smaller, lower wings to help things out.

I can’t say enough good things about the saddlebags. They are well built and purty to look at. A cruiser should have some familiar elements to identify it as such. I don’t think a huge set of aluminum adventure-touring bags would look right. The shape of these bags screams, “I am Cruiser!” One could think they came off of a certain brand of motorcycle built in Milwaukee. The bags will hold quite a bit of your stuff and have little inner storage pouches for small items. Inside one of the pouches are the locking cylinders for the windshield and our test bike’s optional passenger backrest. They are keyed the same as the ignition. Bloody brilliant!

review109bSpeaking of passengers, why be a lone wolf when you have the optional backrest and a decent seat on which to perch one? The passenger won’t be the only one happy with the seat; Mr. (or Ms.) Lone Wolf will appreciate it as well. In fact, the overall riding position is decent. Again, not a big fan of cruisers here, but this one didn’t beat me up. The seat is comfy, the floorboards aren’t too terribly far forward, and they’re big enough to move your feet around on. Plus, the handlebars weren’t too tiller-like. You will notice how wide this thing is; especially the gas tank. Still, I adjusted to everything pretty quickly, which is saying a lot since I’d just come off of a 250 Ninja when I picked up the mighty Triumph.

One thing that can’t be denied is that this Triumph is a looker. The quality and attention to detail are top-notch. The chrome is first-rate, the Jet Black paint nearly flawless, and the silver pinstripes are hand-painted. The radiator features a chrome nacelle and grille and the entire exhaust system is covered in chrome. The rear turn signal bracket is a graceful work of art and looks like the hood ornament from a 50’s-era Chevy. Look around the bike and one finds all sorts of pieces like that. I also applaud Triumph for not covering up the motor. I am a gearhead and prefer to see the engine, rather than cover it up with a bunch of plastic. The striking black, wrinkle-finish sets off the mill without making it the centerpiece.

There are some features that I need to mention. First, is the instrument cluster. Located on top of the fuel tank, it features a speedometer and fuel gauge. But wait, there’s more! There’s also a digital display controlled by a button on the handlebars. While it won’t cut through an aluminum can—and then slice a tomato—it will display time, trip meter and fuel range at the touch of a finger. When it is time to gas up, remember to pull to the left side of the pump as the fuel cap is on the right side of that huge tank. Another thing I should mention: gone are the days of sticky, Amal carbs and leaky petrol petcocks. This bike is fuel-injected, baby.

Kudos to Triumph for building a big, touring cruiser with “outside-the-box” thinking that really appeals to the rebel in me. Want to be a rebel? Then why buy the same bike that’s parked in every other driveway on your street? I’ll let you ponder that one a bit, while I thank the folks at Belle Plaine Motorsports for the use of the Triumph Rocket III Touring. Give ‘em a ring at 952-873-4500 or surf over to www.bpmotorsports.com

Now you’ll have to excuse me. My fish and chips are getting cold, and Top Gear is on. Cheers, mates!

by Molly Gilbert

Permit me to start at the beginning: I am not a cruiser kind of gal.

In fact, so much so, that I am starting to believe the MMM people just enjoy taking the piss out of me by only assigning me cruisers to review. To fully paint the picture for you, the last one actually had ape hangers. I was mortified. But I got over it.

Then I got a call that the next bike was a Triumph! “Yay!” I thought. “Finally, a sport bike. Or at least a standard.”

Next came all this verbiage about how big this thing was. No, seriously, as in really big. Like, the biggest engine on a bike, about as big as a Ford Pinto engine.

review109aNow mind you, I am still picturing some sort of monolithic sport bike, okay? But I don’t want to ruin the surprise by looking it up online or anything. I like the first impression of a review bike to be physical in person. So, the legend continued to grow. Pretty soon, I was convinced I’d be riding a dinosaur or something. If I only knew what awaited.

This thing was big, almost 800 lbs big. It would be a challenge to move around at slow speeds. This I could see immediately, no matter who was on it. But I don’t want to pull the “girl card,” and I have some height to me, so I shouldn’t really shy away from it, but dang! This thing was huge! For the first time in my life, I was actually concerned about getting on a bike. And yes, it was a cruiser, dammit!

As I’m wrapping my head around how to maneuver this thing, I see (oh, joy!) a pair of shiny hard bags. Instant purses! This makes me realize how much I miss the hard luggage from my old BMW K-75.There’s no mussing about with “does this purse match?”, or “do I transfer it into a backpack or bike bag?”, or “am I carrying the kitchen sink and need to mount the soft luggage?” Nope, you just throw that Coach bag into one of the hard bags on this baby and you are purse-free! Handy locks allow you to pull out your wallet and lip-gloss and you are set for dinner. I suddenly found myself packing my Aerostitch pants and heated gear just as luxury items to have along, just in case. I miss that while sport bike riding. But I digress on the accessories. Hey, it’s a girl thing…

Back to the bike itself: the Rocket III is monolithic.

Luckily, the center of gravity is low to the ground. I’d hate to have to balance that kind of weight with a higher CoG, but standing still is fine. It was the low, slow starts that scared me. You wobble a bit, no matter how experienced you are. 800-lbs is just a great deal of mass to manipulate. Once you get up to speed, this baby is beautiful, with a lovely ride. Despite her heft, the Rocket III is smo-o-o-th. I found great reassurance and comfort when riding.

One of the things I kept telling people about this bike was that you could easily ride to North Dakota and back just for lunch with no pain whatsoever. This is a long distance bike, for sure.

The lighting is strong and sufficient at night, and I never felt “unseen,” which is unusual on a bike, as we all know.

The sound of the engine threw me and my fellow riders. And I thought my old K-75 sounded like a sewing machine. In a way, it was a relief in that it looks like it would have one of those awful, eardrum busting roars that embarrasses the neighbors. But the British are polite that way, and Triumph engineers save us from being the Ugly American that none (very few) wish to be. Still, I admit it; I’d probably put some aftermarket pipes on this thing for more a little more” growl.”

Thing is, with all its engine, you can’t help but feel a bit tested when it comes to limiting your speed. I mean, what bike doesn’t do that to us? I know. Believe me, I know. But with all the “lore” that comes with this platform, you wouldn’t have blood running through your veins if you didn’t feel the need to see what one was capable of.

One night, I was riding with a Kawasaki 1200 and the rider said he felt like he needed to be flat on the throttle or drop down a gear in order to get up on me. And I was only in 4th gear! Due to its capability in lower gears to hit the speeds you need or want, I felt no need whatsoever to push it any harder. I was where I needed to be in 4th. Why bother pushing this mad thing?

The only annoying thing I noticed was with the standard windshield, which happened to hit me smack-dab in the forehead. This is annoying whether you choose to wear a helmet or are one of those “Freedom Rider” types. Either way, you end up with a headache after a certain period of riding time. There is likely a way to adjust the height, which I would strongly suggest looking into. I found myself crouching down over the tank to avoid the head whack.

OK, on to the fun stuff. This is the bit where your friends never let you live it down. Being a gal, you’d think your male riding buddies would cut you some slack when it comes to dropping a bike, wouldn’t you? Um…. no.

Apparently, this will be a constant source of amusement and ridicule for years to come. Yes, this is indeed why I always say what wonderful friends I have. OK, enough with the sarcasm. Yeah, I managed to drop it.

Now, as with most dropped bike incidents, you kind of wish it was a bit more…well, glamorous. “I was going 90 mph down a deserted stretch of the Autobahn when suddenly, this 18-wheel rig dropped out of the sky right in front of me and I slid between the third and fourth sets of gigantic wheels, only to right her up again when safely on the other side! A bit of road rash, but none the worse for wear.” All of it said with a steely Clint Eastwood-look in your eyes. Or at least with the eye crinkles. But nooooo, that’s not how Molly does it.

The sad reality is that we were pulling out of a restaurant on Franklin Ave. near River Road. This place has a smallish parking lot that makes it a bit awkward to turn a skyscraper of a bike around in. I decided I would simply roll it backwards onto Franklin, avoiding a 12-point turn in the small lot.

Problem is, the driveway has this nifty, deep dive to it just before it hits Franklin that I didn’t see at night. As I am making the “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!’ sounds of a semi backing up for humor purposes, my friend, 20 feet away cautions, “Hey, I don’t think you want to do that…” In what seemed to me at the time like slow motion, when I hit the dip with my rear tire, I felt the weight start to shift.

This is not a good thing on a bike with this kind of mass. When 800-lbs. starts to roll on you, there’s not a lot you can do to stop it. I struck a “jack-knife” stance as she continued to roll over on me, and decided to save myself before being pinned to the ground.

review109dThat small little tumble, at less than 5 miles-per-hour, was good enough. I lost a blinker lens, scraped the front fender and scuffed a floorboard and roll bar. While I emerged unscathed, I piled up several hundred dollars in damage. Can I tell you how incredibly horrifying it is to drop a bike from a dealer with only 343 miles on it? It’s the kind of horror one experiences where you don’t sleep well for the first few nights. To top it off, this was MMM‘s first-ever loan from Belle Plaine Motor Sports. I just had to drop it, didn’t I, very humiliating.

I was shaken, not stirred, and knew enough about myself to know I wouldn’t easily feel confidant on this bike at lower speeds any time soon. Again, a phenomenally smooth ride when at speed, but a bit of a nightmare to maneuver at super-slow speeds, at least for me.

This is the first year for the Triumph Rocket III Touring model. The first thing you notice about it is the huge in-line three engine. As my significant other said, “it looks like a Peterbilt semi diesel engine!” A 5.9-gallon fuel tank perches over the monster motor. The Rocket-III Touring weighs in with a dry weight of 788 lbs. Plenty of chrome compliments the shiny, black paint. It has a seat height of 29 inches and a width of 35.2 inches. It has two, enormous disc brakes on the front and features a 5-speed shaft drive.

Other than that, it’s big and shiny and falls over fast and easy if you’re not careful. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

M.M.M.

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