Most women wouldn’t even look at a bike this big, let alone try to ride it. But, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not like most women. At 39, measuring 5′ 7″, and hauling around 25 pounds more than I’d like, I’m perfectly capable of handling any bike out there. And since I’ve been with RoadBike, I’ve had the opportunity to test more motorcycles than most people will ever sit on. It’s something I certainly don’t take for granted — and I never say no.
When Triumph recently offered up a Rocket III Touring to ride from Asheville, North Carolina, back to our Connecticut office, I didn’t even stop to think about it before jumping at the chance. Only in retrospect did I begin to doubt myself and wonder if I could handle the 2294cc ogre. Plus, I’d be riding alone on a thousand-mile journey. But, there’s no man in my house, so I have to figure out how to open jars and fix toilets myself.
I tackled this situation much the same way. First, I did my research. With the tech sheet downloaded from Triumph’s web site, my eyes kept coming back to the engine size spec. I’ve never ridden anything of these proportions before, but have successfully handled my fair share of Gold Wings, LTs, and other long, heavy, cruising
monsters. At 102.3″ in length, and 869 pounds, the Rocket III T sounds like a lot to handle, but I know motorcycles. Once any bike is off its sidestand, there’s no lifting required. So I dismissed the scary spec sheet and began planning my route.
Designed to be Triumph’s touring cruiser, the Rocket III Touring includes just what you need to rack up the miles in comfort: large, locking hard bags; wide, low seat; floorboards for both rider and passenger; a windscreen; and lower air deflectors. A chunky, lockable, quick-release mechanism allows you to easily remove the low 17″ windshield and catch some air when you want it. But pop it back on, and you’ll only get some relief from the wind blast on your chest. A proper tourer would come equipped with a much taller shield, but I happen to love this one. Not only is it effective on the super-slab, but it also works with the low, mean line carried throughout the bike’s profile. If you want a taller piece of polycarbonate up front, for $220 you can order the 23″ tall Roadster Blade windshield and install your stock screen mounting hardware to it. Or if you want the ease of switching between two shields frequently, for $500 you can order the Roadster quick-mount screen with hardware that simply pops onto the existing locking hardware (See Worthy Add-Ons).
There is no denying that the 2294cc behemoth under the tank is a monster. However, as intimidating as the Rocket looks and feels during slow-speed maneuvers, once moving it glides like a powerful stallion. Smooth is the word that kept coming to mind each time I rolled on the throttle. Every gear shift and power change results in the same, strong, predictable pull. Power is delivered to the 180mm 16″ rear wheel via shaft drive, which, again, is smooth as silk. Whisper-quiet, the Rocket doesn’t emit the kind of grumble usually associated with our sport. If you want noise, you’ll have to look elsewhere, or just learn to appreciate the sound of the wind swooshing by.
The liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line three cylinder looks more like a car engine than one you’d find on a typical scoot. The multipoint sequential EFI does its job well, delivering the right amount of air and fuel to the engine. Lacking a tach to prove it, it feels like the huge motor never climbs more than about 3000 rpm, though max horsepower is reached at 6000 rpm. Power’s delivered so efficiently and smoothly through each of the five gears, that over-revving just doesn’t happen. Sure, you can gun it in front of your friends to show off the huge power plant, but the lack of sound isn’t going to impress anyone anyway.
Cradled by a tubular steel twin spine, the chassis is rigid enough to support the heavy weight of this machine plus your load. But head into corners hard, fully loaded, and you’ll start to feel it wallow under extreme stress. The Rocket T’s suspension was designed to achieve high levels of comfort without compromising control. And it feels right on for its intended purpose. The two 43mm forks house springs with 120mm of travel, while the rear sports 105mm of travel, and five preload adjustments. The front brakes are adequate for a machine of this size, with twin 320mm floating discs, stopped by a pair of Nisson four-piston fixed calipers. The rear is a bit touchier, though just a single 316mm disc with Brembo two-piston floating caliper. It takes a bit of getting used to the effectiveness of the rear brake, partly because of the reach to the pedal. The tendency is to stomp on it too hard. But once you master using both brakes to their full potential, the weight transfer is strong and smooth, and front-end dive is nearly eliminated.
I love motorcycle designs that can simplify all the necessary components into one tidy package. Which is what you get with the Rocket T’s instrument cluster. The gauges are simple and are displayed neatly on the tank-mounted dash panel. Here you have your speedometer, fuel gauge, the usual display of warning lights, and a small LED screen with an odometer, tripmeters, clock, and range to empty. Toggling through the LED display is done easily with your thumb on the info button on the right grip.
For some strange reason, the big 5.9-gallon tank isn’t easy to fill up. Oddly, I found that after about 11 miles from pulling out of the gas station with what I thought was a full tank, the arm of the gauge would swing back down to only three-quarters full. Boggled by this, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t completely filling the tank. But since every station I tried threw gas out of the pump at super-sonic speeds, I couldn’t manage to top off the tank without getting a fuel bath in the process. Once home, I went to a station where I know the pump is slow, and a slight uphill slope, which I thought might help my quest. I waited and waited for that big tank to fill, but in the end, I ran out of patience just shy of five gallons. If you manage to fill this tank, at an estimated 41 mpg, which is a good average of what I experienced, you should get 242 miles to a tank. But the fuel-warning light became illuminated after only about 140 miles for me. It’s a minor irritant to an otherwise fantastic tourer. Also worth noting is that the stock filler cap is not lockable, but can be upgraded to Triumph’s keyed accessory cap for $60.
Initially getting on the Rocket III Touring after spending a couple days romping through the Blue Ridge twisties on Triumph Speed Triples and Tigers was a little daunting. My first impression was that the front end was a titanic heavyweight as I struggled to maneuver my full load out of the parking garage where it had been waiting for me. After the initial sweat dried and my heart beat back to normal, I made my way to a main thoroughfare, where I could relax and get to know the Rocket at speed, where the weight became unnoticeable. I settled into the relaxing seating position, happy to be on my way home. I took my time, testing the bike on both long highway miles and cruising the slow, scenic parkway curves.
After that initial rush of adrenaline, I’d come to really enjoy and appreciate the big-bike feel. The bars are wide, which makes handling easier, and the rider position is relaxed. The floorboards include a heel-toe shifter, designed so that there’s a certain amount of repositioning you can get away with. I even flipped down the passenger boards and put my feet on them when I needed a change of position. The seat is roomy and has good absorption. On the last day of my journey, I spent 12 hours in the saddle, with only short fuel and food stops to break it up, with no soreness whatsoever. And the day after my return, I went out again for a six-hour ride with a passenger through the hills of Connecticut. My passenger barely made a difference in the bike’s handling, and I wouldn’t have even known she was behind me had she not been interested in chit-chatting throughout the ride. I only noticed the extra weight on slow turnarounds, mostly because of the size-intimidation factor, which I’m sure would eventually go away, if I’d had more time with this bike.
What’s truly great about this cruising tourer is that it’s not a high-tech machine with a bunch of fancy electronic gizmos that requires a 500-page instruction manual to figure out. No, the Rocket III Touring
is a very capable motorcycle, built for enjoying the essence of the ride with classic style and simple, no-nonsense comfort. RB — By Tricia Szulewski, Photos By Bob Feather
Talking Head: Steve Lita, Editor, Age: 46, Height/Weight: 6′, 200, Years Riding: 24, Personal Bike: Honda ST1100
The Triumph Rocket is an amazing beast. The Rocket III platform has proven to be versatile, with four versions available, including the new Roadster (see page 30). A bit of a heavyweight to push around the parking garage, once it gets going under its own power, the Rocket T is comfortable, stable, and fluid.
The cable-operated clutch action is smooth and easy to engage. I always like it when the manufacturer places the info scroll pushbutton up on the switchgear on the other handlebar, making it easy to scroll through and find that distance-to-empty feature. Unfortunately the gas tank is hard to fill completely due to the dark recess of the fill neck.
The sleeping giant is a quiet bike, but growls mean when you wring it out. All that power comes at a cost of heat generation. I can feel the warmth rising from the right-side exit exhaust right up to my outstretched right arm. But think of it as a primitive, one-sided heated grip. I appreciate the smooth and quiet shaft drive, perfect for transcontinental touring.
I experienced some rear wheel lockup with hard brake application while riding unloaded. Maybe that means I should take it on long trips fully loaded more often. I’m not fond of the smallish lollipop mirrors, but I will concede one thing: they are rock steady.