Tested: Triumph rocket III

Those in the known pose

If you like to go fast in a matter of seconds and make a noise doing it, the Triumph Rocket is the bike for you. The feel of 2 300 cc of power hauling just 320 kg is unreal. Owning a Triumph Rocket is a statement. It is one of power and distinction. So go out and have fun, dusting off the little guys one by one

The Triumph Rocket is big in all respects. Start with the 2 294 cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line three-cylinder engine, one of the most impressive power plants yet fitted to a motorcycle. Then take in its overall size. It’s enormous: 2 500 mm long with a width of just under a metre at 970mm, giving it a commanding road presence.

The twin headlights stare ominously at whoever tries to cross the Rocket’s path, and the three exhaust pipes bark loudly at any brave soul that dares to come too close to its ultra-wide 240-section rear tyre.

This is a motorcycle that demands respect on all levels.

The Cardinal red and chrome colour scheme of the Rocket is pure cruiser. The long sweeping front mudguard, the mammoth proportions of the fuel tank, the couch and the rear mudguard are all styled with a classic treatment.

Big handlebars extend out over the fuel tank and house all the usual controls and switches. The round, chromed mirrors are small but effective. There is little vibration from the Rocket’s three-cylinder motor, so it’s easy to clearly see who and what is behind you.

The seating position on the Triumph is a little odd. For a six-footer the pegs are a little close to the seat and a bit too high. This, combined with extended arms reaching forward over the fuel tank, seems a bit awkward at first. But when riding the bike on the open road, the feeling quickly changes to a more comfortable one.

Some of the bigger-bore cruisers come with footplates for resting your feet. In the case of the Rocket, regular old foot pegs serve the purpose.

This normally would not be a problem, but when you find yourself cruising at 180 km/h with lots in reserve, the wind tends to push your feet away from the pegs. In return you have to push back, putting unnecessary strain on your legs. Okay, so it’s a cruiser, and you shouldn’t be going that fast. But if it can, you will.

It’s time to get going: the ignition is reached by extending your arms over the small speedometer and rev counter to insert the key.

Hit the starter button, the Rocket fires up, the engine instantaneously lets out a deep growl, and the bike pulls gently to the right as you rev it. It also revs quickly, and there is a healthy amount of intake noise from under the tank.

The Triumph looks heavy. It proudly shows off every bit of its 320 kg weight with its almost agricultural engine, covered in an abundance of chrome that takes up the bulk of the view.

The cable-operated clutch is light in operation but not all that effective. Engaging first gear is done with a solid clunk. Accelerate smoothly, and the Triumph feels gentle and sedate. So, what was all the fuss about? Beware your over-enthusiasm: the second twist of the throttle should be approached with some caution because now it’s time to hang on to your helmet as this bike accelerates faster than a superbike.

Into second. Again, the operation is clunky. By the time you’re in third, the Rocket shows where its name comes from. Fourth gear and it’s still accelerating.

The gearbox feels chunky, and suddenly selection to the next gear is missed and there’s a grinding sound reminiscent of a tractor engaging its gears.

In fifth and final gear there is still no let-up in acceleration. The optional screen fitted to the Triumph is straining to keep the pressure of the wind at bay and the neatly laid out contents of the panniers are now plastered up against the interior wall.

The triple exhausts howl with excitement. The drone emanating from them sounds a little like a Porsche 911 from yesteryear. And still the Triumph Rocket III continues its rapid acceleration to just over the 210 km/h mark. At this point, the motorcycle is as composed as it was 100 km/h back. And it is seemingly happy to hold that pace for as long as one can withstand the beating from the wind.

But all good things must come to an end, so taking a handful of brake and offering a substantial amount of pressure to the rear, the twin 320 mm floating discs with four-piston callipers up front and the single 316 mm disc and two-piston calliper on the rear slowly bring the Triumph back to a more sedate speed.

The braking capabilities of the Triumph are a little disappointing, and stopping its 320 kg bulk rapidly is a problem. With the momentum from the shaft, the problem is compounded.

The suspension – 43 mm USD forks up front and twin chrome shocks on the rear – look the American cruiser part. Triumph has admitted to taking many styling cues from the US motorcycle manufacturers for this model.

This is Triumph’s first inverted fork, which is pliant during normal riding duties, yet firm enough to limit dive and drama when the brakes are applied in earnest.

During more spirited rides, the engine gives off a fair amount of vibration. Throttling off from higher revs delivers a healthy buzz through the bars and the almost compulsory backfire.

With stunning performance, not the best handling manners and reasonably strong brakes, the Rocket III is going to be somewhat of a star performer.

The seat is low and comfortable, and the tank sits high so your legs are not spread uncomfortably wide while riding. Unfortunately our time with the Triumph Rocket III was limited. But this is one motorcycle that will stand out among the Topbike staffers as one of the more unusual takes on cruising.

(Individual scores out of 20)

ENGINE AND GEARBOX 15

Awesome power from the 2,3-litre power plant, but the gearbox just isn’t up to scratch

HANDLING AND BRAKES 15

When we talk about cruisers, we often don’t use the term ‘handling characteristics’. But the Triumph is a capable cruiser that will negotiate the longer sweeps easily. The brakes on the other hand are lacking. Six-piston callipers would help slow the Rockets bulk

RIDEABILITY 18

The comfortable riding position and low centre of gravity help with the manoeuvrability of the bike

STYLING AND FINISH 19

Strong features on the mammoth motorcycle set the Rocket III apart from the rest. Its styling is as individual as the purchaser it is aimed at. The finishing looks cheap in places, but overall build quality is superb

VALUE 18

What price do you put on exclusivity? There is nothing that remotely comes close to the Rocket. So all of a sudden the R160 000 price tag seems a drop in the ocean

OVERALL 85

Pose value of this motorcycle far exceeds any other bike. And it has the go to match the show

Vital Specifications
Engine Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC in-line three-cylinder
Displacement 2 294 cc
Bore/stroke 101,6 x 94,3 mm
Compression ratio 8,7:1
Power 105 kW (140 hp) @ 5 750 r/min
Fuel system Multi-point sequential fuel injection
Fuel tank capacity 25 litres
Transmission Five-speed
Drive Chain
Front suspension 43 mm upside-down forks
Rear suspension Chromed spring twin shocks, adjustable preload
Front tyre 150/80 R17
Rear tyre 240/50 R16
Length/width/height 2 500/970/1 165 mm
Wheelbase 1 695 mm
Claimed unladen weight 320 kg
Price R159 000
   
Dynamometer Figures
Power 113,4 kW (140 hp) @ 6 000 r/min