Rolling west on the Rocket III around the Highway 95 exit on I-40, I pulled alongside a Honda Fit automobile. On Triumph's behemoth triple, I felt I could simply bump that little car out of the way, like in the Spy Hunter video game, without disturbing the Rocket III's pounding progress down the road. I sneered inwardly at the tiny people in their tiny car, rolling on tiny wheels. The Rocket is taller, faster, and has more torque than the Fit. And it only felt heavier in parking lots.
Based on the Rocket III power-cruiser Triumph introduced in 2004, the Tourer has been re-tuned for touring, and been given a new frame and bodywork, a windshield, and of course, color-matched hard bags. Claimed horsepower has dropped from 140 to 107, but torque has jumped from 147 foot-pounds at 2,500 rpm to a planet-rotating 154 foot-pounds at 2,000 rpm. The bagger also got skinnier section tires than on the original Rocket III, for better back-road agility, and rumor has it some of the detuning was to protect the smaller tires from being overpowered. I didn't carve any twisties, but the big bike is nimble for an 800-pounder. For its intended purpose, munching big miles on the big road, it handles just fine.
This bagger is equipped with a five-speed gearbox, but it really only needs two gears (or three, if you don't want a workout backing the Tourer into parking spots and wish for reverse). At any speed, in any gear, roll on the throttle and the Rocket simply clears off, with only a minor grumbly feeling from the drivetrain if you're in top gear at walking speeds.
The brakes, two four-piston Nissin calipers at the front and a Brembo caliper at the rear, were powerful considering they were hauling 800 pounds to a stop. Slowing from 90 mph was totally undramatic, but I didn't attempt a panic stop from that speed.
The forward-mounted floorboards and controls are comfy going down the road, once I got used to the seating position. The Tourer gets a bigger seat, both the rider and pillion sections, and it was definitely butt-coddling. The tank is big and wide, forcing the rider's knees to spread em as he climbs aboard.
Backing the Rocket III into a parking space was a chore, even on level ground. I quickly learned to park it like a car with reverse gear gone; that also required bump-starting. Owners will quickly learn to avoid any situation that may involve pushing the Rocket bagger any distance.
The handlebars are wide, but not clownishly so like on some cruisers, and their width put the small mirrors in the perfect position to actually see what was going on behind me. The mirrors stayed buzz-free at all road and engine speeds. The instruments (analog speedo and fuel gauges and digital everything else) have been moved to the top of the tank, cruiser-style, losing some of the uniqueness of the first Rocket III. At 6'3", I caught some buffeting off the top of the big windshield. Ducking down a few inches put me right into the smoking lounge of calm air, so perhaps a taller screen would cure the turbulence. The grunty motor surely wouldn't mind being asked to push a little bit more drag coefficient through space and time.
Just like my 1969 Triumph 650, the Rocket III has a non-locking, non-attached gas cap, perfect for leaving at gas stations or getting stolen, and for allowing neighborhood kids to drop Junior Mints into the tank. How uncompromisingly retro. Perhaps there's a locking cap in the Triumph accessory catalog.
Along with the windshield, the bags make the Rocket a tourer. They have simple-to-operate locks and seem weather-tight, but the latches are inside the bags, presumably to ensure a sleek exterior shape, and they reduce the size of items the bags can swallow. A large toolkit also takes up valuable bag volume, so for two-up touring, a top box might be a required addition. Chrome adorns the bike everywhere, from the windshield trim and the floorboards to the exhaust covers and radiator shrouds. Even the oil filter is chrome.
Like with the Rocket III roadster, the motor is the chief styling element, especially on the right side where the huge chrome exhausts exit. The Rocket III is the only currently available motorcycle to use a longitudinal three-cylinder power plant. BMW's late, lamented K75 oriented its crankshaft similarly, albeit with the cylinder block laid on its side. The motor reminds me of the 235-six in my dad's old Chevy truck, and probably has more towing capacity.
And that monster motor is what sets the Rocket bagger apart from the zillions of V-twin cruisers and touring cruisers out there. There really is nothing else like it, and it's not a copy of anything. It's a power plant that can haul a rider and passenger across the country in comfort and style, as rapidly as the rider feels like traveling. And that's no gimmick.
Many thanks go out to Jordan and the crew at Destination Motorcycles, who let us play with the big Rocket for an afternoon. Stop in and ask for a test ride.
MSRP: $16,999 single color, $17,299 Two-Tone Color (2009 Model)
Engine type: 2,294cc DOHC in-line triple, liquid cooled
Horsepower: 107hp @ 5,400rpm
Torque: 154lb-ft @ 2,000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed, wet multiplate clutch, shaft final drive
Weight: 788 lbs (dry)
Seat Height: 28.7 inches
Tank capacity: 4.9 gallons
Tires: 150/80 R 16 front; 180/70 R 16 rear
Front Brakes: Twin 320mm floating discs, Nissin 4 piston fixed calipers
Rear Brakes: Single 316mm fixed disc, Brembo 2 piston floating caliper