First Ride: 2004 Triumph Rocket III

With an engine larger than most family estates, Triumph launches its flagship model in the land where excess is the name of the game

Posted: 30 March 2008
by Mark Shippey

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' ON Highway 1, the cool sea breeze tickling your skin as you click the giant 2.3litre Triumph into third, indicate left, crack the throttle to feel the torque explosion and blast past another American tourist on this famous coastal stretch.

The first thing that is evident as you walk around the Rocket III is that this is one big bike. From its glaring bug-eyed twin headlights to the huge snarling radiator, it looks ready for anything and woe betide any who get in the way.

Swinging a leg over and slumping into the plush seat, the thought behind rider and bike ergonomics was instantly apparent. The riding position is excellent. The foot controls are slung forward and the wide bars pull back nicely to offer supreme control. Ride 10 or 500 miles in one day and the wide plush gel-packed seat will remain 100% comfy.

Triumph consulted test groups in the USA, the main market for the Rocket III, at early stages of development to ensure that all styling characteristics were met. To ape Harley would have been so easy, but just looking at the Rocket, I feel that it has found its own true styling niche. The Rocket is a fantastic mix of classic lines, bulk and sleek sophistication.

There's enough chrome to keep you busy polishing for hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon! Triumph has even thought about solo riding, with an easily removable pillion pad.

The fuel tank is an integral part of the design package, with your legs slipping into the recesses making it easy to hug the tank.

With a whopping 26-litre capacity, it has an average fuel range of 180 miles before the light comes on. If you ride flat stick everywhere, then this figure will drop below the healthy 42mpg, but riding as Mother Cruiser intended at 55-70mph will produce excellent fuel economy and a range that most tourers would envy. Then there are still four litres left on reserve...

The bars spread you wide like a sail making hard acceleration and consistent 100mph-plus speed a royal pain in the neck. And shoulders. And legs - and arms! Drop the revs back and cruise at 55mph and the Rocket III is almost perfection personified. The engine has a beautiful mid-range that feels happy at such a sedate pace, yet unlike a sportsbike doesn't feel as if it is hassling you like a naughty imp to hit illegal speeds. Unless you want to!

The official figures are not to be baulked at. 147lb.ft of torque at 2500rpm, 140bhp at the giant 17kg crank at 5750rpm and a genuine 115bhp (est) feeding through to the rear wheel.

Even with a total weight of 320kg, most of today's modern sports bikes will be green with envy at these power statistics. You'd think that a motorcycle displaying these dimensions would want to stick to long straight roads.

Well, the Rocket doesn't. Like a playful dog running along at your heels in the park, it waits expectantly for you to throw a ball or stick for it to get into its stride. The Rocket munches anything in its path.

With a genuine 120mph on the straights, she then has more than enough ground clearance (eight inches), to comfortably sweep through the twistiest of routes. This is made simpler due to the low centre of gravity that makes it a doddle to throw her from side to side. The only time she can buck under you is over the more potholed roads; otherwise she just laughs, shrugs her shoulders and gets on with enjoying the ride ahead.

I can't believe how much torque is on tap from such low revs. Even in top gear burbling at just under 2000rpm, the engine doesn't falter, or miss a beat. Instead, the fuel injection is crisp and the throttle just begs to be cracked wide open for that adrenalin rush, launching you forward in a controlled but explosive manner.

The power delivery can be very deceptive, however. Top gear roll-ons from 60-100mph feel almost sluggish at first. Try the same move again and glance briefly at the speedometer and you realise just how quickly that needle rises! No data equipment was at hand but a mental count - thousand and one thousand and two thousand and three thousand and four thousand and - 100mph. She had a ton up in just over four seconds!

The engine was always destined to be the focal point of the Rocket III - at 2.3litres, how could it not be? The three chromed header pipes all exit on the right, due to the position of the engine, but act as a visual cache. The engine also serves as an integral part of the chassis, bolting directly to the tubular steel frame and swingarm. Acting almost as a cross brace to the rest of the chassis, the engine strengthens the headstock for improved feel and stiffness of the front end.

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