First Ride: 2007 Triumph Rocket III Touring

As American as the English language, this Hinckley super-tourer is all set to give the US cruiser market a good old taste of British spunk.

The Rocket III is a fairly scary bike, face it. Trying to unleash 143bhp while sitting in a position similair to the one that labouring women use isn’t exactly the most relaxing way to begin a mid-life crisis. Sales have been strong but not as strong as expected in the US. The Americans (being Americans )demanded more from Triumph and the Rocket III, they wanted more comfort and less power. Less power? Which is why we now have the Rocket III Touring.

Built to accompany but not compete with the original Rocket, the Touring should be able to reach the parts of the extremely important US cruiser market that the original model can’t touch. The problem stemmed from the fact that because the US cruiser market is so diverse it has been segmented into different styles of cruiser. A laid-back bike with no screen or anything in the way of storage such as the Rocket has to be placed in the ‘power cruiser’ sector and can’t compete for sales in the other cruiser sectors of the market, which account for 50% of all bike sales in America. You may not view this as an important bike if you ride in the UK, but the sales from bikes like this in the USA will help fund projects for the UK market in the future.

It’s a shame that Texans don’t like their roads how they like their men (it would appear) as we had to ride a fair old way to find the bends we used for the pictures. When we did it took no time at all to realise that this bike has a much more fluid feeling than the standard Rocket, and any of the air-cooled Harleys I have ridden. Ground clearance is an issue that has been addressed with the use of replaceable sliders on the edge of the footboards, as yet there are no plans for sparky options. Which isn’t that surprising.

The riding dynamic of the Touring is completely different to the Rocket. It’s relaxed from the off. While the rear sub frame is narrower the seat width is slightly up, it’s a really comfortable riding position, especially with the optional highway pegs and tall screen.

The engine has been reworked to provide more torque (154ft/lb @ 2,000rpm), but with less horsepower, 108bhp at the crank on the standard pipes or 125 with the straight through option that’s available. Power is electronically capped in the first three gears to prevent you from adding too much, though the Touring will still happily light up the rear in the dry in first or second if you try hard enough.

The reduction in power seems to have taken some of the strain off the gearbox. You would think that more torque would increase the strain but if you ride the bike on the torque wave you can happily short shift into top at under 40mph and leave it there all day, whereas on the old bike there was so much power that it was too easy to get rev hungry and nail each gear before trying to shift up. Owners of the original Rocket are well aware that this transmission does not like being rushed – this one is exactly the same, right down to the ratios and the final drive.

First glance may fool you into thinking this is just a subtle re-style. Some new paint on new panniers with the menacing twin headlight junked in favour of a more traditional setup. Well, you’re wrong. But don’t worry, so were 99% of the journos at the launch. It’s easier to say what’s been kept over from the original bike, than to list what’s new. The mirrors are old, as is the tail light and the front brakes. But that’s it.

Aesthetically the bike looks bang on, the styling is much classier in the flesh than the Rocket, the two tone paint-schemes really compliment the flow of the bike. The new wheel design made me think of the fins on old drum brakes, and while the feeling of Harley styling is obvious, what I liked more was the feeling of period styling from the Fifties. The large screen on the bike in the pictures is one of 75 accessories available for this bike, 65 of which are brand new and specific only to this model. As with the mid-sized and shorty screens the big one is held in place by a spring loaded mechanism which allows you to remove it in seconds to either clean it, or to fit a different one. I played with the system for ages, it really is a brilliantly simple yet mega-effective device. The optional riding lights already have tidy switches plumbed in, a lot of effort has been made to make you want to spec your bike up, and also to make the process of fitting new shiny bits pain free and easy.

The chassis had to be redesigned to cope with the extra load carried at the rear of the bike in the 36.5 litre panniers. To accommodate these panniers without compromising their capacity, Triumph reduced the width of the rear subframe and fitted a 180-section tyre rather than the 240 fitted to the original Rocket. At the front Triumph has sharpened up the steering by reducing the wheel size by half an inch to 16.5 and reduced the rake a tiny bit, which will help with slow speed manoeuvering as well as high-speed handling.

Unsurprisingly the Triumph was happy cruising along at 75mph, the changes made to the front end were obvious and very welcome. The smaller section rear tyre also meant that the Touring was a lot more willing to turn than the old Rocket with its monster show-off 240 section effort. The standard fitment Bridgestone Exedras were developed with this Triumph in mind, and while this isn’t the sort of bike with which to go exploring grip levels they were reassuring. So long as you didn’t start showing off doing wheelspins.

Initially I missed the extra snap of the original Rocket, but once I got my head around the fact that these two bikes aren’t competing for the same type of buyer I really started to enjoy the experience of travelling slower, taking the time to look at what was passing by, the endless Texas you see in the movies. All that looking around and sticking to one speed made me want to use the cruise control. Unfortunately Triumph don’t offer a cruise control system, or a stereo. For now. There are plans to offer ABS, but not for at least a year yet.

The questions that potential buyers will ask themselves should have all been heard before, which is why we now have the Touring as well as the Rocket. Look at the Touring as an alternative to any of the interstate Harleys on the market, or as an option if
you definitely want to buy British, but can’t help supersizing. A class act for covering huge distances in style and comfort.