Every few years in the world of motorcycling, something comes along that makes everyone stop for a moment and take notice. In 2004, Triumph achieved this by launching the Rocket III – a 2.3 litre monster of a cruiser. Six years on, and there’s still not really anything that has topped it in terms of sheer engine size. Approaching the Rocket III, its easy to feel a little bit daunted. You think about what it will be like to ride something with an engine this big, will it be mental? As you walk up to it, you can’t help but notice this massive engine sitting under an equally big fuel tank. Then you throw your leg over it and you notice that it is quite a bit taller than most other cruisers. Glancing down, that tank takes up a huge amount of space, but the wide bars are just the right reach, and nestled in the center of them are two very simple & cleanly designed clocks.
Firing up the engine, three things immediately spring to mind – a) its rather smooth for such a big engine, b) its actually relatively quiet, and c) this doesn’t seem quite as scary as it should do. The engine settles down to a gentle yet fast whirr, idling away as I pull the beast upright and kick back its sidestand. The clutch is quite light and as I pull it in, engaging first gear with the quietest of clicks. No clunks, no thuds, this is refined as it should be. Pulling away its easy to sense just how much torque this engine has (221 Nm to be precise) but you also experience all that weight and size fade away. My first route takes me into Dublin’s city centre, and despite being on the Rocket III for only ten minutes I already feel very at ease with it.
Triumph really did a very good job of making this bike easy to ride. In traffic its a cinch to manage, easy to control at walking pace by covering the rear brake – though I must admit that on the particular bike I was riding I felt I had to press the rear brake pedal a bit too far. That said the handlebars are just right the right width for the job, and its easy to quickly have confidence when riding it even of you’re only used to smaller bikes. But lets be honest, this is no town bike, it was designed for the open road. Heading out of the city on the N11, its clear from the first few squirts of the throttle that there’s plenty of go in the Triumph. My particular Roadster has been fitted with a screen and even up to 80km/h there is virtually no wind buffeting. The riding position for me (being about 5’9”) was absolutely spot on and I could happily consider doing long trips in its wide and comfortable saddle while its pegs were just the right height to prevent feeling cramped.
Coasting up to the next red light, the petrolhead inside asks a question that its asked so many times before – “What’s this thing like off the lights?” As the opposing traffic lights flick orange, I guess I’m about to answer that question. Clutch in, first gear engaged, revs held at at steady 1700 rpm, and go! First is long, but the engine gets through it pretty quickly, second slides in effortlessly and the torque pushes me a little further back along the seat. Third is called for as I reaffirm my grip on the bars. Glancing down momentarily, and I’m already beyond what the law of the land would be happy with, and yet this engine continues to pull like a freight train. In fourth and I’m already silly fast for a bike like this, with one more gear still to come. Naturally the Triumph feels planted as anything with this much mass should do, and passing it through some fast sweeping bends it handles them with zero effort, simply gliding through. The Rocket has a tendency to raise up slightly, due to the shaft drive, but I only really notice this under heavy acceleration. The engine is without a doubt the real star of this bike. Gear choice is almost irrelevant when opening the taps on it, the 146 bhp from those three cylinders simply knuckles down and gets on with it.
One aspect of it being rather liberal with the right grip on a Rocket III is its propensity to consume petrol. On the open road its not too bad, but around town its becomes almost funny but that said you do have to remind yourself that you’re having to feed 2294 cc’s. But as refined as the Triumph is, if I’m really honest, I came away feeling a little disappointed from riding it. I think possibly I had built it up a bit too much in my head, a 2.3 litre engined motorcycle should be bonkers, it should be crazy – but its not. What it is (when the novelty of cracking open the throttle in second gear has worn off) is not just a big cruiser but a rather well rounded touring machine thats capable of eating up motorways with minimal effort and also capable of embarrassing a lot of much sportier machines. Equip it with a screen and saddlebags as my bike was, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good all round bike that will surprise you at just how capable it is.
Thanks to Dublin Triumph for supplying the Rocket III