Triumph Rocket III Touring

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

Back in 2004, Triumph rocked the motorcycle world with the christening of the shockingly large Rocket III. Even in a cruiser arena crowded with machines flexing motor muscles measuring 1600, 1800, and even 2000cc, this big bad Brit crashed the V-twin party with a titanic triple kegger that emphatically pounded the pavement with nearly 300cc more than the nearest competition.

When you have a cruising motorcycle that sports an engine pushing more ccs than a number of today’s cars, it seems only logical that a touring version would be the next iteration. The initial assumption was that the Hinckley, England-based factory simply rush some accessory bags into production, hang them off the RIII and call it a touring bike. The engineers at Triumph weren’t going to take the easy out, though. There were plans in place to use the stunningly powerful inline engine in a touring platform, but it was decided that patience and a lot of R&D would be the best route to punching a winning ticket.

Now, it’s common knowledge that here in the Colonies, we appreciate quantity. But may I remind you that our former governors from across the pond have never shied away from laying on a fair heap of proportion should the situation demand. Double-decker buses, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye Ferris Wheel, and now the Rocket III Touring are just a few of Jolly Old England’s exercises in super sizes, and so "bigger is better” is a trait we Yanks may have come by honestly.

Now That’s a Motor

The mere term Touring Cruiser implies a smooth and comfortable ride, and Triumph knew they were sitting on a power train perfectly poised to fill the bill. The Rocket III Touring shares the same in-line, three-cylinder engine with the existing Rocket III. This behemoth triple displaces an industry leading 2294cc, producing 154 ft/lb of torque at 2000 rpm. That’s a down-low power note that would have made Barry White green with envy.

The company reps were quick to point out that the bike still pulls hard in top gear even at speeds as low as 30mph. I tried it several times, and they’re right; this thing is an ox. Inside, the fire is managed by a sophisticated ECU that gets its vital information from an army of sensors monitoring engine speed, engine position, throttle position, engine temperature, air temperature, air pressure, the gear selected, and road speed. All of this data is constantly crunched to determine the correct fueling and ignition combo for any situation. It’s no wonder that a crisp throttle response was always on tap. All day I detected only smooth power with no sign of the annoying surges or coughs associated with poorly mapped fuel injection systems.

How this mill feels overall depends strictly on how you like your pulses. While cruisers are usually associated with the burly throb of a big V-twin, the Rocket III Touring sets its own course in the mechanical feel-good department. Whacking the gas prompts a fluid, growling chorus that sounds more like a piston-driven aircraft than a motorcycle. Even when blipping the throttle at idle, the spinning of the massive, 39-pound crankshaft creates a torquey oomph that lightly nudges the bike side to side, a subtle but powerful reminder that 107 restless ponies are itching to escape the corral.

More Than Meets the Eye

The concept for the Rocket III Touring was actually hatched in 2004, shortly before the original Rocket was launched. While the choice of the stout, inline three was a no-brainer, the engineers realized that a completely new substructure would be needed to allow the project’s full touring potential to shine through. According to Triumph, the only chassis parts on the Rocket III Touring that are not brand new are the rear light and the mirrors. Everything else was developed from scratch to fit the touring cruiser mold. A day of riding through the beautiful Texas Hill Country, likely the finest venue around to test the mettle of a long-haul cruiser, allowed me a pretty good glimpse of the Rocket III Touring’s capabilities.

With any motorcycle, ride-ability is the key to an enjoyable day in the saddle. Keeping things manageable and comfortable is always a distinctly formidable challenge, especially when the scales register over 800 pounds. The engineers realized early on that it was important not only for the bike to be easy to ride and comfortable, but confidence inspiring at speeds from a parking-lot crawl to Interstate haul. Fitted with a 43mm Kayaba fork and twin Kayaba shocks, the chassis proved unwavering no matter what the sweeping Texas roads brought to the party. The tubular steel, twin-spine frame provided a solid, planted feel whether on the Interstate or briskly winding through the curves. It’s a good thing the comfortable, chromed floorboards are built with cornering wear plates, because once you get a handle on the extra size, stealing a few asphalt kisses is a fun and easy proposition.

Once the curves straighten out, the protracted proportions really begin to shine. Even the ubiquitous, two-lane wind blasts from passing tractor trailers didn’t faze the Triumph. In the stopping department, two Nissin four-piston calipers squeezing 320mm rotors up front and a single Brembo twin-piston unit working on a 316mm disc in the rear, slowed the Rocket III Touring acceptably enough. I certainly wouldn’t put these binders at the top of my favorites list, but considering the substantial heft they’re being asked to cage, I’ll reluctantly tip my hat.

Does My Butt Make This Bike Look Big?

When you set out to build a machine called a Touring Cruiser, you’ve given yourself an awfully big plate to fill. The cruising end of the spectrum is all about the looks, the feel, and the image. Over on the touring side, comfort, luggage capacity, and a sense of on-road practicality are the watchwords. Somehow, Triumph managed to bring the two camps together in a harmoniously oversized package of form and function. All of the requisite eye candy is in place for the boulevard crowd, including stylish, 25-spoke, machined cast aluminum wheels. The tires are not the usual side-o-beef sized units found on many customs, and they do perform well in both low- and high-speed handling arenas, a pretty important consideration considering the weight. Liberal doses of chrome are present stem to stern, including complete, header to tailpipe coverage of the Euro 3 compliant exhaust system, radiator shrouds, headlight nacelle, and tank-mounted instruments – and the list of shiny goodies goes on and on.

For those with the spirit of adventure, the RIIIT answers that call as well. The standard, quick release "look over” windshield provided good protection, though at 5’10” I did experience a little buffeting at higher speeds. The driver’s seat is composed of both softer and firmer density foams designed to provide initial and long distance comfort. The saddle hinted at tour worthiness over the course of 200 plus miles, but would need a few more days of abuse before receiving enthusiastic endorsement.

The back seat gets an extra touch of plush with the addition of a gel pad. On the showroom floor, this fact alone could be a pretty decent bargaining chip if economic sagacity is your pillion’s part and parcel. Large 39-liter, detachable panniers come standard and are color matched, lockable, and claimed waterproof. On the whole, the fit and finish is first rate. Paint and chrome quality are topnotch, and the subtle but stylish color choices should appeal to all but the wildest tastes. But don’t think that the choices end here. From seats to backrests, to racks, to even more glorious chrome, Triumph’s accessory catalog offers nearly 70 new bits designed exclusively for the Rocket III Touring. And rumor has it that a top case will be available by late 2008.

On our 200-mile ride very few complaints occurred to me concerning Triumph’s Rocket III Touring, but here goes: I’m not terribly fond of tank-top instruments as they pull the eye completely from the road, although that’s somewhat of a preference thing; and I would also like more bite from the brakes. But other than those items, the negative column is empty.

Bear in mind, this is a very large motorcycle and not for beginners. However, thanks to its great design and some excellent weight distribution, the Rocket III Touring is a fine option for those with the experience to ride her. With the capacity to log countless miles while looking great doing it, the velvety smooth yet wickedly strong Triumph Rocket III Touring is a welcome ride in a rising sea of V-twin homogeneity.