2020 Triumph Rocket 3 GT: A Peerless MOTORcycle

Text: Kevin Duke • Photography: Stephen Gregory

Presence. It’s a nebulous term not easily or objectively defined, but the new Rocket 3 definitely has it. The motorcycle’s imposing size is only part of what gives it presence. Its rich finish detailing draws eyes closer and makes them linger.

Mmmm, that machined rear wheel exposed via a single-sided swingarm is beautiful. Oh, and check out all the brushed aluminum bits, like the fuel and oil tank caps, and the passenger seat backrest, as well as the brushed stainless steel tank strap. And it’s underpinned by a new aluminum frame that helped shave a massive 88 pounds from the previous Rocket lll despite a larger engine.

It’s a cohesive design that results in a level of panache that’s surprising from such an outlandish machine. When seen in person, it’s almost guaranteed to bring smiles to the faces of any gearhead, whether by its beauty or its sheer outlandishness.

The Rocket’s centerpiece is its engine, a ridiculous and wonderful three-cylinder that will redefine what can be expected from a motorcycle mill. Displacing 2453cc, the all-new triple is bigger than the motor in most modern cars and has more grunt than anything else on two wheels (unless you count the truly ridiculous V-8 Boss Hoss). Triumph boasts that it makes 70% more torque than its closest rival, and there’s no less than 147 lb-ft in a massive zone from 2,500 to 5,500 rpm. Not only mighty (165 horsepower), it’s one of the prettiest new engines we’ve seen, with a delicious one-two punch of the lovely aluminum airbox cover on the left and seductive hydroformed exhaust headers on the right. It emphasizes the motor in motorcycle!

Revving the engine causes the bike to subtly list to the right. If you stall the Rocket taking off from a stop, you probably shouldn’t be riding a motorbike—it can get itself underway at only idle speed. Bountiful torque likely demands only three gears, but there are three others anyway, with a tall sixth cog helping to reduce vibes at highway speeds. Clutch pull is amazingly light for a machine pumping out boatloads of torque, and the transmission shifts with uncanny precision for such a monstrous powerplant. The motor sounds like half of a Jaguar inline-six, with a diesellike bottom end that pulls cleanly from even 1,500 rpm and all the way to its newly inflated 7,000-rpm redline.

The Rocket 3 is available in two versions. A roadster-styled R model retails for $ 21,900, while the GT tested here costs $ 700 extra and adds a larger windscreen, passenger backrest, and heated grips, along with a more cruiser-y riding position with feet placed farther forward, bars a little rearward, and a seat slightly lower. The seat, at 29.5 inches, is overall on the low side, which can be beneficial to those with short legs, and it proves to be wide and supportive, enabling 150-mile stints between tankfuls. Kudos to Triumph for equipping the GT with footpegs adjustable to three positions over a 2-inch span.

Exceedingly fat tires are quite influential on the Rocket, with a front tire as wide as some bikes’ rears and a back tire wider than some cars. The chunky rubber looks appropriate for a contraption this size, but the resulting rolling stock is very heavy and contributes to the jolts felt when hitting sharp-edged bumps. It also makes the motorcycle awkward to handle when crossing uneven surfaces and slows steering responses at high speeds. Handling, otherwise, is remarkably adept for a two-wheeler weighing around 700 pounds.

Responsible for getting all that weight slowed down is an impressive set of top-shelf Brembo brake hardware combined with a five-axis inertial measurement unit and cornering-ABS. It’s a combined brake system in which the ECU determines—depending on speed, lean angle, and weight transfer—if adding a little rear brake activation to go along with front lever pressure would help to steady the bike. It works so seamlessly that I didn’t realize it had such a system until I read about it after testing the Rocket! The rear brake operates independently. Hill-hold control keeps the beast from rolling unexpectedly on an incline, and cruise control keeps the beast rolling at steady speeds.

The thin film transistor instrumentation is an average piece for such a special machine. The 4.5-inch display is smaller than many contemporary TFT screens, so some of the type is small and difficult to read by dull eyes. Logically arranged switchgear is easy to use and has a quality tactile feel. Rider mode is nicely customizable to choose particular throttle-response and traction control parameters. Keyless ignition is convenient, as are the finely tuned self-canceling turn signals. Attractive bar-end mirrors offer reasonable views of all vehicles you’ll leave behind.

Powerful engines create a furnace of heat, but the Rocket does an admirable job of hiding its effects from a rider. Still, you’ll feel it on warm days, mostly on the right leg next to those delectable exhaust headers and especially when stopped with a foot down.

It’s a small price to pay for one of the most epic moto engines on the road in one of the most special production motorcycles ever. No, it’s certainly not for everyone, but the Rocket 3 offers a motorbike experience like no other and the attention to detail that will make its prospective owners proud wherever they ride.

Rockets: III vs. 3

To see how far the Rocket 3 has progressed from its previous edition, we rounded up a longtime Rocket III owner who has probably filled your ears with music at some time in your life. Daniel Ash is a founding member of proto-goth band Bauhaus and the driving force behind the band Love and Rockets, as well as many other music projects. We traded seat time with him on both Rockets, and he played a starring role in our photography.

“The first thing I noticed with the new Rocket 3 is how light it is,” Ash commented. “The overall balance of the bike is a big improvement on the original. It’s as easy to throw around the bends as a sport bike. I have to say that’s not the case with the older Rocket.”

Swapping to the new Rocket reveals a much sportier and responsive platform. “It’s a great canyon carver,” Ash enthused. “I noticed as the day went on how I was riding faster and faster because it handles so damn well.”

In terms of style, the new Rocket has much nicer proportions, losing the awkward humplike fuel tank, and the finish detailing is nothing short of exceptional. The Rocket has been transformed from almost agricultural to something near suave.

“It’s a beauty for sure! I think Triumph is on a winner big-time with this bike,” Ash raved, adding that one will likely be finding its way into his crowded garage.