“king of the hill” though launched in 2004, the Rocket III with 2294cc worth of arm-stretching power to tap into, giving Triumph bragging rights as the mainstream manufacturer with the highest displacement engine on the market.
Climb on the Rocket III, and there’s no way around it – it’s a beast of a bike. The engine looks like it’s been ripped from a small block muscle car and there’s no ignoring the mondo radiator bolted in front of the downtubes. Big pipes and bug-eyed lights, it is distinctively Triumph. With a 29.5-inch seat height, riders are more ‘on’ the bike than the Diavel Strada, upright in the saddle with arms out wide and legs forward. The gargantuan 6.3-gallon gas tank is almost two feet wide and the bike tips the scales at just over 800 pounds ready-to-ride. Its size can be intimidating at first, but the more you ride the Rocket III Roadster the more comfortable you become with it.
“Riding position on the Triumph actually doesn’t feel overly ‘feet-forward’ cruiser. I felt like I sat upright, on top of the seat, rather than settled in like the Diavel. Reach to the bars is a slight stretch, and the controls themselves are fairly large. It certainly fits the bike, which is humongous. The sheer mass and volume makes the Rocket III one of the biggest bikes out on the road,” said Motorcycle USA Managing Editor, Bart Madson.
Twist the throttle grip with the bike in neutral and the bike pulls to the left thanks to the rotation of the Inline Three’s longitudinal crankshaft. Rev it up, slip into gear, and get ready as the Rocket III lives up to its name with an explosive 131.97 lb-ft of torque available at only 2500 rpm. Power delivery starts out strong but tapers off to only around 100 lb-ft around 5000 rpm. Only 100 lb-ft. Talk about being jaded. Roll-on is excellent as its healthy-sized 52mm throttle bodies are dialed in responsively to input from the cable-actuated clutch. Peak horsepower hits at only 5300 rpm and the powerband isn’t overly wide, so shifting a bit before redline will keep you in the meat of its prodigious torque. Despite being liquid-cooled, the 2294cc powerplant does heat up in stop-and-go traffic.
“Triumph’s corporate strategy to build the brand around their signature engine configurations has been well-executed. The Rocket III is unique for its gargantuan 2300cc displacement, but it also looks distinctive too. Power is pure torque, muscle rippling torque. My only complaint with the Triumph engine is something it shares with the Ducati, as it generates a fair amount of heat on the rider’s legs – particularly on the right side,” Madson said.
Thanks to its imposing engine, the Rocket III Roadster can pace with the Diavel Strada in a straight line, but it’s at a definite disadvantage in the twisty stuff. Taking a look at the tale of the tape, the Rocket III sports a 66.7-inch wheelbase between the 32-degrees of rake on the front end and the 240mm wide tire on the rear. While both bikes have fat 240mm backsides, it takes less effort at the bars to get the Ducati Diavel turned in. The Rocket III has plenty of ground clearance and is planted at lean, but steering the big bike takes a deliberate and conscious effort. With the amount of mass it carries, riders want to make sure of their lines before diving in. The big Triumph wears its center of gravity higher as well, giving the Diavel an edge in transitioning too. We would have loved to test the Touring version of the Rocket III with its 60mm narrower back tire and inch smaller diameter front to see how much of a difference it makes in handling, but for this test it was not to be.
“Big, big, big… That’s how the Rocket feels out on the road. A big fat front tire, too. The Triumph is stable and planted in the corners, but nimble it can never be. Rider’s pressing the pace are pressing their luck. I tried to follow Bryan on the Diavel for a couple corners, but immediately thought better. The weight is just too much to match the pace that the engine will allow. In a straight line, no problem, but toss a kink into the road and the Triumph has to be set up well in advance,” said Madson.
On the road, its rear Kayaba suspension is necessarily firm and provides an even ride while soaking up almost everything the road throws at it. Hitting a pothole squarely at speed is about the only way to get the bike’s suspension unsettled. The twin spring shocks are five-way adjustable for preload, but we found the stock settings to our likings so rolled with it as is. The 43mm upside-down fork is stout with just the right amount of give in its 120mm of travel so that the front end always feels grounded. A five-speed gearbox shifts cleanly while its cable-actuated clutch is easy to pull in and modulate. We did notice the tremendous amount of torque it’s dealing with makes the gearbox less refined feeling than the silky smooth transmission on Triumph’s Thunderbird. While shaft final drive sets the back wheel in motion, if you’ve got throttle applied when shifting, power transfer to the rear will jack a bit under these circumstances.
With a bike as big as the Rocket III, a competent set of binders is mandatory. Braking duties are the responsibility of big dual floating 320mm discs on the front with four-piston fixed Nissin calipers while a set of twin-pot Brembos squeeze the smaller back disc. The front arrangement is strong but could benefit from a better initial bite. When used in unison with the rear, the Brembo binders grip fast and hold steady. The Rocket III Roadster comes with ABS as standard fare, a boon when handling a bike as heavy as the Rocket III. Here’s what Madson had to say about the system.
“Brakes on the Triumph have their work cut out for them. The front lever bites, but doesn’t offer much play or travel in the engagement. The ABS is a godsend, but with so much weight to stop it cuts in early and often, and pulse at the front lever when scrubbing off speed for a rapidly approaching corner gave me a couple pucker moments.”
Whereas the Ducati Diavel can almost inundate riders with an excess of information, gauges on the Rocket III Roadster are much more straightforward. An analog speedo and tach are mounted front-and-center on the handlebars, high enough to easily glance at while riding. Small digital windows in each gauge can be toggled to show odometer, fuel gauge, range, gear indicator, dual tripmeters, and a few other bits of info including a clock. While the motorcycle sports Triumph’s twin headlights up front, the pattern of the Rocket III’s lights is limited. The Touring version sees the addition of running lights that should help remedy the problem.
As far at its touring credentials, its leather bags are deeper and bigger than the Ducati, capable of holding my 17-inch computer and backpack, but don’t lock. The aftermarket Triumph windscreen pushes plenty of air out of the way, but riders are still subject to buffeting. With tremendously large pistons, the Rocket III isn’t the most efficient motorcycle on the market as we averaged 29.5 miles-per-gallon. This equates to around 185 miles before requiring a fill-up, better than the Diavel Strada but not what you’d expect from a tourer. Yet we found it to be a more competent touring platform thanks to bags that aren’t as flimsy and have more storage capacity, the motorcycle has more range, and its riding position is more accommodating for longer stints in the saddle.
“As a touring package, I think the Triumph is a better base platform. For starters it looks like a real touring bike. The irony is our test unit is an accessorized Rocket III Roadster, however, the purpose-built ‘touring’ Ducati Strada looks way more like an accessorized bike. As a practical touring mount, I think range alone give the Triumph an edge. The Strada rider will constantly be on the look-out for fuel stops,” agreed Madson.
Considering the Triumph Rocket III Touring sees the addition of a removable windshield, fog lights, engine guards, and hard detachable locking bags while passengers benefit from a gel pillion seat and backrest/luggage rack combo, we see more potential in the Rocket III as a tourer than we do the Ducati Diavel Strada. Our passenger commented that it’s easier to board the Triumph as well.
“If I want to tour on the Diavel – I would rather toss on a pair of aftermarket soft bags and call it good. The Diavel is a play bike and boulevard brawler – touring would be the exception, not the rule,” summed up Madson.
The fact that the 2013 Triumph Rocket III Touring lists for $2496 less than the 2013 Ducati Diavel Strada seals the deal in favor of the Rocket III as the bike we’d be more apt to choose for Homeric adventure. But when Morpheus whispers in our ear and a little devil hangs over our shoulder encouraging the hooligan side to come out, the Diavel would be our bike of choice.