Triumph Rocket III
The mega-motored Rocket polarizes opinions. Some hate its entire concept, while many others are being lured into Triumph dealers to place orders for the fastest volume-production cruiser on the planet.
Triumph's Rocket 3 wasn't expected to offer us much in the way of surprises. That's not quite the case with this leviathan. The Rocket is much less unwieldy than its 2.3-liter big-block motor and 250mm rear tire might lead you to believe. Once rolling past walking speed, it actually doesn't feel so huge. Point of fact: the Rocket is easily the lightest machine in this den of brutes, with a tank-empty weight some 24 pounds less than the Vulcan and an astounding 71 pounds less than the Rune! On some of the Valley of the Sun's twisty backroads, the 766-lb machine proves to be astonishingly nimble for a bike its size.
The Rocket's steering angle matches the 32.0-degree rake of the V2K and has a nearly identical wheelbase (66.7 inches), but the amount of trail differs greatly, 152mm (5.98 inches) to the Kawi's 183mm (7.20 inches), giving it an unanticipated level of maneuverability. A handlebar about 2 inches wider than the Vulcan and several inches more than the Rune aids quick transitions, although short-armed riders will be stretching their rotator cuffs at full steering lock. The Rocket actually has the greatest amount of lean angle available thanks to its latest-to-drag pegs, although it should be said that they tend to dig in and grab the road surface instead of skimming gracefully.
Still, if you're looking for a scalpel to cut up canyon roads, the Rocket is, in the grand scheme of things, more of a chainsaw. What the Triumph delivers that no sportbike can is 2.3 liters of grunt. There is so much flywheel mass that getting going from a stop requires nothing more than idle speed and a gradual release of its fairly easy to pull cable-actuated clutch. Any twisting of the throttle whatsoever results in instant acceleration.
The numbers speak for themselves: more than 125 lb-ft of torque is available from just above idle, peaking soon after at a max of 140 lb-ft, and nowhere in its powerband is torque below a stompin' 100 lb-ft. Peak horsepower doesn't boast such grandiose numbers, but its maximum of 125 ponies is far beyond any production V-Twin cruiser motor.
In roll-on contests at highways speeds, the Rocket pulls away from the Rune just like the Rune pulls away from the Vulcan, but there's not much in it. The V2K actually keeps up with the Rocket when it uses its overdriven fourth gear against the Triumph's fifth. Keep in mind that the forces of acceleration from 90 mph are strong enough to lose an unwary passenger.
The three-cylinder motor gets the job done, to say the least, but has a distinct lack of character. The Triple has neither the silky sweetness of the Rune, nor the relaxed cadence of the Vulcan's rumbly V-Twin. It sounds like a giant sewing machine compared to the raunchy and powerful-sounding motors in the other two, especially with its unpleasant gear whine and exhaust flatulence at idle. The Rocket's inline-Triple sounds best when accelerating hard through its muscular midrange, doing a decent Porsche impression. But the engine feels like a diesel in comparison to the others, with a truckish powerband and being not particularly smooth. Vibes come in at and above 3000 rpm, and it's the only one in the group that buzzes hands on the freeway.
It's not the prettiest lump we've ever seen, but there's no disputing its 2.3 liters of dominating power production. It's definitely burly but its character is more agricultural than exotic. Chrome covers dress up the dull steel headers.
Otherwise, highway traveling couldn't be more effortless. Ride quality is quite good out on the road, although the rear end lacked a bit of rear rebound damping on our well-used tester. Dual 320mm front brakes with 4-piston calipers do a decent job of bringing the beast to a stop.
What we experienced with the Rocket is a huge bike that surprised everyone who rode it with its relatively agile feeling that belies its gargantuan proportions. And with a quarter-mile time nearly a full second quicker than its nearest competitor, it is clearly the hot rod of the group.
However, the Rocket let us down in one key area. Its finish quality simply doesn't measure up to the Rune or Vulcan. The edges of engine castings have some rough edges where they meet, and the seam in its fuel tank looks a bit scruffy next to the beautifully styled seamless tanks on its rivals. Many of its welds are a bit untidy, and a cheap plastic cover shrouds its shabby steering head area. The paint on our battle-crusted tester looked drab, and its dull black color doesn't help (the Cardinal Red version is much more becoming). And even though it's the only one of the group to be equipped with a tachometer, the Rocket's instruments and controls were judged to be sub-par. A huge 6.6-gallon fuel tank enables nearly 240 miles between stops but, Triumph, where's the fuel gauge?
We also had a couple of styling issues we feel could improve the overall look of the Rocket. The bulkiness of the silver-painted engine would be diminished if it were painted black, with a side benefit of making the chrome header covers look even cooler set against a dark surface. In another size-related issue, its radiator is not only large but it's very wide, and all the chrome makes it look even larger, especially with the brightness of its chrome mesh covering adding to the cartoonish Boss Hoss visual impression. Also, its dowdy round mirrors aren't the least bit stylish and they give a smaller view of what's behind.