Friday Night Drags
After three passes we broke our previous best quarter-mile
aboard last year's VMAX with a 10.567 and 130 mph top speed.
The Triumph took a little longer to come to grips with and we
were able to only snag an 11.907 and 113 mph top speed.
The VMAX seems a purpose-built turn-key dragster, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take it racing at our local Friday Night Drags. We put both the Max and Roadster through the paces down the quarter-mile at Champion Raceway where, without surprise, the VMAX took top honors. Ken ran a 10.56 and 130.25 mph top speed on the best run of three passes. After some frustrating passes aboard the Triumph, we got the Rocket down into the 11s with a hard-earned 11.90 and 113 mph top speed.
The VMAX plain hands it to the Triumph right off the line in the quarter-mile, confirming our on-road acceleration estimations. The VMAX, by the way, fared better this time around than the 10.85 posted in our 2009 comparison by Executive Editor and in-house ringer, Steve Atlas. The interesting thing to note is the Star actually posted a higher top speed in the slower 2009 run at 137.5 mph. At that time, Steve complained about the VMAX rear end not hooking up with too much tire spin. With all those ponies, it’s a challenge transferring power when accelerating hard from a stop. A less aggressive drive off the launch may have gotten our better time – an odd case where slower was faster.
Steady as She Goes
It's takes virtually no effort to light up the rear on the Max.
Going fast in a straight line is well and good, but throw in some curves and the differences between these two bikes are even more pronounced. In our previous comparison, the B-King made the VMAX feel heavy and slow to turn. The change in rivals reverses our opinion, as compared to the bulky Triumph the Max now feels light and easy to turn.
A look at the geometry shows the Rocket registers virtually identical wheelbase and trail, with a single degree less aggressive rake angle at 32 degrees. But the Triumph’s steel-tubed chassis is far more inline with a traditional cruiser than the aluminum-framed VMAX. The Rocket also sports fatter tires front and rear, with a less performance-oriented suspension, as the Max boasts three-way adjustment front and rear (the Triumph’s only adjustable for rear preload). Of course, there’s also the small matter of that extra 120 lbs... Bottom line, the VMAX makes for a much more nimble ride.
The VMAX gets the better of the Rocket III Roadster in the handling department with its more capable chassis and lighter weight.
“In the past I’ve heard folks complain about the VMAX not handling very well but I have to disagree,” muses Ken. “While it is no R1 it still is the better of these two beasts. It carves through turns with much more agility than the Rocket and there’s a much higher level of feel being transferred to the bars. This made it easier for me to push the max in the twisty roads.”
Riding position plays a big role in the sportier sensation, with the VMAX more upright and narrow than the broad Triumph. Plenty of ground clearance allows riders to push things harder on the Star, as do the aforementioned suspension components. The thick 52mm sticks up front team with the single rear shock, and riders can fiddle with preload, compression and rebound via tool-less easy-to-use nobs. The suspension and the cast aluminum frame transmit great feedback to the rider. At least as great as can be expected from a 690-lb motorcycle!
“I thought suspension was pretty well dialed considering it’s a ‘cruiser’,” agrees Ken. “It is ultra plush on the freeway and not too spongy in the quick, bumpy back roads. Overall, I really think the MAX is set up well.”
For its Roadster, Triumph reworked the ramp-style five-position preload adjustable shocks for a claimed 20% softer rear end. Considering they held up more than 1000 lbs laden with our test riders, the 43mm Kayaba fork and shocks do an admirable job smoothing out the ride, delivering stability and comfort. While some riders deemed the road feel on the front end vague at times, our cruiser editor found the Rocket’s suspension commendable.
“Wonderful suspension,” crows Bryan. “Big shocks provide a very smooth and pleasant ride. Some of the best shocks you’ll find on a big cruiser.”
Though not the equal of the VMAX, the Roadster acquits itself well for a large performance cruiser.
Though sporting a 29.5 inch seat height, one inch lower than the VMAX, the Triumph's width makes easy reach to the ground problematic for all but the taller statured.
Though the wide bars allow plenty of leverage to get leaned over, it takes more effort to get the heavier Rocket pointed in the right direction. The wider tires play a part, but we’ll chock it up to the extra weight and less capable chassis. Handling is a sticky area for complaint, however, as it’s clearly second to the VMAX but we reckon it would rate quite high compared with any other performance cruiser.
“I’m sort of stuck on the handling issue,” says Ken on the R-III. “The Rocket handles fine for such a huge bike but it lacks feel. Perhaps the sheer mass of the motorcycle dampens the transmission of what’s going on from the road to the rider but when you are trying to ride fast it doesn’t make me feel confident. However, on the flip side of that coin is the extreme stability. I feel like I’m on a cruise ship, plowing through the air. It is un-phased by bumps, the suspension is supple and the bike isn’t easily effected by wind and such. It’s comforting on the highway.”
Triumph moved the Roadster’s pegs down 10mm and backward a full 3.9 inches from the standard Rocket III, that’s a huge ergonomic shift, but it doesn’t diminish the cruiser tendencies of the British bike when compared with the Star. Straddle the Rocket and its width is impossible not to notice. The Triumph seating position is comfortable, but despite an inch-lower seat height, at 29.5 inches, the reach to the ground remains difficult for all but the tallest riders.
“On the open road the Roadster is an absolute blast. It has a comfortable seat and the riding position is decent too,” says Ken. “But it seems more well suited for a big human. My feet were on the edge of the pegs and my arms stretched fairly wide across the bars. Then my legs are spread wide by the massive engine too. If I was a bit taller it would probably be considered roomy. However, I did feel at times like a little kid on a grown up bike.”