You go through various phases as a committed motorcyclist. Usually, during your early years while you are gaining a degree of confidence, it's all about getting into the flow of traffic, finding gaps, trying to judge space around you and hoping that you don't end up doing something stupid that would have you trying to keep the motorcycle off the ground by sheer strength of your arm muscles.
After more than 30 years of riding experience, that's exactly how we felt when we walked into the showroom to pick up the Triumph Rocker III for a test. There is something about the motorcycle, its mean black cast, the bulk of its three-cylinder engine and the width of its rear tire that tells you it's going to be too much. Also, knowing that it tops the scales at 367 kilograms can do things in your mind. But then, across the course of a weekend, there was only one occasion to remind us of the side effects of trying to balance this heavy two-wheeler.
We are already quite in tune with the Triumph brand and its products. One of our friends has a Triumph Bonneville, which one day to make way for a Triumph Thunderbird. But somehow, the Triumph Rocket III seems to sit just across an iamginary line of practicality winning over desire. Triumph literature does make all the right noises. It's a well-balanced motorcycle, with narrow waist and low ride height so you technically don't have to be too tall to ride it. But even the Roadster with its mid positioned pegs and relatively low seat aren't really comforable if you aren't at least 178cm. And every bit of muscle you have built up in your biceps and even triceps is handy when trying to move the motorcycle when stationary. We had set out to do the test ride and had to obilige by getting the motorcycle out the exit ramp and fueled up at the neighboring fuel pump. It isn't even every motorcycle salesman's cup of tea.
Living close to a Triumph dealership didn't lessen the admiration the fuel pump attendants were showing as they tanked up the motorcycle. Its fuel tank has a 24-liters capacity, but all we actually put in was 12 liters. Not a good start, we thought, for a weekend on a 2300cc engine. But that's one facet we needn't have bothered about, as the fuel efficience must have been close to 16 kilometers for a liter fuel.
The Triumph Rocket III does not try to be beautiful. The current iteration of the marque was reborn in the late '90s as a means to get into the large cruiser class that Harley-Davidson rules in the US. The original attempt was to put out a 1500 to 1600cc motorcycle but the model finally settled into a revolutionary three-cylinder longitudinal layout with 2294cc displacement. But there is inherent grace in the design of this monster – from the twin-headlights, blacked out tank and radiator cowl to the teardrop taillight sitting on top of the bulk of the rear wheel, it's almost as if the twin striped take your eye along a feline contour.
And anything this big will have to built extra strong. The stressed tubular frame has parallel members running North-South to cradle the weight of the engine. The cylinders fire sequentially in a 1-2-3 order from front to back, with the crank pins evenly spaced out on the crank. The balance shaft, input shaft and final drive shaft all rotate contra to the crank direction in order to balance it out. The engine itself is used as a stress member to stiffen out the frame.
Crank up the starter and you already expect the dull roar of the engine. The combination of the three large volume cylinders and the even spacing of the thumps as they come out of the 3-1-2 arrangement of the exhauwt pipes seems almost metronomic until you twist the throttle. That's when the engine rocks to the right despite all the counter-balancing. You cdan feel the torque trying to get away. The only way this could be handled well is in the chosen shaft drive arrangement, with a low travel wtiff suspension at the rear and alloy housing for the gear and bevel arrangement of the transfer.
Gear shifting on the other hand blies the bulk of the motorcycle. Shifting into first is almost as smooth as on a Honda CBR150R and so is second gear. It's only as you get into third that you get a bit of the Harley clunk come in, only to disappear in the higher two gears. Keeping the foot pegs at mid point makes the shift both down and up as smooth.
This smoothness is as much function of the Lamborghini designede 5-speed gearbox as it is of the rock solid engineering that underpins the Triumph Rocket III. Take off is all about the torque on the motorcycle – all 224Nm of it. The engine is typically a low revving unit, happiest in the 3000 to 4000rpm range, another characteristic that compares with cars. That's also the band when the torque in on full flow. If you are in a hurry you can make the tail wag, especially as you turn and change road incline at the same time. You wouldn'y expect this heavy motorcycle to repond so well to a torque burst, but the Triumph Rocket III obliges at will.
The center of gravity is so low that you can really manoeuvre the motorcycle with comfort. If there is even a little forward motion the gyroscopic effect of the wheels tends to take the motorcycle back to vertical, so the lean in can be perfeced for the speed and intensity of curve that you want. Initially you feel that the motorcycle won't take a curve, but then you realize that you just aren't banking it in enough. All the beginners fears start rolling away and after a couple of quick sharp bends the motorcycle melds with your natural bodyweight shift.
At speed, the Triumph Rocket III is all the roadster you want it to be. You hear the thump of the engine as a background score, you can carve the motorcycle in and out of traffic, and torque and pickup are in plenty even in third and fourth gear and the stance of the riding position is such that you don't actually feel the distance you ride.
Oh Yes, it also hellps that the ABS system on the Triumph Rocket III is quick and almost imperceptible unless you are in hard braking. The 17” front wheels are equipped with 320mm four-pot twin discs while the rear gets an almost as large 316mm disc qlbeit with a singl pot caliper. Hard stopping can also get a bit of tail wag in, but the tire on the 16” rear wheel is bulky and wide enough to do the job well.
The instrumentation on the motorcycle is a mix of the best and worst of tradition and modernity. It helps that both the tack and speedo are analogue in layout, but the monochrome digital panels that sit at the bottom of the roundels try to cram in too much information into the tiny space. The gear position indicator would have been useful if it wasn't so small and the lighting, especially the backlighting needs improvement. Either that or a revamp in design to clear out the digital display from the roundels to a stand-alone panel under them.
Seat shape is well done, with just the right amount of padding and the reach to the handlebars turned out to be just right too – horizontal from the shoulder point. On a personal level the only change we would have liked would be turn indicator switches on both sides to reduce thumb reach.
Riding the Triumph Rocket III on the Thai out-of-town roads is a statement in itself. Barely 200 meters out of the showroom and we had already got out first member of our own fan club. Cars honk you and Honda Goldwing rider who coast alongside both appreciats your motorcycle as wel as your taste.
No one expects that the Triumph Rocket III to shoot ahead like it does, but the torque and the 148 horsepower translate into quarter mile figures of 12-odd seconds and a top speed of over 200 km/h. The roads around Bangkok are the perfect environment for this roadster. We prefer the stance over that of the Cruiser, and the weight isn' communicated when you can plant both feet on the ground, albeit having to watch out on the right for the exhaust headers.
Only at one point did we have an issue and that was when the motorcycle crested a small hump in the parking lot, almost at standstill. As the ground dropped out by a couple of centimeters from under the feet, you could feel the weight shift onto the lower placed foot and a moment of terror dawn, bringing all the beginners fears back to too of mind. A twinge and quick move ahead saved the situation but definitely point out how exacting the height requirement is for the rider.