The styling of the Rocket III Touring kind of leaves me feeling, well, indifferent. Sure it\'s a well designed motorcycle (actually it\'s beautiful) with plenty of parts that scream "hey I\'m a Triumph", but the overall look of the bike leaves me wanting a little more Triumph quirkiness and little less "American cruiser" polish.
This does not however mean that everyone feels that way as witnessed by the following quotes from a retirement age couple on bicycles I met at a stoplight; Man - "That is a pretty motorcycle." Woman - "Yeah we\'re Harley people but we like Triumphs." Just so you know the couple were on bicycles that Lance would have been proud to ride in France so we are talking about affluent individuals here. Obviously Triumph\'s Styling Department got it right when they sent the original Rocket III off to "Motorcycle Makeover" to be made into something more respectable and socially acceptable. I think it is also a testament to Triumph\'s quality control, engineering, design, and marketing departments that they have the attention of "Harley people"; not an easy thing to do by any means (just ask the Japanese companies).
Lucky for me the indifference I felt over the looks of the Rockett III Touring didn\'t extend to the colossal motor suspended from the new frame specifically built for the Touring version. Let\'s look at a few hard numbers for a moment; 106bhp @ 5400 rpm and 154ft.lb @ 2,025 rpm. Yep, 154 foot pounds of torque at only 2025 rpm. Find yourself in 5th gear at 35 mph and need to pass someone? No sweat....just roll and go with only minor shuddering.
One thing I noticed while riding the R3Touring is that Triumph put too many gears, and at the same time not enough gears, in the transmission case. Out on the highway motoring along at 85-90mph the bike begs for a 6th cog to lower the rpms. There aren\'t a lot of vibes but the bike just seems like it would be happier about 1500-2000 rpms lower on those longer highway stints. On the other side of the equation around town you will find yourself using one or the other of the following shift patterns; 1-3-5 or if you start in second, which is actually preferable, you\'ll use 2-4-5. I sometimes even launched the bike in 3rd and then shifted directly to 5th.
The linear pull of the bike up to about 70 mph without having to shift feels like you are on a train and the towering tons of torque the motor produces ensure minimal shuddering when launched in 3rd gear. The bike does produce a bit of a growling vibration if you shift to 5th gear below 60 mph though. It is kind of like the vibration you feel when you have your hand on your dog who is doing that silent growl thing they do after you\'ve told them to shut-up but they still aren\'t happy. Nothing major and nothing that affects comfort or performance just something that catches your attention the first few times. Word of advice for those with a heavy right hand; start out in second or 3rd on wet roads. Starting in first and twisting the throttle will lead to some very fun antics that will wake you up better than any energy drink on the market.
Fuel injection throughout the rpm range is almost spot-on with only a minor surge detected in slow speed conditions like you find in a parking lot. This surge was felt in both first and second gear but can be reduced by riding the clutch\'s friction zone a little.
A huge motor putting out oodles of power is worthless unless the rest of the powertrain also lives up to very high standards. I am happy to report that, like every Triumph I have ridden to date, the transmission shifts solidly and heavily without ever feeling clunky. While not as smooth as the rest of Triumph\'s line (probably due to the huge amounts of torque it has to work with) it does an admirable job of funneling the power from the motor to the driveshaft. The clutch also is very smooth and linear with a predictable friction zone and the kind of precise pick-up only a cable operated clutch can deliver.
The fuel injection system is spot on 95% of the time with only a minor surge issue occurring at low RPMs with the throttle partially opened at slow speeds. This surge appeared in both 1st and 2nd gear but can be solved by squeezing the clutch lever slightly.
One thing that can (and does) make or break a bike of this size is the handling; both at high speeds and while slow in a parking lot. Harley Davidson has been the undisputed champion in this area on the FL chassis bikes with no real competition; until now. To say that I am surprised and impressed by the balance and low speed handling of the bike would be an understatement.
The Rocket III Touring gives away almost 4 inches in wheelbase and almost 50 pounds in weight. Does it handle at slow speed just as good as the Road King? No, but it\'s so close that unless you really practice riding slow in parking lots you\'ll never tell the difference. The seat height on the Rocket III Touring is one inch lower (28.9”) than the seat on the Road King (29.9”) so this could contribute to the nimble feeling.
Next stop on our tour of the Rocket III Touring is the comfort department; you can\'t have a "touring" bike without comfort. Triumph has nailed the floorboard placement on this bike for a 6ft tall rider; not too high or low and not too far forward or back. Ground clearance is exemplary for this class of motorcycle, taking a concerted effort on my part to get the floorboards to grind into the ground. At lean angles that will have other cruisers (both footpeg equipped and floorboard equipped) grinding hard parts into the ground, the R3T just hums along. Suspension set-up is a little firm in front but pretty nice with the rear shock preload set to 1 (the softest setting). Put two people on the bike though and the suspension settles down.
The Rocket III Touring has a seat that, like most stock cruiser seats, looks great and feels soft, plush, and comfortable......for the first 100 miles. My butt started really hurting right at the 90 mile mark; not good when you still have 400+ miles to go before you get home. I will admit that my butt is more accustomed to sport touring type seats than cruiser seats so that probably plays a part as well, but I personally would be calling an aftermarket seat manufacturer if the bike was mine. My wife did ride on the bike a few times for rides of varying distances and she reported that the passenger seat was comfortable and the passenger floorboards were placed perfectly (she is 5\'3” tall).
The last item in the "comfort triangle" is the handlebars. When I find the guy with the double-jointed wrists who designs the handlebars that motorcycle manufacturers put on their “cruiser” bikes I\'m going to beat him to death with one of his creations. While the bars on the Rocket III Triple are not the worst offenders (the Road King Custom takes that dubious award) they do cock your wrist at an unnatural angle that quickly gets tiring. A couple of contributing factors that help speed up the wrist fatigue induced by the handlebar shape are the lack of a throttle lock and a heavy throttle spring. The throttle lock absence is certainly the worst offender of the two; a simple thumbscrew (ala Harley Davidson) would make a huge difference in long distance comfort. I actually bought a universal throttle lock to install on the bike for the ride back to GA as my aching right wrist told me it would go on strike if I didn\'t.
One other item that contributes to a comfortable touring ride is wind protection. Most stock cruiser windshields cause a significant amount of buffeting; especially when the rider is wearing a full face helmet; Triumph\'s design, however, does not. Next to the handling this is the part of the bike that I am most impressed with. Since it is a quick disconnect type shield when I got back to Florida I decided to pop it off to see how easy it was to remove. I almost dropped it. I\'m used to cruiser windshields that weigh like 2-3 pounds....the one on the R3T weighs about 8 pounds; very beefy and overbuilt. The most impressive thing though is the almost total lack of buffeting at any speed even though I look over it by about 4-6 inches. Big kudos to Triumph on designing a windshield that not only looks good but actually does what it\'s supposed to.
One thing that you will notice about the bike when riding it is this odd wiggle it has at low rpms and slow speeds while turning. It feels like the tires are low on air and the sidewalls are flexing. What it really is though (and it took me a few minutes to figure this out) is the rotation of the crank making the bike wriggle like a happy puppy. Nothing weird happens and you maintain complete control, but it is something that you will notice for awhile.
Need to stop your 800 pound motorcycle quickly from high sub-sonic speeds (or 65mph for that matter)? Lucky for you the Triumph Rocket III Touring has your back. While not in the same category as the brakes on your garden variety sportbike in terms of feel and feedback, the brakes on the R3T are more than capable of bringing the bike down to a halt in a respectable distance. Like every other feature of the bike the brake and clutch lever are oversized; like the steak knives you get at Outback Steakhouse. Ride a sportbike after you\'ve been on the R3T for awhile and the levers will feel like toothpicks.
The saddlebags on the Rocket III Touring are a decent size and seemed to hold an acceptable amount of stuff. While not big enough to hold a full face helmet (cruiser bags rarely are) I was able to put my laptop (15.4" screen) inside and latch the lid without any pushing, shoving, or crushing involved. If your idea of packing for a trip involves a rolled-up rainsuit, spare socks, underwear, and a couple of shirts, then you\'ll fit that all into one bag and have a spare one left for any roadside emergency supplies needed. If your idea of packing for a trip involves a hair dryer, curling iron, shoes enough for a centipede, the L\'oreal counter at Macy\'s, and your own wardrobe department from a Broadway show......you may need more storage.
The last thing to talk about is the fuel mileage. Triumph put a 4.9 gallon tank on the Rocket III Touring which is slightly on the small side for a bike in this market niche. On the highway traveling between 75-85mph I saw a consistent 40mpg with the reserve light coming on approximately every 160 miles. I quickly learned not to trust the fuel gauge as after topping off the tank and riding for 50 miles the gauge would show half full (or half empty depending upon your outlook on life). The "mileage left till empty" counter actually was a little more trustworthy but neither worked as well as the old trip-meter method. Around town the bike was averaging between 30-35mpg depending on how often and how hard I twisted the throttle (very often and very hard). One thing I noticed, and which has been confirmed by other R3T owners, is the fuel gauge lag. After topping off the tank it takes about 3-5 minutes for the fuel gauge to decide to move off where it was and work its way toward full. Just one little Triumph quirk that constantly reminds you that you are on a motorcycle and not an over-engineered sewing machine.
Triumph has taken the Rocket III, a bike that is sometimes maligned by the press (not us, mind you), and turned it into a real threat in the light duty "touring" market. For the same money you\'ll pay for a V-twin based cruiser/tourer you can pick-up a new Triumph that will do everything the V-Twins can do but faster and with arguably more panache.