Triumph Rocket 3 Roadster

Kevin Ash

Photography by Gary Freeman

Truimph_Rocket3_33.jpg

The world`s biggest production motorcycle, Triumph`s Rocket 3, has sold reasonably well for an expensive machine but it`s not been the roaring success Triumph was hoping for.

In the States especially the thinking was that Americans like their bikes and cars to have big engines, and as this was the biggest at 2.3 litres, they`d like it more than anything else. Which just shows the danger of using stereotyping instead of proper marketing.

Certainly the US market is the biggest for cruisers, and certainly these generally have big engines, but most riders want an engine to be big enough rather than as big as possible, and they like it to be a narrow angle, air-cooled V-twin rather than weird inline triple like the British bike. And most riders too want a badge that says `Harley-Davidson`.

Not much Triumph can do about the last point, but since the arrival five years ago of Tue Mantoni as company CEO (interview coming here soon), what they did do was study the markets rather more carefully. A better understanding of the US spawned the 1700cc parallel twin Thunderbird as a more mainstream attempt at breaking into the cruiser sector, and also led to a repositioning of the Rocket 3.

That repositioning doesn`t merely mean a new advertising campaign, it`s meant stopping production of the original Rocket 3 (though there are stocks enough to see Triumph into mid 2010), keeping only the Rocket 3 Touring and introducing this, the new Rocket 3 Roadster. There`s a fair amount that`s new compared with the old Rocket 3, possibly the most important being a change in the riding position. The seat shifts the rider forwards by 0.55in (14mm) and up by 0.4in (10mm) while the footrests are 4.8in (123mm) back and almost an inch (22mm) lower. This is a much more aggressive, sporty set-up than the laid back original, at least by cruiser standards, and it`s backed up by a 9bhp power increase to 146bhp (148PS, 109kW) and 14 per cent torque hike to 163lb.ft (22.5kgm, 221Nm). Like the Rocket 3 needed more torque...

Other changes include a switch to twin silencers (it`s this which is responsible for the power gain, the engine is otherwise the same as before apart from a remap of the engine management to account for the improved exhaust flow), new rear suspension units with softer springs and better damping, ABS brakes as standard, additional info from the clocks such as range to empty and a revised gearchange mechanism for smoother shifting.

That`s all, aside from the gloss or matt black colour schemes and some small detailing, but what it does is pitch the bike into a different sector altogether, against machines like the V-Max and Harley V-Rod.

It has the performance to hold its head very high in its new home... The original Rocket 3 was marketed as out-accelerating a Yamaha R1 to 100mph (160kph) and with its extra power and torque the new Roadster was hardly going to be sluggish off the line either. You don`t even need to rev it hard for a spectacular take-off as it makes more torque just off idle than a Suzuki Hayabusa's maximum and goes on to peak at a subterranean 2,750rpm.

Okay, the bike weighs a hefty 807lb (367kg) fuelled up and ready for anything, but dumping the clutch still gives you hammer blow acceleration.

The accompanying soundtrack is deeper and raspier than before too, adding to the sensations, though now the bike is electronically restricted to 120mph (192kph) so if there`s anywhere you could exceed that, you won`t on this bike. You get there pretty damn quick though...

For all its intimidating size and performance this is a perfectly usable and friendly every day bike, as you`d expect from Triumph. The motor is silky smooth and the riding position is very natural and easy with a generous seat, so comfort is fine even after a long stretch on board. The fuel capacity is 5.3 gallons (24 litres, 6.0 gallons US) but 2.3 litres makes for a thirsty motorcycle and you`ll be lucky to put more than 150 miles (240km) behind you without the tank running dry, not really enough for regular touring but otherwise okay. The aerodynamics don`t help economy, and of course they expose the rider to plenty of windblast too, though the accessory flyscreens do make a useful difference (see these in some of the pics).

That softer suspension helps a lot on poor surfaces, keeping the tyre in contact with the road where the old version`s would be bouncing about and upsetting the ride quality for the rider, and there`s lots of confidence to be had on this type of machine from including ABS - the brakes are plenty powerful enough and now it`s easier to use them to the full.

The bike`s balance isn`t bad but that enormous 240mm section rear tyre does affect the steering, at lower speeds especially, when the bike can feel a little vague and want to drop into turns to some degree. It`s not a serious issue but could be better, although that would mean a more sensible rear tyre, and this bike doesn`t do sensible. A fair trade then.

In fact precision steering and flickability (which it doesn`t have...) don`t really matter. This is a street rod rather than the street fighter Triumph is calling it, made to have attitude, intimidate others rather than the rider, look mean and huge and thunder away from traffic lights in the total confidence of knowing practically nothing will better it.

It does all of this, sounds magnificent, goes like stink and feels refined and beautifully made too. It`s hardly a bike for everyman (or the 350 women who`ve bought some of the 18,000 Rocket 3s sold to date), but for the man it`s for, there`s nothing better.

It gladdens the heart that bikes like this exist.

Price: £10,949

Available: January 2010

Contact: Triumph Motorcycles Ltd, 01455 251700, www.triumph.co.uk

Additional Images: 

loubike
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Joined: 08/01/2009

Fantastic write-up, hits all the right points. Kudos to Triumph for having gonads to do this. IMHO, it's now a better bike, I believe. Whether it will sell better or not in the States, we'll see. I'm rooting for them here. Now, how about putting that T-Bird engine in an updated Bonnie platform?

shuggiemac
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Not wishing to sound too pedantic but the new Thunderbird is not a V-Twin - its a parallel twin and is actually a fairly significant point being that the bike is being pitched against Harley's.

Navy Boy
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Joined: 12/02/2009

Another smart move by Triumph I think. I recently rode a R3 Touring and really enjoyed it. So much so that I'll be considering one to replace my R1200RT when that comes up for replacement in a year or two's time.
If the Roadster has more torque than the Touring then it must be stupendous as the Touring was well impressive!

kevash
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Sorry, wasn't thinking there, of course it's a parallel twin! That's the trouble with running your own site, there's nobody to pick up on silly mistakes until they're already out there!

I'll correct it, but thanks for pointing it out - it leads to an important point we're discussing in the forum about performance and how Harleys score on other factors. Heritage is one of them and the Thunderbird picks up on this specifically by being a parallel twin, that gives it an authenticity it wouldn't have had as a V-twin and shows a better understanding of the US market for that reason - copying what Harley does doesn't necessarily mean copying their bikes slavishly, it means evoking the same feelings in the potential customers sometimes in other ways.

shuggiemac
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I didn't mean to sound smug by pointing it out as I knew you knew and that is was most likely a typo - but thought it worth mentioning for others reading who may not have been aware.

In the forum I think you made an excellent point regarding all the bikes over the years where the magazines have labelled them as "Harley beating". As soon as I read it I thought "that is bang on, they have said that so many times" and your summation that they are so far off the mark is absolutely correct.

We have talked about this before but I think that Harley have something so unique in the motorcycle market in that they have the global image that entwines technology, history, style, heritage and the untangible Harleyesqueness that no one else can really claim to have so strongly. This is made even more unique in that in goes deeper into the knowledge of the non motorcycling population than any other manufacturer does. I don't think it matters if you like it or not but if someone makes a living from critiquing motorcycles and does not realise that, then they are not really best qualified for the job.

In closing I will say that I personally care not a jot what brand, genre, vintage, country of origin, size etc a bike is - if it is a bike then that is good enough for me.

kevash
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No please do point out mistakes! And it didn't sound smug, I'm glad you did... I think it's like when you have a bit of ice cream on your nose or something, you'd rather someone said something than people are too polite to tell you and it's there for ages...

Paulvt1
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Mad.

och2pot
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Joined: 15/11/2009

Hi Kev
What's the ground clearance / lean angle like? Better than a T-bird I guess? And congrats for posting a pic showing the new riding position - first I've seen. I find my (955) Sprint ST just too "sports" and like the look of the roadster, heavy beast that it is though.

kevash
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Ground clearance isn't great, it's more than the T-Bird and doesn't interfere with everyday riding but if you're used to cornering fairly hard it will scrape. It's always hard to say how it will affect individuals so I'd suggest getting a test ride to see if you're okay with it, otherwise the bike's great, I really enjoyed it! The riding position is important because in reality that's the main thing that's been changed. The extra power and torque come from the exhaust change, the motor itself is not touched. But the riding position works a lot better, it sits you more in control of the bike.

och2pot
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Joined: 15/11/2009

Lokks like demand is good, acc. to my contact orders are coming in steadily already so there's a new market for the R3 beast. Might not even be enough production time left for dealer demo bikes

Paulvt1
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Still makes me grin.

wadham
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Joined: 10/11/2009

Sat on one of these today and was not impressed with the riding position. Seat is still too low and the pegs although further back are still odd. My knees were too high and legs cramped. Like sitting on a junior school toilet pan.

If only they had raised the seat to a proper height for comfort.

och2pot
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Joined: 15/11/2009

Sorry wadham, have to counter your comment. I did 80 miles on an R3R demo bike yesterday and I loved the riding position. At 5-11 it felt just right for me . Upright and in complete control. I was very impressed with the bike overall, and does it shift!! First time i've ridden a rocket and it's well named. Anywhere, any time, just twist and go- for real! Even took it up a single track road with hairpins and it just purred along at 10mph until things straightened out a bit
somebody stop me writing that cheque........

Paulvt1
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Do it! A great laugh i bet..

wadham
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Joined: 10/11/2009

Following my comments here in Feb10 I test rode one of these today.

I mentioned that I found the seating position poor. My ride today confirmed this. The seat is low and the pegs are high. The riding position means you lean back with knees high and bum low.

I had lower back pain after 2 miles. This bike is not for me despite the awesome engine and power. I'm 6'1.

The handling is slow as well, It takes a massive effort to change direction.

Sorry, this bike may suit you but the Triumph Thunderbird handles better and is more comfortable. If only Triumph had made the bike with a more normal riding position I would have bought one.

och2pot
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Joined: 15/11/2009

Horses for courses as they say I guess Wadham. I did buy a Roadster in April and have done 5000m since with no probs. You get used to the size , weight and slow direction changes, (but not that slow) and I've already learned how to hang off to stop it grounding. Entertaining from behind I'm told, and it's surprised a few mates on sports bikes! It does have more cornering clearance that a T-Bird though, and it's still dead comfy for me (and the wife on the back) .

I might have bought a 1700 T-Bird if the riding position had been like the Roadster as the price was the same, but it's a heavy bike too but with a lot less grunt.
Now will Triumph bring out a T-Bird "Roadster" or "Sport" - who knows......they surely won't stop at one model with that engine.

Big Guy
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Joined: 22/11/2010

Thunderbird correction?? I thought the Thunderbird was a 1600 not a 1700. I note the 2011 models 'Thunderbird Storm' are 1700s in Oz.