(This road test review of the 2014 Triumph Rocket III Touring was also published in the October 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)
Bigger is better. Go big or go home. There’s no replacement for displacement. Super size me! We were using those phrases a lot about 10 years ago. Back then, a gallon of gas cost about a buck-fifty and the players in the cruiser market were battling to see who could build the biggest and baddest. Hot on the heels of the 1998 Harley-Davidson Twin Cam 88 (1,449cc) and Victory V92C (1,510cc), in 2002, Star launched the Road Star (1,670cc) and Honda debuted the VTX1800 (1,795cc). Then word got out that Kawasaki would reveal the one to rule them all for 2004, the Vulcan 2000 (2,053cc), two liters of ultimate V-twin bigness.
By this time, the guys at Triumph working on a competitor for those bikes had torn up the engine blueprints so many times the shop floor was probably covered in confetti. The decision to go with an in-line triple evoking the earlier Trident and BSA Rocket III had been made early on, but as each competitor’s plans were discovered, it grew from a 1500, to a 1600 and a 2000 before the all-new Rocket III was launched in 2004 with a whopping great 2,294cc, making it the largest-displacement production motorcycle to this day. Several variations have since come and gone. Today we have two, the performance-tuned Rocket III Roadster making a claimed 146 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque; and returning for 2014, the more long-distance-oriented Rocket III Touring you see here, with a claimed 105 horsepower and 150 lb-ft.
Why bother detuning the engine for the Touring model when you could just use the gnarly Roadster mill? To move the power down low, real low, and improve the mpg. A huge cylinder bore of 101.6mm—four inches across—and stroke of 94.3mm allow the Triumph engineers a lot of tuning latitude in the liquid-cooled, 2,294cc DOHC engine with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. Changes to the Touring’s ECU and exhaust move the grunt down to the point that peak torque occurs literally just off idle. With a redline of only 5,800 rpm, peak horsepower is practically irrelevant, so it’s all about getting the torque peak to occur where a touring rider is most likely to need it. On the Jett Tuning dyno, our RIIIT made nearly 137 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel at 2,000 rpm, a shocking display of low-end twisting force that bests anything in regular production.
That much grunt is a Good Thing, particularly because everything about the RIIIT is massive, not just the motor. The radiator is car-sized, the fenders are enormous shrouds of steel and the 5.9-gallon gas tank is nearly two-feet across at its widest, partly because it conceals the EFI throttle bodies on the left and half of the airbox; the rest is under the bolt-on seat. If Mongo in Blazing Saddles had ridden a motorcycle instead of a Brahma bull, this would be it. With the addition of the formerly optional engine guards, quick-release passenger backrest/luggage rack and fog lights as standard equipment for 2014, the RIIIT tipped the Rider scale at 906 pounds, a good 90 pounds more than a Vulcan 2000 and just four pounds shy of a standard Gold Wing. This is a massive bike to push around that brings new importance to your parking technique; choose wisely.
The good news is that once you’re underway, the mass melts away and the RIIIT handles like a much smaller, er, huge motorcycle. Its dry-sump engine was kept as short and mounted as low as possible, and the handlebar is as wide as the day is long to ease the steering. Changes to the frame and swingarm, a smaller 16-inch front and narrower 180-series rear tire (vs. the Roadster’s 17-inch front and 240-series rear) speed up the bike’s handling considerably, enough that it can actually be ridden pretty briskly in the corners. Cornering clearance is ample for a cruiser, and when the floorboards do touch down the replaceable scrapers on them make a softer, less-irritating sound than the usual noisy grinding. Cruisers are a lot less popular in Great Britain than sportbikes, and some of that sporting preference has rubbed-off in the design of the RIIIT.
Blip the RIIIT’s throttle at a stop and the bike lists a bit to the left like a Moto Guzzi because of its longitudinal crankshaft. Once underway, there’s never a speed where more velocity isn’t on tap in a heartbeat. Passing takes place in an eye-blink without shifting; hills and canyon roads are blitzed entirely in third gear if desired; hot rods and Ferraris can be handicapped from a stoplight and you’ll still blow their doors off. The Triumph’s torque output does drop off steadily from its peak, however, so the urge builds more slowly than you might expect as the revs climb. Short-shifting well before redline is the name of the game here.
The Rocket III Touring’s 5-speed transmission shifts smoothly and easily despite having a cable-actuated clutch, and there’s a nice smooth spot in the power delivery at about 70 mph in top gear. A touch of driveline lash intrudes at times, but there’s no up-and-down jacking from the shaft final drive. Despite the 120-degree crank and balancer shaft, some vibration does creep into the grips at higher engine speeds, but it’s of a coarser variety that isn’t terribly bothersome. Thankfully the big engine is happiest on just regular 87-octane dino juice because of its low compression ratio of 8.7:1, though you still must pay to play since fuel economy hovers in the low 30s, giving the bike a range of less-than 200 miles from its 5.9-gallon tank. A rider with a tamer right wrist can probably improve upon our 31.0 mpg average, but what’s the point of buying the most mondo motored bike on the planet if you’re not going to put the whip to it?
When you do wick it up in the corners, the RIIIT is like André the Giant, a large but surprisingly agile Goliath that can surprise riders on smaller machines. It rides on good Metzeler Marathon ME880 radial rubber, and the simple-but-effective Kayaba suspension soaks up the bumps well front and rear. Those big triple disc Nissin/Brembo brakes with standard ABS stop strongly when used together, though the front could use more bite, and the ABS works smoothly when engaged with a just a hint of lock-and-release cycling.
Appropriately for Triumph’s mega-cruiser, comfort reigns supreme, starting with a wide, cushy, dual-density seat that holds you in place but still feels good after a long ride. Floorboards and handgrips are in natural positions that are not too stretched-out for an average-sized rider despite the bike’s 67.1-inch wheelbase. The rider already has to splay his or her legs a bit to get around the tank, and on summer days you’ll do so even more to avoid the heat pouring off the engine and radiator. Clutch and brake levers are big and non-adjustable, and while the heel-and-toe shifter works well, I would probably remove the heel portion so that I could move my left foot around more. Passengers are treated to floorboards and a big cushy pillion with a gel insert, and the backrest provides some security, though grab rails are lacking.
The now standard backrest/luggage rack is a nice piece; it can be easily removed as a single unit and locks on with a couple latches and the ignition key. Up front, the standard shorter “Look-Over” windshield adds ample wind protection with only mild buffeting and is also easily removed without tools, though a lock is optional. The bike is a touch more stable at high speeds without the shield installed, and certainly a lot cooler in summer. A taller one is available along with tons of other accessories. Running a narrower wheel and tire in back made room for the bike’s hard saddlebags, which can be removed simply by turning a couple Dzus fasteners and have solid, hinged locking lids that are keyed the same as the ignition. Capacity is on the small side at 15 pounds or 10 gallons each, and they’re narrow and kind of difficult to load.
Nice touches include a bright pair of fog lamps that work with both the high and low beams; good mirrors; and a chrome tank-top instrument nacelle that includes a fuel gauge and LCD display with 2 tripmeters, range, reserve range and a clock, all scrolled with a button on the right handlebar. Fit and finish are excellent, too, from the acres of high-quality chrome to that lovely new Cranberry Red/Phantom Black paint scheme for 2014 in addition to Phantom Black. Pricing for 2014 hadn’t been determined at this writing, though you can expect a few bucks more than last year’s two-tone cost of $17,299 thanks to the new standard equipment.
The Triumph Rocket III Touring is a big bike on a singular mission—to be the biggest, baddest bagger in the world. At this it definitely excels, but what’s really impressive is how well it accomplishes so many other things.
2014 Triumph Rocket III Touring Specs
Base Price: $16,999
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, longitudinal in-line triple
Bore x Stroke: 101.6 x 94.3mm
Compression Ratio: 8.7:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: At 10,000, then every 20,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Multipoint sequential EFI, 52mm throttle bodies x 3
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 5.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft, 2.846:1
Ignition: Digital electronic, twin plugs per cyl.
Charging Output: 574 watts max.
Battery: 12V 18AH
Frame: Tubular-steel twin-tube backbone w/ engine as stressed member & steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 67.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/7.3 in.
Seat Height: 28.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm male-slider telescopic fork w/ 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, adj. for spring preload w/ 4.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers
Rear: Single disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 16 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 150/80-VR16
Wet Weight: 906 lbs.
Load Capacity: 449 lbs.
GVWR: 1,355 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.9 gals, warning light on last 1.6 gals.
MPG: 87 PON min. (high/avg/low) 34.8/31.0/28.8
Estimated Range: 183 miles