Triumph Rocket III Touring
Triumph Rocket III Touring

How A Nearly 900 Pound Gorilla Ended up on a Flatbed– Twice!

Most times reviewing a new bike is a pleasure. Sometimes, the stars don’t align as well. That was my experience with the 2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring.

Due to circumstances that I’ll describe later, the Rocket III wound up on a flatbed twice under my stewardship, and I didn’t have it all that long. The shame of it all is that I really wanted to fall in love with this bike, as I had with the original Rocket III. With a list price of $16,999 in solid colors/$17,999 in two tone, the Rocket III Touring carries a 24 month/unlimited mileage warranty.

Let’s ride.

First Glance

There’s no hiding that great big lump of an engine. At 2,294 cc, the in-line three-cylinder powerplant dominates the Rocket III Touring in every respect. Polished chrome exhaust headers contrast with flat black cylinder fins on the bike’s right side, drawing attention the massive block.

Rather than hiding the radiator with a flat black cover, Triumph has chromed it as well, and mounted it in front of the engine for maximum air flow.

Rocket III Touring shares many components with the non-touring Rocket III, but a quick look reveals a new tubular steel frame, a unique 43 mm front fork, new, more symmetrical exhaust pipes and a more laid-back, relaxed stance. Great-looking hard bags hang on the new frame. Though they are only rated to carry 15 lbs, they open widely at the top, and swallow a good volume of light gear.

The bags are easily removable without tools via quarter turn fasteners, and the lockable lids hinge on the outside for safety. A few days of rain proved that the bags are water-tight.

A slick, chrome-trimmed removable windscreen comes standard on the Touring’s front end. It clicks on and off in seconds with sturdy hardware, just the thing for a fashionable destination makeover.

A few of the details on the bike reek of the parts bin — hand controls and frame covers look a little cheap, and the handlebar-mounted brake reservoir is an eyesore. Triumph’s parts and accessories catalog offers a few stylish (if pricey) solutions, and the aftermarket should be of some help.

Seat of the Pants

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Rocket III Touring’s stock seat suited my posterior just fine. Though I didn’t get a chance to rack up the miles as I would have liked to, I found the 18 wide seat just right, and the seat height of 28.9 perfectly suited to my short-legged 6’2 frame. Shorter riders might find the wide stance required by straddling the big engine a challenge.

Because the Rocket III Touring weighs in at 788 lbs dry/845 lbs wet, you really need to be able to get both feet on the ground at a stop. Even a slight lean can be difficult to manage with all that weight.

Luckily, once underway, weight becomes less of a factor, as the engine’s power overcomes inertia in a hurry.

Rocket III Touring produces 106 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm and 154 lb-ft of torque @ 2,025 rpm, detuned from the regular Rocket III but still monster numbers. All that torque available at such low rpm means that you can shift into higher gears (there are five available) and stay there without sacrificing responsiveness. Even in fifth gear, the engine pulls like a locomotive from 30 mph up.

Smooth cruising is available at almost every speed, right up to ridiculously extra-legal.

If I owned a Rocket III Touring, I might toy with the ergonomics a bit by adjusting, or even changing, the handlebars. I found the riding position a little too tractor-like — my hands were too widely-spaced, and too high up to be truly comfortable in the long run. I appreciated the leverage that the wide bars gave me, but I felt like a flying squirrel, even with the windshield in place.

On the Road

Now to the cause of Rocket III Touring’s first flatbed ride: Triumph’s infernal ignition switch. A key must be inserted to unlock the fork and run the bike. The switch has four positions: on, off, lock and accessory. The key can be removed in the off, lock or accessory positions.

Accessory is the farthest left turn position. With no indicator light or warning, it’s very easy to mistakenly remove the key and leave the bike in accessory position, which will drain the bike’s battery — in my experience, within 3 hours. It happens. Accessing the battery requires several tools (included) and seat removal, and cursing (in my case).

Unfortunately, a conventional jump start will do no good — once the battery goes below a certain level, there’s not enough power in the electrical system to charge the battery and operate the fuel system at the same time. So even if you can get the bike started, you can’t ride away — the Rocket III Touring will behave as if it has a fuel delivery problem. Hence, the trip on a flatbed truck, back to my house for an overnight trickle charge. Totally inexcusable, especially in a touring bike.

Triumph Rocket III Touring

Change that ignition switch already, Triumph!

My second (and final) failure may have been as a result of that first flatbed ride. A few blocks from home one day, I stomped down on the heel-toe shifter to up-shift, and the mechanism went slack. The shift linkage had broken. right at the point where the shifter attached.

Triumph’s rep came out to my house with a pickup truck, and hauled the injured Rocket III Touring away.

Journey’s End

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Despite my less-than-perfect experience with the Rocket III Touring, I still really appreciated the bike. Having all that power on tap is incredibly alluring, especially the low-end grunt. Whacking that throttle and feeling 2.3 liters come to life gets the blood rushing, and the exhaust’s bass notes hit the gut like a body shot.

Any muscle car fan will understand the appeal. The Rocket III Touring isn’t the fastest bike on the road, nor the most powerful, but it doesn’t matter — the visceral appeal matches the visual statement. That big engine delivers as advertised.

The Touring part of the equation seems to be in place as well. My passengers all praised the pillion comfort and position. I’d add a luggage rack or top box on the back to maximize utility. I don’t like a lot of gadgets and extras on a touring bike — a radio, GPS navigation, airbag, etc. are wasted on me.

Heated grips? I’d rather wear good gloves.

I’d measure the Rocket III Touring against the Harley Road King. the Victory Kingpin Tour, the Honda VTX1800T, the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad, the Suzuki Boulevard C109RT and the Yamaha Star Stratoliner S. All of Rocket III’s competitors are powered by V-Twin engines – I don’t know of another touring cruiser with a three-cylinder lump.

If you choose a Rocket III Touring, you’ll find yourself looking at the horizon as an invitation — and you’ll want to get there quickly. Just remember to check that ignition key position every time you park, or you’ll be sitting at the horizon a lot longer than you wanted to.

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