Road Test: Honda Goldwing vs. Triumph Rocket III
The Goldwing is different. Pillion or not it handles well, very well, for a machine of such size and weight, but the experience is far less involving for the rider. On the Rocket there’s a direct if crude connection between rider, chassis and road below; on the Goldwing the opposite is true, and direct connection becomes distinct detachment. Often the only time you’re ever aware there’s Tarmac beneath you is when it grinds against the end of the footrests.
That’s not to say the Honda isn’t an effective and well executed package, it is, but the end result for me is a little. sterile, almost over-accomplished.
Trickling into the suburban fringes of this lost little corner of the French Riviera, our mode of transport seemed ever more appropriate. The French adore bikes of all kinds and you never feel out of place or unwanted on two wheels anywhere in their country, but the Goldwing and the Rocket III Classic fit even more comfortably into the swing of things down there.
In town centres, at traffic lights, in petrol stations, on the péage and in middle-of-nowhere lay-bys, the Rocket III turns heads like no other motorcycle. Parked in isolation it’s the Goldwing that stops people in their tracks; stood in the Triumph’s shadow, gawping passers-by look straight past the Honda at the Rocket’s gargantuan, extrovert bulk.
Next to the Triumph the Honda appears understated and conservative, and it’s not often you can say that about a Goldwing. Our bike’s gentlemanly burgundy hue only helped it slip further into the background next to the Triumph’s thick chrome and two-tone cream and blue. That for many will be a good thing. While a Wing’s undoubted abilities appeal to a range of potential buyers, there are those who are put off by the Honda’s outrageous and very public statement of excess.
For them, any opportunity to blend in is a welcome one.
My appreciation of the Honda remained pretty much the same from the beginning of our trip to the end. The Wing is a hugely accomplished device, but those abilities were a known quantity at the start. The built-in sat nav was a new addition for me, and for the most part it worked well (looking at the instructions before we left would have enhanced the Garmin set-up’s usefulness even further. ), but other than that we knew what we were getting and the Wing performed admirably.
It’s less of an involving ride than I generally prefer, but rider involvement in the business of making progress perhaps isn’t in the brief. It surely won’t be long before Honda dispense with the Wing’s manual gearbox. So much of riding a Goldwing appears to happen
automatically after all, so why not changing gear too?
But the Triumph was a different matter, an unknown quantity. Having never travelled far on a Rocket before our trip, I was honestly concerned it wouldn’t have the makings of a proper tourer and would hold us back over the journey. I was wrong. Only the awkward bend of the bars spoiled the package, so sort that, or somehow fit a cruise control, or do both, and I would be inclined to take the Triumph over the Wing for a repeat journey.
No, the Rocket doesn’t have the Honda’s luggage capacity, equipment, sophistication, or its fuel range. But it’s the most entertaining, outrageous, gobsmacking motorcycle you can buy, and yet it succeeded at doing what was asked of it, and doing it well. The single most impressive thing Triumph has ever done is make the Rocket III so over-the-top and yet so easy to use, and the spec’d-up Classic is a further extension of that.
Parked between the marina and the boules piste in a pleasant seaside town that reminds those that know of St Tropez 20 years ago (before the riff-raff and moneyed wannabes descended en masse), both the Honda and the Triumph appear unexpectedly at home. Young men, old men and policemen cast covetous glances and nod approvingly in the way only the French do. Later, cruising gently along the seafront before heading inland feels absolutely the right thing to be doing on these bikes.
There’s none of the hint of embarrassment or cringing conspicuousness that can mar a similar sojourn in Bournemouth or Brighton or elsewhere in Britain.
The notion of touring by bike is a personal thing, and you absolutely don’t have to buy bikes such as these to embark on a trip such as this. Conversely, if you do have such bikes, you’re under no obligation to take it anywhere other than takes your fancy, as near or far as that may be.
But the Goldwing is as purpose built as any bike on the market, and to not embark on faraway adventures, two-up and fully laden, would be putting its capabilities to waste.
The Triumph is a different matter. It’s not sold as a luxury tourer, and it’s certainly no direct rival to the Goldwing. As standard, the Rocket III Classic isn’t so well equipped for distance work, and it’s only with the outlay of a significant amount of money on extras that it becomes as such (although the asking price is still way below that of the Wing). Its intended purpose is less clear cut, although there’s very little you can do on the Rocket that won’t raise a smile.
We went touring, we smiled.
The undeniable truth is that a combination of lavishly well appointed motorcycle and a far-off, glamorous destination make for a truly unforgettable mix. Honda’s Goldwing will devour any long distance trip and make the journey very special indeed. But for me and my needs and my tastes I’ve made my choice and would take the Rocket III Classic again, suffering the wrist ache for the relentless entertainment given by motorcycling’s maddest motor in the most ostentatious package under the sun.
And no, we’re not telling you exactly where we went. Sorry. You can probably work it out for yourself, but if we go public, heaven knows who will start turning up there.
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