Since the reintroduction of Triumph motorcycles in the mid-1980s, the English motorcycle manufacturer has continued to make pragmatic, measured movement forward with its motorcycle model lineup. Its engines have grown gradually larger and more powerful, the styling slowly has become more modern, and sales figures have continued to climb. Triumph built its loyal fan base with reliable, enjoyable motorcycles, but it also established a reputation for having a relatively conservative nature. However, that all changed early last year. Like a finishing school graduate embracing punk rock, the new Rocket III didn't just roll off the Hinckley production line, it stormed from the factory with a smoking rear tire. Displacing a cruiser-class-busting 2,294cc from its inline 3-cylinder engine, Triumph's first true heavyweight produces an incredible 140 hp at 5,750 rpm, and a Herculean 147 ft lbs of torque at just 2,500 rpm; even more amazing, 90 percent of that torque is available from only 2,000 rpm. The largest, most powerful production cruiser in the world, the Triumph Rocket III bests its largest competitor, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, by nearly 300cc, and dwarfs Harley Davidson's 1,449cc Twin Cam 88.
Leaving some serious dents in the asphalt at 704 pounds dry, and rolling on a 66.7-inch wheelbase, the Rocket III intimidates on its approach. I slide down into the wide seat, while staring slack-jawed at the massive gas tank and engine between my legs. I turn the ignition key, reach to the high, wide bars and give a light pull on the clutch; hitting the starter button sends three massive 101.6mm pistons into action.
I half-expect a violent explosion, but the low, guttural growl from the exhausts proves a pleasant surprise, with an appealing intake roar and a gentle pulling to the right with each blip of the throttle.
As the engine warms up, a quick preflight check confirms all the necessary control features are where they should be, although I am unsure about the small speedometer and tachometer. Gently letting out the clutch without applying any throttle allows me to perform simple parking lot maneuvers with both feet up on the pegs, and by the time I roll onto the highway I already feel right at home.
Short-shifting through the 5-speed gearbox, the Rocket III makes smooth progress in busy traffic without catapulting me forward as I initially expected it would. With low steering effort, the bike makes directional changes with minimum effort. The bike slows from speed with ease, due in part to the sturdy 43mm inverted fork that eliminates much of the dive normally found on heavyweight cruisers, and a Daytona sportbike-sourced brake setup comprising a pair of Nissin 4-piston calipers mated with dual 310mm rotors.
Extricating myself from congested traffic, I find some lightly traveled two-lane roads to stretch the Rocket III's throttle cables. As the big triple starts putting its horsepower through the fat, 240-section rear tire, I prepare for a wild ride. The landscape immediately blurs in my peripheral vision, and I start to feel like a human windsock. The speedometer needle, for those with 20/20 vision, rapidly ascends into the higher digits—and that's before fifth gear. The Rocket is aptly named.
Even when crouching as low as possible, the wind roar makes it uncomfortable to hold these speeds for long. As I return to a more law-abiding pace, it becomes easier to marvel at the big, red beast's split personality. Calm, relaxed, and extremely easy to ride at low speed, its demeanor transforms to that of a rudely awakened grizzly bear when the engine approaches redline.
The Rocket has a number of typical cruiser elements—a low seat, wide handlebars, and long wheelbase—but with an inverted fork and twin headlights up front, it appears to be emulating a naked standard. Viewed from any angle, the engine and radiator are simply massive, and even though the bike is peppered with chrome accents, it has an agricultural look. The footpegs look like an afterthought, although unlike most cruisers they are not too far forward. Leaned back on its side stand, though, the bike's overall visual appearance is stunning, as the cardinal red gas tank and chrome exhaust pipes reflect the afternoon sun. Undeniably unique and massively powerful, yet perfectly civilized for normal riding duties, the Rocket III represents a quantum leap ahead for Triumph, and a fascinating alternative for riders who are interested in a heavyweight power cruiser.