Just as The Beatles turned to Americans such as Little Richard, Carl Perkins and The Shirelles to inspire its trans-Atlantic sound, 45 years later Triumph motorcycles tapped the imaginations of Harley-Davidson and Henderson for the styling cues of its new Rocket III Touring. Walking up to a Rocket III Touring, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the agriculturally mammoth three-cylinder motor. Mounted distinctively longitudinally in the frame, the powerplant inescapably brings the Henderson (and, later, Ace and Indian) fours to mind. As my eyes follow the exhaust system to the rear, the aerodynamic panniers none too subtly recall the hard saddlebags found on Harley-Davidson tourers. That is all fine, of course, as it is the result of a synthesis of influences upon which judgment is made.
While it may have been tempting for the accountants at Triumph to insist that simply adding bags and a windshield would quickly and inexpensively turn the Rocket III into a touring bike, the motorcyclists at Hinckley had a better idea. Test riding the Rocket III Touring in the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio—a place where they still remember the Alamo, but, fortunately, not the Battle of Bladensburg—reveals that Triumph has taken the Rocket III cruiser and transformed it into an Anglo-American hybrid tourer that is as unique and successful as the motorcycle from which it evolved. (Click image to enlarge)
Pulling away from a stop sign, it is clear that Triumph has retuned the Rocket III’s 2.3-liter powerplant. Instead of a tire-shredding blast of horsepower, the Touring confidently proceeds with prodigious torque at meager rpm. The Touring’s brawny motor hits maximum torque at a mere 2,000 rpm, where it puts out seven more ft lbs than the standard Rocket III does when it peaks 500 rpm later. Weighing nearly 100 pounds more than the standard, the Touring rider appreciates the extra pull, especially when fully packed and toting a passenger.
On the expressway, the rider feels the inevitable horsepower cost of tuning for low rpm torque, as power is down considerably from the cruiser. With only 99 hp at the rear wheel—not coincidentally, this number is crucial for licensing in some European markets—the Rocket name seems a bit less apt. Triumph does have an easy fix, fortunately, as we also tested a version of the Touring with accessory mufflers that add about 15 noticeable horses to the motor, with surprising little additional sound output. However, increased vibration—and not the pleasant variety we enjoy from a big V-twin—comes standard with the performance exhaust. If you expect to be riding two-up frequently, we think the extra power is worth the trade off. Solo riders under 200 lbs may find the stock tuning to be adequate for their touring needs, while enjoying the smoother and slightly quieter ride. (Click image to enlarge)
As the roads turn to two lanes and the hills insist that road engineers put welcome curves in your path, the Touring truly begins to shine. Although Triumph stretched the Touring a half-inch over the standard Rocket III, it is still a willing accomplice in corners, thanks to the resizing of the tires. A 16-inch front tire replaces the standard’s 17-inch rubber, decreasing the Touring’s trail by over an inch while retaining the 32-degree rake. In the rear, the 16-inch rim is retained, but the Touring’s 180mm tire is down 60mm in width from the standard, facilitating cornering capabilities. Triumph’s choice of Bridgestone Exedra tires is a good one. The bike is absolutely stable in a straight line, and there’s plenty of traction for aggressive braking—the rear is especially powerful. Certainly, no one is going to call the Touring agile—though the bike is nowhere near as unwieldy as it looks—but the Bridgestones allow you to drag the spring-loaded floorboards (with thoughtfully removable grind plates) when the sporting feeling presents itself.
The duties of the suspension require a delicate balance on a touring bike. Road undulations need to be isolated from the rider, as a rough ride is fatiguing. At the same time, if the rider intends to avail himself of tempting turning invitations, you don’t want a mushy feel that translates into insecure cornering. Triumph successfully accomplished both goals, as the Kayaba suspension settles nicely when turning, maintains its composure on uneven asphalt, and protects the operator and his passenger from wearing jolts.
Comfort is superb, particularly with the factory accessory Longhaul seat and adjustable back rest (two of dozens of available customization options). The Touring’s longhorn bars are taller and wider than the standard, giving the rider more leverage in turns, along with a more natural posture for touring. Triumph’s 6-inch taller Roadster screen is ideal for riders wanting protection from the wind, though anyone under six feet tall must be willing to look through the optically correct screen.
With sensible modifications and adjustments, Triumph has successfully transformed the standard from a self-satisfied day tripper to a Touring bike that welcomes the long and winding roads.