2008 Trio of Triples | Feature

Legendary British Marque Triumph has always marched to the beat of its own drum. The manufacturer—in both pre- and post-resurrection years—has consistently produced impressive, iconic motorcycles imbued with unpretentious souls that deliver as much in performance as they do on character. The company’s eclectic offering for the touring class continues a tradition of stirring the human viscera.

The Sprint ST (ABS), the Tiger 1050, and the Rocket III Classic, represent the company’s broadening range of motorcycles—and corporate strategy—intended to appease the wildly varying tastes and demands of the consumer. Aside from the nameplate and triple-cylinder engine configurations, this trio of Triumphs represents three unique approaches to getting from one place to another.

Certainly the company’s most audacious bike is the Rocket III. When introduced, the mammoth 2.3-liter cruiser immediately ascended to the coveted throne–among the size conscious public—as the largest displacement mass production motorcycle available. Through its accessory catalog, Triumph offers a bagger variation of the Rocket III (we reviewed the Touring version in our February/March 2008 issue). Fitted with saddlebags, windshield, forward floorboards, swept-back handlebars, and a plush seat, the standard Rocket III caters to a laidback approach to tackling miles with an emphasis on comfort. (Click image to enlarge)

Aesthetically, the Rocket’s engine bears an uncanny resemblance, in both appearance and size, to a farm tractor. A massive radiator feeds the longitudinally mounted, in-line 3-cylinder powerplant that earns its bragging rights courtesy of bores of nearly 102mm and strokes of approaching 94mm. The resulting firepower is 140 hp at 6,000 rpm, with a monstrous torque rating of 147 ft lbs at a mere 2,500 rpm, transmitted via five-speed gearbox and drive shaft to the rear wheel.

As you might imagine, response when twisting the throttle is substantial. There’s really no powerband on the Rocket III Classic—it is all muscle, all the time, though not as torquey off idle as the Rocket III Touring.

The abundant power helps shrink the Rocket’s dry weight of 704 pounds. Surprisingly, despite the mass, the Rocket is exceptionally well mannered. An extremely low center of gravity, combined with a 29.1-inch seat height, contributes to controlled maneuverability at speeds from a crawl to a spirited pace. In fact, the bike is so docile and behaves so well in low-speed situations that traditionally spook big cruisers, it is not until you get off and look back at it, that you are reminded of the bike’s size. However, in slow going, such as stop- and-go traffic, or waiting for long traffic lights, the Rocket’s engine heat builds up on the rider’s thighs. And that massive triple gets hot.

From left, three distinctive ways to tour the Colonies: Sprint ST, Tiger 1050 and Rocket III Classic bagger. (Click image to enlarge)

The Rocket III would not be a Triumph if it did not corner well. Predictable handling, combined with ample ground clearance, allows fairly steep lean angles for a cruiser of this size. The sheer spread of the bike’s footprint (with 150×17 rubber up front and a healthy 240×16 on the rear) provides a solid, planted feel at interstate speeds and, in capable hands, can deliver surprisingly fast runs through twisted sections of road. The fat front tire helps to slow down the handling and rolls over potholes and road imperfections without flinching.


Despite fighting significant momentum, the bike stops remarkably well thanks to twin 320mm floating discs with 4-piston calipers on the front, teamed with a single 316mm disc, 2-piston caliper on the rear. Brake lever and pedal action is smooth and consistent, with a positive, controlled feel.

Wind protection is good, with the tall windshield breaking up the turbulence, a decent extent without any of the back curling vortices some screens create in the cockpit. Between the plush seat and the sweep of the bars, the rider is encouraged to slouch in the cockpit, which can lead to some lower back discomfort on long hauls.

Instrumentation is minimal, with a speedo, tachometer and some idiot lights. Our Rocket III’s low-fuel warning light came on and never went off, regardless of how much petrol was in the tank. The malfunction actually endeared the Rocket to me as a quaint reminder of Lucas-era Triumphs—stellar engines mismatched to dubious electrics.The Rocket III utilizes the most simple of bags, with semi-soft units that are latched by three snap buckles on either side. The trade out for simplicity is the bags are not lockable. Triumph probably figured that the bike exudes such a powerful persona that would-be thieves might hesitate, with assumptions about the size and temperament of the owner.

On looks alone, the big British cruiser receives a lot of thumbs up from motorists and fellow motor-cyclists alike. Yet, aside from being an attention getter, the Rocket III Classic bagger is a solid distance machine, capable of covering serious stretches of open highway—even if it is not the official Touring version—and with enough versatility in reserve for cruising Main Street USA once you arrive.

Helmet: Arai Vector Read
Jacket: Spidi R-Course
Gloves: Spidi Race Vent
Pants: Spidi Teker
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa (Click image to enlarge)

In antithesis to the Rocket III Classic’s laid back approach to traveling is Triumph’s sport touring entry, the Sprint ST. Without question, the ST is a looker. Sharp, wedged bodywork betray the fact that for 2007 the handlebars were raised and pushed back for a more comfortable riding position. Last year’s optional taller windscreen is now standard. The Sprint walks a fine line between sport bike and touring platform. Although more than capable of gobbling up endless stretches of open highway, the Sprint really warrants (and rewards) making an effort to find a more entertaining (read: demanding) route to your destination.


The Sprint is fitted with Triumph’s signature in-line 1050cc triple engine. The very potent motor, with its raspy, quick-revving snarl produces a healthy 125 hp and possesses the same addictive qualities of its stripped down cousin, the Speed Triple. The fuel injection mapping is smooth and helps the engine produce its impressive torque; the only complaint is a minor flat spot between 4,000 and 5,000 rpm, where the power can hesitate momentarily before kicking back in. The 6-speed transmission can be a little notchy at the lever, especially on hard downshifts, but is aided by a backlash-reducing gear to smooth out shifts.

Helmet: Shoei Multitech
Jacket: Firstgear Kilimanjaro
Gloves: Firstgear Mojave
Pants: Firstgear Mesh-Tex
Boots: Sidi Strada Evo (Click image to enlarge)

The rigid, aluminum beam perimeter chassis and single-sided swingarm combine into a secure feeling 57.4-inch wheelbase. Front forks are 43mm traditional telescopic units with dual rate springs and adjustable preload, but no dampening adjustment. The rear suspension is fully adjustable (spring preload, compression and rebound damping), allowing fine tuning for two-up riding with luggage.


Handling is a little lazy, but never-theless highly intuitive with the Sprint’s front wheel going exactly where the rider wants it; we were pleased to find that dropping the forks in the triple clamps quickened the steering somewhat without sacrificing stability. Overall, the pleasant handling makes for comfortable cruising even when loaded or carrying a passenger. Fuel capacity of 5.2 gallons delivers a range in the neighborhood of 170 miles per tank and weight (on the ABS model) of the ST is an agreeable 469 pounds.

The optional ABS system available for the Sprint works independently and seamlessly at both front and rear. The brakes do provide adequate stopping power; however, they leave the rider with spongy feedback at the lever. Trail-braking into corners has to be done with care, as the ST brakes lack the finesse present on both the Tiger’s and Speed Triple’s excellent radial stoppers.

The Sprint ST is a smart combination of engine and chassis giving a highly versatile package that can be ridden lazily or aggressively. One of the best sport–tourers around, it is a well engineered machine that is just rough enough around the edges to remind you that it is ready for a good thrashing when the mood, and road, calls for it.

Helmet: AGV X-R2
Jacket: River Road Basic
Gloves: Olympia All-Season
Pants: Icon Anthem
Boots: Red Wing 969 (Click image to enlarge)

Less dramatic than the leap from the Rocket III to the Sprint ST, is the leap from the Sprint to the versatile Tiger 1050. Though equipped with the same fuel-injected 1050cc triple powerplant as its sibling, the Tiger is a thoroughly different animal. Receiving a major makeover when upgraded from the Tiger 955i, the 1050 sports a half-fairing, 43mm fully adjustable upside-down forks, forged 17-inch wheels, twin-spar aluminum frame and braced aluminum swingarm. The Tiger’s combination of wide bars, tall seat and low pegs provide thoroughly forgiving ergonomics that are perfect for distance riding.


Possessing a sporting soul, the Tiger is capable of keeping pace with the Sprint on fast, sweeping bends until the pace really heats up. On tight, twisting mountain roads the bike really comes into its own. The upright seating position and wide handlebars give excellent maneuverability and control, while a high line of sight allows the rider exceptional visibility of what lies ahead. The neutral seating position also handles less-than-perfect tarmac well, providing confidence when exploring questionable roads comprised of potholes and broken surfaces.These attributes—which make the Tiger so enjoyable on canyon runs—serve it well in an urban setting too. They also make it an ideal weapon for dodging in and out of snarled traffic, with its tall visibility adding a degree of safety in both seeing and being seen. Tuned more for torque, the triple is not quite as fast as the Sprint ST, but the motor loses nothing of its rowdiness with 114 horsepower. Well-matched to the Tiger’s claimed dry weight of 436 pounds, the powerband is devoid of the Sprint’s flat spot, pulling strongly from idle to redline.

The Tiger is equipped with the radial-mounted 4-piston calipers that the Sprint lacks, biting on similar dual 320mm front discs. Seat height is relatively high—nearly 33 inches—and swinging a leg over the bike takes a little extra thought with the added width of the saddlebags.

The minimalist windshield does a surprisingly good job of deflecting the blast, although riders will receive a fair share of the elements on long riding stints. The hard saddlebags (same as on the Sprint) will most likely cause some foul language intially. A somewhat complicated routine of pushing and pulling levers after strategically twisting the key is required to remove the bags from the bike. As with most things, once you the get drill down, it becomes easier, but figuring it out will have you scratching your head.

Fast or slow, the Rocket III is an impressive sight to behold.

Certainly, the Rocket III Classic bagger, the Sprint ST ABS, and the Tiger 1050 represent three different approaches to heading out onto the open road.

The Rocket is an impressive big bore cruiser that, unlike a lot of the competition in the class, can handle moderately tight, winding roads as well as the interstate with absolute ease. The bike’s intimidating curb appeal alone is enough to unsettle its peers.

The Sprint and Tiger, though sharing an engine platform, are entirely different motorcycles. It is almost as if no one at the factory told the Sprint that ST stands for Sport Touring. It looks and performs like a serious sport machine. In fact, it is not until you see the panniers in the mirror that you remember the machine was built for travel.

And the Tiger? Well, the Tiger works on a multitude of levels. In capable hands, it will eagerly consume the most demanding of sporting runs. It makes for an impressive daily commuter, whether your route is freeway or congested surface streets, as well as an unquestionably serious transcontinental touring motorcycle.

Triumph has managed to imbue its motorcycles with solid build quality, while at the same time preserving the raw edge that is its trademark. The English touring machines share in this rarified heritage, and represent an impressive range of choice under one manufacturer’s roof. The one constant present in this trio of triples is a healthy dose of pure, unadulterated motorcycling enjoyment.



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