Honda Valkyrie Vs. Triumph Rocket III Review
Whoever claimed there is no replacement for displacement may have been on to something. This pair of motorcycles has nine cylinders, and over a gallon that magic ingredient.
And there’s nothing like them. In fact, the Honda Gold Wing Valkyrie ABS and the Triumph Rocket III Roadster are quite different from each other.
Yet, they still have the same goal in mind- displacement fun. They are powerful (almost 300 ft/lbs of collective torque) and heavy (over three-quarters of a ton, combined). And you may rightfully consider that to be intimidating.
We muscled our way through town, and tore up a few back roads on the beautiful beasts. And here’s what we found.
2014 Honda Gold Wing Valkyrie ABS
Honda has essentially bobbed the Gold Wing and made what they deem to be an entry into the cruiser category. However, I think the bike begs to be called a roadster because it’s so different from, and sportier than, your typical cruiser.
It is the result of the evolution from the luxury touring Gold Wing, and is similar in many ways to the 1981 Honda Gold Wing GL1100 in my garage.
The Valkyrie’s riding position is remarkably familiar, too, with feet just forward of hips and on pegs, not floorboards. The handlebars are not pulled back too far, making them a perfect reach on my six-foot frame; I was relieved of having to always lean forward, especially as there is no windscreen.
I have always thought a stripped Wing would make a great cruiser. I acquired my GL1100 and removed about 150 pounds to make a caveman version of this new iteration of the latest GL1800.
The earlier version of the Valkyrie, and one that had a rabid following, is the same basic concept, though executed quite differently. The older Valkyrie had traditional styling, in direct contrast to the futuristic appearance of the new Valkyrie, with one exception. The sleek and audacious 2003 Valkyrie Rune was something of a hint of the new Valkyrie, though much more stylized.
Indisputably, this 2014 Honda Valkyrie is quick and polished. Its turbine-like power has the same smooth-natured DNA of my ’81, and it takes performance and looks to the starship level. It weighs in at a claimed 756 pounds wet compared to its siblings the Gold Wing (over 900 pounds) and the F6B (842 pounds). The benefits of losing as many as 175 pounds cannot be understated too much. The flat-6’s sound characteristic are also changed, and it has a nice, growling tone.
This is one of the easiest big cruisers to ride, slow or fast, and is as nimble as any bike this size. The Valkyrie is happy to loaf along all day at 45 mph in top gear (fifth) and, with a twist of the wrist, will take off with a mighty shove, without any downshifting or engine lugging.
Few bikes can compare to its refined nature. Whether you aim it down a straight road or spend the day in the curves, this version of the Gold Wing feels at home and inspires confidence.
Honda avoided trying to impress with an overly large rear tire, and the use of a 180-section bun helps enable this bike to corner surprisingly well. It can hustle through tight stuff and still keep its composure, just like its touring brothers.
Given its more generous cornering clearance and wide powerband, the Valkyrie has become one of my favorite cruisers, errr, roadsters. It steers with the lightest touch, and not much weight shift, to offer a responsive, magic carpet- smooth ride.
This could not be more different than piloting the Triumph Rocket III Roadster. The Rocket III is over 50 pounds heavier and handles nicely, but has less clearance and, with its 240mm rear tire, requires strong and constant counter- steering on the handlebars and plenty of body lean to set and keep a line.
Prospective Valkyrie owners may not be the type of riders who like the visceral, brute feel of a big-inch cruiser and this description certainly applies to the Rocket III. In an impromptu, top-gear, roll-on drag race between the two from about 65 mph, the Rocket simply walked away. That says a lot about the Triumph and its 163 ft/lbs of pure power.
Honda has done away with most rider aid electronics. On its small dashboard reside the basics — a digital speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, clock and two tripmeters.
Besides the obvious overall design of the Valkyrie, there are some small changes from its big brothers, such as more relaxed steering geometry (longer wheelbase, additional rake), taller wheels for more cornering clearance, roomier ergonomics, revised gearing, incrementally larger front discs, and a slightly smaller fuel tank. There is one tiny storage compartment in the quasi-fairing, and a flyscreen will be a Genuine Honda Accessory, but if you’re interested in touring, the F6B and standard Gold Wing are better choices.
In many ways, the Honda Valkyrie is an ideal cruiser for a sport bike guy who is looking to make a transition. It offers good handling and plenty of power, along with a modern appearance that stands out from the expected retro styling.
The Valkyrie is a cruiser with imposing looks, thanks to its massive six-cylinder boxer motor, yet not only deceptively easy to ride—it is enticingly easy to ride fast.
— Jonathan Handler
2014 Triumph Rocket III Roadster
Triumph’s Rocket III Roadster is about as apologetic as a Marine Drill Instructor. It is a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred tough- nut that delivers pretty much what you might expect — except for probably more power, and by that, I mean a lot more power.
The Rocket III Roadster’s centerpiece, of course, is the longitudinally mounted, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 2.3-liter inline-triple. Each piston measures over four inches across—the same as a Dodge Viper. This gives the exhaust note a great, throaty rumble—louder than I would have guessed is legal.
Redlining at 6500 rpm, 80 mph in top gear appears at a leisurely 3000 rpm so there is little need to explore those upper reaches of the rev range. No, with a claimed 163 ft/lbs of torque at 2750 rpm, the Rocket III has the most impressive top gear roll-ons from just about any speed you care to mention.
Highway fun is redefined — whack the throttle to the stop, and hang on. The Rocket III rewards the rider with such monster acceleration, it is impossible to wipe the smile off your face.
The Valkyrie of course is no slouch, either. The turbine smooth Gold Wing sourced motor is a gem, and produces some serious torque of its own— around 123 ft/lbs at 4000 rpm.
Given that the Rocket III is a hugely powerful machine, it may surprise you to know that it will go around corners well enough, if you’re prepared to show it who is boss. The meaty 240 rear tire and 150 front means that it requires every ounce of leverage from the wide bars to turn in to a corner.
On the upside, all that rubber on the ground means that the drive out of said corner is spectacular. If you are expecting neutral, pleasant handling, then look to the Honda Valkyrie. Ultimately, the Rocket III is happiest in a straight line—preferably at full throttle, humiliating every vehicle it comes across.
The Valkyrie is essentially, as smooth as butter. Its 180/130 tire combination gives the big Honda neutral handling and fairly precise turn in; if you aim for an apex, you will likely hit that apex.
The springing of the suspension is fairly stiff and that also gives the Valkyrie sporting handling, though it is a little jarring over bumps. At a claimed 809 pounds wet, the Rocket III Roadster carries a lot of weight and so the suspension feels softer sprung and a little more relaxed.
Don’t be offended if I say the Roadster is a man’s bike. There may be some lady owners out there, but not many. The seat height of 29.5 inches is nice and low, however, the spread of the seat is wide and needs some inseam length to maneuver around parking lots. In general, the Rocket III needs muscle, so physical strength is a definite advantage for a happy relationship.
Having said that, the size and weight of the Rocket III also work in its favor too, as the motorcycle feels solid to ride. Once underway, the weight disappears. I am left with a comfortable, confidence – inspiring machine with such enormous road presence that I feel like I could brush with a semi and come out ahead. Don’t try that at home.
The Roadster is equipped with ABS brakes, and the twin 320mm discs and Nissin four-piston calipers up front are very effective at bringing all that weight down to a sensible speed while you gather your wits ready for the next strafing run.
With the Valkyrie’s level of smoothness I expected the Rocket III to feel a bit agricultural in comparison, but it does not. Instead, the Roadster’s vibration is not overly intrusive; you know the motor’s alive, but it is not going to numb your extremities into submission.
The Rocket III has little in the way of electronic aids, but this fits with the muscular attitude. The clocks are easily read- able, traditional analog units. Interestingly, inside the tachometer are small LCD readouts that actually give quite a lot of information—digital gear indicator, fuel range, tripmeter, and so on.
If you generally need reading glasses, as I do, you won’t find them the easiest to see, especially after dark.
To put a fine point on it, the Triumph Rocket III Roadster is an enormously powerful motor with a wheel at each end and a comfortable seat in the middle. Get on, shut up, and hold on tight. This one’s going to the moon.
— Arthur Coldwells
If you come away from this comparison with one thing, it should be the approachability of the two motorcycles. As large as they look, they are still manageable machines; the Rocket III and Valkyrie can be ridden by any competent motorcyclist, as long as he keeps his right hand connected to his brain.
Choosing between them is about your mission. If straight-line dominance is what you are about, the Triumph Rocket III Roadster and its 240mm rear tire is there to satisfy your needs. Whether you’re coming away from a stoplight, or cruising down the freeway and looking to make a fast pass, the Rocket will not be denied.
For those who have some local twisties to cavort through, then the Honda Gold Wing Valkyrie ABS will be your mount of choice. The touring Wing is a superb handler, and with taller wheels and considerably less weight, the Valkyrie is shockingly agile. It won’t give fits to sport bikes, but a Roadster rider will be hard pressed to keep a well-ridden Valkyrie in sight.
As around-town bikes for riders who like to see the sights and be seen along the way, the two machines present distinctive countenances. Traditionalists will gravitate toward the Deco-inspired styling of the Rocket III, just as cruiser fans who want something different and modern will find much to like about the Valkyrie. From a practical standpoint in urban situations, they are both fully satisfying.
It’s hard to not like the versatility of the Honda Valkyrie—you can go fast in a straight line when you want, yet still feel comfort- able when faced with a tricky set of corners. At the same time, the monstrous torque of the Triumph Rocket III Roadster puts you at risk for addiction.
We can’t decide between the two on your behalf. And, unless you have a very specific set of criteria that needs to be met, you’re going to be visiting both dealerships a number of times before reluctantly making a decision. Rest assured that either choice is pure indulgence.
Riding Style (Honda Gold Wing Valkyrie ABS):
- Helmet: Joe Rocket Speedmaster Carbon
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Reactor 3.0
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Phoenix 4.0
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Denim 3.0
- Footwear: Joe Rocket Velocity V2X
Riding Style (Triumph Rocket III Roadster):
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-V Harada Tour
- Jacket: River Road Roadster Vintage
- Gloves: Roland Sands Design Domino
- Jeans: Kushitani Edwin Zylon
- Boots: Tour Master Vintage 2.0
Photography by Don Williams
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.