Triumph Rocket III

Tomorrow’s Classics Today…Triumph Rocket III

British beef… wave the Union Flag, sing ‘God Save The Queen’ very loud and saddle up on one of the most mind-frazzling motorcycles ever built.

Yes, our TCT is the recently ‘classic’ Triumph Rocket III… In a time when national morale is at an all-time low thanks to the farce that is Brexit (whatever your views) here’s a big and recent success story…

Brit house builder/former plasterer/businessman (John Bloor) buys Triumph name in early 1980s, begins developing bikes in late 1980s and goes to the 1990 Cologne Show with a raft of modular triples and fours. Slowly and surely the firm becomes a success.

Fast forward to 1998 and those crazy guys at Triumph are thinking of creating a big power cruiser to tap into the US market. Codenamed ‘Project C15XB’ they look at various engine layouts and finally plump for a big-inch (well, CC) inline triple…

Triumph Rocket III RoadsterAnd what a triple this is: by the time the bike was ready for launch, the motor was a 2.3 litre monster, the largest capacity production motorcycle engine ever, when launched to the public at the end of 2003.

Named the ‘Rocket III’ this was a bike that just delivered a Big Daddy body-slam to your senses… It had a big, twin-headlamp stare, in front of that huge 25-litre fuel-tank under which sat that beast of a motor, positioned longitudinally. Yes, it did look like a bit of a cruiser, which (if you think ‘Virago’) meant a soft, friendly, cuddly bike: and yet the Rocket III was anything but.

With a pokey 140bhp claimed (say, 125bhp pumped through the HUGE rear 240-rear section tyre at the rear) this was no normal cruiser. That tyre had to cope with a whopping 147 ft/lb of torque which had to get through the almost armour-plated five-speed gearbox. That max torque pumped itself in at a lowly 2500rpm, meaning this thing had more guts than Saturday afternoon wrestling on World of Sport in the 1970s…

If the motor was the star, the soundtrack added to it: not much can compete with a Rocket III on open pipes, let us tell ya! Other co-stars emerge as you ride – like the brakes and handling. Often, on any cruiser, the brakes are a mere afterthought and take much forethought to get the (often heavy) machine to come to a halt. Not so the Rocket: brakes were 320mm discs and calipers straight off the Daytona 955i sportsbike of the time.

Suspension was more than adequate too: 43mm Kayaba forks were specifically developed from the firm’s ‘sports’ inverted forks, while – at the back – such a modern look was eschewed for ‘classic’ looking twin shocks. Both did the business, because – while many cruisers wibbled and wobbled all over the shop – the Rocket III was predictable and purposeful in the corners, even if (of course) it would easily scrape a peg or two, but they would reassuringly fold-up when you did so.

Weight: of course it’s got plenty of that – around 320 kilos dry and the more accurate 365 kilos with fuel and liquids aboard. Chuck in a chunky rider and that’s a lot of real estate to shift – but shift this thing does.

Looking at and riding the Rocket III gives you a perplexing conundrum as it is easy to ride (despite the size) and yet hard to pigeon hole. Perhaps this is why it never really smashed the US market like they hoped? Whatever… it did – instead – spawn a series of very useful versions, including a Touring, with panniers and a useful screen (you can’t do much more than legal speeds without it) and a Classic, which came with foot-boards. It’s since gone on to come in a ‘Roadster’ version…

With a bike this hard to pigeon hole, it’s equally hard to stick it in a peer group – but we’d shrug and try something like Kawasaki’s VN2000 Vulcan, Honda’s grey-import Rune (1800 Gold Wing motor) and perhaps the Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

We would suggest you ride one – as these things are brilliant fun and make you feel so very special. But at what price: well, they hold their value quite well, as they are a lot of metal! The 2004 Rocket III came in Jet Black or Cardinal Red colours – both cool and classy, but you’ll be hard-pushed to find one cheaper than around £4700: still cheaper than a Honda Rune or a V-Rod – you’ll find it difficult to even find a VN2000…

For: Fun-factor and sheer physical presence!

Against: Too big for the smaller amongst us and (as a naked cruiser) impractical.

Triumph Rocket III Specification

Make Triumph
Model Rocket III
Years available 2003-2010
Major changes Colours only.
Price new £11,990 (2004)
Values now £4700-£8200

Verdict – big, brilliant and British!