Size Does Matter – 2007 Triumph Rocket III Classic Tourer

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
November 1 2007

It could be said that the Triumph Rocket III Classic Tourer has an easy mandate to follow. Take a rider and passenger on trips of any length comfortably and in style, and let them experience exhilarating power until they reach their destination. The touring version of the 2007 Rocket III serves that description to a ‘T’ since it comes complete with windshield, generously sized soft-sided leather saddle bags and a passenger backrest with luggage rack, all rolled into one powerful long distance road machine.

Although the Triumph Rocket III has been in the mainstream motorcycle market since 2004, it is still a visually overwhelming image when trying to fathom the size of its main elements. Take into account the huge 24-litre fuel tank/air box, the massive width of the 240 mm rear tire, a total vehicle length of 2500 mm (8.2 feet) and last but certainly not least, the monstrous 2.3-litre engine. In fact, ask any bystander what they notice the most about this motorcycle and I’ll bet they say the engine, and for good reason.

Since this bike is all about size, I’ll start with the most predominant piece. This bike is all about the engine. Over the past few years since its release I have heard people give this power plant many descriptions, “It looks like a tractor engine” or “That engine is waaaayyy too big for a bike, it must weigh a ton” or “It looks like a flat-head straight six cut in half”. Well, maybe all of those descriptions have some truth and that might not be so bad.

I suppose it could resemble a ‘tractor engine’ but as everyone knows, tractors are the workhorses of any farm. They have to produce enormous power from just off idle to perform their day-to-day duties. Similar to, oh, say a bulldozer. There’s no question, the Rocket III does have enormous power just off idle.

As for the engine being big, that goes without question, but I don’t think it is too big for a motorcycle, provided the rest of the motorcycle is built proportionately, able to accept the raw power the engine produces and the whole package is balanced properly. The Rocket III actually feels surprisingly light for the size of the whole package.

For those who know what a flat-head straight-six looks like, it’s hard to deny the resemblance, but don’t think for a minute that this engine is a throwback of yesteryear. It is a totally modern up-to-date powerhouse oozing with torque and horsepower.

The 3-cylinder, 2294 cc (140 ci) engine still holds the world title for the largest engine in a mainstream production motorcycle. Let’s see, total engine size divided by number of cylinders =765 cc per cylinder. That’s larger than most of today’s entry-level motorcycles.

My first introduction to the Rocket III Classic Tourer was in the deepest bowels of downtown Toronto and because of traffic, I never really had a chance to experience the whiplash effect of the throttle. I had been warned of the thrust of the engine and if I remember correctly, something in the back of my mind recommended I not be in a corner during my first twist of the grip. My first opportunity to unleash the Rocket’s power came as I entered the outskirts of the ‘Big Smoke’ and my first thought was, “I’m glad this seat has a back rest”. My second thought was that of excitement and “how much fun this next week will be”.

Walking up to the Rocket III and taking in its mass can be a humbling experience because of its size. Surprisingly though, it need not be intimidating as the bike is actually very user friendly. While the bike is wide, the big fuel tank sits high with dished sides for your legs and the front of the seat is tapered making the 740 mm (29.1 in) seat height quite manageable without splaying the legs too far apart. As intimidating as the Rocket III’s stature is, it weighs in at 320 kg (704 lbs) in dry form but at a guess I would suspect the bike to be in the vicinity of 340 kg (750 lbs) wet with all fluids in place and ready to ride. While it may sound like a lot, the weight fits in the same vicinity as most other power cruisers and touring bikes, but the low centre of gravity, however, makes it feel much lighter. As tall as the engine looks, most of the weight is down low and lifting it off of the side stand makes the bike feel deceptively light. This low weight distribution is also evident during slow speed manoeuvring and high speed cornering.

Thumbing the starter button brings the massive engine to life, emitting a nice gentle rumble from the catalytic equipped exhaust and the engine responds instantly to a flick of the throttle. Starting off from a stop is easy. The four-position adjustable clutch lever offers an unexpectedly light pull, the friction point is very predictable and the massive torque from the engine, even at idle, makes for very easy launches of the Rocket. A slight twist of the throttle produces arm-stretching torque that you’ll want to be prepared for. Back in our 2004 Special Edition, Ken Rush had the opportunity to ride the Rocket III at the Canadian press launch and he wrote, “Opening the throttle abruptly in first gear produces enough thrust to straighten arms and push one’s internal organs against the back of the rib cage”. A bang-on description that I couldn’t agree more with.

There is good reason they call it the Rocket. I have never been on a bike with as much torque as the Rocket III and part of the reason for all that power is its engine configuration.

The 2.3-litre liquid-cooled, DOHC, multipoint sequential electronic fuel injected engine has a bore and stroke of 101.6 x 94.3 mm (4 x 3.7 in) respectively, producing a maximum torque figure of a whopping 147 ft/lbs at only 2500 rpm and 140 horsepower finds its mark at 6000 rpm, just below the 6500 redline.

Shifting the Rocket III through its gears delivers somewhat heavy but positive shifts. Considering the huge power being delivered to all of the driveline components, it’s understand-able that moving this amount of metal around while meshing gears will make a noticeable thunk. The sound isn’t annoying but it does make you realize that there is some serious machinery sitting between your legs. I did notice, however, that sometimes the transmission didn’t always go into first gear all the way while shifting from neutral into first while stopped. Once, while taking off from a corner and proceeding into a banked left hand turn, the transmission popped into neutral on me. Not a good feeling when you are relying on power to keep you upright. Once I was aware of this, I found that an extra reassuring prod on the shift lever was a good idea and it never became a concern thereafter, and the transmission always shifted flawlessly as I rowed up and down through the gears.

Once the 5-speed transmission is in high gear there isn’t much incentive to gear down since that enormous torque resides just above cruising speed. In fifth gear at 80 km/h, the engine is revving at a paltry 1900 rpm while 100 km/h in fifth gear has the engine revving at about 2200, just barely below the maximum torque that occurs at only 2500 rpm. A little twist of the throttle goes a long, long way with this much power on tap. Final drive to the rear wheel is via an enclosed driveshaft.

A little more twist and the bike accelerates hard and there seems to be no end to the power. The speedometer just keeps climbing and climbing until the throttle is released. Top gear roll-ons from almost any speed could get you up to the higher echelons of speed insanity very quickly putting your license in jeopardy unless the speedo is watched closely.

Gearing down to help slow the bike produces a nice soothing burble from the exhaust, but of course with this much acceleration, common sense and physics dictates that slowing down has to come into play eventually no matter how fun it is feeling your entrails wrap around your spine. The engineers at Triumph have thought out this part of the equation quite well with the brakes being excellent all around. They provide good feedback and begin to work almost the instant the four-position adjustable brake lever or foot pedal is used. The four-piston calipers up front squeeze a pair of 320 mm full-floating rotors while the back utilizes a dual-piston caliper on a slightly smaller 316 mm disc. One of the most noticeable traits of the Rocket’s braking system is that the rear brake works amazingly well on its own. Generally the rear brake makes a noticeable difference when used in conjunction with the front brakes but quite often isn’t up to performing an efficient job on its own. This rear brake on the Rocket III is different as it effortlessly slows the bike quickly. A little more pressure and it will lock up the big Metzeler MME 880 Marathon 240/50R-16 rear tire, and that’s a good chunk of rubber to lock up.

The big rubber certainly complements and adds to the plush ride that the Rocket III’s suspension delivers. Up front the big Triumph has a Metzeler MME 880 Marathon 150/80R-17, a big tire for the front, but a fitting boot for the size of bike it is carrying, and it too does a fine job of soaking up the road’s imperfections. The Rocket has big 43 mm inverted forks up front while the rear suspension is provided by a pair of chromed spring over shocks that offer spring pre-load adjustment. One road in particular I happened upon had long stretches of many years worth of pavement patchwork. I watched the front fork jitter up and down in blazing speed but those oscillations didn’t transfer to me and the rear just followed smoothly doing an admirable job of providing a pleasant ride and never once bottoming out.

The Rocket III handled well in corners regardless of speed. Once I got used to the balance and lean-in of the bike, full lock, feet up U-turns were not a problem. Again, that is due in large part to the low centre of gravity provided by the low slung, bottom heavy engine. High-speed handling was very well behaved and the bike followed all inputs into the wide bars making it easy to hold a line around sharp corners or long sweepers.

The Rocket III maintained its composure nicely and stayed rock solid while being passed by large trucks coming in the opposite direction, but did waiver a bit in certain crosswinds. I don’t think however that it was any fault of the bike itself but more in the steering mounted windshield as they sometimes tend to act like a sail and toss any bike around a bit. The windshield is of a good size and offers excellent protection. It’s low enough to easily look over, but deflected the wind just over my helmet and caused no buffeting and almost a complete lack of wind noise. The windshield notwithstanding, the big bike is very well planted on the road.

The Rocket III Classic Tourer tested had an optional one-piece rider and passenger seat with rider backrest making the already comfortable seat even more comfortable. To get an idea of how the seat felt in stock form I turned the backrest adjustment all the way back so it was out of reach during normal riding and found the ergonomics to be very comfortable. The wide pull back handlebar came back to meet me and the standard floorboards with heel-toe shifter were placed comfortably within reach requiring no stretch at all and allowed my back to stay straight. Adjusting the multi-stage rider backrest just made everything that much better. The seat is soft and wide allowing room to squirm around a bit after a few hours in the saddle. My longest stint in the saddle was around three hours, when it was time to stop for fuel anyway. If the fuel lasted, I think I could have easily doubled that time before stopping.

My regular fuel mileage after a couple of tanks of gas averaged 6.6L/100km (42.5 mpg). Doing the math a 24-litre (6.5 US gal) should yield in the neighbourhood of 363 km per tank of fuel. Filling up shortly after the low fuel light came on, both times at around 215 km, I was only able to add about 15-litres. That leaves about 9-litres in the tank and plenty of time to find the next gas station. Interestingly, both fill-ups took about the same even though the first tank I was being a little, OK, a lot, more aggressive with my throttle hand, giggling every time my internal organs would squish against my spine, while the second tank was a more maintained touring type of riding.

Instrumentation offers no frills and is nothing to write home about. Two relatively small analogue gauges sit in plain view of the rider and other than watching the needle on the speedometer rise at an alarming rate, there is nothing much to look at, not even a fuel gauge. They are both easy to read at a glance but offer no bells and whistles. The LCD odometer offers two trip meters as operated by a knob on the left side. The speedo housing also offers an engine light and a combination temperature and oil pressure light while the right hand tachometer gauge offers a single turn signal light, high-beam indicator, neutral light, low fuel warning light and an alarm light which is activated by the optional alarm system. In front of the two gauges resides the ignition switch. It is hard to get to but it’s of no concern seeing that you only have to access it when inserting or removing the key. The steering locks with the same switch.

The Rocket III Classic Tourer, with a base price of $20,499, makes for a very capable touring bike to ride whether in tight curves on a day ride or long sweepers on an extended touring adventure. Any way you look at it, it’s big and makes you giggle like a schoolgirl when you give your right hand a twist and the optional $635.94 touring seat with rider backrest will prevent your arms from stretching too much.

When seeing the Rocket III and talking to your buddies about it you might be inclined to use words like huge, enormous, gigantic; don’t worry, you won’t hurt its feelings. Deep down it knows it’s big and brash but with the fun it provides, it knows full well that size does matter. And with that size comes 2300 reasons for bragging rights.


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