2010 Triumph Rocket III Roadster - Back In Black

First Ride
Pulling away from Mickey's Speed Shop on the Rocket III Roadster, I scan the roadway for the freeway on-ramp. Entrance targeted and locked-in, I click up to the next cog and roll on the big Triumph's throttle. The massive 240mm rear rubber hazes over the road crud, its contact patch momentarily overruled by the 2.3 liter engine's prodigious torque.

As my eyeballs slowly recede back into their sockets, I settle in for what will no doubt prove to be an interesting cruise. For those fearing Triumph had maybe neutered this latest riff on the Rocket III to accommodate older riders, here's a news flash-Hinckley's de facto hot rod has still got it.

When Triumph first dropped the Rocket III onto the cruiser scene, it was marketed as being faster than an R1 superbike at the time (ads even boasted of a top speed greater than 140mph). Although the U.S. market has since become the biggest consumer of this machine, back then, many traditional riders didn't quite know what to make of it.

The 2294cc engine still takes center stage on the Roadster, but now the world's largest mass-produced motorcycle has been made even meaner. Triumph says its Thunderbird and America twin-cylinder models will likely sate the traditional cruiser riders in the market, thus allowing the big triple to move away from the 2004 original's cruiser-biased styling to a more roadster-style stance. The new posture means revised ergonomics, rear suspension and brakes, along with a substantial boost in power.

Which was not a problem for a huge mill like this, apparently: the extra thrust comes from series of relatively minor tweaks, including a more efficient, freer-flowing exhaust system and remapped fuel injection. The 12-valve, 2294cc inline, liquid-cooled triple engine gets new cam drive components to quash noise, too.

The results are impressive: we're talking about a 15% torque increase to stunning 163 ft-lb at just 2,750rpm, a wheelie-worthy 146bhp at 5,750rpm and a fairly low (for the class, anyway) wet weight of 807 lbs. The clutch and shaft have also been strengthened to accommodate the power gains while a gearbox tweak is said to improve cog selection. Other changes include softer but better-damped rear suspension and more comprehensive instrumentation. The tubular-steel frame remains unchanged, as does the stout inverted 43mm Kayaba fork. The dual 320mm front brake discs and four-piston calipers will also look familiar, though the Roadster adds ABS as standard feature.

Climbing aboard, the ergonomic tweaks are instantly noticeable-you sit half an inch farther forward and a bit higher on the Roadster, compared with previous Rockets. The mid-mount footpegs are now nearly five inches rearward and an inch lower. It's a more sporting stance, and for me, a more comfortable place to be.

The view is much better from up here too, with an upright seating position giving a better look over traffic. The narrower, flatter saddle is comfy enough, though there's still no getting around the 6.3 gallon fuel tank, which rides high to make room for the tank-like radiator. The wide, raised handlebar falls to hand easily, and the chromed twin instrument dials just within your sightline now include a clock, gear indicator and fuel gauge.

Thumbing the start button and blipping the throttle, I'm greeted by a richer (and more appropriate), throaty rumble from the new exhaust. Clutch lever release is a bit resistant, but then I have small paws, and at least the levers are adjustable. Hooking a toe under the shifter nets mostly positive action from the slicker gearbox, but finding neutral is still as elusive as on previous Rockets, especially at a standstill.

I find that motoring the bike up to speed (and beyond) on the freeway is lightning-quick, an almost involuntary response to your right hand. It's amazing a motor this big can be so smooth, with just a hint of mechanical action down below. Power comes on in all gears, at the drop of a wrist, so I rarely find myself in top gear. Loafing along near 80mph on Highway 79 near San Diego, the tachometer barely brushes up against 3000 rpm.

Once the road kinks up, it's understandable to steel yourself for a fight-the thing weighs 807 lbs, after all-but this beast has surprisingly benign slow speed manners. The huge torque helps you counteract its mass, with the chunky 240mm Metzeler Marathon offering plenty of grip. The engine stays silky even at higher revs, while the new riding position gives you a better sense of control. Responsive throttle action means every upshift punts you forward. Stability is as rock solid as you'd expect from the combination of a strong frame (the motor is a stressed member), neutral geometry and long wheelbase. With that wide handlebar helping you turn in, the Roadster's cornering clearance is plenty reasonable.

But 800 lbs. can still make itself felt, especially if you have short arms, and the Roadster is still a handful through the turns (though more willing than its predecessor). At lower speeds I feel it occasionally tipping in once I coax it into a directional change (which takes some effort), so in-town maneuvers aren't as smooth as they could be.

But when you speed up the proceedings, things get better than you'd expect. It's very easy to go very fast, and it's a real hoot, but you'll run out of breath before you make 120mph anyway (it's electronically restricted at that point).

Fortunately, there's no worries about the braking system; Triumph's ABS does the job just as advertised. Up front, the 320mm discs with four piston calipers offer good initial bite, and with the ABS upgrade, they're impossible to lock up, no matter how hard I tried. I'm a fan of ABS on a bike this heavy, and the Roadster's setup works well even on bumpy road surfaces.

The newest Rocket III may well be the Hummer of motorcycling though, thanks to its fuelish ways. Having that big fuel tank was handy, as I found myself getting barely 30mpg a couple of times, and the fuel light seemed like it was always on.

But that's not what the Roadster's about. With the available Phantom Black and Matte Black colors, it's a serious-looking ride, made even more so by a multitude of blacked-out components such as forks, radiator and rear springs. It's more comfortable, more powerful, and more narrowly focused than the first-and second generation Rockets. Triumph has also rolled out an accessory list that includes everything from windshields to performance parts.

The clincher is the price-the Roadster lists for an MSRP that's a good deal lower than the outgoing Rocket III and Rocket III Classic. Now that's a welcome improvement.

Specifications
2010 Triumph Rocket III ****Roadster
MSRP:
$13,999
**Colors: **Phantom Black, Matt Black

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, inline triple
Displacement, Bore x stroke: 2294cc, 101.6mm x 94.3mm
Valve train: DOHC
Compression ratio: **8.7:1
**Fuel System:
multipoint sequential EFI
Transmission: 5-speed; multiplate wet clutch
**Final drive: **Shaft

Chassis
Wheelbase: **66.7 in.
**Rake/trail:
32 degrees / 5.82 in.
Front suspension: **43mm fork; 4.7 in. travel
**Rear suspension: **Twin dampers w/adjustable preload; 4.13 in. travel
**Front brake:
dual 320mm floating discs, 4-piston calipers w/ABS
Rear brake: **316mm fixed disc, 2-piston caliper w/ABS
**Front Tire:
150/80 R17 ME880
**Rear Tire: **240/50 R16 ME880

Dimensions
Overall length: 98.3 in.
Seat height: 29.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.3 gallons
**Wet weight: **807 lbs.

2010 Triumph Rocket III Roadster