Touring Bikes Comparison - Long Rangers

Four Philosophies, One Purpose

Photography by Kevin Wing

Triumph Rocket III Touring
How did a bare-bones bagger find itself in a touring comparison like this? The Triumph Rocket III Touring embodies the minimalist approach to long-distance riding. This is the bike for someone who doesn't want all the bells and whistles-who wants to feel like he's riding a motorcycle, not a minivan.

Plus we dig that 2.3-liter triple-the largest capacity production motorcycle in the world. With 106 bhp and 154 lb.-ft. of torque, you could tow a hotel room behind it! New for '08, the R3T model uses a completely different chassis than the original R3, including a new fork and preload-adjustable shocks to provide a smoother, more comfort-oriented ride. The Triumph rides well for such an enormous cruiser, and in certain situations-especially low-speed maneuvers-it was the favorite handler. It's more than 100 pounds lighter in weight than the Gold Wing and Vision, and isn't encumbered by a CG-upping top trunk or fork-weighting fairing.

In fact, the medium-sized windscreen (available in three dimensions) is very lightweight and intended for quick-release-same with the well-built, retro-style saddlebags. Just pop off the works and you don't have to admit to your tourophilia. The bags not only look nice, but also offer more space than the others, which is a good thing since the Triumph isn't offered with a trunk.

Our test bike arrived accessorized with an adjustable rider backrest, though half of us wished it hadn't. "The backrest is good until it isn't," said one tester, describing how after 30 miles you can find it unbearable and impossible to adjust on the fly. Though the teardrop floorboards are nice and leg room agreeable, the seat was the least favorite of the bunch. Therefore it's a blessing, not a curse, that the bike offers the least efficient fuel mileage and range with its 4.9-gallon tank, demanding a breather every 120 miles or so. Go figure why the standard Rocket III and Classic boast 6.3-gallon tanks...

Regardless of the R3T's lighter overall weight, the brakes-dual four-piston calipers up front and a single, two-piston job out back-don't cut muster. We'd like to see a stronger setup for such a burly beast.

Instrumentation is very basic: analog speedo with integrated fuel gauge and a single display that offers time, twin tripmeters and range to empty. In contrast to the aircraft-like clutter of controls found on the other bikes, the Triumph is refreshingly stark. All you can do is ride the thing: no stereo, on-board suspension adjustment, GPS or Weather Band.

Certainly in the R3T's case we have to discuss style, since a bagger buyer rarely puts comfort or convenience first. In our eyes the Triumph is sexier than the Harley or the Honda, though none can hold a candle to the Victory. We're happy that Triumph didn't carry over the gigantic 240mm rear tire from the original and Classic versions, and instead opted for a slightly more sane 180mm rear meat. That makes the engine the most prominent styling cue. And that's how it should be, right? When you're packing the biggest pistol on the production-bike planet, people should notice.

On the sliding scale of touring bikes, the Triumph represents the simplest, most old-fashioned approach, and in keeping with its no-frills nature sports the lowest price, too. Solid-colored versions start at $16,999. That's a lot of bang for your buck for a bagger.

Off The Record
Mauricio "Berm Eater" Fernandes

I like a bike that offers all the comfort you expect from a luxury tourer yet handles like a sportbike when you get to the corners. That's the Gold Wing: performance plus luxury. Second choice is the Vision, which offers luxury but lacks fine-tuning. The look of the bike is totally different-I see it as the choice for someone looking for something unique and stylish. I was surprised by the Harley's strong brakes and the new ABS works really well, making it safe for inexperienced riders. But the motor is underpowered for a bike in this category and it's not the best handler, making my third choice the Rocket III. The Triumph has a nice engine, but it's a cruiser and a world away from what a luxury tourer like the Gold Wing offers.
Age: 37 Height: 5'9" Weight: 165 lbs. Inseam: 31 in.

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