First Ride: 2006 Triumph Rocket III Classic

An American bagger in London

By Roland Brown, Photography by Stevie Pearson

Looking out at the Triumph Rocket III Classic through the window of Auntie Ruth's Diner, I couldn't help thinking how much the new bike had in common with this place. Fifteen years ago, before John Bloor revealed the factory he'd built just up the road in Hinckley, England, this restaurant was a Little Chef--a well-known chain that based its menu on traditional English fare. Now, it's been reborn as an American-style diner.

The super-sized motorbike dominating the parking lot outside has evolved in similar fashion. When it was launched two years ago, the Rocket III was an unabashedly British naked bike. Now, it's been transformed into an American-style touring cruiser.

The list of new components is actually quite short, starting with the floorboards, pull-back handlebar and stepped, one-piece touring seat that give a slightly more laid-back riding position. Cosmetic changes are limited to the two-tone paint, the chrome cam cover and the silencers' conical--instead of slash-cut--tips. That's it.

The bike shown in these photos, on the other hand, gives a much more comprehensive idea of what the Classic can become. It's outfitted with the Roadster screen, the taller of two sissy bars, front and rear crashbars, twin fog lights, and chrome-accented leather saddlebags. One accessory this bike didn't have was heated handgrips, and the sight of the blanked-off switch did little to improve my mood as I set off from Hinckley on a sunny but cold morning.

Fortunately, the rest of the bike took my mind off the pain. There's something very appealing about a huge, ostentatious motorcycle that's so rider-friendly. The enormous, 2.3-liter, 140-horsepower, shaft-drive longitudinally arrayed triple might be the biggest lump in all of motorcycling, but the low-slung crankshaft makes slow-speed maneuvering surprisingly easy. The Classic pulled sweetly from barely more than 1000 rpm, and there was enough performance at higher revs to send the bike blasting forward, even if some power is electronically cut in the lower gears.

With 90 percent of the 147 pound-feet of peak torque available from 2000 to 6000 rpm, I could just click the heel-and-toe shifter into top gear and twist the throttle to fast-forward the scenery and make the fat 240mm Metzeler Marathon rear tire work hard. The windscreen's wall-like aerodynamics cut acceleration at higher speeds, but the bike charged pretty rapidly up to an indicated 130 mph--not far short of its electronically limited top speed of 140 mph. Cold hands apart, it was comfortable, too. This is a bike that begs to be loaded with passenger and luggage for a lengthy trip.

The only real problem might be affording it. Our testbike's accessories added almost 10 percent to the cost of the standard Classic, which is already more expensive than the base-model Rocket III. For a fully loaded bagger such as this you're up into Harley-Davidson Electra Glide territory. But even so, it's easy to see why the Rocket III has sold so well in the U.S., and why the Classic looks like continuing that trend. It might have gained pounds in both weight and sterling, but it's unlike any other bike on the road.-MC

2006 Triumph Rocket III Classic

PRICE
MSRP: $16,299

ENGINE
Type: l-c inline-triple
Valves: DOHC, 12 valves
Displacement: 2294cc
Transmission: 5-speed

CHASSIS
Weight: 704 lb., claimed dry (320kg)
Fuel capacity: 6.2 gal. (24L)
Wheelbase: 66.7 in. (1695mm)
Seat height: 29.1 in. (740mm)

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