2010 Triumph Rocket III Roadster - Bigger is Better

There's no such thing as too much power

By Roland Brown, Photography by Jason Critchell

Wha...hey! I knew the Rocket III Roadster was going to have grunt, but I hadn't expected this. Pulling away from Triumph's Hinckley factory, the Roadster's enormous 240mm-wide rear Metzeler spun on the damp pavement as it was overwhelmed by the three-cylinder engine's monstrous torque.

That unplanned slide-duly followed by a few more deliberate ones-was a useful warning that the Roadster required respect. Not that this came as a surprise. After all, taking the already outrageous Rocket III and tuning it for more power was clearly going to create a machine with lively throttle response.

That original Rocket III made a big impact with its sheer size, unique look and improbably sound handling. With its 2294cc engine, the Rocket III is the world's largest mass-produced motorcycle, and now it's been given some extra aggression. Triumph's thinking is that the Thunderbird twin should satisfy cruiser riders, so the big triple can be shifted toward the standard roadster class-hence its name. Along with some extra stomp, the Roadster gets revised ergonomics, rear suspension and brakes.

Finding some extra power in such a vast, under-stressed powerplant wasn't hard. In fact, the Roadster's added performance is the result of relatively minor modifications: a freer-flowing exhaust and fuel-injection mapping to match. The gain is worthwhile, even so. Maximum output goes up by 9 horsepower to a claimed 146 bhp, while peak torque is increased by 14 percent to a mind-boggling 163 lb.-ft. The clutch and driveshaft have been strengthened to cope. Other engine changes include a revised cam drive to reduce noise and a gearbox tweak to improve selection.

There's no change to the tubular-steel twin-spine frame, nor (except for a new black finish) to the stout inverted fork. But the rear shock springs are 20 percent softer, with damping adjusted to suit. Although the front brake set up of 320mm discs and four-piston calipers is unchanged, the Roadster adds ABS as standard fitment.

Other modifications are related to ergonomics. The wide, raised, one-piece handlebar remains, but both the rider and pillion halves of the seat are reshaped. The rider's footpegs have been shifted back and down, and the instrument panel now includes a clock, gear indicator and fuel gauge.

The chrome-rimmed twin dials are retained, so the view from the low seat across the broad tank was familiar. So too was the slight torque-rock to the right as the big longitudinal crankshaft began spinning. But the sound from the new exhaust was distinctly different: a deep, gruff, three-cylinder grumble that added an air of menace as I let out the light-action clutch to pull away.

My first thought on lifting my feet up was that if this is what the pegs are like after being moved back, they must have been well forward before. These are rearsets only by cruiser standards, and for most riders the change will be welcome.

The extra sound and more natural riding position made the Roadster better at what the Rocket was always good at: tooling along feeling relaxed and full of character. And it's ready to supply a serious jolt of acceleration at the drop of your right wrist. Not that I got too carried away on the damp roads around Hinckley early on, especially after that early reminder of how easily this brute could spin its rear tire.

Despite the conditions, the Roadster was great fun and effortlessly quick. The 120-degree crank makes the motor very smooth, with just enough vibration to feel involving. The broad power delivery meant the five-speed gearbox didn't get much use, but the few times I did shift the selection was noticeably smoother than on the Rocket III. My left foot didn't twitch as the Roadster burbled south along the motorway at about 80 mph with just 3000 rpm showing on the tach and an instant burst of acceleration just waiting to be unleashed should my neck muscles need some exercise.

Although the Roadster will haze its rear tire at a moment's notice and blasts through the ton mark as though heading into orbit, it runs out of breath curiously early. Turns out it's electronically limited to 120 mph, rather than 135 mph as before. Above that speed, the big bike could become unstable. Triumph's increasingly stringent stability tests detected a slight weave during worst-case scenario riding with a heavy load and worn tires.

Stability on my ride was absolutely fine, which was no surprise given the strong frame (which uses the motor as a stressed member), conservative steering geometry and lorry-like wheelbase. I was again impressed by how well the big bike handled, helped by that wide handlebar to get it turning, and by suspension that managed to give a comfortable ride while keeping over 800 lbs. of motorcycle under surprisingly good control.

The Triumph was even easy to maneuver at slow speed, helped by its length and its fat Metzeler Marathons. The tires are presumably named in recognition of their longevity rather than their grip, as one rider confirmed when he leaned too far in a damp bend and went down unhurt in a shower of sparks.

When the roads dried out later in the day, there was enough grip to use more of the Roadster's reasonable cornering clearance. There was no danger of skidding under braking, whatever the conditions. Triumph's ABS doesn't rival BMW's or Honda's for sophistication, but worked fine and is a worthwhile addition on a bike as heavy as this. Especially as Triumph has managed to add ABS plus the extra performance while making the Roadster cheaper than the Rocket on which it's based. Though no U.S. price has yet been set, the Roadster retails for £10,949 in the UK, which works out to around $17,500.

That price cut is well timed, even though many owners will doubtless spend the savings on an accessory list that includes everything from windscreens and panniers to chrome extras and tuning parts. More importantly, Triumph's big triple is even torquier, more comfortable, better braked and has more character than its predecessor. The Rocket III was an improbably good bike when it was a cruiser. As a Roadster, it's better than ever.

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