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21 Apr 2011 | While Rob Blackbourn's favourite bikes are generally middleweights, he seems to have had a good time on the big Rocket…

BRUTE 2.3...

The Roadster is the latest version of Triumph’s 2.3 litre, 367kg behemoth to reach these shores. It replaces the original Rocket III which was characterised as a cruiser. With a boost in engine performance plus a revised ergonomics set-up that includes conventional footpegs, along with other detail changes, the new Rocket III departs from cruiser territory. It has as its new identity what Triumph calls “the ultimate muscle streetfighter”.

It’s priced the same as the bike it replaces despite picking up the extra horses and ABS braking as standard fitment.

The Rocket III range now comprises the ‘Roadster’ and its screen and hard-pannier equipped sibling, the ‘Rocket III Touring’ that’s powered by a softer-tuned version of the same big donk.

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Roadster is basically a big brute of a bike that goes like a Rocket – a big bike for big blokes. If somehow you haven’t noticed its 2.5 metre overall length as you sidle up to it, the size factor will be evident when you climb aboard. Here I’m referring to the size of the tank that spreads out in front of you – “Let’s throw the picnic rug over it and we’ll have lunch.”

Then there’s its weight as you pull it off the sidestand (and it’s a fair stretch for the average left leg to reach the sidestand to drag it back). Once you’re rolling, though, the bike’s weight generally ceases to be an issue,

The new ergonomic package lifts riders and moves them forward. The new footpegs are mid-mounted and positioned closer to the bike. So the old cruiser-style, splayed-out knees, feet-forward posture is a thing of the past.

NOW YOU’RE TORQUING

It’s a magic moment when you fire up the 2300cc triple. This is a big, raw, gruff bastard of an engine whose sounds and rhythms bear little resemblance to the sweet cadences of Triumph’s 675 and 1050cc triples. Don’t read this as criticism – it’s a character thing. It’s kinda like the way a big-block V8 rocks raucously into life, announcing its presence without subtlety, with raw authority.

Triumph claims a 15 per cent increase in max torque from this engine. Frankly I’ve no reason to doubt it. The problem here is that the earlier Rocket’s acceleration was already phenomenal. The fact that the Roadster’s performance is ‘phenomenal plus 15 per cent’ is hard to gauge without a stopwatch. These things really launch, and a well-ridden one can give litre sports bikes a serious fright.

Full throttle acceleration is one thing, but the Rocket III is just as impressive when doing the gentle cruise. Fuelling is very accurate and efficient regardless of revs and throttle opening. The torque and smoothness of the engine were put to the test unexpectedly when I inadvertently pulled away from the lights, uphill, in second gear on one occasion. No shudder, no struggle. It chugged off the line happily, only alerting me to my sloppiness when I realised it was revving slower than expected as it gathered speed.

Fuel consumption was better than I expected – about 17.5km/l on the highway and 14km/l around town

THROW ME A CURVE

The revised ergonomics give you a greater sense of authority over the bike – stemming mainly from the rider being closer to the bars and having footpegs that take some steering inputs.

Although a lot of the bike’s weight seems to evaporate once you’re underway, its size can limit your ability to duck and weave through urban gridlock. Low speed lane changing can be a bit un-smooth. I put this down to that W-I-D-E (240mm) back tyre initially resisting your efforts to change direction, before surprising you by admitting defeat and rolling into the turn. The big grin kicks in though, as soon as the traffic thins out a bit or once you’re on the open road.

Beyond the logjam there’s a lot to enjoy about pushing a big feller like this through the sweepers and even the tight bits. Like all big bikes it needs an early, firm hand on the bars to initiate the turn and some pressure to be kept on the inside bar to maintain your chosen line. But it handles the task quite competently. The cornering clearance on the rider’s pegs is reasonable too. So you can swiftly knock off a few kays of bends in quite a dignified and satisfying manner.

Suspension damping copes quite effectively in most conditions. Sure you’ll get some thumping and banging from the rear and the inside footpeg will kiss the deck if you strike significant bumps or surface variations mid corner. But it’s not alarming.

The Achilles heel is the rear suspension performance. It’s not quite right. To me the main culprit seems to be revised spring rates on the rear shocks. Triumph tells us they have been softened by 20 per cent in the interests of ‘comfort and control’. I can only assume this was to better suit US conditions. In this country it means that you’re running them close to max pre-load for most of your riding. Even then you cop some spine-jarring thumps over moderate bumps.

The Nissin calipers and big discs provide heaps of braking power and reasonable feel for a bike of this class. They dissipate the big machine’s kinetic energy very efficiently and it’s reassuring to know that the ABS system is there ready to intervene if things look like getting ugly.

THE JOY OF THE OPEN ROAD

Comfort is tops on the Rocket. I knocked out a 700km round trip one recent Saturday afternoon and returned none the worse for wear (Went to check out a bike… Bought it of course… I know… I didn’t need another bike…).

Overtaking on the highway is such a delight with that big motor. There is so much torque and it’s delivered with so much texture.

And the bike laughs at the need for a six-speed box. In top it’s pulling about 2300rpm at 100km/h, a point in its rev range that accesses over 90 per cent of its max torque. So you don’t need to change down for a swift pass. It could almost get away with a four-speeder based on my stuff-up in town.

On the highway this transmission issue got me thinking in a way that surprised me. With any vehicle I’m reluctant to use an auto-trans. I like using clutches and selecting gears – working with feel and judgement and timing – practising the tribal crafts handed down from father to son. But on the Rocket it occurred to me that if any bike could plausibly offer an auto-trans option, this would be it. This isn’t a criticism of the rocket’s clutch and gearshift. On the contrary – the clutch operates smoothly without excessive lever loads and the gearchange is just fine. In particular it snicks into first with almost delicate ease (if you can use the word delicate about anything to do with a Rocket).

THE FINAL WORD

If you’re a big bloke who likes his bikes huge then you need to check out the Rocket Roadster. Awesome is an often misused word. I’ll go with it here though to describe the bike’s straight-line performance. In fact it’s addictively awesome!

At $22,990 plus ORC it’s a lot of bike (and brutish performance) for the money

 

COMPETITION POLICY

Triumph has been quite open about its intention to use the Roadster to take the Rocket III out of the cruiser market-segment, where presumably its size and performance proved to be a bit daunting to traditional cruiser buyers.

What is less clear is where the Roadster now finds itself in terms of competition. Triumph’s ‘ultimate muscle streetfighter’ label isn’t really market-segment specific.

At first glance you could line it up against a fine power-cruiser like the Victory Hammer. But the Hammer’s 1760cc engine makes less than 100 horses, a figure that just compete in the performance stakes with the Rocket’s 146 horses.

That leaves me lining it up against Harley’s VRSC V-Rods and Yamaha’s VMax, both big high performing bikes, boasting respectively 123 and an amazing 197 horsepower.


 

EAGLES

Its big, bad engine

Its big bad presence

What a goer!

 

TURKEYS

It’s very, very big

Struggling rear suspension

 

SPEX:

TRIUMPH ROCKET III ROADSTER

ENGINE

Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valve, in-line triple

Bore x stroke: 101.6 x 94.3mm

Displacement: 2294cc

Compression ratio: 8.7:1

Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection

 

TRANSMISSION

Type: Five-speed, constant mesh

Final drive: Shaft

 

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR

Frame type: Welded steel, twin spine

Front suspension: Kayaba 43mm USD fork

Rear suspension: Kayaba pre-load-adjustable twin shocks

Front brakes: Twin 320mm discs with Nissin four-piston calipers and ABS

Rear brake: Single 316mm disc with Nissin two-piston caliper and ABS

 

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES

Wet weight: 367kg

Seat height: 750mm

Fuel capacity: 24 litres

 

PERFORMANCE

Max power: 109kW (146hp) at 5750rpm

Max torque: 22.5kg-m at approx 2750rpm

 

OTHER STUFF

Price: $22,990 plus ORC

Test bike supplied by: Triumph Australia

Warranty: 24 months/unlimited km

 

Pics: Ellen Dewar