Trading a Triumph Bonneville T 120 for a Rocket 3

Trading my Bonneville T 120 for a Rocket 3 GT

On the face of it, trading in a beautiful 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120 for a new 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 GT does not seem to make much sense. It appears comparable to trading in your beautiful classic Cessna airplane for a Boeing 737. Who would do that? 

On the other hand, some of the decisions we make regarding motorcycles in general look pretty sketchy when common sense is applied. 

Here’s how I got to this point, and my personal findings of the strengths and weaknesses of both motorcycles.

Background:

I’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles, and by that, I mean more than 500.  I have owned 13 of them, but I also worked for two different motorcycle dealerships for a total of almost 14 years, and at both of them I needed to, and was encouraged to, ride everything in sight. And I did. Leading customer rides, breaking in new motorcycles destined for rental use, testing new models a distributor wanted the dealership to sell, various promo and video shot events, trying to assist the service department in locating the cause of a problem, attending club meetings and rides; it all adds up.  Yes, it was a wonderful job.

I purchased my first motorcycle in 1967, having never operated one.  Rider education in those days meant the person you bought the bike from handed you the keys.  You were on your own in a trial and error situation that many did not survive.

Here are the bikes I’ve paid my own money for:

  1. 1965 Yamaha YDS-3                     250cc        1967-69
  2. 1969 Honda CL 450 SS                 450cc        1969-71
  3. 1972 Honda 4                                500cc        1971-72
  4. 1972? Honda CB 450                    450cc        1976-77
  5. 1977 Yamaha XS 750D                 750cc        1977-99
  6. 1982 Norton JPS replica              850cc        1982?-84?
  7. 1999 Kawasaki ZRX 1100             1100cc      1999-2001
  8. 2000 Kawasaki ZX1200R            1200cc      2001-2003
  9. 1996 Muzzy Raptor                        750cc        2002-2003

10. 2003 Triumph ST                          995cc        2003-2005

11. Triumph Speed Triple        1055cc      2005-2016 

12. 2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120 1200cc      2016-2020

13. 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 GT         2500cc      2020

You’ll notice that for the past 17 years my personal bike has been a Triumph. Seems to be a trend there.  I am not a zealot, but I really like the products they have designed and produced.

Process:

In 2016 I was having a lot of problems with my right knee and leg, to the point that I was afraid I would throw my leg over my Speed Triple, have my right knee collapse, and land on the ground.  Then the new T 120 came out, and I decided a lower seat height would help. The Speed Triple had almost 50,000 miles, and for most of the time I owned it I was riding bikes that belonged to the dealership, so it did get used a lot. Several 1,000 miles or more trips were terrific. I loved the Speed Triple, and later the problems with my knee were solved, so maybe I did not need to sell it.

But the Bonneville T120, in cranberry and silver, was so spectacular to look at and great fun to ride. I added the factory fly screen in matching cranberry and purchased Cortech saddlebags and top bags for longer trips.  In four years, I put 22,500 miles on it, and it was reliable, fun to ride, and gorgeous.

Things I loved about the Bonneville:

  1. Never got tired of people telling me how great it looked.
  2. Seat was comfy for me.  Others may disagree.
  3. Liked the heated grips, which are sort of a must here in the Seattle area.
  4. Loved the chrome spoke wheels, the center stand, ABS brakes, and the black tank pads.
  5. So easy to ride it felt like a magic carpet.
  6. Usually 50mpg or more.
  7. 10,000-mile oil change, although I never let it go that long.

Things I did not like about the Bonneville:

  1. Tube tires.  I never had a flat, but still…
  2. Exhaust note was OK, but uninspiring.
  3. Compared to the Speed Triple, handling was a bit “lazy.”  Turn-in to a corner was a little more laid back than I prefer.
  4. Brakes were adequate, but I prefer brakes that are immediate and in your face.
  5. On long rides of 400 miles a day or more, the itsy windshield left my arms and shoulders a bit tired.
  6. Chain drive may have been necessary for appearance, but I did not like the mess of the chain lube or the need for adjustment, so matter how seldom.

Overall, a wonderful bike.  The friends I ride with got used to a delay whenever we stopped or got ready to leave, as everyone in the world loves the appearance of a Bonneville, and wanted to ask what year mine was, or when it was restored if they did not notice the radiator, tell me stories of their past, etc.  It was reliable, fun to ride, fast enough to any sane person, and met all my needs.  It could have kept me happy for years to come.

And then along came the 2020 Rocket 3. 

I’d ridden the previous model a couple of times, and was impressed.  One of those rides came after a customer suffered a crash on some gravel on a downhill turn.  I needed to ride his bike about 15 miles with the handlebars a bit bent and the gear shift stuck in 3rd gear.  You can ride a Rocket III using only 3rd gear quite easily, as it turns out.  From a dead stop to whatever speed you need.

I was also a small part of a campaign by Cycle Barn to take a Rocket III to Bonneville and set a world land speed record. This was successful, twice, but the project died three times for various reasons and I was the one who figured out how to revive it as a viable promo – three times.

So, I did like the original Rocket, but I always felt when riding it that if it got away from me it would take out three trees and a small house.  It was huge.  So is a Harley Ultra Classic, but a Rocket III is also very fast.

When the new one was announced I was idly curious, but not rabid.  Intriguing details began to emerge.  70 or 80 pounds lighter than the original.  Lower.  Narrower.  More power.  The most torque of any major manufacturer motorcycle made – ever.  Hmmmm.

My interest grew when I watched several twenty-minute long videos, all shot on the island of Tenerife at the press launch.  Each was done by a different video journalist and each of them had slightly different reactions.  All of them were in shock and awe at how great the bike was, and their individually different responses to this and that made for great study.  The one that added the most to my knowledge was a fellow who started the day thinking he would prefer the R model, which has more aggressive bars and the foot pegs set further back.  As a sport bike guy, he gravitated to that.  By the end of the day he had changed his mind, won over by the increased technology of the GT model, larger screen (although still small), and the fact that he’d not dragged anything on a long day’s aggressive riding. 

It should be noted that you can “mix and match” between the two models with seats and screens and pegs, etc., although I have not heard of anyone doing that.

Buying:

I sat on a GT model at Triumph of Seattle, and like almost everyone else was stunned by how “light” it felt and how easy it was to lean back and forth.  Time to think.

Then the world pandemic virus hit, and everything stopped for a while. Eventually I could purchase the bike, but not enter the dealership.  I met in the back alley with Andy, the superior salesman who had sold me the Bonneville.  The Bonneville was pushed in to the shop to be checked over, while I waited outside.  There was another rider there, waiting for a new tire to be mounted on his Rocket III, so we enjoyed sharing notes and swapping stories – while staying several feet apart.  Andy went back and forth with various pieces of paper, clad in his stylish mask and plastic gloves two sizes too small for him.  We negotiated a bit, but since I had worked for this dealership when it was part of Cycle Barn, I knew the drill pretty well, and Triumph of Seattle has always been fair to me, in my opinion.

I did not bother with a test ride, because why?  For experienced riders I think test rides are a waste of time.  Your new bike will be much different than your old one, and comparisons in a ten-minute ride will be of little use. If it is your first or third bike, maybe.

So, the deal was done, and Andy spent a long time going over how the various systems on the bike worked.  You would really need a day to take it all in, if you have my intelligence, and I tried to hang in as best as I could.  Most of the learning has to do with the myriad of configurations of the instrument panel.

Riding it home was hilarious.  Not having ridden a cruiser in years, every time I left a stop light both feet would wobble around in the air until I remembered the pegs were so much further forward. The instrument panel was set on “dim” and there was a lot of sun, so I could not read the tach or the speedometer or much of anything else.  Not that the motorcycle cared, as I was not doing anything that would cause it any concern.

So now a bit more than a week has passed.  When the optional saddlebags that had to be ordered come in, I will go in for the 500mile oil change at the same time.  Right now, I am at a bit over 300 miles and learning more each time I read the 176-page owner’s manual – again.

What have I learned?  Direct comparisons between these two bikes are an exercise in folly.  In fact, it is a stretch to compare the Rocket 3 to any other bike.  It has the most torque of any motorcycle on the market, by quite a bit, for one thing, and the largest engine in any production motorcycle – ever.  So, what do I like and not like so far?

Likes:

  1. Sound.  I had forgotten how much I love the sound of a three-cylinder engine. The Yamaha 750 I rode for 21 years, the Sprint ST, and the Speed Triple all had three-cylinder engines.  Two of them had mildly louder exhaust systems, and made (to me) sheer music.  The Rocket 3 brings that back, with overtones of, say, a steam engine.
  2. Seat.  The GT model has a cupped seat which is very comfortable, which is good.  I was used to standing on the pegs of the Bonneville T120 to get some air flow under my bottom, and the Rocket 3 GT is not amenable to standing on the pegs.
  3. Appearance.  You cannot look at a Rocket 3 and not be drawn into hundreds of tiny detail design elements that are amazing.  The headlights are so cool, and of course the hydro-formed exhaust draws you in.  Even the rear LED turn signals look like jewelry.
  4. Color. Jay Leno says he prefers the black, and he is wrong. The silver and metallic gray with a narrow red stripe of mine is clearly better looking.
  5. Turn-in and brakes.  To my surprise, the Rocket 3 is more eager to dive into a turn than the Bonneville was, and this I like very much.  Also, the brakes are right now WHOA!, which I prefer. Best brakes (to me) in my experience were those on my Kawasaki ZX 12R.  These are that good.  Comforting, since they are tasked with retarding a lot of mass.
  6. Instrument configurations.  Early days here, but eventually you can decide what information you want to display, in what configuration. I am still playing with this.
  7. Shaft drive.
  8. Uses regular fuel – a pleasant surprise.
  9. Passenger back rest.  I hope to have a use for this in time!
  10. “What else could you want” games.  Let’s see – ABS brakes.  Tubeless tires with tire pressure monitoring.  Braided steel lines. Turn signals that shut off after three blinks with a light tap, or after a set distance and time.  Ambient temperature gauge and clock.  Braided steel lines everywhere. Cruise control. Four-way flashers.  LED lights.  The Rocket 3 is loaded with every bit of technology I can think of, so far, which partially explains the enormous cost. (Unless you are used to purchasing Harleys, in which case the cost is amazingly low.)

Dislikes:

  1. Well, of course it would be nice if it weighed less.
  2. No center stand, but adding one would really hurt the lean angle and might require a weight-lifter pro to use.
  3. Gas mileage is never going to come close to that of the Bonneville. Probably mid-30s compared to mid-50’s for the Bonneville.
  4. I am sure the rear tire will not last all that long, a result of both weight and power.  I am also sure I will wince at the cost of both tires, which may need to be special ordered from a tractor company.

Fun facts:

  1. The odometer reads to 999,000 miles.  That is a statement of product confidence.  Wonder if it rolls over when you pass a million miles?
  2. The first of many warning sections of the Owner’s Manual warns you that a Rocket 3 is not suitable for off-road use!  I am sure someone out there will shoot a video showing this is not true, and equally sure that person will not be the owner of the bike.

And away I go toward that million-mile odometer.  Everyone should have a goal.

Copyright 2020    David Preston

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About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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3 Responses to Trading a Triumph Bonneville T 120 for a Rocket 3

  1. Austen says:

    Congrats, David! Nothing like the feeling of bringing home a new motorcycle! 🙂 Happy that Triumph finally created a new generation of the Rocket lll and that it has been getting positive reviews. Would love to see a picture or two!

  2. Eric says:

    Looking forward to another road trip David. Maybe a day out after Covid restrictions are lifted. Regardless, I’ve always preferred to be at least six feet away from you. Seriously, congratulations on the new beast purchase. Be well.

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