The Triumph Rocket 3 at 5,000 miles
Actually 4,943 miles, but we’ll take the last 57 miles on faith. It has been deluging lately, with even more rain than the Seattle area is justifiably known for. Now retired, I tend to ride in the rain only when on a trip. Besides, rainy days are good for writing. I’ll add the other 57 next week.
Some background: I purchased my first motorcycle, a 1965 Yamaha YDS-3, in 1967. I was 20 years old. Since then I’ve owned over a dozen motorcycles, but also worked for two different motorcycle dealers from 2000-2013, and as the customer support and enthusiasm guy, was encouraged to ride every different motorcycle I could – of all brands. The current total is over 500.
I’ve owned two Yamahas, three Hondas, three Kawasakis, and a Norton (!), but the last four purchased with my own money have all been new Triumphs. A 2002 Sprint ST, a 2006 Speed Triple, a 2016 Bonneville T120, and now the Rocket 3. I’m not necessarily a Triumph zealot, but each of these was the bike of my choice when I bought it. All have been terrific. And now a Rocket 3, purchased in May of this year.
Here is a Q and A session of sorts:
Why the Rocket 3?
I had the chance to ride a Rocket III, the previous model, some years ago and it was certainly impressive. The roll-on power was addictive, but it also gave the impression that if you lost control you would probably take out some trees and a house. Not for me. At first glance, the new model looked like more of the same. The fateful moment for me was an hour or so viewing a batch of You Tube rider reviews from various moto-journalists who attended the factory product launch on Tenerife. I recommend them to you, because they are all a little different, but they give you a great idea of the Rocket 3’s strengths (many), and flaws (few).
Then I happened to be at Triumph of Seattle for a killer deal on some cold weather gloves and oh – they had a Rocket 3 on the floor. First impression was that it is considerably lighter, lower, and narrower than the preceding model. Because it is. Now I began to think seriously about what is, in many ways, a ridiculous bike.
But which one? The R model has a more “sport” riding position, and I assumed I would want that one, since most of my favorite rides have been sport bikes. To Triumph’s credit, you can swap many items between the R and the GT models to get exactly the configuration you want. At least you could. The bike has been such a sales success and supplies so short I don’t know if that is true today. You’ll have to check with your local dealer.
Back to the videos. One of them was done by a sport bike guy who “knew” he would prefer the R model, but after a day of riding he changed his mind. He had not dragged anything anywhere in any corner, and enjoyed the greater technology toys of the GT model, which has just about everything anyone ever thought of.
OK – so I would throw caution (and a lot of money) to the wind. Purchasing was a bit weird, since customers were not actually allowed inside the dealership at that time because of the pandemic. Instead, I spent three hours in the alley behind the dealership while salesman Andy, all masked up, (as was I) ran back and forth getting my Bonneville evaluated for the trade-in, etc.
Did not think I needed one. I knew the riding experience would be totally different from anything ridden in the past five years, so why bother? I knew it “fit” me because I had sat on one pre-pandemic. For most of the motorcycles I’ve owned, I’ve changed my posture and riding technique more to fit the bike rather than expecting the bike to “fit me” perfectly. On a “good day” at work I would ride four or five different motorcycles in a day, so adapting quickly and an open mind are learnable skills.
Does it turn?
I know! When you first glance at the front tire, which is wider than most of the rear tires of most motorcycles, you might think it would turn with the grace and alacrity of an aircraft carrier. But not the case! It actually dips into turns more readily than the Bonneville that preceded it. For some perspective, a Speed Triple will begin to turn when the first thought of cornering enters your brain. It is immediate. The Bonneville was a bit lazy. In rapid corners I learned to lean forward to load the front end a bit and then it was okay. The Rocket 3 is closer to the Speed Triple, thanks to the wonders of modern suspension design and clever offsets and trail adjustments and other things I do not understand but the boffins at Triumph clearly do. One of the most impressive features.
And the rear tire?
This is why I referred to the bike as ridiculous. I almost laugh every time I look at it. Looks like it belongs on a road paving machine. This guarantees a smile every time you got to ride the bike.
I am sure replacing it will not be a pleasant experience for my credit card, but at 5,000 miles it still looks fine. This is puzzling, because the BMW K1300S I rode for two years (two different bikes) would eat a rear tire in 6,000 miles. It had similar power and weighed less. I assume this is because the rear tire was much narrower and probably a much softer compound, due to the expected use of the bike.
Does that little rear fender work?
In a word – no. Fortunately, I find washing the bike a form of pleasant relaxation.
Only one, and that was not really mechanical. The front fender is held on with 6 bolts, and it appears that two of them were not installed! They are deeply recessed, and I only noticed their absence at 1,000 miles, and two days from home. The other four were fine, so the absent pair were installed in two minutes when I returned, at no cost.
What about the saddlebags?
A $1,500 option, and I am glad to have them. The enthusiast forums are full of complaints about three issues with the bags, and I have answers for all three. 1. They are not wide enough to hold a full-face helmet. True, but I never leave my expensive Arai with the bike anyway. I want it with me at all times. 2. They are not waterproof. True. They are water resistant, but plastic garbage bags are handy and cheap and work perfectly. 3. The combination locks fail. I am sure this is true, but I have never used them. Any thief that determined probably carries a knife, so… On a trip, valuables are in the tank bag or the Viking rear seat bag, and secure in the motel room. The saddlebags hold the tire repair kit, compressor, spare this and that, etc.
What do you like best?
Every ride is an adventure. The seat is comfortable for at least 100 miles, which is about my bladder mileage. The brakes are fantastic, and I have yet to need the ABS brakes. The suspension – suspends, and very well. Every stop brings a fun interview with someone who is gawking at it. And of course, the power, or more correctly the torque, is there all the time and never ceases to amaze.
What is the most amusing part?
The low fuel warning! I have triggered this three times, always when a fuel stop was just a few miles ahead, but what a show! The instrument panel changes, showing a big orange full tank logo. Most the display is eliminated, replaced with a display of your current real-time mpg and a miles remaining gauge counting down to you doom. You can make that go away with the push of a button, but you still have a little yellow low fuel light. If you run out of fuel, which would be disastrous, you will not be able to whine that you were not warned.
Learning the multiple configurations of the dashboard, and how they can be changed, takes a lot of quality time with the owner’s manual and a lot of practice. In time you learn what set up you like, and probably leave it alone.
Two of them, one immediate and one on-going but lessening. The ride home was embarrassing, as I had not ridden a cruiser with forward controls in years. Every time I had to pause in traffic I would get going again and then wave my left foot around in the air as I tried to find the shift pedal. Not good for the ego.
The other problem is adapting to the weight and mass of the beast in low-speed situations. Full of fuel, with tank bag and saddlebags loaded and me in full gear, we are probably crushing the road at about 1,000 pounds. Low speed turns on uneven pavement or tight U-turns were a challenge. For me, not the bike. I know the techniques, and the Rocket 3 is far more capable than I trust it to be, so the problem is me, not the bike. I am getting much better as time and miles elapse, but I am still not entirely comfortable, as I am in all other situations. Might be best if I never get too comfortable.
I was pleased and surprised that an engine that makes that much power and torque requires only regular fuel, and returns pretty decent mileage. MPG varies wildly depending on how frisky you are allowing the bike to be, of course.
The ongoing amazement is the completeness of the specification. I think the design department was given free reign to throw everything on the Rocket they could think of, and I have not added or modified anything. Steel braided brake lines, heated grips, tire pressure monitors, riding modes, dual trip meters, and on and on. I am still finding new little cool tidbits that impress, six months in.
Compare this to the brand-new BMW R18 – another stab by BMW at the cruiser market. Similar weight and cost, but half the horsepower (!), no fuel gauge, no heated grips, and very little of the electronics wizardry of the Rocket. Imagine the new world, where a BMW is lacking technology and a Triumph is bristling with it. We live in strange times.
Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often!
If you would like to read more of my musings, please go to www.davidpreston.biz for all sorts of things over the past ten years, plus links to all 9 of my books available from Amazon.com
Copyright 2020 David Preston