Two Up on the Triumph Rocket 3
I purchased my 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 in March, with no thought given to carrying a passenger. At the time I had nobody in my life who would fill that role. I was captivated by the videos of the model’s release party on Tenerife, and thought it was the most captivating and ridiculous bike ever. In a good way. I sat on one at Triumph of Seattle and the extensive improvements over the previous Rocket III were immediately obvious. I had ridden the Rocket III several years ago, and the new one addressed everything that had given me pause about the previous model – impressively lighter, narrower, and lower, and yet still massive in power and torque. In fact, even more of those.
And so, I traded in my lovely 2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120, accompanied by a very large check, for the 2020 Rocket 3 GT model with the optional bags. The first year has been a terrific customer experience, even with the cursed virus restricting my adventures. Still, 5,000 miles has passed in bliss on local rides and pretty much all around the state of Washington.
There was one recall for an issue with the evidently tricky bleeding of the rear brake, which on mine had not been an issue, and that was handled with free pickup and delivery in two business days by Triumph of Seattle.
Complaints compiled from the Internet have been few. There’ve been issues with the combination locks on the saddlebags, for instance. I have never used them, reasoning that any deplorable looking to loot the bags probably comes equipped for the job with an impressive knife. Some say the zippers on the bags are weak, but I have not had a problem. Some are upset that the bags are water resistant rather than waterproof, but I keep everything in plastic garbage bags so that is not a problem.
I was well pleased. Then, Nancy entered my life and the prospect of two up rides became apparent. Nancy is both short and light, fine assets in a potential passenger on a motorcycle. Even better, she had ridden her own motorcycle for several years in a previous life a couple of decades ago.
If you have never ridden with a passenger, there are several things to keep in mind on any motorcycle, and most of them are moot with a Rocket 3.
Shameless plug: a good guide to riding with a passenger is to be found in one of the chapters of Motorcycle 201, a book I wrote that is for sale as an e-book or paperback on Amazon and a couple of other outlets. I read that chapter again before our first ride to make sure I had not forgotten anything.
If your passenger has never been on a motorcycle, think about what they are about to experience. Odds are high that they have never been on or in a machine with the power of a Rocket 3. They have never leaned into a corner. They may have never operated a vehicle with a clutch and manual shift. They have probably never experienced the braking potential of a Rocket 3. They are not used to not having a seat belt, and holding on by putting their arms around you. Good thing though that can be.
Thus, before the ride even starts, spend some time explaining the parts of the motorcycle. What each lever does, what each foot lever does, where the pegs are, how a motorcycle turns, everything you can think of. It is especially important, and in fact crucial to explain that a motorcycle turns by leaning, and they are to lean as much as you do. Several people have ridden into a ditch because the rider was leaning left while the panicked passenger countered by leaning to the right until the motorcycle lurched to an unfortunate end to the ride.
Show the passenger how the pegs unfold, and they will agree with you that the passenger peg design on the Rocket 3 is the most brilliant design of any in history. They are so well disguised that you may have to refresh your memory of where they are and how they are deployed, as I did. After you fold the carriers out, and then fold the pegs down, you are almost ready to ride.
Gear. Your passenger is about to have an exciting experience. Make sure they are comfortable. Sturdy boots, at least jeans, a jacket, gloves, and a helmet. Dress them in layers so if they are too warm later you can stash a layer or two in the saddle bags. You may need to assist them with the D-rings on the helmet, which can be confusing to someone not used to them. If they are geared up and comfy, it is time to get on the bike.
You might first start the bike in neutral while standing next to it. A Rocket 3 sounds like a WWII fighter plane when first started (which is why I named mine Merlin, after the famed engine), and can be alarming to your passenger. In two seconds, it will calm down to a low burble.
This might be a good time to tell your passenger that if there is a problem at any time, a couple of thumps on your side or leg will tell you to pull over.
Now then, shut off the engine and get on by yourself. Stand the bike up and have your feet flat on the ground and legs braced. I recommend that you ask the passenger to place her (or his) hands on your shoulders, and tell them it is like a canoe, in that the closer to the center of the bike they can keep their weight the better.
Your passenger can now place a foot on the left peg and then swing a leg up and over to find the peg on the other side and plump down behind you. The first few times this may be a bit clumsy, as almost everything the passenger is doing and experiencing is brand new, exciting, and a tad intimidating. They might miss the right-hand foot peg for instance, and lurch about a bit. That is why you had your feet firmly on the ground and your legs braced.
The Rocket 3 experience: I did not have to cover some of the issues above, as Nancy had ridden her own motorcycle previously. However, she had never been a passenger before, so over-reviewing was not a bad idea.
The first leg of our ride was about .5 of a mile, because the bike needed fuel. The first positive was that a very sharp 190 degree turn into the gas station was actually easier with Nancy on the back. Low speed turns had been one of my concerns, and I was surprised at how easy it was.
Then we were off. Every time we came to a stop sign on our way to the “good roads” I would check to see that she was OK. Comfy? Warm enough? Etc.
As we cruised, I could tell that the rear suspension was now a bit softer and more compliant, which was perfect, as I was not intending to attain any thrilling speeds. Giving a passenger a first ride is absolutely the worst time to try and impress them with the capabilities of your motorcycle, or your Moto GP skills as a rider. A great many people have been so scared by their first passenger experience because of this that they never got on a motorcycle again.
The rear suspension was, for this ride, ideal. There was no need to adjust it, although your results may vary. Nancy is about 5’4” and weighs less than 130 pounds all geared up, after all. The Rocket 3 was the first motorcycle I have ever used where the addition of a passenger changed pretty much…nothing.
When I carried a newspaper reporter on a Harley HOG club ride, the brakes seemed to me to be approaching unsafe, and she was also small. On my Kawasaki ZRX 1100 the handling and braking capabilities were both diminished. On the Rocket 3 everything remained the same, which was weird.
As our ride progressed on a 39-degree morning, I realized the error of my route planning. Fog. Lots of fog. I changed the route and rode toward higher elevations, and sun, and a Starbucks.
A good idea on a first passenger ride is to stop for coffee, get off the bike, remove the helmets, and let the passenger process the experience. They may now be able to play the game called “Roses and Thorns.” What did you like, and what did you not like?
After coffee we headed out again. Now it was a little warmer, and the fog was gone. I was used to having Nancy on the back, and she was used to the experience, so I headed to a favorite winding road and let the Rocket 3 run free a bit. Same brakes as one up, same handling, same everything!
Later, Nancy told me she could tell we were going much faster, and that she loved it. Good sign!
Overall, the Rocket 3 is the finest two-up motorcycle I’ve ever experienced. By far.
Oh yes, the back rest. I usually keep it all the way down to make clambering aboard easier, and as Nancy is short, the lowest position was perfect for her.
It was an exciting day. We had a great time, and when the weather warms and the sun is out for most of the day, we will enjoy longer rides. Until she buys her own motorcycle… and that will be awesome as well.
Ride Safe, Ride Fast, and Ride Often
Copyright 2021 David Preston