2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring Review

Rocket alert in Texas!


Rocket calling Houston; 207Nm about to rip up the tarmac! Not too far from Houston, in San Antonio, Texas we ride in the footsteps of Davy Crockett. Past the Alamo, we head out into the Texas hill country on a 200-mile ride on the all new Triumph Rocket III Touring. The message is clear, don’t mess with the Rocket!

We head into proper cowboy country - Bandera, Texas - and shortly after passing the small town we stop to admire a pair of genuine Texas Long Horns. This is the opportunity I’ve been looking for all day to wear my Stetson cowboy hat that Triumph gave us cowboys as a welcome gift.

The 2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring is an all new model based on the Rocket III launched in 2004. Only the engine, brakes, rear light and the mirrors are the same as on the original power cruiser. And the engine has been detuned for even more torque!

The R3 Touring gets an extra dollop of torque at even earlier revs than before. That translates to 209Nm @ 2,000rpm. To enable this Triumph sacrificed a lot of horsepower as the Touring is down from 141bhp to 107bhp @ 5,400rpm.

The massive low rpm torque gives clean drive in 5th gear even from 30Mph. Entering the towns I could just stick to fifth if I wanted to and let the torque do the job. Lacking horsepower compared to the Rocket III or Rocket III Classic is never a problem. The Touring might be less of a red light racer, but it is still brutally fast if you want it to be. No other Touring motorcycle has as much torque as the Rocket III Touring and you could probably tow an 18 wheeler truck if you had enough grip to get it moving.

'The turn in is quicker and easier and with a slight blip on the throttle the engine helps to stabilise everything.'

The Rocket III Touring has more than enough motor, in other words, even if your girlfriend is a horse. Being a pure touring motorcycle Triumph has added a new clip-on/off windscreen as standard developed with U.S. firm National Cycle. It clips onto a brand new Kayaba 43mm conventional fork and is mounted with spring loaded bobbins to avoid any rattle noises. The twin shocks at the rear are chromed Kayaba items and the overall suspension settings are much softer than the standard Rocket for comfortable touring.

The wheels and tires are also brand new for the Rocket III Touring. The Bridgestone Exedra tires are made especially for big, heavy touring cruisers like the Rocket III. The new 25-spoke 16-inch wheels hold a 150/80-R16 front and a narrow 180/70-R16 rear tire. The standard Rocket III has a massive 240mm rear tire, but on the Touring better handling has been one of the goals and Triumph has achieved this as my ride confirmed. But there is one more reason to the change to a narrower rear tire and mudguard. To fit large 39-liter hard panniers (combined volume) the Triumph engineers needed the extra space a narrower tire would provide.

With the new tires the huge Rocket III turns from side to side very easy - much easier than the power cruiser. The steel frame and swingarm, which also houses the drive shaft, is all new. Triumph started to develop the Rocket III Touring already in February 2004 just after the original R3 launch. While the bug-eyed original Rocket III was made to shock the motorcycling public, the Touring has got a more conservative edge to it to appeal to the touring masses out there. This involves a more classic single headlight, a teardrop shaped seamless fuel tank (squashed with 0.37-gallons less capacity) with instruments mounted on top and beautifully designed colour matching hard panniers.

On our 200-mile ride I got the fuel warning light just after doing 114 miles. You have still got one gallon left in the fuel tank and considering the low revving nature the range is very good. The new and wide touring seat is 4 mm shorter than on the standard Rocket III. This enables even better slow speed confidence and the Rocket III Touring is very easy to ride at walking pace. Turning around at low speed is also much easier despite the fact that the Touring is 92.5 pounds heavier than the Standard Rocket. At a claimed dry-weight of 798 pounds it is still not too heavy in the big Touring Cruiser class. But more important than the dry weight figure is how it feels in the real world to manoeuvre. I found the Rocket III Touring really easy to handle at low speed. The turn in is quicker and easier and with a slight blip on the throttle the engine helps to stabilise everything.

On the highway I got a fair bit of wind and turbulence to my head with the standard windscreen. Triumph is offering 75 different accessories to the Rocket III Touring, including a taller windscreen that also covers our tortured heads and a small stylish fly-screen with no wind protection at all.

The engine hums effortlessly at very low rpm on the highway. I missed cruise control on endless stretches of Texas highway, doing speeds between 60-70mph. At these speeds the throttle is heavy and my right hand tired a bit. The throttle is chunky and for the U.S. the Rocket III Touring is begging for cruise control. Triumph told us that both Cruise control and ABS brakes are on its way for the big touring model.

'Triumph has built a classic touring motorcycle with class-leading engine size and torque.'

On the right handlebar Triumph added a scroll button for the clock, trip 1 & 2 and fuel range functions. I found this to be very practical and I can’t understand why more manufacturers have not done this. I could see about 110mph on the speedo on a couple of occasions with more to go and the Rocket III Touring was well behaved and stable at high speed.

Both the rider and passenger get huge, comfortable teardrop shaped footboards. So that you don’t ruin the chromed look Triumph added wear plates for inspired riding. And it is easier than you think to get a bit inspired on the new and better handling Rocket III. The heel/toe gear lever is fully adjustable and the gearing is positive if not as refined as on one of the Tokyo cruisers.

The brakes remain the same as on the original 2004 and current models. That means that they are still powerful enough and the Rocket III Touring is one of a few big bruiser cruisers where it feels natural to only use the front brakes from time to time. For really hard braking or emergency the rear must be applied too, though. All the levers are new and chunky for a nice quality feel.

After having a proper cowboy lunch at the Steel Horse we all rode back to San Antonio. When entering the city centre it must have been 90 degrees and during the whole journey I was impressed about how little of the engine heat reached my legs. Heat radiation to the lower legs is a problem with various reputable makers of fine cruisers, but not on the big Triumph.

Conclusion

The 2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring is entering a very conservative, but lucrative market. The Rocket has lost some of its big, fat flare and that suits this market just fine. Triumph has built a classic touring motorcycle with class-leading engine size and torque. On the weaker side the Rocket III Touring would benefit from Cruise control as the throttle is heavy. The finish is still a bit away from a comparable Harley, but the big Triumph rules in the all important torque war and has done so for a while now. The detachable windscreen, good footboards and excellent manoeuvrability are all nice touches that will make the Rocket III Touring a winner.

 Highs:     Sighs:
  • The engine (torque, torque and torque)
  • Handling from a new chassis and wheels
  • Less horsepower equals a better price and better value for money
  • Acceptable heat radiation to lower legs
  • Heavy throttle amplifies the need for cruise control
  • With conservative styling elements it will not be as recognisable on the road as the original Rocket III
  • Why not add more readable info from the ECU on a Touring bike (such as average fuel consumption, outdoor temperature, average speed etc...)?

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