Power is something riders always seem to be looking for more of. But touring bikes don't need outright high-revving horsepower like a Japanese or Italian superbike, which can make upwards of 170 hp at the rear wheel. No, touring bikes are all about torque-that lazy power-in-any-gear feeling of rolling on the throttle and acceleration being right there for you. This lust for torque was answered several years ago as manufacturers started bringing out bigger and bigger engined cruisers, even conservative Harley-Davidson got into the mix with its 110ci CVO models. The Triumph Rocket III (RIII) is the bike that ended the race.
At three cylinders and 2,300cc, it crossed lines that nobody wanted to touch. In the last couple of years, that lust for bigger and bigger engines had waned and models sat untouched and unwanted on dealer floors. Quite a few of them were discontinued, while others have been discounted down to the price of lesser machines. In the midst of all of this, Triumph released a second version of the Rocket III, called the Rocket III Touring. We tested it when it came out back at the end of '07 (Baggers, Mar. 2008), but never had a chance to do a real test, until now.
A dark little secret of the motorcycle industry is that most "test rides" are in the neighborhood of a few hundred miles, with some clocking in at under 150. On most touring bikes that's not even a tank of gas. But, we do things differently here. We thought we'd do one better for this big-boned behemoth and rode it almost the length of US 101, from L.A. to Seattle and back with lots of back roads to go with interminable miles of Interstate for a total of more than 3,300 on the clock from start to finish.
The original Rocket III that the Rocket III Touring is based on is no longer with us. It's been replaced by more focused models like the Touring and the new Rocket III Roadster. Compared to the original RIII, the Touring got a skinnier (but not skinny) 180-section rear tire, and a motor tuned for smoother power delivery. Delivery is key on this bike, with as much as it weighs (we think the claimed wet weight of 869 pounds might be a bit light), and as much power as it has, you wouldn't want to have to gather it up after a "moment" or have to pick it up after a tip-over, as the thing is huge.
Obviously, it also comes with a package of touring goods akin to Harley's Road King with a mid-size shield, hard bags, and floorboards all around. We tested an '09 RIII Touring but the only difference to the 2010 model is that it now comes with more stuff. Ours was partially upgraded to current specs with a leather touring seat and backrests for rider (adjustable) and passenger. The current model also comes with stylish mirrors, trim rails on the bags, a highway bar (with highway pegs), a luggage rack, passing lamps, and a taller windshield.
So why, you might ask, would anyone want a bike that weighs roughly what an Electra Glide does with far less luggage capacity? The answer is simple: power with total overkill in the torque department. Triumph claims this bike has 150 lb-ft at the rear wheel, while "only" cranking out just more than 100 horsepower. In practical terms, this means that the smooth shifting gearbox is a luxury, as the motor will pull top gear at 25 mph, and accelerate briskly from 35 mph. This bike requires only two or three gears, not five, but having five means that you can really get up to speed very, very quickly. As I mentioned before, the RIII Touring has been retuned from the original spec Rocket, which is a very good thing. The RIII can be a bit of a handful and you have to be very mindful of applying the throttle on it or the shaft drive can screw up your line in a corner. The Touring version is more of a pussycat; twisting the throttle uncorks an endless, but very controllable, stream of torque.