2021 Triumph Rocket 3 R review – is a 2.5-litre bike actually any fun?
Fear and laughing in Surrey
Everyone thought Triumph had lost the plot when it unveiled the Rocket III back in 2004. Here was a big cruiser with a rear tyre fatter than a baboon's bum and a stonking 2.3-litre engine between your legs.
It was designed to shock and surprise – which it certainly did, leaving anyone lucky enough to ride one with a whopping great smile as they summoned its ungodly torque.
I wouldn't know, because I was in my first year of university, drinking more than my fair share of snakebites in the student union bar. But every evening I stumbled back to a room with a massive poster of a Triumph Rocket III on the wall. The big Triumph was, quite literally, the poster bike of my youth.
Fast forward to 2021 and my hair is gone, I'm now incapable of drinking a mix of cider, beer and blackcurrant juice – and there's a new Triumph Rocket 3 outside my house. Yep, Triumph has switched from III to 3, and this is an all-new bike with an even bigger engine.
What is it?
It's an imposing £20,000 motorbike that comes in two forms – the R, or the more laid-back, long-distance GT, which shunts the rider's footpegs forwards, adds a bit of a screen and chucks a pillion backrest over the back wheel.
The Rocket now has a 2,458cc three-cylinder engine that puts out 167hp at 6,000rpm and revs to 7,000rpm. The real party piece is the 221Nm of torque at 4,000rpm – that's more torque than quite a lot of hot hatches from 10 years ago. In a bike.
The eagle-eyed among you will spot the single exhaust exit on the left-hand side – there are two on the right-side as well
Admittedly the Rocket's a beefy thing, and despite losing 40kg over the original thanks to all-new aluminium frames, it weighs 291kg without any fluids. It's still a substantial chunk of metal.
How does it ride?
For a start, it's not half as imposing to ride as you'd think. The seat is low, and the weight is buried low in the chassis, so although it takes an effort to get it off the side stand, it feels nicely balanced. The engine fires up and wobbles the bike gently to the left-hand side – you can almost feel the heft of the crank in that initial sparking of the engine.
Aaaactually it's not 2,500cc. But who cares when it's so beautifully formed?
And so begins the Rocket experience. Everything about it is hefty – although the clutch pull is reasonably light and the gearbox slicker than you'd think given the forces it's coping with. As you'd expect with this much torque, pulling away is simply a case of easing the clutch lever out, and your brain tells you to short-shift up into second gear before giving it some explorative berries.
Is it fast?
A watchful suite of electronics means you quickly get the confidence to wrench the throttle open in second gear, and when you do something very strange happens. The front end goes light and – as that 24cm-wide rear tyre hooks up – you get shot out of a cannon at the horizon. The fact that the Rocket pulls this mind-bending, vision-distorting trick from just 2,000rpm makes for an utterly hilarious ride. It's like someone put a big American truck engine in a bike. Everyone needs to experience this thrust in their lifetimes. It's life affirming.
Whopping 240-section rear tyre useful for accelerating
Despite most bike manufacturers not bothering to publish 0-60mph times (too much depends on the rider – and physics dictates most bikes will try to loop over backwards when launched too hard), the Rocket 3 has set a Guinness World Record of 2.73 seconds to 60.
And y'know what? You can probably get pretty close to that time even if you're not especially brave. Fact of the matter is, the Triumph's electronics are so good you don't really feel them working, leaving you free to hammer the ginormous engine like you're on a scooter.
Almost. I rode the Rocket home from a press event in the pouring rain. At one point overtaking a car on the M25 I saw the traction control light flickering to rein in wheelspin as I overtook a car on 3/4 throttle at 50mph. Gulp.
Bet it handles like a boat…
Here's where the Rocket will blow your mind – the way it goes around corners. Honestly, the setup of the fully adjustable Showa suspension is so sweetly done that you'll just ride the Rocket like a regular upright bike. You almost want to stick your elbows out and punch it into corners like a Speed Triple that's been to the gym.
Sure, it takes a bit of a push on the bars to get it to turn, but once leant over (and it will lean much further than you imagine before sparking the footpegs on the ground), it's as stable as they come. For the first half hour on the bike you'll want to plan your lines a bit more carefully around corners because it's not exactly able to change path like a sports bike, but after a while you forget about the size, wheelbase and the width of that back tyre and start riding it like any other bike.
The riding position on the R model is reasonably relaxed, with a little bit of a stretch to the bars
Niggles? Well – the Rocket does have a strange quirk where it turns in much more easily if you keep the throttle open a bit – if you turn it in without any power it can understeer a bit. But given the ridiculously long wheelbase and that massive engine, that's a fairly small price to pay for otherwise fun handling.
Once you've turned in to a corner and have hit the apex like a hero, it fires you out of corners far faster than you're expecting – so it's a good thing the brakes are sodding strong.
That's a radially mounted rear brake - how rare!
Sportsbike-spec Brembo Stylemas do the job at the front, and the rear caliper's a radially mounted Brembo caliper that you'd have found on the front of a Daytona 675 sportsbike 10 years ago.
Yep, the rear brake is ripped from the front of a sportsbike. And it's a good thing too – you'll want to use the back brake to settle it in corners and hammering it really helps bring you to a stop in a straight line, unlike on most bikes.
What about the rest of it?
The Rocket gets the same clear, easy-to-read TFT dash as the Scrambler 1200, and it has an 18-litre fuel tank which will get you about 130 miles. We averaged about 36mpg.
Apparently hydroforming those pipes took a lot of R&D effort
Comfort-wise, it's pretty good. The ride is quite plush, and the suspension far more compliant than on super-cruiser rival, the Ducati Diavel. Which will tenderise your backside like it's a piece of Lidl minute steak.
The big Triumph will happily cruise at 85mph (so we're told), but if you're much over 6ft tall you'll find your legs aching after an hour or so on the motorway, simply from the wind blast pushing them apart like some invisible meteorological midwife.
That said, we'd happily tour on one – maybe after fitting a screen and some of the panniers from the predictably extensive range of accessories – which also includes a quickshifter.
Should I get one?
It's easy to look at a £20,000 2.5-litre brute such as the Rocket 3 and think it's a one-trick straight-line pony. But having lived with one for a bit, that's doing it a massive disservice.
It handles far more amusingly than you'd think, and it won't embarrass you if you go out riding with sportsbike-owning mates. It can put a huge smile on your face at legal speeds, and it's comfortable enough to use daily. We took ours to the shops, work events, to see family – and it sucked it all up.
Triumph's done an excellent job bringing the Rocket back to life – and hopefully there's a half-cut university student out there with a poster of one on his/her wall.