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2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring: MD First Ride

Rocket calling Houston: 154 ft/lbs 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!

Hostile Indians are long gone and we head into proper cowboy country. Bandera is the cowboy capital of the world 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. “Yeeha Rocket,” I shout whipping the Rocket Touring a bit closer to the Long Horns.

The 2008 Triumph Rocket III Touring is 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 low-end torque!

The R3 Touring gets an extra dollop of torque at even earlier revs than before. That translates to 154 ft/lbs @ 2,025rpm. In the process, Triumph has sacrificed a lot of peak horsepower. The Touring comes down from 141bhp to 107bhp @ 5.400rpm.

The massive low rpm torque gives clean drive in 5th gear even from 30mph. Entering towns, I could just stick to fifth and let the torque do the job. Reduced horsepower compared to the Rocket III or Rocket III Classic was 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.

In other words, the Rocket III Touring has more than enough motor even if your girlfriend is a horse. Being a pure touring motorcycle, Triumph has added a new clip-on/off windscreen as standard. 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 for big heavy touring cruisers such as the Rocket III. The new 25-spoke, 16inch 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 for a narrower rear tire and mudguard. To fit large 39 litre hard panniers (combined volume) the Triumph engineers needed the extra space a narrower tire would provide.

With the new tires in particular, 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) are new, as well. Triumph started to develop the Rocket III Touring in February of 2004 — just after the original R3 launch. While the bug-eyed original Rocket III was made to shock the motorcycling public, the Touring has a more conservative edge to it to appeal to the touring masses out there. This involves a more classic single headlight, a teardrop seamless fuel tank (featuring 1.7 litres less capacity) with instruments mounted on top and beautifully designed colour matching hard panniers.

On our 200 mile ride, the fuel warning light came on after 114 miles. You still have 4 litres left in the fuel tank at this point, however. The new and wide touring seat is 4 mm closer to the ground than on the standard Rocket III. This allows better low speed handling and the Rocket III Touring is very easy to ride at a walking pace. Turning around at low speed is also much easier despite the fact that the Touring is 42 kilos heavier than the standard Rocket. At a claimed dry-weight of 362 kilos (788 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 maneuver. 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 stabilize everything.

On the motorway, I got a fair bit of wind and turbulence to my head with the standard windscreen. Triumph is offering 75 different accessories for the Rocket III Touring and two of them consist of a taller windscreen and a small stylish fly-screen.

The engine hums effortlessly at very low rpm on the motorway. In Texas, which is the second biggest state in the U.S., I missed cruise control on endless stretches of motorway 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 use in the wide open spaces of the U.S. the Rocket III Touring is begging for cruise control. Triumph told us that both Cruise control and ABS brakes are on their way for the big touring model.

On the right handlebar, Triumph has added a scroll button for the clock, trip 1 & 2 and fuel range functions. This I found very practical, and I can’t understand why more manufacturers have not done this. I could see about 110mph on the speedo at 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 has 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 gear changing is positive.

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, the rear must be applied. 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, it must have been at least 30 degrees Celsius and during the whole journey I was impressed with how little 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. So 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 other hand, the Rocket III Touring would benefit from cruise control, and 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 maneuverability are all nice touches that will make the Rocket III Touring a winner.


+
The engine as usual (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

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Heavy throttle amplifies the need for cruise control
With conservative styling elements, it will not be as recognizable 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…)?

U.S. MSRP of the Triumph Rocket III Touring is $16,999 (single color) and $17,299 (two-tone color). For additional details and specifications, visit Triumph’s web site here.