Motorcycles: Rocket Launcher
the triumph rocket iii may be the most powerful production motorcycle available, and perhaps no sound is more raucous than the throaty roar that emanates from the bike’s exhaust as it barrels down an open tarmac at escape velocity. But contrary to what these characteristics indicate, the Rocket is not a one-note, full-speed-ahead machine.
Despite its power—the 2.3-liter engine produces more than twice the torque of most production bikes—the $15,990 Rocket III is still a Triumph: a British work of art that emphasizes styling as much as strength and speed. “We knew we needed a bike that was in no way reminiscent of, say, Harley-Davidson,” says Todd Andersen, vice president of marketing. “The bike would have styling cues that leave no doubt it’s a cruiser, along with pullback handlebars and a feet-forward riding position. But from there it must be distinctively Triumph and have a big, visible, distinctive engine.”
Triumph is renowned for its classic tourers and cruisers, distinguished by the company’s signature vertical twin and triple engines and twin-headlight displays. Given the British builder’s history, its creation of an American-style cruiser is as significant a departure from tradition as Porsche’s production of the Cayenne SUV. But with its American distributor clamoring for a cruiser because of the high demand for such bikes, Triumph concurred that it needed an aggressive heavyweight in its conservative lineup to entice more U.S. customers.
Triumph designers completed the first sketches of the Rocket III in 1999, and although their plans were refined slightly after several rounds of focus group critiques, the final product includes features that they imagined at the start of the project: a three-cylinder engine and a 240 mm rear wheel befitting the bike’s brawny character. Triumph engineers initially considered mounting the liquid-cooled engine across the bike’s frame. However, because such a design would have required the Rocket III to be excessively wide, Triumph mounted the engine longitudinally in the frame, giving the motorcycle an even more unusual appearance.
On the road, the 704-pound Rocket III’s brakes, suspension, and chassis harness its 140 hp and 147 ft lbs of arm-yanking torque. Along with all of its power, the bike still offers a smooth ride, low center of gravity, and an elegant appearance. It may be a Rocket, but it is still a gentleman’s two-wheeled conveyance, just like Triumph has always built.