Triumph Brings Back Rocket 3 and We Have Questions

Colossal moto returns to Triumph line-up with a new look and more ridiculousness

We’ve known for a while that this was coming, but Triumph on Wednesday finally pulled the cover off its completely overhauled Rocket 3 über-cruiser.

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“Phenomenal,” “premium,” “imposing,” “magnificent,” “amazing,” “astounding” – those are just a few of the adjectives the British manufacturer uses in a superlative-laden* press release introducing its two flavors of Rocket 3: the Rocket 3 R and the Rocket 3 GT. Copy editors will notice that Triumph now writes the name as “Rocket 3,” rather than “Rocket III.” Because digits are cooler than Roman numerals. 

2019 Triumph Rocket 3 GT

Powered by a colossal 2500cc three-cylinder engine (a full 1300 cc more engine capacity than my wife’s car) the Rocket 3 continues its formula of excess for the sake of excess, which has been winning it fans on both sides of the Atlantic since first hitting dealerships in 2004. Boasting an arm-ripping 221 Nm of torque (163 lb-ft) and 165 horsepower, the ~310 kg** motorcycle’s new look is clearly drawing inspiration from the Ducati Diavel in both claimed cornering ability and look. It copies the Diavel so much it even has passenger accommodation that looks woefully uncomfortable.

The two versions of the Rocket 3 unveiled Wednesday have almost identical specification but Triumph describes the Rocket 3 R as “the ultimate muscle roadster,” whereas the Rocket 3 GT is pitched as “astonishing performance and presence, with sublime comfort, laid-back cruiser riding attitude and even more effortless touring capability.”

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Presence of a 240mm rear tire (along with the bike’s weight) is a sign that claims about handling should be taken with a grain of salt. But whichever version you choose, the bike is dripping with the sort of top-level bits and bobs that you we’ve come to expect from Triumph’s premium efforts. Brembo brakes, all-LED lighting, and loads more technowhizzbangery than one might traditionally expect from a cruiser.

A “second generation” TFT screen (because Triumph’s first efforts were glitchy), navigated by the obligatory Triumph switch cube, ride-by-wire, USB port, cornering ABS and traction control, four riding modes (Road, Rain, Sport and rider-configurable), hill hold control, cruise control, and keyless ignition (and steering lock) are all standard on the R and GT models. Heated grips come standard on the GT. Triumph is also, of course, offering a host of accessories, which includes full luggage and something called the “Highway inspiration kit.”

2019 Triumph Rocket 3 R

“Highway Inspiration” sounds like the name of a country music album.

Meanwhile, the TFT screen allows you to connect to all sorts of stuff that I’m not entirely sure a Rocket 3 owner would want, like the My Triumph app and an integrated GoPro controller system.

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“The Rocket 3 engine has the highest torque figure of any production motorcycle available to buy,” claims Triumph. “With an incredibly flat and rich torque curve, reaching a peak at 4,000 rpm, it holds maximum torque all the way through the mid-range, delivering effortless acceleration and response in any gear.

“This is the world’s biggest production motorcycle engine featuring several mass optimised performance enhancements; including a new crankcase assembly, new lubrication system comprising dry sump and integral oil tank and new balancer shafts – together giving an 18kg engine weight saving over the previous generation.”

It doesn’t look like there is a lot of room on the back for a passenger

Beyond the presence/absence of standard heated grips, the differences between the R and GT models are largely aesthetic and ergonomic. Triumph says each has a different handlebar to better facilitate the intended style of riding. The Rocket 3 R model features “roadster-style” handlebars, while the Rocket 3 GT model has touring-oriented handlebars. Seat height is also different, with the R model placing your tushy 773 mm (30.4 inches) above the pavement, and the GT bringing you down to 750 mm (29.5 inches). Pegs are somewhat adjustable and are placed differently depending on model: the R has mids, the GT has feet-forward controls.

Pricing has not yet been announced but it is pretty much a given that, like all modern Triumphs, it will be overpriced.***

Is This Really What People Want?

Triumph says the Rocket 3 is capable of “all-day any-gear effortless riding, two-up or on your own.” Read that statement cynically and it seems the manufacturer is casting as wide a net as possible for potential customers, suggesting it’s not entirely sure who will buy this thing. The old guys, with their big bellies, white beards, textile jackets and always-flipped-up modular helmets? Or the holding-on-to-a-youth-they-never-actually-had Gen Xers and Xennials, with their £70 rockabilly haircuts, Bike Shed memberships, Bell Bullitt helmets, and enviably cool leather jackets?

Silly stereotypes aside, the Rocket 3 has been on the scene in one form or another for 15 years and I can’t help but wonder if the motorcycling world has moved on. Back in 2004, we were still a few years away from the Great Recession and acting like such a thing would never happen. It was the heyday of “American Chopper,” Harley-Davidson was celebrating yet another record sales year and shipping out roughly 100,000 more motorcycles a year than it does now, and people were buying Hummers as family cars. The Rocket 3 is a product of that time. It is a vehicle confident and bragging in its excess.

I remain unconvinced by the TFT displays that Triumph uses. To me, they don’t really look right

But look where we are now. Just about every manufacturer is pushing to develop an electric platform, Europe and others are enacting ever more stringent environmental standards, a number of those countries are pledging to ban internal combustion engine vehicles within 30 years, the American motorcycle market (where a bike like this is most likely to sell) is struggling, and the bikes selling in the biggest numbers in Europe are sub-900cc machines. I know Triumph likes to push the narrative that it sometimes shows up late to the party because it prefers to get things right rather than rush a project, but the Rocket 3 concept feels behind the curve.

Also, is it just me or does this bike look… uhm… not very good? The back bit – the tail and single-sided swingarm, ie, the bit that looks like it was ripped straight from the Diavel – looks alright. That massive engine that looks like it was ripped from a muscle car? Yes, that’s very good, but as you move toward the front of the bike the aesthetics sort of fall apart.

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That rounded tank, for example. It fits with Triumph’s modern classics aesthetic but that’s not really what the Rocket 3 is, is it? If it is, it definitely shouldn’t have that rear end. Or the two round headlights. It’s like the bike was built by different teams with different briefs: “Make it look modern,” “Make it look like it’s from the ’60s,” “Make it look like it’s from the ’90s.” I think I dislike the front end most. With those half-hearted screens on both the R and GT models, it looks like Triumph ran out of time in the design stage.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and I’m sure that whoever ends up buying this thing won’t regret it but that doesn’t stop me wondering who this is for. Did it really make sense to sink time and money into developing this project but not on resurrecting the Trophy SE?

Does this old-school tank fit with the rest of the ‘new-school’ feel?


*The word “magnificent” is used five times in the media release.
** Triumph has an old-world habit of giving dry weight. Using Harley-Davidsons as a metric, it’s generally safe to add 20 kg to a dry weight figure. Triumph lists the Rocket 3 R as weighing 291 kg dry, whereas the Rocket 3 GT is said to weigh 294 kg dry. By comparison, a Harley-Davidson Fat Bob weighs 306 kg wet.
*** I absolutely love my Bonneville T120 but that thing costs a solid £1,000 more than it should. Back in 2015 or so, Triumph decided it was a premium brand and has been pricing its bikes accordingly.