Back in 2004, the reborn Triumph company had a reputation for solid rather than spectacular bikes.
Keen to overcome the British bike industry’s reputation for oil leaks and unreliability, new owner John Bloor made it his personal mission to ensure that the new generation of Triumphs were bulletproof when he took the company over in the 1980s.
This over engineering, combined with Triumph’s ‘modular’ approach to bike building, led to a range of bikes that were strong and stable rather than at the cutting edge. The range topping Daytona T595 and Speed Triple T509, quality as they were, lacked the absolute performance of Japanese and Italian competition but marked a move towards a new approach to model development. The following Sprint ST gave the British company a serious competitor to the then very important Honda VFR800, while the all-new Bonneville of 2001 had been as big a success as the previous year’s TT600 had been a flop. Then came the Rocket III…
The Rocket III is an icon on many levels. The headline figures were simply staggering. At 2294cc, the transversely mounted three-cylinder motor made it the largest capacity motorcycle at the time. With staggering torque figures, ample power and brutally unique looks, the Rocket III was just about the complete opposite of what we’d come to expect from Triumph at the time.
And it worked. Triumph sold as many as it could make in 2004 and demand remained strong for many years. As much as it was a sales success, the publicity generated by the Rocket III was arguably just as important. The Rocket III garnered headlines around the world and was the first in a stream of hits that continued with the Daytona 675, Scrambler and Street Triple we’ve come to know and love today.
Quite what the Rocket actually was is still not clear today. Legend has it that Triumph started out by developing a mid-market cruiser to challenge Harley-Davidson, but as competitors raised the capacity of their engines, so the Rocket III evolved into what could best be described as a power cruiser, which was famously sold on the fact that its pistons were the same size as that of a Dodge Viper supercar. Either way, it was a bike that defied traditional genres.
Despite the big numbers, the Rocket III was always fairly docile to ride. With a low saddle and the weight all carried down below, it was fairly manageable, even if it did tip the scales at 350kg with a full tank of fuel.
Triumph gave the Rocket III a makeover in 2009, creating the Rocket III Roadster. The Roadster had a little more power (146bhp) and even more torque (221Nm), loads of black paint and a riding position that moved from feet forward cruiser to a more aggressive streetfighter stance. Backed up by some famous YouTube videos, the Rocket III continued to make a big noise in the motorbike world.
Euro4 emissions killed off the Rocket in Europe, but you can still buy a new one in America and Australia today, making it one of the longest running iconic bikes of all time.