An Evolution of Awesome
“Insane, incredible! It has a car engine, it will suck the wind from your lungs,” and other incredulous exclamations of shock and awe abounded when German manufacturer Münch launched the Mammut or ‘TT’ in 1966.
Since then, we’ve been fed a steady diet of modern motorcycle engine capacity increases and similar sentiments.
In the years after Münch we saw the huge Norton 850 of the early seventies break the mould again.
Later that decade, the Kawasaki Z1300 was perceived as equally mind blowing, with the presses of the day declaring that the manufacturer, “Has gone overboard in many people's minds”.
Over the next 20 years Yamaha and Honda introduced cruisers with capacities of 1600cc, 1800cc and 1900cc respectively.
Harley-Davidson continued their upward spiral as well. A seventies Shovelhead was 1212cc (74cui) and over the ensuing 50-plus years its lineage has evolved into the 1920cc (117cui) M8 that sits on showroom floors today. It’s been a steady progression of capacity and power from Milwaukee too.
In the nineties, American custom builder ‘Boss Hoss’ unveiled their famous 8130cc (496cui) Chevy-powered bikes and trikes and it seemed almost … reasonable.
When Triumph decided to up the production bike ante with the 2300cc Rocket III in 2004 the ‘pure craziness’ reactions were unsurprising.
In fact, Triumph countered many of the objections and protests from Press and Government alike by stating that the bike would be governed for maximum speed and tuned exclusively for torque.
And what a torque monster those first units turned out to be. It was also remarkably well-mannered and comparatively easy to ride bike – for a ‘juggernaut’.
It was never perfect, but it was mightily addictive. Its cornering clearance didn’t match the capability of the motor and chassis, but it was a muscle cruiser of the highest grin-inducing order. I rode one every chance I could get and spent considerable saddle time on every model and variant since.
When Mick rang and said Peter Stevens Importers latest ‘R 3 GT’ Press bike was headed to Queensland, I was stoked, and kind-of knew what to expect. Particularly since spending a weekend with a Rocket 3 R Dealer demo in early 2020 (HEAVY DUTY #170).
Even so, the number of times I muttered to myself, “That’s awesome!” over the two-week test period still surprised me.
R v GT Differences
The latest GT is essentially the same bike as the R with better touring inclusions, particularly for tall riders.
I was as comfortable as I have ever been on a stock motorcycle. The rider’s saddle allotment and the ergonomics are fantastic. Shorter inseams will find its 750mm saddle height manageable too.
The passenger back rest is clever and offers some height adjustment, but the passenger accommodation, for the world’s largest production motorcycle, is one of the few gripes I have with the machine.
It’s a pillion seat for a reasonably small passenger and the only thing I can find that was actually better on the previous (2300cc) models. The way the rear pegs fold up and in to disappear is also very clever, but for a ‘Grand Tourer’ …
The small fly screen keeps some wind off the torso but isn’t big enough to introduce helmet buffeting – tick.
The forward controls can be adjusted by simply unbolting and relocating them, which gets a very big tick.
The internally wired handlebars are reasonably wide and pulled back at a nice angle although I had a real love-hate relationship with the bar-end mirrors. They do provide outstanding visibility and clarity but are a hinderance in heavy traffic and lane splitting.
Still on the handlebars, the switchgear is well sorted and illuminated.
Once I came to grips with the nuances of navigating through the various options, I found the adjustable angle TFT instrument pod very easy to live with.
It can display an array of ride data with two selectable screen styles and mode options available, all of which are scrollable from buttons and a toggle on the left-hand switch block. You can even personalise the start up screen welcome message. Again, very clever.
All this makes for a very comfortable ride that’s easy to relax into – or conversely get a knee out and move around on the pegs when you need to get busy on a twisty bit of road too.
How does it handle?
Simply put, incredibly well.
Erik Buell told us 20-plus years ago that the total mass of a motorcycle isn’t as important as its centre, ie how low and close to the middle of the bike the COM is has enormous effect.
When you look at the GT and its specs … the massive 240/50 R16 rear and 150/80 R17 front rubber, around 300kg wet weight and 1677mm wheelbase, traditional wisdom says it shouldn’t handle as well as it does. But the way the motor sits low and central in the aluminium frame with the low-down drive train go some way to confirm Buell’s theory.
Perhaps it’s aided by the Avon Cobra Chrome tyres that were developed especially for the bike, but the ‘fat tyres don’t steer’ is a convention this bike destroys.
It handles superbly, especially considering that 240 rear. The low COM means that it’s surprisingly nimble on a back road, solid, planted and very stable on the freeway, and a delight do a tight U-turn or low speed manoeuvre as well. Remarkably so.
It just felt beautifully balanced no matter where I rode it. Triumph claims that it’s 40kg lighter than its predecessor. On a rough surface it feels like more.
That’s further enhanced by the cornering clearance, which is the best of any feet forward motorcycle I’ve ridden so far. I managed to scrape the pegs once in the two-week test and I had to seek out my favourite off-camber corner to do it.
I also spent the first sessions of the test backing off the suspension. It has high-end Showa adjustable suspension as standard. It’s two-way adjustable up front and 3-way at the rear.
After a few days of rattling my fillings after dialling in the owner’s manual’s ‘sport’ settings, I gradually reverted to the softest or ‘comfort’ settings and found it made very little difference to the handling in normal conditions – but made being aboard much more pleasant.
Even on the softest settings it remains a reasonable firm ride with 120mm of travel available on the 47mm USD forks and 107mm available on the rear monoshock (with piggyback reservoir and remote hydraulic preload adjuster).
Stopping a bike that is so fast and heavy obviously needs a serious braking package and that’s done with impressive Brembo Stylema Monobloc 4-piston callipers and dual 320mm rotors up front - and a 300mm single at rear. Even Mick would give this rear brake a tick.
It has an advanced, cornering enhanced ABS with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). This unit also provides cornering traction control - in case you grab too much of anything. Which brings us to the powerplant.
Oh! That Motor
The longitudinally mounted 2458cc liquid cooled triple has an over-square bore and stroke of 110.2mm x 85.9mm (For reference, the latest 117 cube M8 is 103.5mmm x 114.3mm.)
It employs a raft of high tech – from the ride-by-wire throttle to advanced fluid dynamics in the cooling system.
“I bet we could easily coax a lot more out of her!” Simon Yates said to me when I told him the bike develops 165bhp @6,000rpm.
I’m sure that’s the case too, but for normal riding, it doesn’t really need more power, because like the earlier incarnations, it is tuned for torque. Great big, beautiful gobs of it. 221Nm @ 4000 rpm in fact.
It’s a short-shifter’s delight that rolls-on to warp speed in the blink of an eye. It will also lazily trundle along in top gear at 45kph.
The motor is very smooth right across the rev range, even at idle. There’s a hint of triple vibration through the bars cruising at some speeds, but it’s merely a hint.
When encouraged, it is (as you would expect) a very fast motorcycle. I spent a lot of time riding with the cruise control engaged because it’s all so effortless and easy for the speed to creep over the posted limit.
Just breathe on the throttle and off it shoots. When you do find an opportunity to give it a real handful, it’s glorious. The stock exhaust system sounds (and looks) great doing it too. It’s a rich and unique triple note.
There are four riding modes available, Rain, Road, Sport, and Rider. The latter allows custom individual preferences for traction control, throttle response and much more to be saved.
The power is fed through a slick, six-speed gearbox with a Torque Assist (slipper) clutch. It’s sure shifting, and almost notch-less on upshifts, in fact it did take a few days to get used to the meeting zero resistance when changing up. Downshifts have a more definite click into gear, however. It gave no false neutrals, and it was very easy to select the big green N on the dash when stationary.
The single sided swing arm incorporates the shaft drive housing and differential. It has a tough, heavy machinery look to it, but it’s very far removed from the clunkiness, slap and lash that came with old school shaft units. It can be made to slap, but it takes a concerted effort. Overall, it’s very efficient and it adds to the liner smoothness of the torque delivery.
The Whole Package.
It is one of those ‘celebrity’ bikes that everyone wanted to know about. The most common comment I fielded, either online or when I stopped, was “It looks like the Bat Bike” or just, “Wow!”
The technology is first class, and the safety systems and ride enhancements are also well sorted.
The cruise control is easy to engage and adjust and the hill-hold control is equally effective. Simply squeeze the Brake lever firmly when stationary and bike won’t move till the clutch is released. I get that if you are experienced enough to be considering buying a 2.5litre motorcycle you should have more than enough nous to perform a hill start, but there are times when I do find this feature useful. Mostly while fumbling for the garage door opener on my sloping driveway.
Heated grips are standard on the GT and there’s a handily located 5V USB accessory outlet adjacent the instrument display.
The keyless security fob worked perfectly - unlike some other Triumphs I’ve ridden lately.
The modern LED lighting is funky and effective, but I don’t think anyone is a fan of the rear-guard assembly, plate and indicator holder. Fortunately, there are aftermarket tail tidy options available now.
Apart from that, I thought it looks as good as it goes, with a great stance and compelling lines.
The silver and traditional Triumph red swoosh paintwork as tested adds $900 to the basic black starting price of $35,490 ride away.
Also Add These
Other optional accessories to consider would be Triumphs ‘Shift Assist’ which enables gear changes without clutching. For those times when you really need some added hurry up.
I’d also add Triumph’s TFT Connectivity System. Bluetooth that enables turn by turn navigation, phone feature management, GoPro functionality and much more - for around $380. (It should be a standard inclusion).
There is a range of luggage, rack and touring accessories available for the GT, as well as a range of customising doohickies. To get the breakdown on range and pricing, point your web browser to triumphmotorcycles.com.au and navigate to the ‘configure’ section.
From the time I helped un-crate and rode the first example to arrive in the antipodes back in 2004, I’ve been a huge fan of this motorcycle. It’s a big bloke’s special and its massive torque has always delivered me directly to my happy place.
At some cost. It’s obviously not a bike to buy if you are prone to sweating on fuel economy or worry about running costs.
Triumph claims fuel consumption figures of 6.82 l/100km but I suspect that’s with considerable moderation of the right wrist action.
I got between 220 to 240km from the 18litre tank before the warning light came on and the trip computer showed 80 to 90km range left.
It spends a lot of the time getting between corners doing not much more than idling, but it can be thirsty if you push it. It also takes a little while to settle in to riding it in a taller gear than normal bikes would require. 221Nm remember?
A quick online search shows that the Avon rear tyre will set you back a touch over $400 and how long it lasts will be equally dependent on wrist action.
But then, frugal moderation and being conservative isn’t what the Rocket 3 GT is about at all.
It is about the incredible thrill of accelerating from 0 to 100kph in 2.73 seconds.
It’s about the hugely satisfying surge of torque that winding the throttle on in any gear delivers.
It’s about presence, feelgood and being very comfortable on a great handling feet forward motorcycle that can pull to warp speed in the blink of an eye.
But mainly it’s all about the reason that many of us got into motorcycling in the first place: it’s just incredible fun.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know what the future of the internal combustion engine capacities holds … but if history keeps repeating, look out Boss Hoss!
It will be glorious.
WOULD I OWN ONE?
In a heartbeat. Always loved a Rocket. But it couldn’t be my only bike. The co-pilot and I have been sharing a saddle for 40 years. She looked at this one and just shook her head.
WHAT I WOULD CHANGE?
The mirrors. They affect lane splitting.
The rear indicator and plate holder. Tail Tidy please.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The passenger accommodation. It’s an XXL bike with an S pillion perch.
GUTS & BOLTS
TEST BIKE: Peter Stevens Importers
MODEL: Triumph Rocket 3 GT
Price as Tested: $36,490 Ride Away*
TYPE: Inline 3-cylinder, water-cooled, DOHC
ESTIMATED POWER: 165bhp @ 6000rpm
ESTIMATED TORQUE: 221Nm @ 4000rpm
FUEL SYSTEM: Ride-by-wire, fuel injected
EXHAUST: Stainless 3-into-1 headers with 3 exit silencer / CAT box
FINAL DRIVE: Shaft, bevel box
CLUTCH: Hydraulic, torque-assist
GEARBOX: 6 speed
FRAME & SUPSENSION
TYPE: Full aluminium
FRONT: Showa 47mm upside-down 1+1 cartridge front forks, compression and rebound adjuster. 120mm travel
REAR: Fully adjustable Showa piggyback reservoir RSU with remote hydraulic preload adjuster, 107mm rear wheel travel.
SEAT HEIGHT: 750mm
TRAIL: 134.9 mm
DRY WEIGHT: 294 kg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 18 L
WHEELS & TYRES
F RIM: 17 x 3.5in cast aluminium
R RIM: 16 x 7.5in cast aluminium
TYRES: 150/80 R17 V - 240/50 R16 V
F BRAKE: Dual 320mm discs, Brembo M4.30 Stylema® 4-piston radial monobloc calipers,
R BRAKE: Single 300mm disc, Brembo M4.32 4-piston monobloc caliper, Cornering ABS