First Times Ride: Triumph Rocket III

The increasingly crowded touring segment of the motorcycle market keeps getting more and more interesting as companies produce more and more interesting models.

The Triumph Rocket III Touring is one of the most interesting yet -- and it's certainly the biggest.

With a 2300cc engine and weighing in at almost 900 pounds, it's a burly battleship of a bike. If you drop it, you may not be sure whether to call a tow truck or tug boat -- or an ambulance.

The surprise? It's lighter in feeling, and easier to ride, than some substantially lighter and smaller Harley-Davidsons and Indians.

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The legendary British marque once dominated the motorcycle world. Its scramblers ruled motocross before it was called motocross, and before the Swedes, Germans and Spaniards began to build lighter, faster machines. Its Bonneville was the last word in road bikes for decades, before the Japanese ate that part of their lunch.

In recent years, a more robust Triumph has been putting all kinds of exciting hardware on the road, including GP-style bikes, adventure bikes and touring bikes. (I especially enjoyed the Daytona 675.)

The Rocket III is the granddaddy of that line, and it's a pip. Classic to the point of primitive -- no tachometer, no GPS, no hand warmers, the gas cap doesn't even lock -- the Rocket is like a love letter to old school heavy metal. The chrome is wide and deep, from the handlebars to the crash bars to the church-organ pipes. The retro-style 5.9-gallon gas tank looks hand-polished and ready for the museum floor.

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The whole bike has a fine fit-and-finish feel, as if no expense were spared in making this the biggest, baddest, richest road hog of them all. The five-speed transmission and shaft drive make for solid, steady acceleration. At any speed above about 10 mph, the bike is as smooth and manageable as something half its size. The brakes -- twin 320mm discs up front -- making stopping as easy as starting.

The windscreen, though it looks like an aftermarket afterthought, does a fine job of quieting the rider compartment. Even above 80 mph, the ride was calm and unbuffeted. You could stay on this bike a long, long time without feeling fatigued by the elements.

The Rocket III has an MSRP of $16,999. That's below the price tag for comparable heavy cruisers, but most of those cruisers come equipped with far more amenities.

But with the Rocket III you get the bragging rights of English legacy and the security of knowing you're sitting astride the world's largest-capacity production motorcycle.

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